January 25 2020: Burns unit

Some have meat and cannot eat

Some cannot eat that want it.

But we have meat and we can eat

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

It’s Burns’ Night, and after Seaham Red Star v North Shields – of which more shortly –  we head west to Quebec for a good haggis supper and ceilidh.

Quebec, it should perhaps be explained, is in Co Durham, as are Toronto (next to Bishop Auckland), California (Witton Park), Philadelphia (Houghton-le-Spring) and Washington, which needs no introduction.  New York’s not in the dear old county palatine, though. It’s near North Shields.

Quebec’s a couple of miles from Esh Winning. Kate Ryan, wife of 50-year football club chairman Charlie Ryan, is among the organisers but still can’t get the lad up to dance. “He says he has bad knees, bad ankles, bad everything,” says Kate. “If they offered him a  game for Esh Winning he’d have his boots on like that.”

You can tell it’s a good North-East Burns Night because mushy peas come as an alternative to the neeps, because someone’s brought a big jar of pickled cabbage – which is delicious – and because someone else totes a vacuum flask and not a hip flask. The contents may be the same, though.

Since the village hall is unlicensed, revellers are invited to bring their own alcohol. Few scrimp. One chap’s toting the sort of wheely case which falls foul of the excess baggage boys on a Boeing 747. It clinks, clangourously.

Former Tow Law, West Auckland and Evenwood Town manager Graeme Forster is on the Old Peculier. “You know me,” he says.

The band plays Flower of Scotland. I get into trouble for thinking it’s Liverpool Lou. Are they the same tune?

Officially the venue’s the Sevenoaks Hall, a gift from the folk of that Kentish town after many of its children were evacuated to Quebec curing the war. Nice story, that. It’s a lovely village occasion, though we have to leave well before the bells. Haggis is one thing, but at our age we can’t risk being turned into pumpkins.

*Seaham Red Star are too close for comfort to the foot of the Ebac Northern League first division, North Shields too close for comfort to the top. “We’re in grave danger of promotion,” says long serving chairman Alan Matthews.

Red Star have been buoyed by a midweek Durham Challenge Cup win over Consett and a home draw against Sunderland, to whom most of the town seems sacklessly in thrall, in the semi-final. Perhaps they might at last get the sort of gate they deserve: today’s, including a strong contingent from north of the Tyne, is just 135.

The crowd also includes my old mate Ralph Ord, long in Australia but home to Langley Park as a surprise for his dad’s 91st birthday. When he left on Wednesday ti was 28 degrees, in Seaham it’s a bit fresher.

“Jeepers,” says Ralph, at once a remidner of former Eppleton goalkeeper Barry Goodwin – whose son played in the same team – whose favourite expletive it was. Whatever happened to them?

Two goals from Callum Patton give Shields a half-time lead. Though a battling Seaham pull one back, it’s not enough. At both ends, the grave danger continues; as elsewhere, the dance goes on.



January 24 2020: stereophonic sounds

Let’s return to the curious matter of the Sammy Johnson lookalike, the thread picked up by blog reader Alan Cattenach.

At Tuesday night’s match bewteen Tow Law Town and Sunderland West End, it may be recalled, a visiting coach or (just possibly) supporter spent the 90 minutes on the side opposite the dugouts, pacing up and down and yelling instructions with what the BBC might call strong language.

Threatening to rip off the Tow Law secretary’s head and relocate it to a nearby rubbish bin might be thought particularly strong.

Swearing apart, was he breaking the rules? He certainly was – other clubs also note – if he was by whatever title a manager or coach. FA standard rule 8.24 insists that only one person at a time has the authority to convey tactical instructions to the players “from within the technical area.”

But from outside it? The Northern League may have seen (or heard) that one coming because the year book also includes a “board directive”. “Managers and their coaches should be fully aware that they are not permitted to coach other than from a position within the technical area.”

Not from the best part of 100 yards way on the other side of the ground, then? Not, as it were, in stereo?

The gentleman in question told complainants that he couldn’t be part of the management team because his name wasn’t on the team sheet. How did he know? The league may need to add a sentence requring clubs to list all coaching personnel.

Alan Cattenach additionally wonders if the players actually take a blind bit of notice, to which the answer is almost certainly No.

He recalls a match in which a “coach” ran up and down behind the barrier yelling at a young defender. Finally the lad had enough, running to the touchline and advising the gentleman in similar terms to shut up. “I know we shouldn’t condone bad language,” says Alan, “but that was absolute class.”

* Perusing that same day’s blog, Don Clarke notes the wide variety of cookies – the advertising add-ons wholly beyond my control. They include advice on the best stock market investments in 2020, the current military pay chart, cruising for Over 60s, government job opportunities and trendy dresses for older women.

“Your supporters must represent a wide cross section of society,” supposes Don and – of course – it is so.


January 23 2020: the earth moves

At 5 56am today there was an earthquake under Billingham, and one or two places nearby – coincidental because we’ve planned a pub lunch with our kidder, who lives over there.

