March 13 2018: play it again, Sam

The Grey Horse in Consett is the North-East’s second best pub. I’m in there before the Durham Challenge Cup semi-final with Shildon when a chap shows me an image on his mobile phone. “Bet you don’t know who that is,” he says.


It’s Sam Gordon who, exactly 20 years ago, was helping set up a little bit of football history. Sam, then ten, had been the ever-more excited mascot during Tow Law Town’s wonderful FA Vase run which brought an unforgettable semi-final victory over  Taunton.

So to Wembley, but with one big problem – the intractable FA, presumably forgetting that funny bloke who used to walk around the perimeter in support of the England team,  insisted that mascots were simply not allowed at the national stadium.

Happily, both Lawyers chairman John Flynn and I were on good terms with Graham Kelly, much the most grassroots-friendly chief executive that the FA has ever had. Graham heard the story and at once ordered a rule change. Beginning with Sam Gordon, Wembley has had mascots ever since.

The chap with the phone is Sam’s dad, Jon. Sam became a good goalkeeper, won a sports scholarship in the States, played for the Lawyers and is now back in the Consett area. As the phone image confirms, however, the story has an unexpected ending – he’s now an enthusiastic r***y player.

*Consett manager Mark Eccles lives next door to the Grey Horse. His house is for sale. This can only be for one of three reasons: a) he’s signed the pledge, b) he’s lost his marbles c) he’s been offered the vacant manager’s job at Southampton. The last seems much the most likely.

*Still enough snow lying around the Consett area for some kids to have a snowball fight behind the goal, but the 3G pitch seems in good fettle. A large and enthusiastic crowd sees a tight game end 0-0, Consett winning the shoot-out when Shildon’s second penalty goes off to join a space station.

The elder bairn’s there, too, eschewing Consett’s admirable half-time hospitality for a dash to Morrison’s in search of blue jelly for his daughter’s imminent fifth birthday party  – something to do with the Frozen phenomenon. Parents of little girls will understand.

He misses the first few minutes of the second half, returns triumphant. “Last five packets, tutti-fruity, bright blue, even with sparkly bits.”

Happy birthday, Maeve, you have a brilliant dad – but you’ll still have to wait a while for a pint in the Grey Horse.