April 20 2018: Feelgood factor

By way of marking her 92nd birthday on Saturday, the Queen is being taken to the theatre. The turns will include Shaggy and Craig David, neither of whom had hitherto crossed my consciousness.

Whilst it’s possible to suppose that the latter might be a Northern League midfielder, it’s hard to imagine Dave Robinson registering someone called Shaggy.

Still, if Her Majesty can endure Shaggy, then there’s no reason for an old square like me not to sit through Dr Feelgood – and the tribute to former Guisborough Town secretary and press officer John Butterfield proves a brilliant night.

The lady of this house even wonders if she can take the lead guitarist home – and he must be nearly as old as I am.

John, who died last month, had in former times not just been the Feelgoods’ roadie but ran the fan club. Unpaid, the 70s rockers come up from Essex to help raise funds for charities close to John’s heart.

They’re supported by a smashing and equally generous local band called King’s Contraband who, prompted by Town chairman Don Cowan, kick off with Mrs Robinson. That one’s for me – great touch.

Don also talks of John Butterfield’s role at the club – “not just important in helping us through the difficult times, but absolutely pivotal.”

The Feelgood factor proves catching, lots on the dance floor. Their biggest hit, apparently, was Milk and Alcohol. I don’*t touch a drop of the former.

*Yesterday’s reference to South Shields’ third successive promotion prompts an email from Chester-le-Street secretary Lenny Lauchlan suggesting that the Mariners’ remarkable change in fortunes – white knight and all – would make a good film.

But who would play faithful Sheels’ secretary Philip Reay, best known for wearing nothing more than a T-shirt, however low the thermometer?

Lenny ponders de Niro, wonders about Hugh Bonneville or Stephen Tomkinson and then has a brainwave. “There’s only one man who could play that part – it has to be Tim Healy in his Benidorm T-shirt and shorts.”

Maybe not, addsLenny, as his alter ego Lesley.


April 19 2018: accelerated promotion?

Out on a long and pretty fragile limb just four years ago, South Shields secured a third successive promotion on Tuesday night.

Their gates are pushing 1,500, the club is expanding on a broad and sensible base, the chairman’s in today’s Shields Gazette talking of a further promotion next season and an ultimate place in the Football League. Who’s to say they won’t make it?

All that may worry them is the Evostik League’s continued insistence on jacket and tie in half-time hospitality, a stranglehold stipulation that makes more than just legendarily dressed down team secretary Philip Reay feel uncomfortable.

Come on, guys, this is 2018 and a plate of Hobnobs, for heaven’s sake.

The Mariners’ foot, goodness knows, seems firmly to be on the pedal – but what, wonders blog reader Jeff Dawson, if a Football League opportunity were to come much earlier than the most optimistic supporter might suppose?

A few miles along the road, Gateshead are (again) in greatly uncertain waters. The club’s for sale for £1, all the players can leave in the summer and they’re stuck in the dreadful International Stadium, which, of course, they don’t own.

“Unless a football investor with very deep pockets can be found, the future could be bleak,” says Jeff, not unreasonably.

What if Gateshead fold? What if South Shields were effectively offered their National League place next season? That it’s probably against quite a lot of rules seems neither near nor there, “I refer to the case of Wimbledon to MK Dons, m’lud,” says Jeff.

Besides, there’s history – and where’s my recently moved and Mariner mad neighbour Steve Leonard when I need to check it? Suffice that, some time in the 1930s, Shields lost their Football League status, sold the Simonside Hall ground and effectively became Gateshead.

After being marooned in Peterlee, could Sheels soon be just one step from the big time?

* Following yesterday’s piece on Heaton Stannington, Gary Brand kindly sends the Mail on Sunday piece on Pierre-Emrick Aubameyang’s warm-up appearance there – “tucked away behind a kebab shop and a florist” – with the Gabon national team there ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

It was a pre-season Saturday, Stan skipper Joe Wear recalling that half the lads turned up with a hangover. “I didn’t know much about Gabon but thought that they couldn’t be that good. I was wrong.”

Joe marked Aubameyang, now Arsenal’s £55m striker, who scored twice. The final score’s not recorded.  It was probably quite a lot.




April 18 2018:

It says much for this blog’s self-discipline that, though Heaton Stannington’s top-rate clubhouse is Tyneside Camra’s club of the year, tonight’s the first visit of the season. Mind, it hasn’t been for want of trying.

On the bar is a copy of Monday’s Guardian, open at the report of the previous day’s match between Newcastle United and Arsenal – the second time, says the Guardian, that Gunners’ £50m strike Pierre-Emrick Aubamayang has played on Tyneside.

