August 24 2019: standard of Livin

Since it’s definitely shirt sleeve weather, it’s possible to suppose that Shildon may have a greater proportion of supporters wearing club gear – promoting social housing provider Livin, the main sponsor – than any other Ebac Northern League team.

They’re all over the pre-match clubhouse, them and the wasps. Escape outside and there are more wasps. It’s probably what’s called a sting.

One chap looks like he’s in there for the duration. “Aa canna stand the sun and aa canna stand the rain,” he says, and orders another pint.

Town mayor Peter Quinn is on the gate, nips outside for a couple of minutes sunshine and hastily returns. “I’ll get wrong,” says the mayor, rightly.

Shildon are playing Penrith. Among those conspicuously absent is home director Norman Smith – said to be an Arsenal fan (no wonder he’s so popular) and to have gone to Liverpool – and visiting secretary Ian White, who’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan and has gone to Preston. Neither will end the day happy.

Outside, the music machine’s playing All I Need is 20-20 Vision. Don’t we all.

Shildon are missing several regulars, including the excellent Billy Greulich-Smith. Penrith include Martin Coleman, now in his 7th or 8th spell with the club – is this a record? – and Willie Paul, who’s never been anywhere else, has racked up getting on 1,000 appearances and is the best player on the field.

The Cumbrians have had a difficult start. not helped by the very bad habit of conceding added time goals. It’s perhaps not greatly surprising, therefore, when a 91st minute effort by Danny Craggs takes a big deflection to give Shildon a 3-2 win.

Most of the 316 crowd go home happy. Penrith folk react philosophically.. As they used to say on Auf Wiedersehen Pet, that’s Livin all right.

*Thanks for all the emails following yesterday’s blog on Bedale’s “bangers and mash” strip, now being investigated by the mighty FA. Apart from anything else, and as several readers point out, £5 from every shirt sale is going to prostate cancer research – more than £500 raised so far.

In the meantime, the FA allows betting companies a virtual open goal to promote their activities.

Remember the song about the Bold Gendarmes? “But when we meet a helpless woman, or little boys who do no harm….” Of whom does that remind you?



August 23 2019: thin skinned

Usually we watch Look North. We didn’t last night because they trailed something certain to upset squeamish folk like me. “You should have done,” reports Tow Taw Town secretary Steve Moralee.

Steve’s talking about a piece on Bedale Town, they of the Harrogate and District League, who famously these past three seasons have had kit sponsorship from Heck, a local sausage manufacturer. The club chairman is Martyn Coombs, a former Northern League assistant ref.

The first year, head to toe, the kit simply featured sausages, the club’s only disappointment amid all the publicity that they failed to win an on-line poll for the world’s worst kit. (Since Heck also make German sausages, it could have been the world’s Wurst.)

They persevered. Last year’s kit majored on hot dogs – probably beans, too – attracting even more publicity. Mustard, or what?

This seasons’s strip serves up bangers and mash and mushy peas – what you might call game for a laugh. This time, it was reported, it went straight to the grot spot in the on-line vote.

Now, however, someone’s spragged to the mighty FA. As if those gentlemen hadn’t enough on their plates, Bedale have been instructed not to wear their cordon bleu kit while the matter is investigated.

We’ve checked the Look North footage. Unless the BBC, the FA, Heck and Bedale Town are in some unholy public relations alliance, it’s true – all this from a governing body which outlaws participant gambling worldwide but which allows all steps 3-4 leagues to be sponsored by a gambling company which in so doing heavily promotes itself.

This from a governing body which allows Wayne Rooney to wear a shirt insidiously promoting the gambling company which helps pay his wages at Derby County but which now wants a bash at the bangers and mash. (Wasn’t that Peter Sellers and, improbably, Sophia Loren?)

There seems surprisingly little on-line about all this, although the Sun’s football website has a story about the earlier deal. The paper’s website’s sponsored by Ladbrokes and there’s a little logo. “Bet here,” it says.

So the mighty Football Association continues its probe into sausage shirts. Is there any wonder that some folk have simply had a bellyful?


August 22 2019: reunion dues

The two-blue line grows ever thinner. Time was – and not so long ago – when reunions of Bishop Auckland’s great sides of the 1950s would attract a dozen or more who’d played beneath the Twin Towers.

Just eight people attend today’s lunch, one of them a notorious Shildon supporter, and only Bob Thursby who was a Wembley winner.

