March 27 2020: when Saturday comes….



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Pegasus progresses apace, as well a flying horse might, leading eventually to a century-old scam which suggests that there really is nothing new under the sun.

More of that story – and more, too, of the fast-growing revolt against the FA’s decision to nullify season 2019-20, and with it promotion and relegation – a little later.

As Ralph Ord points out from Down Under, it’s not a fortnight since we were wondering aloud how the blog might be filled in the absence of football. If this one doesn’t help put in a blank Saturday, then nothing will.

It was Monday when we’d first mentioned Pegasus, the winged steed of Greek mythology, in paying triubte to legendary Bishop Auckland defender Dave Marshall.  The football team of that name, formed just three years earlier by students at Oxford and Cambridge universities, had beaten Bishops in the 1951 Amateur Cup final – the first of Dave’s five.

They’d been formed by Harold Thompson, an Oxford chemistry professor who taught Margaret Thatcher, became FA chairman, was knighted and is credited – though that may not be the word – with getting rid of Sir Alf Ramsey as England manager

There’s an old journalistic adage that you can’t libel a dead man. Sir Harold’s Wikipedia entry suggests that it’s probably just as well.

Maybe he also had friends in high places in the 1950s. By 1954, the England amateur international side contained seven Pegasus players – but maye that was simply because there was no one any good in the North-East….

Among the seven was Donald Carr, mentioned on Monday, who played cricket for England and became chairman of the TCCB. It was by no means the only cricket connection.

As Maurice Galley points out, Pegasus’s first captain was Doug Insole, an England batsman who became president of MCC and chairman of selectors and who,  Maurice notes, was the man who announced the England team to tour South Africa in the late 1960s.

The striking omission was Basil d’Oliveira, a top class all-rounder in fine form. Just like Northern League footballers, he obviously wasn’t good enough.

By 1956, Insole was in the Corinthian Casuals side which lost 4-1 to Bishops in an Amateur Cup final replay at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough – as was Gerry Alexander, later that year to become the last white man to captain the West Indies cricket team.

An absentee, however, was Mickey Stewart, another England cricketer who became chairman of selectors. As Don Clarke recalls, the Casuals flew Stewart home from a West Indies tour in order to make the replay but he arrived 20 minutes too late. Bishops won 4-1.

*Talk of Pegasus sent John Briggs digging out his Bell Boy bubble gum sticker collection from the 1950s.  Alongside the flying horsemen among the 71 featured teams were Bishop Auckland, Crook Town, Billingham Synners and Willington – said to be known as The Temps.

John hadn’t heard that one. Willington were formed in 1906, based at the town’s Temperance Club – which these days may no longer exist – and were known as The Temps until moving to the present Hall Lane ground in 1911.

Richard Hayes, another blog reader, recalled that his former school – A J Dawson Grammar in Wingate, east Durham – also had Pegasus on its crest, pictured above, though I can neither discover who A J Fawson was or why the school should adopt the old warhorse. Any offers?

At any rate, I half-recalled that some famous footballer or other was an A J Dawson boy and asked the admirable John Briggs if he might do a bit of scouting. John couldn’t find anyone who precisely fitted the bill – more offers? – but did turn up Walter Ronald Sewell, a goalkeeper born in Middlesbrough in 1890, who played in the North Eastern League forWingate Albion before signing for Gainsborough Trinity and then Burnley and Blackburn.

In 1924, aged 33 years and 228 days, he made his first and only England appearance in the 2-1 defeat to Wales, but is by no means the oldest debutant.

No fewer than 81 first cap winners for England have been aged 30 or over, the oldest the Crystal Palace goalie Alec Merten – so long ago however, that he’s simply said to have been 41 or 42.

The ninth oldest debutant remains Dickie Downs, a Shildon lad but then a Barnsley player, 34 years and 71 days when he won his only cap in October 1920. His greatest claim to fame, however, may be that I was his milk lad – or was, at least, to his widow in Albert Street. Pint of TT and a two bob tip at Christmas.

