January 10 2018: Amber and go

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Darlington RA v Crook Town is my 50th game of the season, lukewarm by some standards. It’s also a fourth visit to the RA, nearest ground to home. The previous three have ended in home defeats.

RA haven’t won since October 21 at Alnwick, are second bottom of the second division and welcome new manager Paul Edwards, formerly a player with Whitby Town and Blyth Spartans and most recently manager at Thornaby.

It’s the first of three successive home games. “If we win those three we could be in Europe,” says Alan Hamilton, RA’s ever-optimistic secretary.

Crook, conversely, have ten points from the first six games under new manager Chris Lax but haven’t played since December 21.

Before the match there’s a minute’s silence in memory of David Moyes, whose death we recorded a few days back. Thereafter it’s greatly entertaining, RA fighting back from 2-1 down – both Crook’s goals from Christian Holliday, the man they call Bisto in memory of his days as an Army cook – to win 4-2.

At the final whistle, Alan Hamilton says something I never thought I’d hear on an Ebac Northern League ground: “Can you come back on Saturday?”

*Exactly 18 years ago, the cover of the league magazine, above, featured Crook Town stalwart Jeff Patterson and his wife Dawn with their new daughter Amber – named after the club’s traditional shirt colour.

“I’m just glad that all those years ago they didn’t call the shirts yellow,” said Jeff at the time.

Jeff and Dawn seem to have changed little. Amber’s grown up a bit. When she reached 18 at Christmas, her dad looked forward to a first legal drink with his daughter. “We went down town, I bought her a pink gin and she left to go with her mates,” he reports.

Kids.

*What else was happening at the start of the new millennium? Dunston Fed had withdrawn their application to the Unibond League – “we worked out it would cost us an extra £15,000 a year,” said club chairman Malcolm James – West Auckland’s clubhouse had suffered a serious vandal attack at New Year, Jarrow Roofing gaffer Richie McLoughlin had been asked to feature in a Tyne Tees Television series called Obsessions, Washington had won nine successive matches and clubs were getting new-fangled websites. Bedlington had two.

Particularly, however, memories are stirred by the death – 18 years ago today – of William Coulson Hall, both the Northern League’s and the Football League’s oldest former player.  He was 98.

A wonderful character, Billy Hall – known sometimes by a much more scatalogical nickname on account of his first two initials – was born and raised in Tow Law, played for the Lawyers, won Northern League championshi medals in 1924 and 1925, worked at the Black Prince pit and declined to wash his back in the belief that it would weaken it.

Much of his Football League career was spent with Blackpool, where he was leading scorer in the second division championship winning side. He later played for Southend before returning to Tow Law, where he lived out the back of the ground and was long the club’s gateman.

Probably Billy could have achieved even more had he not been so fond of a drink. “Aa was wuss than that George Best,” he once told me, “aa just couldn’t content mesel’.” A lovely, lovely man.

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