Some of the West Auckland lads have been down to Doncaster today for a surprise 90th birthday party for Norman Ayton, the Northern League’s only life member. They took the World Cup, too.
That’s Norman, second left, with Cliff Alderson, Dave Bussey and Stuart Alderson.
The title’s a constitutional curiosity, since a football league is a body of member clubs, not individuals, but if Norman ever fancied raising a side we could hardly refuse him.
Come to think, he was also identified on West Auckland notepaper as chief executive long after he’d left the North-East for Doncaster, where memory suggests he ran a market stall. Last time I saw him was when West were drawn down at the wonderfully named Askern Villa in a cup tie.
A great club man, Norman was secretary and chairman and also a long-serving Durham FA member.”Great Ayton”, for the benefit of those far flung from North-East England, is also a large village near Guisborough which was the birthplace of Captain James Cook.
Back in 2003, the club held a night in Norman’s honour, though the surest sign of esteem may have come from Northern League president George Courtney – a man, shall we say, noted for a certain financial prudence.
George bought him a pint of Guinness. “He didn’t drink it, he had it framed,” he said.
*Towards the other end of the age scale, it’s very good to hear from Craig Dobson, the brilliant young man who produced award winning programmes for West Allotment Celtic and for North Shields and who, wholly unpaid, transformed the appearance of the league magazine in the last stages of its 27-year life.
Craig had a history degree, wanted only to be a journalist – so much for the lessons of history – and worked in a supermarket in order to make ends meet.
Now he’s got a pretty perfect job at the National Football Museum in Manchester, which staged the league’s 125th anniversary exhibition back in 2013-14. Last week he was promoting a Subbuteo exhibition – lovely to see that he’s got his feet beneath the table.