*Anyway, the scam. Sewell also ran pubs in Lincoln but was away playing football in Nottingham when his wife received a telegram. “Money stolen. Telegraph £3 GPO Nottingham. Ronnie.”

His missus, described in the local paper as a cutie, would have none of it. “Perhaps the swindler thought he had a chance as I was a goalkeeper,” said Sewell, self-effacingly. “He reckoned without Mrs Sewell, who once worked for a Scotsman at a Yorkshire health resort.”

Best of all, he said, the unrequited telegram had cost the rogue who sent it one shilling and eightpence, and for absolutely no return.

*Ah yes, the promotion/relegation furore. Opposition to the FA decision is being co-ordinated up here by South Shields chairman Geoff Thompson, who has already sought counsel’s advice and who has a reputation for not losing many.

Shildon, hoping to move up from the Ebac Northern League top division, call the decision “out of step, inconsistent and inequitable” and demand a points-per-game resolution. “We would lose officials, supporters, sponsors, management and players if promotion were taken away from us,” they say.

West Allotment Celtic, favourites for the ENL second division title, are every bit as outraged at an “incredibly out of tune, crass and unfair” decision. It is, they add, “most horribly wrong.”

Others said to have opposed the FA decision include the Combined Counties League – whose champions elect, Jersey, have won 27 out of 27, despite huge match costs – and the North West Counties League, across the Pennines from here.

An NWCL statement talks of disappointment, lack of clarity, more questions than answers and the feeling that it was all a fait accompli – you know, a done deal – before ever the FA meet leagues at that level on Tuesday.

“The future stability of steps 5 and 6 leagues is in severe doubt,” the NWCL adds, but in truth it’s been in severe doubt since – cussed, calamitous and cack-handed – the FA started building from the top two decades ago. The talk was of the governing body being more hands-on and, hands on, the strangler’s work may soon be at an end.

*Oh all right, then, Alan Hamilton addresses the current pandemic by advising that an email from the Department of Health not to eat tinned pork should be ignored. It’s spam.







March 26 2020: null and voided

Yesterday’s blog on Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek legend, had legs as well as wings. Several splendid emails – thanks guys – send us galloping down some improbable avenues.

It all must wait, however, in the light of this afternoon’s seismic statement from the FA that the 2019-20 season at steps 3-6 of the National League season is to be wiped from the record books in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officially, it never happened. None will be promoted and none relegated. The formation of the new division at step four will be delayed untl 2021-22. Nor, as things stand, will any from the Wearside and Teesside Leagues and Northern Alliance (step 7) be promoted to the Northern League.

For some, but particularly in these parts Consett and Hebburn Town, the one glimmer of light is that the FA is still looking at ways of completing the FA Vase in which both Ebac Northern League clubs are semi-finalists. The same applies to other national cup competitions.

“For those clubs and their supporters we will do all we can to keep the Wembley dream alive,” says a separate FA statement.

For clubs like South Shields, Stockton and West Allotment Celtic, however, today’s decision is devastating. South Shields, 12 points clear with eight games remaining at the top of the NPL premier division, have issued a statement talking of an appeal and of consulting with other clubs similarly affected on the possibility of legal action.

Since the season officially never hapened, they’re also seeking “clarification” on whether supporters can have their travel and season ticket money back and the club can be reimbursed that they’ve paid in fines for player misconduct.

Stockton Town were 13 points clear at the top of the ENL first division with just eight games remaining; West Allotment Celtic, leaders almost all season, were hopeful of the title but 15 points clear of fifth place – four woud have gone up – with ten games left.

WAC historian Stephen Allott puts it well: “The worst thing of all is that (the decision) provides an inverse reward. Those performing most poorly have received the best outcome.” They’ll perhaps know that feeling at Blyth Spartans.

For all that, I’ve sympathy – gosh, this really must be a crisis – with the FA. For them it was no-win, too. They’ve no way of knowing when things might return to normality or how the hiatus would affect player contracts and club finances.