The first was for Gabon in the 2012 Olympics, the match at St James’ Park preceded by a warm-up at the Stan. Aubamayang, it’s said, “caused quite a stir” by turning up in  a pair of £2,500 crystal encrusted Swaroyski trainers.

The Daily Mail had carried the same story, adding that it was the ground behind the kebab shop. In any case, I spend the rest of the evening singing Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, one of Paul Simon’s finest.

Heaton Stan are playing Darlington RA. Among the crowd of 93 is a cameraman from the People’s Theatre, up the road, who are making a history of Heaton.

The particular interest is Colin Veitch, himself a Heaton lad, who helped the British Socialist Party found the theratre in 1911.

Veitch scored 49 goals in 322 appearances for the Magpies, captained the championship winning sides of 1905, 1907 and 1909, won six England caps and was the second chairman of the players’ union – after Charlie Roberts, who’d played for Bishop Auckland and Darlington before Man United.

He’d certainly have been a Guardian reader, had it got much beyond Manchester back then.

George Bernard Shaw’s play The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet, the theatre’s first production, had to be staged in private because the Lord Chamberlain thought it might breach the blasphemy laws. There were naughty women in it, too.

Veitch became a second lieutenant in the Great War, managed Newcastle’s youth side and later Bradford City, became a sports writer on the Evening Chronicle and in 1929 was banned from the St James’ Park press box, an indignity visited subsequently upon many of his successors.

Desribed by Magpies historian Paul Joannou as “one of football’s immortals,” he died in 1938, aged 56, while in Switzerland on a health cure.

Where were we? Ah yes, the RA have to make a late change when the named goalie complains of a bad back and is replaced by 16-year-old Ethan Lansdowne. Beaten three times in the first half, he makes a number of gallant saves to keep that the final score.

The RA, sadly, remain firmly in the likely relegation zone. We have another pint, anyway.

April 17 2018: the tragedy of Sam Gordon

Sam Gordon’s funeral was held this afternoon, a fearful, emotionally challenging and an utterly indelible occasion. `

Journalistically, I’d hitherto proceeded with caution. Sam, the reports said, had been found dead. The ceremony eschewed euphemism: the wide-eyed ten-year-old who had been Tow Law Town’s Wembley mascot in 1998 had hanged himself 20 years later.

He died in the early hours of March 25, the day that the clocks went forward. “I offered my life to God,” said Jon, his dad, “if only they could be turned back.”

Suicide is the single biggest killer of British men under the age of 45, said Angela Wallis, the celebrant.

Latterly Sam had switched to rugby, warmly embraced by Consett Rugby Club – “the muddy mafia,” said John O’Connor, one of the eulogists – who now actively and sensitively are supporting Sam’s family.

They asked me to say something, too, chance to recall that when Sam was a kid his football mad mates all wanted to be Alan Shearer or Teddy Sheringham or someone. Sam wanted to be Jarrod Suddick; Jarrod Suddick played for Tow Law.

The ceremony was held in a thronged marquee at the rugby club, the retiring collection for CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – which seeks to address that shocking suicide statistic.

The club has already sold more than 400 T-shirts with the slogan “It’s OK not to feel OK” and has invited representatives of If U Care Share, a North-East based charity which seeks to help the potentially suicidal, to address all its players.

Sam’s coffin was draped with shirts from both Tow Law Town – where his mum Sandra had become an enthusiastic and admired chairperson – and from the rugby club. None knows what so tragically forced his hand just after hours after playing rugby; none will ever forget his farewell.

*From Consett on the discursive 78 bus to Chester-le-Street, plenty of time before the match with Jarrow.

A chat with the match officials beforehand reveals that familiar assistant referee John Lee – he of the black knee support bandages – is recovering after a stroke. John must be pushing 70, but it’s to be hoped that we haven’t seen the last of him on the line. Get well soon.

Chester are ever welcoming, the match greatly entertaining despite the absurd fixture backlog players face. It ends 2-2.


16 April 2018: Elvis lives


Saturday’s blog mentioned Stanley Hill Top, that windy ridge above Crook which was home to one of non-league football’s quaintest and best loved grounds. Remember the Little House on the Prairie, sadly consumed by fire?

It prompts a further email from Ebac Northern League president George Courtney, still taking the sun in Tenerife, and the picture above of Sean King, a rather portly Elvis impersonator who also hails from the Hill Top.

Having shook up every club in the North-East, Sean now plays Tenerife – very good,too, George reckons, though the email also gives him chance to report that he bumped into John Atkinson, Shildon’s esteemed president. More accurately, John, on a go-faster mobility scooter, almost bumped into George.

The former World Cup ref also won a bottle of Prosecco in the raffle but, being the lad that he is, gave it to a chap on the next table who was celebrating a birthday. The league management committee will just have to stick to blackcurrant cordial.

