April 17 2017

The Billingham derby, 11am start at Bedford Terrace, first half largely uneventful. “That’s the trouble with morning kick-offs,” someone says, “there’s still a bit of clinker in the boiler.”

“God hates Synners but he loves the Town,” says an Easter Monday banner, though it’s Synners who ascend after Town could only draw at Esh Winning on Saturday.

For Synthonia, last Saturday’s was the last match after 59 years at the much-enjoyed Central Avenue stadium, though a couple of cup finals remain before the shutters and the question marks go up. “A funny occasion, quite emotional really,” says long serving secretary Graham Craggs.

Madge Stamp, that stalwart tea hut supremo, contemplates disposal of assets. “Billingham Town can have the pie warmer but I’m keeping the till, cost me £80,” she says. “The grandbairns can learn money on that.”

Town, coming up their 50th anniversary, have also had a good season and will finish fourth or fifth. “No longer the little club over the road,” says team manager Barry Oliver in the top-class programme.

Central Avenue’s swansong attracted a crowd of 315. Today’s is a greatly encouraging 421, including the usual detachment from HM Regiment of Groundhoppers and former Shildon manager Gary Forrest who seems to spend most of the match denying rumours.

“I’ve not seen you for ages, are you still going around?” one of the hoppers asks.

“Aye,” says his mate before I can answer, “but only at 33-and-a-third.” (Younger blog readers may wish to ask a responsible adult to explain.)

Though the clinker may be out of the boiler, the second half’s little more compelling than the first, the season’s second Billingham derby ending goalless in the sunshine, just as the first had done. It’ll be the last for a while. We’ll miss them, nonetheless.

*Last Thursday’s blog reported former Northern League chaplain Leo Osborn’s claim that his beloved Aston Villa were the only Championship club not to play their home game on Good Friday because they’d been formed as a Methodist Sunday School side.

It may almost have been true. Today’s Times reports that the change was made so as not to disrupt the Good Friday service at the nearby Aston parish church but also that, when the 2013 game with Liverpool was switched to Easter Sunday for television’s paramount purposes, churchgoers staged a “generous protest” by handing out hot cross buns to the footy folk.

After Saturday’s defeat, Villa manager Steve bruce said that he was minded to visit the church to say a prayer. After today’s, Leo might be minded to join him.