The statement points out that the decision was made on the basis of consensus among leagues at Steps 3-6. Consensus doesn’t mean unanimity, it means general acceptance, and the ENL was among the dissenters.

A statement from league chairman Glenn Youngman talks of the league’s preferred option to try to finish the season or, failing that, to decide promotion and relegation issues on a points-per-game basis. The FA say they considered but rejected that possibility.

Though he acknowledges a “difficult” decision, Glenn feels for his folk. “Clubs and players in particular will be frustrated that months of hard work and commitment will count for nothing.”

All agree that the top priority is public health. Like the wretched coronavirus, however, this one could run and run.

*Yesterday’s blog also reported a letter to clubs from Northern Premier League chairman Mark Harris in which he thought it likely that the ground grading deadline would be postponed from March 31 to July 31 and that those who failed it would be obliged to play elsewhere.

What he also said – he really did – was that the grounds in question would be closed. prompting an email from Dunton UTS, promoted to the NPL last season.

“Are they going to put locks on the gates and shutters on the windows?” asks a supporter, who sees anonymity. “This isn’t a time for threats, it’s a time for understanding and help – and, besides, they’d have to get past the Dunston Clavering Mafia first.”

The Clav’s the local social club. Our correspondent also repeats the belief that the other man’s grass is by no means always greener, though right now that may be little comfort to the likes of South Shields, Stockton Town and West Allotment.

*Goodness knows we need a bit of levity, so Gary Brand expresses surprise at Timpson’s decision temporarily to shut up shop – “I thought they were all key workers” – while Allen Nixon urges caution over any emails headed “Knock, Knock.”

“It’ll be from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re having to work from home.”

March 25 2020: horses might fly

Monday’s tribute to legendary Bishop Auckland defemder Dave Marshall, five times an FA Amateur Cup finalist in the 1950s, recalled that in the first of the five, 1951, Bishops had lost 2-1 to Pegasus at Wembley.

“Who were Pegasus, then? I thought it was some kind of flying horse,” asks blog reader Neil McKay. “They’re just a deep and distant memories to us children of the 60s.”

Good question, that, not least because Pegasus had only been formed three years earlier by students at Oxford and Cambridge universities. The team which beat the Bishops included Donald Carr, who was twice to play cricket for England and who became secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board and Tony Pawson, another first class cricketer, who became a celebrated sports writer for the Observer.

Both also played in the 1953 final against Harwich and Parkeston, though Pawson was running a temperature of 102 degrees and, not expecting to be in the team, had a heavy meal that lunchtime.

Reports suggest that at half-time he was so done in that he was plied with copious amounts of whisky, brandy and (of course) champagne. Pegasus won 5-0.

Pawson also played first class cricket and in 1984 won the world individual fly fishing chapionship and was appointed OBE for services to angling for the disabled. Donald Carr’s OBE was for services to cricket. Wings clipped, Pegasus folded in 1963.

The flying horse, of course, was all part of Greek mythology. All that stuff above is true.

*Mark Harris, chairman of the Northern Premier League – with which BetVixctor have some association – has sent an informative letter to all their clubs updating them on the coronavirus situation. It includes his belief that the usual March 31 ground grading deadline will be replaced by July 31, but that any clubs which fail to comply by that time will be required to play the following season at another ground. That, presumably, will apply throughout the National League System.

The Ebac Northern League, meanwhile, has announced that no annual membership fees will be levied next season and that this year’s annual dinner is cancelled.

Such the long-time strength of our sponsorships, that clubs never paid annual memberships throughout almost my entire time as league chairman, a largesse of which the FA strongly disapproved.

Once I was roundly rebuked for it at a grant-making meeting, after which our FA grant was reduced. This is the organisation which, just two weeks ago, described leagues as “autonomous.”



March 24 2020: summat and owt

The autobiography is finished – 100,000 words, even longer than some recent blogs – and now expertly and enthusiastically being edited by Jon Smith, a former Northern Echo colleague.

