January 5 2019: I’m in Hebburn….

….and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. Well, maybe not that rate of cardiovascular acceleration, but this is a great day for Hebburn Town FC, through for the first time to the last 16 of the FA Vase.

I knew them when they had nowt, or next to nowt, when what they had was serially threatened by vandals and arsonists, when – sadly – the Northern League felt obliged to relegate them from first to second divisions because the ground failed to meet criteria.

I remember the magnificent efforts of stalwarts like Tom Derrick, Bill and Michael Laffey, Ricky Bainbridge, Steve Newton and Ronnie Tatum, once an Amateur Cup winner with North Shields.

I remember the spread they used to lay on for ground inspections, even when the news wasn’t always good, and I particularly remember the Last Legs Challenge walk to Hebburn when the lads laid on a fascinating route from the Angel of the North, arranged for the Royal Marines band, laid on refreshments at a pub where walk details were on CCTV and raised a quite magnificent sum, more than any other of the 43 clubs.

OK, the Royal Marines band just happened to be en route, but it was wonderfully appropriate.

These days ground and clubhouse are transformed. For the visit of Shepshed Dynamo, up from Leicestershire, there appear to be almost as many payboxes as once there were spectators. Today’s crowd is 795.

Christmas decorations and fairy lights survive until Twelfth Night; a big and bustling marquee is apparently left over from New Year’s Eve.  It’s officially now the Energy Check Sports Ground, four-sided for the first time, and it’s great to see it so invigorated.

I even fulfil an ambition by having a pre-match pint in the Hebburn Protestant Conservative Club, often passed but never entered, to which is attached the Hebburn Orange Hall. No one asks on which grounds, if any, the gang of us qualifies for admission.

The Hornets start slowly, fall a goal behind, breathe again when Shepshed waste a penalty, equalise before half-time through the prolific Michael Richardson, formerly with South Shields. It’s also Richardson who puts them ahead, Hebburn holding out for the last 20 minutes despite going down to ten men.

Everything’s good humoured, not a ha’porth of bother. Thenext round will be the club’s seventh FA Vase tie this season, after starting on September 1 with a 1-0 win at Eccleshil. That could be seventh Hebburn, too.