The Football Association Challenge Vase is a proud competition involving clubs from England’s ninth tier and below. It was introduced in 1974, replacing the FA Amateur Cup, and has provided a rich history since.

“For the first time, small clubs – even village clubs – had the chance of playing in a national final at Wembley,” runs the Vase’s official story on the FA website.

And a great many have contributed to that story, from the first Vase finalists – Hoddesdon Town from the Spartan League and Epsom & Ewell from the Surrey Senior League – to its current holders, Warrington Rylands from Northern Premier League Division One West.

First round qualifying this season starts in a couple of weeks. In Cumbria, Penrith travel to Ilkley Town, Carlisle City host Guisborough Town and Cleator Moor Celtic head to Sunderland West End. Each will be competing for £525 prize money and a little piece of a dream.

It is a competition, the FA says, steeped in “democracy”, the preserve of clubs who otherwise lead unglamorous lives, doing all they can to survive and retain vital spots in often small communities.

Now, imagine if clubs up the chain got ideas. Imagine if they saw authentic, hard-fought Vase football (or that in the higher-level FA Trophy) as something they could use for their own ends.

Imagine if this season’s draw was no longer the sole domain of Jarrow and Litherland Remyca and Heaton Stannington and Hemsworth Miners Welfare and all their equally established peers.

Imagine if it was the Vase’s job to provide ties like Skelmersdale v Carlisle United B, or Biggleswade United v Gillingham Under-21s. Imagine if the Vase had to be this way, because the Blues and their Football League rivals had lots of players and, well, there’s just not enough men’s football for them these days.

News and Star: Warrington Rylands lift the FA Vase. Imagine if the proud non-league competition was hijacked by bigger-club B Teams? (photo: PA)Warrington Rylands lift the FA Vase. Imagine if the proud non-league competition was hijacked by bigger-club B Teams? (photo: PA)

The shouts of outrage from non-league would be considerable, the arguments plain. The precious chance for a tiny club to walk Wembley’s way, in a competition which said much about root-level association football in England, would be sabotaged beyond repair.

One trusts it will never happen – but the comparison is obvious when we consider that the Pizza Trophy is almost upon us again at Carlisle United. The Blues and their lower-league peers are back in training-cone mode; this season it is Everton’s youngsters who they must serve with meaningful practice, one of several top-flight Under-21 teams once more taking part.

They are called “invited” clubs, even though to many fans they’re about as welcome as the Inbetweeners would be at a convent. Big money is about to lower its big feet onto tiers three and four again and there’s not a great deal we can do about it.

Except keep saying how rotten it is. And unnecessary.

Carlisle are currently reaping the benefits of the dear old loan system in both directions, taking Brad Young from Aston Villa whilst watching Sam Fishburn score goals for Lancaster City in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

Fishburn has played three games in eight days, gone up against centre-halves as grizzled as Steve McNulty, scored six goals and no doubt learned things United could not, in the immediate term, provide.

Perfect. Just what it’s for. But just think if, instead, Carlisle wished to keep Fishburn in heavily-stocked “development” squads, only fielding the 17-year-old against “men” for their B Team in a revamped non-league cup they had bought their way into.

Consider if they also joined in the practice of producing far more professional footballers than the country knows what to do with, and found that this was enabled by a smaller league who put principles up for grabs when they saw the size of the bag of coins on offer.

Wouldn’t it be quite depressing?

Arguing against the momentum of Premier League wealth is like trying to repel a tidal wave with your little finger. Those at the helm of the Papa John’s have been utterly seduced by big-club glamour, retweeting Manchester United’s slickly-produced Under-21 highlights one week, promoting the prize money and “development” opportunities the next, yet never realising the friction between their #RaisedInTheEFL hashtag during the Euros and the fact that an actual EFL competition has for the last five years been invaded by Premier League clubs who should never have had anything to do with it.

No Under-21 side has yet prevented a lower-league team reaching the final, although one or two have come close. The day it happens will, to some, be the moment the old Associate Members Cup finally eats itself, but in reality that process was under way the minute the door was opened – and held open despite fans voting in polls and with their feet.

The Scottish Lowland League, which currently sees Rangers B in second place and Celtic B recent 10-0 winners (“Super Celts sink Vale of Leithen,” their official website proudly bragged) is another bogus petri dish the game convinces itself it needs for the good of everyone involved.

The Trophy, which should have been left well alone, was burgled and then remarketed as an ingenious answer to a stubborn problem. The game already had older and less controversial solutions available, but most of them involved the elite winding their respective necks in. So here we go once again.