It’s now called Unconsidered Trifles and will be launched in the fullness of time at a well-loved Ebac Northern League football ground not a million miles from Shildon. There may even be trifle. Publication’s likely to be delayed, however – not much point in having a book that none can get out to buy.

Smithy’s meticulous. Potteries lad originally, he even challenged my use of the word “owt”. Geordies say “oot”, he insists, but that’s only when they’re gannin’ oot. If they want anything, it’s owt.

It sends Jon to his 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary – “Esp in phr owt for nowt,” it says – but records the first known use, a variant of aught, by Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights in 1847. Ms Bronte, of course, was a good Yorkshire lass.

None of this should be confused with “summat and nowt”, the medical term for much which afflicts the North-East working man. These days, sadly, things are much more serious.

*The FA duly held its Web-ex conference with chairmen of steps 5 and 6 leagues this afternoon. Confusion followed.

Non League Paper reported on Facebook that the season at Ebac Northern League level was at once to be aborted, a claim repeated on Sky Sports. It prompted Matt Edkins, the FA’s gaffer at this level, to issue an urgent round robin that it wasn’t the case. It soon will be, though.

The delay lies with the National league, steps 1 and 2, who are still keen to finish the season. Steps 3 and 4 have already started to wind things up – should that be “wind things down”? – but seek what they call “commonality” . Across steps 5 and 6, leagues like the ENL also accept that the season is over.

The biggest outstanding issue is how, if at all, promotion and relegation are to be decided. The annual end-of-March ground grading inspections are going to be a bit tricky, too, as is formation of the new step 4 division.

Some are said to favour just writing the whole season off and starting again, with luck, in 2020-21. Others want promotion and relegation to be decided on a “points per game” basis, and certainly clubs like Stockton and West Allotment Celtic would have reason to be aggrieved if promotion were denied them.

The final decision will be made by the FA’s national leagues committee. I don’t envy them it.

*It’s a real sadness to learn of the death on Sunday of Chris Nelson, blog correspondent and Whitley Bay fan since his dad took him to his first home game back in the 1950s. Though he spent much of his working life abroad – with the British Council – he was home in time for the unique hat-trick of FA Vase wins. On one of those great days we enjoyed a pint together in the Euston Flyer. “He loved the whole Northern League and not just Whitley Bay,” says his friend Steve Wolstencroft. Rest in peace.

March23 2020: Bishops’ legend dies

Dave Marshall, who played in five FA Amateur Cup finals for Bishop Auckland – and who turned down Manchester City to stay in the Northern League – died this morning. He was 92, the last survivor of the cup final teams of 1951, 1954 and 1955.

As a teacher in Gateshead he also taught the young Paul Gascoigne and at once spotted his potential on the football field. “Dad recognised that Gazza could see things which no one else could,” recalls John Marshall, Dave’s son.

Dave, a right back, joined Bishops after Army service in 1949-50, recommended by Benny Potts – the Two Blues’ goalkeeper in the all-Northern League FA Amateur Cup final against South Bank in 1922.

His first Wembley appearance was in the defeat to Pegasus, then in the twice-replayed classic against Crook Town, which Bishops also lost. He collected a winner’s medal in each of the following three legendary seasons but won just two England amateur caps.

Alan Adamthwaite, whose book Glory Days chronicles those fabled times, has no doubt that Dave deserved much greater international recognition. “He was a classic full back, over 6ft tall but fast and a player who thought about everything he did.

“He wasn’t just a bulwark, not a Tommy Smith, a class act on the field and a lovely man off it.”

Dave always reckoned that his most formidable opponent was Crook Town left winger Jimmy McMillan, the only man to play in four Amateur Cup winning sides. Alan Adamthwaite recalls schoolboy days watching them at close quarters, sitting on a beer crate near the Kingsway players’ entrance.

