January 21 2018: Braw Brora (cont)

Stevie Carter, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion’s multi-tasking secretary, was born and raised in Brora. The blog mentioned as much a few days ago.

It’s a village in the far north of Scotland, half way to Iceland, population 1,200. On Saturday the Highland League side made the long journey to East Fife, Scottish Cup fourth round, and on the Fifers’ 3G pitch won 1-0.

“A great day with Brora doing all the singing,” Stevie reports. “The game was no better quality than Northern League second division, but it was all about the result.”

The Cattachs – as, inexplicably Brora are known – are at Kilmarnock in the last 16, still haven’t conceded a goal in this year’s competition, inevitably stir memories of that other great will-ye-no’-come-back romance when Gretna reached the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park, just 14 years after being in the Northern League.

It was 2006, Gretna just promoted from the third tier. A small gesture to Brooks Mileson, club chairman and our long-term sponsor, the Northern League bouight 110 Hampden tickets and filled two executive coaches. An executive coach is a bus with netties.

Departure was delayed, however, because there was no sign of Lee Stewart, then Esh Winning’s secretary and now the most ubiquitous of ground hoppers. Finally he was found, asleep on the back seat. “I wondered why we weren’t going,” he said.

Brooks, who lived near Gretna, had begun the day mucking out his pigs and been interviewed by the radio while so doing. It meant he had to wear his best jeans for Hampden. “The others have pig muck on them,” he said (or words closely to that effect.)

Soon, happy as a pig in clarts, he was queuing for a noonday fish supper, declining to join the tartan blazer brigade. “I don’t care for them and I don’t care for their uniform,” he said.

Gretna supporters wore floppy white coas with a rosette and the number 9 on the back, a nod to star striker Kenny Deuchar who was also a junior doctor.Whatever hapened to him? Probably a consultant by now.

Hearts, second in the premier division, led after 37 minutes. Ryan McGuffie equalised when a penalty rebounded back to him. The match went to extra-time, then penalties. Gretna lost, but had qualified for Europe.

At the time they were one of six Scottish League clubs whose home grounds were south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Still there are six. Readers are invited to name them. Since it’s the week of Burns Night, an answer – and maybe another Scottish edition – tomorrow.

 

 

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January 20 2018: enough rope

At noon, indeed overnight, only two games have survived. Tow Law secretary Steve Moralee sends a picture which illustrates how soft we’ve become – there can’t be more than a foot of snow on Ironworks Road.

The survivors are at Whitley Bay and North Shields, Costa del North Tyne. Whitley Bay v Guisborough Town is chosen for three reasons: the first’s that it doesn’t involve a change on the Metro, the second that there’s chance of a pint – Mordue’s Oatmeal Stout, £2, at the excellent Left Luggage Room on Monkseaton station.

The third,though at 11am Whitley Bay secretary Derek Breakwell still reckons the pitch a bit iffy, is that the referee’s Shane Sugden. Shane was the ref at Team North on December 9, similar circumstances, played it when many another official wouldn’t. It’ll be on.

As so often happens on days of mass postponements, it’s a lovely winter afternoon. Not a sign of snow in Whitley. Derek, for some reason, is carrying what appears to be a Grade 1 hangman’s noose of the sort formerly issued to Mr Albert Pierrepoint.

There’s a problem with a floodlight pylon, apparently: mercifully nothing to do with giving a man enough rope, though the purpose of the noose still remains unclear.

Guisborough fear me. The fifth time I’ve seen them this season and, hitherto, not so much as a point. After a treacly first half – the pitch a leveller in a humpy-bumpy sort of a way – it ends 2-2 with ref Sugden also taking an enlightened view of the kaput pylon.

Guisborough’s added time equaliser is scored by Stephen Roberts, his first game back since parting company a few weeks back with his appendix. A surgical strike: the jinx is over.

*The Guardian went tabloid this week. Since Penrith secretary Ian White has sought my professional view, I buy a copy for the journey north. It’s 2 90; Ian owes me a pie.

Particularly the eye is caught by a report that Donald Trump’s latest medical gives his height as 6 ft 3ins, while the president’s driving licence says he’s only 6ft 2in. If he was 6ft 2ins, says the Guardian, then he’d officially be obese.

The funny thing is that I’ve always claimed to be six-two. It must have been six-three after all.

January 19 2018: FA kicks out league plan

The FA has rejected imaginative and radical Ebac Northern League proposals which would have created an additional division at step 4, feeding into the Evostik premier division.

