November 8 2017: Norton but nice?

Norton’s just a couple of miles from Billingham but, goodness knows, the road is paved with rumours.

The Synners left their decaying Central Avenue home after promotion at the end of last season, pitched up at Norton and Stockton Ancients’ former headquarters, struggle terribly.

Before tonight they’ve not won in 18, four draws and just 11 goals, and now host Marske United, high flying and formidable.

Stalwarts have left, loyalists remain. Madge Stamp, long serving tea lady, rejoices that Norton had a washing up machine. Graham Craggs, secretary these past 30 years and still only a bairn, remains stoical, philosophical, cheerful.

Graham remembers the good times, not least the FA Vase run in 2006-07, though the semi-final second leg defeat to Totton – and the manner of it – remains the second greatest disappointment in my 20 years as league chairman.

Regulars won’t need to guess the greatest: that was an FA Vase semi-final second leg, too.

Tonight’s gate is 176, much the season’s highest, many from Marske. It includes Ian Rowe, Marske’s secretary for 16 years, now there to watch his son James in Synners’ central defence.

There, too, is John Dawson, king of the ground hoppers, closer to home after a 0-14 at Cromford, Central Midlands League, on Saturday. The home goalie had suffered a serious injury after five minutes; when the ambulance hadn’t arrived by full-time, his mam took him to hospital instead.

That United’s starting X1 includes seven former Synners men may not be as surprising as it sounds: Teesside players inhabit a carousel.

The visiotrs register a comfortable 4-0 win, a good warm-up for Saturday’s big FA Vase tie with Shildon (see under great disappointments, above.)

*Yesterday’s blog on Paul Tully’s sudden death attracted a record number of views and visitors, about six times the average.

Chiefly it was because of a link on the Newcastle United website, for which thanks. They called me “inimitable”, which no doubt is true and may even have been meant as a compliment.

Paul was one of those people who you always – always – felt better for having met, if only in the queue at the tea hut (and usually behind him.) Funeral details when we have them.