“I remember one sliding taqckle by Dave on Jimmy which happened right in front of me,” he wrote in Glory Days. “I heard the thwack of crunching legs as the defender stormed in and the winger fell to the ground. It was a perfectly fair tackle.”

Durham Amateur Football Trust secretary Dick Longstaff recalls the late Bob Hardisty’s claim that he didn’t have to tackle much because Dave did it all for him – “always with a smile on his face and the poor recipient wondering what had hit him.”

How he would have fared today is debatable, adds Dick – “but he was a lovely man who gave great service to Bishop Auckland and was a very popular player throughout the North-East.”

He trained as a teacher at Bede College, Durham and later gained a PE qualification at Carnegie College, Leeds. He was also a greatly skilled cabinet maker, though his son recalls a man who could turn his hand to almost anything.

“He wasn’t obsessed with football. If there was something better to do he’d do it. He made wonderful furniture, a very practical man.”

Manchester City were among several professional clubs who sought his signature – like several other members of the 50s side. “Teaching offered more security and in those days possibly more money,” says John. “He probably wouldn’t have turned down Manchester City today.”

Dave lived in the same Gateshead care home as his wife, Jane, and had dementia. “In lucid moments he’d wonder if he’d headed too many footballs. There might have been something in it,” says John.

Dave’s funeral will be private because of the coronavirus crisis. His son and daughter hope to organise a memorial event later.


March 22 2020: trawl of fame

We’re lucky enough to have countryside walks almost literally on the doorstep, self-distance no object. About half a mile from the house but 30 miles from the sea, there’s a bloke ploughing, followed by about a million seagulls.

Where do they come from? How do they know? “Panic buying,” says Sharon, neatly, though at the mention of sequential seagulls football folk are inevitably reminded of M. Cantona. What on earth was he on about?

Back home, I dig out One Night at the Palace, referee Alan Wilkie’s ghosted autobiography. Alan, now Chester-le-Street FC’s vice-chairman, didn’t see the infamous kung-fu kick. Nor was he aware of it until after the match, having despatched Cantona to the Selhurst Park dressing rooms  for kicking at an opponent.

He does, however, remember the Frenchman’s face at seeing the red card. “I’ll never forget the expression in his dark eyes. He had a hollow look on his face and a vacant expression as though he was somewhere else.”  He mentions nothing about seagulls, or trawlers.

*We’d talked of the old Crystal Palace ground, venue of the 1898 FA Amateur Cup final, a few days ago. It prompts an email from Allen Nixon who was brought up in the vicinity. “I used to wander there many a time, much overgrown and untidy when I was young – that’s the park, not me.”

The old Crystal Palace spectacularly burned down in 1936 – not 1963, that was a typo.  Selhurt Park’s several miles away, though Palace were long nicknamed the Glaziers. The Eagles soar now.

*Kicking only their heels, Guisborough Town are among those clubs seeking to remain competitive by playing Connect 4. Club chairman Don Cowan reports a famous victory at North Shields.

“Going north of the Tyne is never easy. We were delighted to come away with the three points, thanks to some excellent cross-field play.”

There’s an account on Twitter apparently – “full story and live commentary,” it says. Alas I don’t do Twitter.

*Similarly confined to quarters, Martin Birtle found himself watching a BBC2 programme – “charming and harmless” – about a Sheffield family’s journey down the decades.

By Saturday night they’d reached the 1970s, a sequence showing the corner shop with copies of the Sheffield Star – then claiming a million readers each night – and the headline “Ted Robledo death mystery.”

Born in Chile, raised in Wath-on-Dearne, Robledo and his brother George signed for Newcastle United from Barnsley in 1948, Ted said to be a makeweight because his brother wouldn’t go without him. He made 37 appearances, including alongside his brother in the 1952 FA Cup final – reckoned the first time that two foreign players had appeared in the same cup final side.

By 1970 he was working on an oil tanker when he fell to his death in the sea. His body was never found. Did he hump or was he pushed? That mystery, says Wikipedia, survives him.

