Here’s the first paragraph of my Northern Echo report after Bedlington Terriers’ appearance in the 1998 FA Vase final:
“Wembley was as clement as ever. If Wasdale in the Lake District is England’s wettest location – as always we were taught in O-level geography – then those few acres in north-west London must be the dryest. Probably it explains why so many fair weather fans get there.”
So long as the sun shone on the Terriers, fair weather fans abounded. There were five successive Northern League titles, a 5-1 FA Cup first round win over Colchester United and a gallant defeat at Scunthorpe in the second, subsequent runs to the late stages of the Vase.
We’ll support you ever more? Who could ever have doubted it. The Dr Pit ground was rammed like the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic.
Now fast forward. After a couple of years of struggle, the Terriers were relegated at the end of last season, are holding their own but not exactly breaking roundies in the second division and today host promotion chasing Billingham Town.
The paying crowd’s 26, getting on half of them from Teesside and one – by bus, train and a hoof from Newcastle Central Station to the Haymarket – from Middleton Tyas.
A day after St Patrick’s, musicians from the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society have drawn a good crowd to the Haymarket; in the Terriers’ clubhouse, the Guinness font wears a leprechaun hat.
It’s not wholly coincidental that I’m at Bedlington today. South Shields, Vase semi-final second leg, will have plenty of well-wishers – plenty of bandwagon jumpers, too – without me.
All I’ve seen and read of Mariners’ chairman and saviour Geoff Thompson suggests that he’s a top bloke, so level-headed that you could probably draw a plumb line over his bonce and, for a lot of highly commendable reasons, is in it for the long haul.
Warm congratulations to all at Mariners Park. Their followers will love the Wembley experience. But what if things were subsequently to go pear shaped? Would the Mariners’ complement again be nearer the 30 or 40 – the real fans – who every other week followed them to ground sharing at Peterlee?
Back at Dr Pit Welfare, Terriers take a three-goal lead, are pegged back by two in the last 15 minutes from the irrepressible Craig Hutchinson but hang on for a deserved victory.
It’s a terrific game of football, played on a difficult pitch in a generally good spirit. Both club chairman Ronan Liddane and team manager Paddy Atkinson agree afterwards that it’s their best display of the seaaon – and it deserves to have been watched by a bloody sight more than 26.