January 9 2018: Braw Brora

Like so many Northern League club officials, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion secretary Stevie Carter is a man of many hats and endless energy.

He’ll miss the game against Bedlington on January 20, though – off to watch bonny Brora Rangers at East Fife, Scottish FA Cup fourth round.

Brora’s his birthplace, a Sutherland village of just 1,140 people and impossible to get much further north without attending Wick Academy. Once it was home to the UK’s most northerly pit, once nicknamed Electric City, the first Highland community to have mains power.

The team plays in the Highland League, answers (inexplicably) to the Cattachs, beat Fort William 16-0 the other week and saw off Stranraer in the third round of the Cup. Such the excitement ahead of the East Fife match that the Scottish FA is paying for an estimated 500 fans to make the 600-mile round trip.  “It’s winnable,” says Stevie.

Tonight Ryton are at Billingham Town, the team to whom they lost 8-0 in the second game of the season but whom they beat 1-0 to reach the quarter-final of the Ernest Armstrong Cup. “Ryton in a quarter-final….” says Stevie.

The impressively produced programme identifies Richard Bloomfield – a barrister with whom I had dealings as Northern League chairman – as Town’s chairman, chief executive officer, secretary and treasurer.

It’s an example of multi-tasking which clearly leaves him unable to fry a few onions in the tea hut. The tea hut’s shut, a particular disappointment to fans of the celebrated Billy burger.

Town are tenth in the second division, Ryton 14th – possibly safe from relegation but uncomfortable because none in this FA-produced farce knows how many will go down.

The other thing’s their yellow away kit, the socks not just bright but positively fluorescent. You know Mr Edward Lear’s poem The Dong With the Luminous Nose? This is the throng with the luminous hose.

They’re two down inside 15 minutes, not impossible but still with a mountain to climb (as possibly they say in Fort William.) It ends 4-0. Stevie will be hoping for an awful lot better for bonny Brora.