*So what’s happening to the game at Ebac Northern League level? Goodness knows, but on Tuesday the FA has called a web-ex conference – goodness knows what one of those is, either – of what it calls all chairs at ENL level.

One of precious few house rules I tried to impose in 20 years in that exalted seat was that I wasn’t a chair, for heaven’s sake, I was a chairman.

It worked pretty well save for George Courtney – another of those pesky referees – who, being from good Socialist stock, insisted upon “Chair”. Ever emollient, I took it sitting down.

March 21 2020: parmy army

We should have been on a London train, Corinthian v Hebburn Town down Sevenoaks way. Though refunds have been sought, LNER texts insouciantly that the 7 02 from Darlington is on time and with no  problems along the line.

Well, not many, anyway.

It’s to be a food and drink edition, instead, and we start with the splendidly named Dr Tosh Warwick, social historian and researcher of the 1898 smallpox epidemic in Middlesbrough.

Dr Tosh, we observed a few days back, is also writing the world’s first history of the parmo. It prompts an email from Terry Gordon, who must himself be somewhere down the far end of the main line. “What the hell’s a parmo?” he asks.

It’s a Teesside delicacy, beloved until recent strictures after – rarely during – a night on the town. That I’ve never had one isn’t for want of trying. Apollo Quedraogo, Thornaby FC’s ebulliently excellent chairman, is reputed to lay on a mean parmo in the tea hut, but only on Saturdays. I tend to watch Thornaby midweek.

I turn instead to You are Awful (But I Like You), a 2013 volume in which Tim Moore tours Britain’s B-side – “the parts that no one wants to go to” – in an elderly Austin Maestro called Craig.

He’d done his homework. The parmo – “a fast food phenomenon” – was dreamed up by Nicos Harris, an American army chef who settled in Middlesbrough after the war.

Said to be a “dumbed down take” of the classic Italian escalope parmesan, the parmo at best comprises a veal fillet cooked in batter and breadcrumbs, then deep fried, topped with bechamel sauce and parmesan, baked briefly in a pizza oven and served on a stone-and-a-half of chips.

Mr Moore bought his – strictly a ladies’ parmo, half-size – from a back street place in the Boro but found it so scadding hot that he’d driven to Billingham before deciding to open the box.

A “flaccid, glistening, dumbbell weight”, it smelled of old socks and and looked like “an encapsulation of Middlesbrough’s every deficiency.” That bit probably won’t be in Dr Tosh’s history.

It may be little consolation to those south of the river that Mr Moore may have thought even less of Bilingham. Is it really the case that Aldous Huxley was inspired to write Brave New World – “his creepily dystopian classic” – after a couple of laps of Billingham?

Our kidder lives that way. If his PC’s risen from the dead, he may have thoughts on that matter.

*What else? Gary Brand, playing a blinder of late, reports that in an attempt to raise much needed funds, Barrow FC is flogging old match day packages – programme, team sheet, pie wrapper, empty soup cup and stirrer and even a Bovril cube – for £7.

Ken Gaunt notes much the same thing at Hyde United, save that their offer is “virtual.” You probably can’t get a virtual stock cube, though it does include Judith’s “legendary” soup. A virtual panacea, no doubt.

We’d also wondered a week or so ago about the origins of Ye Olde Naked Man cafe in Settle, deep in the North Yorkshire dales. The best the internet can suggest is that the premises were formerly an undertaker’s – bit tenuous that – though it prompts an email from Andy Lister recommending the Old Booking Office on Knaresborough railway station.

“Run by nice lasses (not naked) and serving pots of tea with cups and saucers,” Andy adds. “A very civilised spot for a pause.”

Last time I was in Knaresbrough,  August 24 2018, Blyth Town lost 5-0 in the FA Cup and folded – in that incarnation- immediately afterwards. The blog’s exclusive report of the demise produced by far the highest readership stats in its history. The way that things are going, it may be some time before they’re overtaken.