July 10 2018: university challenged

Team Northumbria have resigned from the Ebac Northern League just weeks before the new season. They will be heavily fined, probably £1,000 but hopefully more.

Who’ll pay? The university sports budget, presumably, and ultimately the taxpayer – but Team North never were like other clubs.

Perhaps it’s because no one’s hand has to go into his pocket, that none has to go cap in hand to sponsors or organise a desperate fund raiser, that the timing is so wretched, so seemingly thoughtless.

Had they resigned before the league’s annual meeting in June – and this can be no spur of the moment decision – it would not only have saved the league secretary an unwanted and unnecessary headache but saved Darlington RA, second bottom of the second division, from relegation.

But TN were never as other clubs – not remotely.

Ten of their 12 Northern League years were in my time as chairman. In that decade they probably had six or seven nominal secretaries, each a full-time university employee working Monday to Friday.

I never, ever, met any of them. It was a 9-to-5 job, the nitty-gritty hands-mucky myriad match day duties left to others – often team manager Paul Johnson (and his dad.)

Nor did I ever fully understand players’ status. Some were certainly students, others seemed to have a more semi-detached relationship with the university. Were they paid and if so by whom? Certainly not out of the dreadful Coach Lane gates.

The ground itself eventually ticked all the ground grading boxes, the adjacent state-funded sports facilities magnificent, but – as on many occasions elsewhere – we had to be both patient and a little flexible.

Paying to park was ever contentious, location of toilets was far from ideal, the room that just about qualified as a “clubhouse” was up an exposed metal staircase out the back.

The clubhouse, incidentally, was the only one in the league not to sell alcohol – that, presumably, being against the university’s fit-for-purpose ethos.

Having the word “licensed” deleted from the FA’s ground grading document was of only two successes I ever had at that level. The other was in removing the word “opaque” from the requirement that all grounds should be surrounded by a fence at last 6ft high. Metal palings are much more effective at keeping out the unwanted. TN benefitted from that one, too.

A university statement talks about “rebalancing the sports portfolio” and “a wider sports, health and wellbeing strategy.” None of it explains the abject timing of the announcement or tha apparent total disregard for those more conventionally at the grass roots.

The league and its clubs have every right to be furious. Memory suggests that the FA had similar problems with Team Bath a few years back. As probably they say at the University of Northumbria, you live and learn.

*That unexpected development rather gets in the way of the promised round-up of songs for the NHS seventieth. Unless there are other unwelcome surprises, more of that tomorrow.