August 4 2018: shadow over the sun

So the travels, some might suppose the travails, begin again – just £6 35 return (with a codger’s card) from Darlington to Seaham and then a sun-blessed walk along the coast to Sunderland RCA’s ground at Ryhope.

Part of it’s on Lord Byron Walk, reflecting the poet’s Seaham connectons, and on such an August afternoon even the most cloth eared might wax lyrical.

Across the border from Co Durham to Sunderland, however, it becomes Saint-Nazaire Way, presumably acknowledging a town twinning connection.

It’s impossible to recall grass verges more wholly or more foully choked with litter. Is this what Sunderland means by entente cordiale? If the French visit they should rip up the agreement and scatter the bits outside the Civic Centre.

And if this is an example of Ryhope’s community pride, little wonder that the two Ebac Northern League clubs in the overgrown village struggle so greatly for support.

Still, things get better immediately on reaching Meadow Park. Mr Keith Stoker spots me coming and gets the beers in. “Don’t put it in the blog, everyone will want one,” he says.

In the clubhouse, like we’d never been away, the conversation earnestly turns to whether it’s lucky to be sh*t on by a seagull. The consensus is that no it’s not and that they’re thieving vermin. They’d love it along Saint-Nazaire Way.

On so glorious an afternoon, however, things then become overshadowed.

Lenny French, RCA’s new goalkeeping coach, has been taking part in the warm-up, returned to the dressing room and complained of chest pains.

The PA asks if anyone has a bottle of aspirin, the ambulance and paramedics are there commendably quickly. By 4pm, they’re on their way to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

Though it’s not needed for its primary purpose, RCA’s defibrillator is used to help with medical assessment. The Northern League insists that all clubs must have one by the end of 2020. That’s why.

No one quite knows what’s happening. Folk reassure one another that it’s amazing what the docs can do these days.

Lenny’s 47 and greatly well known and well liked around the Northern League, chiefly from his time at Chester-le-Street but also at Ryton, Washington, Ryhope CW and probably others, “The sort of true sportsman you really only expect to find in Roy of the Rovers,” someone says.

Memories turn to a Chester-le-Street match in which Chester scored some sort of flukey goal and Lenny, lovely bloke, allowed the equaliser. Details are distant. The Chester lads will remember.

RCA are playing Newcastle Benfield, who win with a second half goal – Paul Brayson, almost inevitably.

I’m still homeward at 7 23pm when there’s a text message from Colin Wilson at the RCA. Lenny has had surgery to address blod clots, is sitting up in bed, talking and answering text messages of his own. He expects to be home in 48 hours.

Great news. Truly, it’s amazing what they can do.