Now 81, still golfing but handicapped by a bad back – “not as bad as Tiger Woods’s,” he insists – Bob was in the team which beat Wycombe Wanderers 3-1 in the 1957 final. Dave Marshall and Billy Russell also survive from that side – Derek Lewin, who organised and loved these reunions, died earlier this year. We raise a glass in his memory.

The company’s joined by Billy Roughley and Peter Cook, Bishop boys in the 1960s, though it was with Crook Town that Bill won his Amateur Cup medal in 1964.

As ever on these occasions, conversation turns to the FA’s perceived bias against North-East players when picking the England amateur side. Bob managed 17 caps, Bill Roughley – a lovely footballer – gained just one.

The do has long had the distinct advantage of being held in my village local, 20 miles from Bishop. We hope to have more feet beneath the table next year.

*Back home there’s a welcome visit from Penrith secretary Ian White, en route to a family night in Wetherby and then Friday at the Headingley test.

It’s about 5pm when we check the scores and Australia are 60-2. “I’m looking forward to seeing Archer bowl tomorrow,” he says. Hah!

As usual, Ian comes bearing gifts. After a jolly good lunch at the Shoulder of Mutton, there’ll be Cranston’s meat and potato pies for tea.

August 21 2019: Benny for your thoughts

Big Andy Curtis, the kitman they called Benny, is remembered at Northallerton Town tonight with a minute’s silence and in several other ways. “Larger than life,” says the programme, which carries his image on the cover and elsewhere.

The club’s share of the 50/50 draw goes to the Justgiving fund they’ve set up in his memory. Already it stands at £2,100 and with other initiatives planned. They aim for £3,000, a wonderful example of what good clubs are about.

The draw, incidentally, is made via an app on Town chairman Peter Young’s smartie phone. “I know you’re no good at technology but just press the button marked generate,” he says. Earlier I’d worked the ticket machine on the station, too.

Benny was just 48. His funeral’s at noon next Wednesday at Brompton, Northallerton, parish church. All are encouraged to wear bright colours, as he’d have wished – “like daft shorts or Town shirts,” says the PA man, though Town shirts must not be supposed daft.

Funeral fashions change. At Kevin Stonehouse’s farewell yesterday, a well known (and well liked) former pro could be spotted in elderly shorts, though at least his socks were suitably at half mast. “I’ve just come from work,” he protested.

Town host Sunderland RCA, one of those clubs which seems forever to punch above its weight. Tonight they’re missing several players, including long serving Irish Under 21 international Colin Larkin, 37, who’s laid low with a double hernia.

RCA’s first goal, on 12 minutes, comes from Dominic Moan, four years with Wolves and son of Glenn Moan, long familiar around the Northern League. Dom – how may this be put? – is said to be rather less querulous.

The second, soon afterwards, is from Ryan Leonard, one of a number of players who RCA have had on loan from Sunderland. “Ferocious shot,” says RCA general manager Colin Wilson, and it proves. Sunderland legend Kevin Ball watches approvingly.

Jason Blackburn’s second half penalty pulls one back but Town are unable to rescue a point for Benny. The big man will be remembered in other ways, and for a very long time.



August 20 2019: Stoney age

Kevin Stonehouse’s funeral overflows St John’s church in Shildon this morning. “It’s just good to have a full house, we never had one at Blackburn” says his former Rovers team mate Derek Fazackerly. “At Ewood Park we used to drive them away.”

The pre-service sussuration embraces sickness and debt as usual, but this time there’s a third topic. The talk’s all of VAR.

The guy they called Stoney – lovely man, everyone agreed, great sense of humour, do anything for anyone – had been an apprentice riveter at the wagon works before signing for Rovers manager Howard Kendall.

It was the late 70s, before Jack Walker’s cavalry appeared over the hill, Kevin sold for £30,000 after two years to Huddersfield Town in order that both the team and the electricity bill might be paid.

Fazackerley, former No 3 to Kevin Keegan and Terry McDermott at Newcastle, also recalls that Kevin had the untidiest hotel room he’d ever seen. “He regarded it as doing his bit for the economy, keeping the house maids in work.”

He also played in the Football League for Blackpool, Rochdale and Darlington and in the Northern League for Shildon, Bishop Auckland and Willington, who he managed. He was Darlington’s football in the community officer and was an international scout for Newcastle United when he died suddenly, aged 59.

