Among the happy birthday traditions in this house is that, some time near the big day, Sharon drives me to and from a game. A real treat.
The big day’s on Sunday. Today we make the 160-mile round trip to the A1 to Alnwick (where on production of a tenner she can take a dander around the Duchess of Northumberland’s gardens, an’ all.)
It’s a first visit to the alternative St James’ Park since the Last Legs walk in August 2015. On a glorious summer afternoon we’d had a pint on the decks outside the pub in Boulmer, admired the wonderful views down the Northumberland coast, remarked that we should make the most of such days because you never knew what was round the corner.
Less then half a mile later, almost literally round the corner, I fell off a kerb,threw down an arm to break the fall and broke the arm instead.
Now it’s the international break. Is everyone at it?
It’s also Non League Day, a few distinctly southern accents suggesting a degree of attraction. Those who suppose the north Northumberland twang to be tricky, all r’s over tit, should hear the deep south.
I swear that I heard one of these guys ask for details of the ham salad. Turns out he wanted the home side.
Alnwick’s a lovely little club, relations anything but fractured. Among many others I remember former player/chairman John Common, in the habit of leaving sheep and chicken carcasses in the visitors’ dressing room.
John had also been fined by the club for falling asleep during the annual Northern League dinner in 1997, my first as chairman. It wasn’t, happily, during my bit but while guest speaker Johnny Giles was on his feet.
“It seemed the natural thing to do,” pleaded John and none who heard Mr Giles that night could disagree.
This season they’re struggling, admirable chairman Tom McKie anxious to know how many might be relegated from the second division. The short answer is that neither I nor anyone else has a clue – and that shameful state of affairs is entirely due to the FA’s obsession with homogenisation.
How can it be right that, even as the end of season nears, none will know if they’re on safe ground. It could be a slaughter, though.
Alnwick are playing Heaton Stannington, club mascot Heaton Stan Harry – a dog with 394 followers on Twitter – conspicuous by absence. “He sometimes likes a lie in,” says Heaton Stan secretary Ken Rodger.
Very comfortably, Stan win 6-2, sending Alnwick to the foot of the table. Hearing of the upcoming birthday, both Ted Ilderton – on ref assessment duty – and Ken Rodger stand a bottle of Brown. The wonder driver’s outside at quarter past five. I might quite enjoy being 39.