The quake measured 3.0 on the Richter – “a typical British earthquake,” say the boffins,  sufficient to move ornaments but not to wake our kidder whose ornaments remain implacable. About 15 people called the polliss, nonetheless. Apparently Britain has about 200 quakes a year, most of them not even felt above ground.

There’s little evidence of seismic activity, though recent events at Synners suggest movement, even a promotion push. At the Welly in Wolviston they’re happily unshaken, the draught Bass as palatable as ever.

*Following recent suggestions hereabouts that games are called off too easily or too early, Chris Kipling kindly forwards a screen grab from the Wearside League website. The match between West Auckland Tunns and Wolviston  on Saturday April 18 2020 is off – “pitch unplayable.”

The Tunns play on Cockfield’s once-famous old ground where things can get a bit parky, but this seems a mite premature. “Perhaps,” suggests Chris, “West Auckland Tunns receive privileged information from the Met Office.”

*The blog a couple of days ago suggested that everyone had an Autnie Winnie (or, if not, an Aunty Betty.) It prompted another of Ray Gowan’s anecdotes. “My Aunty Winnie played a major part in my early life,” says the former Shildon manager, now in South Africa.

Winnie was a widow, needed a chauffeur and when Ray reached 17 paid for intensive driving lessons. In return for chauffeur duties, he had otherwise unlimited access to her top of the range Standard Vanguard.

It all went well – “I was very popular with my school mates” – until he got a job in Birmingham and “in a fit of pique” his aunty sold the car. Ray had to buy a second-hand Mini. Win some, lose some, no doubt.

*No further word from Ebac Northern League second division strugglers Brandon United, whree team manager Rob Bowron and his coaches have all upped sticks. Perhaps tomorrow.

January 22 2020: the wages of sin

It’s the morning of the monthly Age UK men’s breakfast in Durham, the eight o’clock bus from Scotch Corner to Darlington astonishingly rammed,  the speaker former Premier League referee Alan Wilkie, now vice-chairman of Chester-le-Street FC.

The man whose autobiography was called One Night at the Palace is best remembered for being the ref on the infamous occasion when Eric Cantona launched a kung fu attack on the crowd at Selhurst Park. It’ll be 25 years on Saturday. Time flies, as did M. Cantona.

A further sign of old age is that a pretty girl of 15 or 16 offers me her seat on the bus, a yet greater sign that I’m happy to accept. In the seat behind, two young ladies of the same age are discussing child benefit, though whether for themselves or their parents isn’t clear.

A continuous high pitching bleeping emanates from the driver’s cab. Were it morse code it would say “Congratulations, you’ve just achieved the Guinnesss world record for most people on a 45-seat bus.”

Alan’s excellent, the emphasis inevitably on the events of January 25 1995. He’d sent the guy off for a foul, was talking to Andy Cole and didn’t know the extent of the Frenchman’s indiscretion until his own card was marked by an assistant ref in the dressing room.  Sir Alex blamed Alan, anyway. “It changed football for ever,” said Alan.

He’d been a local league footballer – “tenacious, another word for dirty” – suffered a serious knee injury and took to reffing at 25.

Back then referees had to apply by letter for promotion to the Northern League, the missive for some reason required to be with martinet league secretary Gordon Nicholson by 6pm on the closing date. Alan made Nic’s house at five past. “Too late, son,” said Gordon and he’d to wait another year – less five minutes – for his chance.

Most thereafter wanted to know about the Premier League – nice story about why Razor Ruddock wore an arm bandage – I asked if he thought the FA’s “sin bin” experiment was working at Ebac Northern League level and whether it would be introduced higher up. The answer to both questions, said Alan, was No.

Inevitable suppplementary, why not. Chester-le-Street, said Alan, hadn’t had a single player sent to the sin bin for dissent – “we should probably have had 100.”

Why wasn’t it happening? “It’s the same old story. The refs are frightened. It’s about club marks: if you send someone to the sin bin and your opponents score twice, it’s not going to get you a high mark, is it?”

All this is quoted with his permission. Few might doubt what he says, or that sin bin referrals have dropped off markedly. All that’s now as certain as night following day is that the FA will point to these statistics and claim that the idea has been a huge success. Others might themselves dissent.

*Word tonight that Brandon United manager Rob Bowron and his coaches have left – “various reasons” says the club – calling into question the future of the second division’s basement club, just one win all season.

Rob and most of the backroom people arrived from Northern Alliance club Coundon and Leeholme in the summer but have found it tough – not helped by a marked lack of support from the community.

Club secretary David Strong, who followed the same route, was headed to a meeting but vowed that the club would continue. More, with luck, tomorrow.


January 21 2020: sideshow

‘The first time I saw Tow Law this season was on the first day, August 3, when they lost 1-0 at home to Birtley and the jinx theorists had a field day.