*The blog a few days ago recalled how a disoriented FA lady had invited me to the Association’s 150th anniversary knees up in 2013 as the imagined chairman of Stonewall, the gay men’s football club in London.

It recalls a 1995 observation by the wonderful John Burridge, once of Durham City but then keeping goal for Manchester City, and the response in the letters column of The Independent.

A familiar argument, Budgie disagreed with the decision to postpone the match. “The pitch was playable. I’ve been in football over 25 years and it’s become a game for poofters,” he said.

And the response: “Could I point out that the gay Stonewall FC’s third X1 played a West End League match on a Somme-like afternoon in Regent’s Park on Saturday, thereby challenging Burridge’s theory that sexual orientation has any connection with getting muddy knees.”

*Mention in yesterday’s blog of Darlington’s 1999-2000 season prompts further recollection that it was the year that the Quakers became “lucky losers”, beaten in the second round of the FA Cup but drawn at Aston Villa in the third.

Credit was claimed by my old friend George Reynolds, then the club chairman. “I always felt we’d get it,” said George. “I had a little chat with Him upstairs the night before, got through to him even though he’s ex-directory.

“I’m a great believer in God. He’s always been very kind to me.”

Villa won 2-1.

`April 15 2018: noises off

Six blokes wearing balaclavas and carrying baseball bats stormed into a Newcastle pub last week, bringing to a sudden halt a talk-in by former Magpies man Keith Gillespie.

After about 90 seconds they stormed out again, apparently convinced that they’d got the wrong gig, or the wrong guy, or both. It never used to happen at the Northern League dinner.

The story was in yesterday’s Daily Mail. Back on his feet, the Irishman no doubt recalled the occasion in 2007 when, summoned as a substitute for Sheffield United against Reading, he elbowed an opponent in a row over a throw-in and was sent off before ever getting on.

At least there weren’t any baseball bats.

So Gillespie becomes a candidate for the quickest red card, dismissively aired in recent blogs, and with thanks to former Jarrow Roofing media team man Michael Hudson – now in the Ukraine – for the steer.

Then there was Walter Boyd, a Jamaican who played for Swansea City, who against Darlington in 1999 came on as a sub, loafed Martin Gray – Martin denied that he’d been trying to strangle the guy – and was sent off before play resumed.

The FA insisted, however, that the clock had still been running and that Boyd had been on the field for 57 seconds – so no hanging about, and no record, either.

In the pro game it may be held by long serving Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kevin pressman – are you reading, Mr White? – sent off after 13 seconds against Wolves for handling outside the area. It was the first game of the season.

The overall record, however, may be claimed by Lee Todd, playing Sunday football for Cross Farm Celtic against Taunton East Reach Wanderers in October 2000, and doubtless after a canny few the night before.

Perhaps blessed with an Acme Thunderer, the ref blew to start the match. “F*** me, that was loud” said the unfortunate Todd, at which point the ref blew again and sent him off for insulting, abusive or offensive language. Sunday best, it was timed at two seconds.

April 14 2018: frog march

Thus far unchallenged, yesterday’s blog wondered if a ten-second sending off – Bulldog Billy Teesdale, ENV Rovers, nineteen-hundred-and-long-gone – was a world record.

At Esh Winning v Thornaby this afternoon, another may have been created. More of that shortly.

Spring is here. Morris dancers jingle-jangle around Darlington, the No 1 bus for once seems more vernal than infernal, the still-soggy old wagon way walk up to the ground from Stanley Hill Top is lined occasionally with daffs and frequently with frogs.

Apparently amphibians are annually amorous, and this is pretty much happy hour. I recall once walking the Formby dunes on Merseyside, ahead of a game against Dunston, where an information board explained that the males could get pretty noisy when – you know – at it.

To Formby folk the racket was known as the Bootle organ.

The ground’s as quirky and as lovely, the Esh Winning folk as welcoming, as always. It’s sad, however, to see Allan Morton – one of the great stalwarts of Northern League football – not getting away so well after a stroke.

How’s it going? “Nowt ower,” says Allan.

A curiosity is that half the sparse crowd – mostly fat, unfit, getting on quite a lot – seem to be wearing striped tracksuit bottoms. They look ridiculous. Do folk think that go-faster stripes really work?

Thornaby win with two second half goals – a blistering free kick and a penalty – from the ever-reliable Kallum Hannah. Unless the FA decides to relegate the bottom ten – and, these days, who knows? – both teams are safe.

Here’s the other world record attempt, anyway. You know how players constantly pester match officials to know how much time’s remaining? “How long, ref?” demands a Thornaby player, rather earlier than usual.

A check on the wristwatch reveals that it is precsiely six minutes past three.