Though no surprise – the league may have few friends in the high places at Wembley – the decision is greatly disappointing, not least for league secretary Kevin Hewitt who worked hard to find a practical solution to long-standing issues.

In a letter to clubs today, Kevin quotes Isthmian League chairman Nick Robinson, whose own league will have a new step 4 division from 2018-19. “We can now look forward to 2018-19 when we will have 60 clubs in three divisions, which are better placed geographically than at present.

“The aim is to reduce costs for clubs and fans alike so that we encourage more players and supporters to our brand of football.”

Northern League clubs headed to step four will now, of course, face much increased travel costs – and demands on their time. “It’s disappointing,” says Kevin, “that there seems to be little or no desire on behalf of the FA’s leagues committee to address those very same issues for our own region.”

For a long time the Northern League has been well run, handsomely sponsored and pre-eminent at this level. It has always encouraged ambition but sought to highlight, and urged others to address, the special issues of location at one of England’s extremities.

What’s happening now seems to me a classic case of tall poppies syndrome. How might the league, of which I remain senior vice-president, now proceed? Must the poppy wither and die?

*A much happier note, a beer this evening with Spennymoor Town manager Jason Ainsley, the most engaging and most affable of companions.

We’ve had our moments, mind. In the club’s later Northern League days, when Secret Shoppers stalked the land and terrorised the technical area, Jason’s name was on more shopping lists than J Sainsbury’s.

I’ll never forget my astonishment upon discovering that his day job was “head of behaviour” at a Teesside school. It’s passion, of course, and we’ll say no more.

Not four years since they left the Northern League, Jason has now guided the Moors towards the top of the National League northern section and to the last 16 of the FA Trophy. For both club and manager it’s a tremendous achievement, not least because little more than a decade ago they were within days of folding.

As league chairman I had a small but active role in their survival and have taken much delight in their progress – all acknowledged by the club. Those who claim the Northern League lacks ambition talk out of their blazered backsides.

 

 

January 18 2018: cheap date

As probably I’ve suggested before, one of life’s great bargains is an advance purchase first class train ticket to Edinburgh, especially when in possession of a codgers’ rail card.

A single’s £15 30, precisely three times as much as the bus fare for the nine snowy miles from home to Darlington, which is where we catch the thing.

Included in that £15 30 is breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee, a buckshee copy of The Times – particularly welcome because the newspaper vans haven’t got through to Smith’s on the station – decent leg room and some wonderful coastal views.

The Times has an obit on Philip Eden, a meteorologist who once calculated that there’s more chance of a white Easter than a white Christmas. There’s that to look forward to an’ all, then.

Back home there are several inches, north of Newcastle and over the Border there’s hardly a flake.

There are many stories of Edinburgh, one of the best’s the day we went by car to a very posh wedding there and in turn booked into a very posh hotel. Lost on the city outskirts, we spotted a refuse collection depot and sought directions. The lads offered to act as native guides.

Thus it was that while others drew up in chauffeur driven limousines, we were escorted to the door by a dustbin lorry.

Today’s a day out with our kidder. One of the best bits, paradoxically, is that the train’s an hour late – not the snow, but an “object” on the overhead lines, deposited there by some of Peterborough’s finest.

The twin benefits are that if it had been on time we’d have missed it and that if it’s an hour or more late, the fare’s refunded.

Will ye no’ come back again? Try stopping us.

January 17 2018: ENL’s radical alternative

Faced with an inexorable and irreversible decline in its status if the FA’s helplessly ill-considered restructuring plans go ahead, the Ebac Northern League has come up with a radical proposal, being considered at an FA meeting today.

It’s that a new ENL “Premier” division be created at Step 4, reaching further south into Yorkshire and feeding into the Evostik premier division. Presumably, though the league is careful not to say as much, it would also get a lot of our better clubs out of the FA Vase.

The league would still retain divisions at steps 5 and 6, probably drawing clubs from west of the Pennines. The maximum envisaged number of “new” clubs would be 17.

The documents are put forward in a thoughtful, carefully considered and wholly realistic document being considered by the FA’s leagues committee. As things stand, it argues, plenty of clubs may leave the league but none is likely to return by relegation.

If not a slow death, then certainly a slow and certain diminution.

It’s precisely because what’s being suggested is radical, carefully considered and wholly realistic that it hasn’t a chance of being implemented. What a terrible indictment that  many people will be very pleased about that.

*That I’ve not been to football this mid-week is down not to the weather but to the diary, and here’s a terrible confession.

