June 10 2018: days of wonder

Hazel Grove, verdantly named though latterly down-at-heel, will again will again host senior football when West Auckland Tuns join the Wearside League next season.

The ground’s in Cockfield, a fell-side village of 1,500 or so souls in west Durham, one of those places that historically punched far above its weight.

There was a canny male voice choir, too, some champion pigeon men and a chap called Billy Gypp who got barred out of the workmen’s club for scrounging and won a gurning competition without moving a muscle.

Dubbed “The Wonder Village” by the local press, the team reached the FA Amateur Cup semi-final in 1922-23, won the inaugural Northern League Challenge Cup the following season and in 1927-28 astonished football by reaching the Amateur Cup final, losing 3-2 to Leyton at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough after twice leading.

Though several ties took place at a thronged Hazel Grove, the third round was switched to St Albans after Cockfield told the FA that their top gate all season had been £18 and they wouldn’t be able to cover expenses.

Local rumour had it that that the Hertfordshire club had offered Cockfield £100 to make the switch.

After decades of post-war inactivity, a Cockfield side joined the Auckland and District League and in the 1990s were hugely successful, frequently winning a splendid array of solid silver league and country trophies.

On a perishing post-Christmas Saturday about 25 years ago they hosted Northern League side Whickham in the Durham Challenge Cup, just about the only game to survive.

I fell into conversation with a chap of about 80 who at half-time said he’d have to nip backhome. “I have to put some coal on for my dad,” he said. His dad was 98.

Word from Wearside League secretary Kevin Harrison is that the semi-derelict old pavilion has been replaced by a new building named in memory of former local councillor Pauline Charlton.

West Auckland’s about four miles down the road, though they’ll have to go an awfully long way before emulating the original Cockfield side. Good luck to them, anyway.

*The Wearside League expects to learn its 2018-19 constitution on Monday,  the likelihood that former Northern League members Stokesley SC will join the North Riding League and that Darlington RA, relegated from the NL in May, will make Wearside numbers up to 16 – one down from last season.

Horden Community Welfare, playing on the former Horden Colliery Welfare ground, are also joining. Darlington Reserves, the identity which the Colliery Welfare formally took in mid-season two years ago, are changing their name to Darlington Town.

Taking five clubs from the now-defunct Durham Alliance League, the Wearside will also launch a nine-team Develpment Division in which Stockton Town Reserves will compete.

The Alliance’s demise means that the Crook and District League will now be the only “local” Saturday league in Co Durham, where once every town seemed to have one.