“As with playing, he’d have happily done that job for nothing,” says the Rev Peter Robson, the officiant.

Instead of hymns they play songs by Paul Weller and by The Jam. Before the family leave for to Shildon cemetery, the final song is Going Underground.

Stoney, bless him, had chosen that one himself.

*A funeral service for long serving and greatly popular former West Auckland secretary Allen Bayles – aka the Midnight Cowboy – will be held at St Helen’s Auckland parish church at 12 15pm on Friday August 30.

All will be welcomed thereafter at the Eden Arms in West – the vicinity, it’s strongly suspected, from where most of the old scallywag’s nocturnal telecomms were launched.


August 19 2019: Evenwood smoke

Over the years I’ve been president of Darlington College SU, the Greyhound, the Cricketers, the Hole in the Wall, the Model T, the Travellers Rest and now Cockerton Club.

They’ve all been the same football club. “We go where the beer’s cheapest,” says long serving secretary Alan Smith.

I mention it because, first game of the season in the Crook and District League second division, the boys played Evenwood Town – who may not be the same club, but whose name might stir countless memories for Northern League folk.

Reckoned the smallest community to support a Northern League side, they were admitted after much door hammering in 1931, won the league title in 1949 and again in 1970 and 1971 and in 1956 had reached the FA Cup first round, losing 7-2 to Darlington.

By the 1990s they’d fallen on inexorably hard times. Long serving former Northern League secretary Gordon Nicholson became chairman and led a small and greatly gallant band in a perpetual battle against apathy, vandalism and poverty.

Dr Graeme Forster, later at Tow Law, West Auckland and Crook, became a livewire manager, brought in some high profile players and even ran a greyhound called Evenwood Town at Byker dogs. The greyhound didn’t win much, either.

The Rev Frank Campbell, a Church of Scotland minister who lived near Jedburgh, became programme editor – as he did at Prudhoe – once travelling from his home to the Evenwood ground in an hour and 25 minutes. “There’s nothing in the good book about speeding,” he pleaded.

The battle went on until 2005 when, amid some acrimony, the desperate club’s name was changed to Spennymoor Town, their ground to the Brewery Field and their colours to black and white stripes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sadly, it may be a while before Town are able to seek a return to their former status. Cockerton Club beat them 9-2.

August 18 2019: Sud’s law

Yesterday’s note on the death of former FA top man Adrian Titcombe prompted an 8 15am call from long serving former Tow Law Town secretary Bernard Fairbairn.

Bernard recalls – and who could ever forget? – the Lawyers’ FA Vase final season, 1997-98 and in particular the quarter final tie at Sudbury Wanderers, in Suffolk, up a quaint little branch line from Marks Tey.

They called it the Lovejoy Line, goodness knows why.

I’d also wandered that way for the fourth round match with Bedlington Terriers, chiefly memorable for a quote from Terriers secretary Eric Young. “We’re playing against 15 as usual, their 11 plus the referee and two linesmen.”

Tow Law weren’t happy with the ref, either, especially when he sent off Jarrod Suddick for swearing. “He did swear but not at the ref,” says Bernard, who after a 1-1 draw – Paul Hague’s last minute equaliser – was summoned to the match officials’ room.

“He wanted to know how to get to Tow Law for the replay. I told him that, so far as I was concerned, he’d never get there,” says Bernard.

Adrian Titcombe was outside. Told what was up, he at once got on the phone to an FA colleague. The replay was handled by Jim Devine, a polliss from Middlesbrough, instead.

Whatever his punishment, Suddick – son of the former Newcastle United player Alan Suddick – had clearly served his time before the semi-final second leg. It was his 79th minute goal against Taunton Town which sent the Lawyers indelibly to Wembley.

*The semi-final first leg had ended 4-4, one of the most memorable matches I ever saw. The league magazine recalled the return train ride with FA Council member and Shildon secretary Mike Armitage, my lifelong best mate.

Clearly as excited as I was, Mike ordered two bacon butties at £2 49 apiece from the buffet, giving the assistant a fiver. After several moments of mental acuity he came to a big decision. “Keep the change,” he said. Mike was an accountant.

*Good news from the Durham coast. After long years of frustration – not of their own making – Easington Colliery’s ground improvements are complete.

The floodlights are at last on the mains – no more blackouts, it’s greatly to be hoped – the dressing rooms, clubhouse and toilets are all refurbished.

The league management committee visited last week.”It’s very impressive,” we’re told