Tonight’s the second visit of 2019-20 to Ironworks Road, league newcomers Sunderland West End the visitors, and it may be warmer than back in August. The thermometer on the smart(ish) phone reckons it’s nine degrees and temperatures rise a bit further when star striker Mattie Moffatt has a first half effort contentiously ruled out for offside.

That the club’s wind turbine is untroubled isn’t so much a reflection of the balmy evening as that it’s bust. Overwork, no doubt.

The Lawyers are on the back of four straight wins – none can remember when that last happened – club secretary Steve Moralee banished by team manager Michael Vasey from his accustomed place behind the dugout because he wasn’t there when they won the first of them.

Steve takes up a position on those long terraces, opposite the dugouts and the stand. That’s when it gets interesting.

A gentleman from West End – probably a member of the coaching staff, though he insists he’s just a supporter – is patrolling up and down the same side, issuing instructions in a manner suggesting both knowledge of the players and that he expects to be obeyed. Certainly he swears like a coach, troopers having made redundant by Ministry of Defence cuts, and that’s not edifying at all.

The visitors also seem to have people fulfilling a similar, if less animated, role behind the goals. So far as I know there’s nothing in the rules against it – unless it’s the bit about coaches staying in the technical area, in which case they’re in breach by about 100 yards.

Steve Moralee takes exception, anyway. The Sunderland gentleman – who Steve thinks looks like the late Sammy Johnson, the Newcastle actor –  then volubly threatens to remove the home secretary’s head and relocate it to the nearby rubbish bin. It’s not terribly helpful.

Goals by Curtis Russell early in the second half and by 36-year-old Moffatt – a late penalty – make it five straight wins for Tow Law. West End remain fourth bottom of the ENL second division. Odd that a side with so many coaches continues to miss the bus.

January 20 2020: Dee day

Since it’s Blue Monday, said to be the day in the year when folk feel most miserable, let’s turn to Dehenna Davison, Bishop Auckland’s first Conservative MP since the seat was established in 1885.

Ms Davison, whose forename rhymes with Vienna but who’s known for ease as Dee, is just 26 and a very bright young lady. We met last year at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park ground when she was admiring the magnificent photo gallery which now adorns the place.

Last week she made her maiden Commons speech – though the Hull Daily Mail thought it her first Prime Minister’s questions – anticipated on Twitter by everyone from her Auntie Winnie (no one should be without an Auntie Winnie) to someone with the label Bit of a Dog in Witton Park. Bunny Peculiar chipped in, too.

Dee’s own dog fell asleep, apparently after eating a stick.

The speech included the revelation that, when she was 13, her father – a stonemason – had been killed in a single-punch attack while in a pub. The assailant, by his own admission high on drink and drugs, was acquitted.

In a swift run round her constituency, Dee also praised both the Bishops – ten times Amateur Cup winners, she noted – and recalled West’s “World Cup” triumphs in 1909 and 1911. “It wasn’t the last time we went into Europe and got the result we wanted,” she told the House.

Point of order, nonetheless: the Bishop Auckland constitunecy has three Northern League football teams, one of which was never mentioned. Great good luck, Dehenna but you ignore the Shildon lads at your peril.

January 19 2020: DVT time

How many police officers on Sunday night shift in Darlington? There can’t be all that many these days and six of them are tied up in the A&E department at the Memorial Hospital.

Two have charge of a handcuffed youth who’s not happy but in every way restrained. Four more accompany a belligerent drunk who swears and shouts constantly. It’s the sort of thing you’re always reading about, the thing which drains resources more properly needed elsewhere.

We’ve arrived about 11 30pm on Sunday – still car park charges to pay – because Sharon, on turning in, notices that her left leg’s badly swollen and supposes, correctly as things turn out, that she may have a deep vein thrombosis. Been there, done that, got the DVT-shirt.

The medical staff are cheerfully excellent, but it’s just within the four-hour target that finally she sees a dctor – by then armed with blood test results – who confirms what she and 111 had supposed.

There seems no cause for alarm. She returns later on Monday morning for routine stuff, six months of blood thinners but will be fine. It’s 4am when we get home which explains why today’s blog is a bit late – folk notice – and however sorry Sharon may be feeling for herself later this morning she’ll be a damn sight better than the handcuffed drunk with a potty mouth and a terriby bad head.

*If the NHS only just met its four-hour target, how about this for an example of service? About 3pm last Thursday, from a village sub-post office in North Yorkshire, we posted the dozen-or-so copies of Northern Goalfields Revisited offered earlier in the week and very eagerly snapped up. The book’s an inch thick and has 530 pages. Second class postage was £3.

On Saturday morning the first emails arrived to acknowledge receipt – one from a gentleman in Penzance, about as far away as you can get without falling off the end of the world. If that’s second class service, what might first class have delivered?

The further good news is that someone’s unearthed another three copies of Brian Hunt’s wonderful tome. Unlike at Darlington Memorial Hospital, the waiting list diminishes.