Last night I was in Newton Aycliffe’s clubhouse, not post-match but for my mate Tommy’s 77th birthday bash at the Candlelite Club, which meets there every Tuesday.

Part way through a brilliant night there’s a text message from Pete Sixsmith at Northallerton Town v Thornaby – goalless at half-time, absolutely perishing, and the involuntary thought occurs that I know where I’d rather be.

No offence to the boys at Ainderby Road, but it’s not standing in a North Yorkshire north-westerly.

It’s coincidental that John Wrightson, who runs the club, should have been approached while a Seaham schoolboy by the great Bob Hardisty – mentioned in yesterday’s blog – seeking to take him to Manchester United on trial. Football’s loss was folk music’s gain; John’s brilliant.

Tonight our kidder’s here, which again means no football. Fortunately, we know a little pub with a blazing fire, in which to drown our sorrows.

January 16 2018: Warren piece

Pro-am as always, yesterday’s blog invited the identity of the only man to gain amateur and full England caps in the same season.

It was Warren Bradley, one of three Bishop Auckland men – Derek Lewin and Bob Hardisty the others – to answer Manchester United’s call after the Munich disaster in February 1958 and an example of all that they say about good stuff and little bundles.

“The circumstances were terrible but it was an incredible honour,” the right winger once said. “During the fifties, Manchester United were undoubtedly the greatest team in the world.”

A Durham University graduate who played in the same university cricket team as legendary fast bowler Frank Tyson, he became an RAF pilot officer at Middleton St George, near Darlington, particularly recalling the excellence of the mushrooms which grew alongside the runway.

With the Bishops he appeared in two Amateur Cup finals, at United he made his debut for the Reserves – alongside Lewin and Hardisty – in a 1-1 draw with Burnley.  The legendary Busby Babes lost on his first team debut, at Bolton, but were unbeaten in the next 20. “We got a bit lucky,” said Warren.

United had found him a job as a teacher. “As a kid I wanted to be a headmaster like other kids wanted to be a train driver,” he said and once played in a friendly against Real Madrid after a hard day at the chalk face.

At the start of 1958-59 he was an amateur, by the end of the season he’d been called into the full England team,  scoring on his debut in a 2-2 draw against Italy. Bobby Charlton got the other. It was the first of three caps to complement his 11 as an amateur.

It also made him – at the time – one of few men to have scored for three different teams at Wembley – Bishops, England amateurs and the full team.

Warren became a headmaster by he was 33, went on to be a schools inspector and was much involved with the Manchester United Former Players’ Association, though he preferred golf to watching matches.

After a quadruple heart bypass in the year 2000, he died in 2007 a fortnight before his 74th birthday. “He wouldn’t say boo to a goose,” said Derek Lewin, “but his speed and ability were tremendous. He was a wonderful man.”

January 15 2018: savage amusement

doggarts

Doggarts dept. (continued). The eye may well have been caught by the extraordinary advertisement above, and we shall return to it shortly, but firstly back to other members of that remarkable family.

It was Arthur Doggart who founded the North-East store chain – “The fair dealing family firm” – but his son Graham who played cricket for Cambridge University and Middlesex, captained Durham, played football among others for Bishop Auckland and was one of few men to win both amateur and full international football honours, though remaining a true Corinthian.

Who was the only man to win both in the same season? More of him tomorrow.

Graham, at any rate, was also an MCC committee member and in 1961 became chairman of the FA. He died during the annual meeting two years later. He was 66.

Hubert Doggart, Graham’s son, was a Cambridge Blue in five sports and captain in four of them, twice played cricket for England, was MCC president in 1981-82 and at 92 is still, happily, with us.

He isn’t England’s oldest surviving test cricketer. That’s 94-year-old Sussex man Don Smith, who made three appearances in 1950 and reckoned that he incurred the displeasure of P B H May, the skipper, by walking when the umpires wouldn’t have given him out.

That he averaged just 8.33 with the bat and took 1-97 may little have helped his cause.

Thanks to Don Clarke for the steer on Don Smith and to Ray Ion, beavering diligently, for the “Savage South Africa” ad – and no matter that the savage was merely mechanical.

It appeared in The Northern Echo on Christmas Eve 1899 – “a thrilling episode of savage life, procured at great expense.”

Bairns had simply to put a penny in the slot. “Immediately from out an African Encampmnt there emerges a Savage with the desired toy and conveys it to the Purchaser when – lo! – scarce has he finished his errand when anther savage with uplifted tomahawk glides out of the forest in pursuit of him.”

Arthur Doggart was to become president of the Baptist Missionary Society.