January 9 2019: Moulton mettle

North Cowton’s a quiet village about five miles from here, the name rather unoriginally meaning cattle farm. Until 50 years ago it had a railway station, called Moulton, on the Darlington-Richmond line.

Moulton was three miles away. They called North Cowton station Moulton in order to avoid confusion with East Cowton, a few miles the other side on the East Coast main line.

Probably, however, it did nothing to ease confusion with another station called Moulton, near Spadling in Lincolnshire, until that one closed in 1959.

The railways always did move in a mysterious way.

These days North Cowton’s on the country bus route between Darlington and Northallerton. Since it’s not operated by Arriva, whose drivers are on strike, I catch the last of the day – the 17 40 – to watch the Ernest Armstrong Cup tie between Northallerton Town and Jarrow.

Worth all the chew? Abundantly. Town are the friendliest and most welcoming of clubs. Their ground, their clubhouse, their tea hut and (these days) their floodlights are among the Ebac Northern League’s very best.

Unbeaten at home all season, 32 points from the last 36 in the league, they also have a special, almost possessive, relationship with the Ernie Armstrong Cup.

Among the 102 crowd is South Shields FC secretary Philip Reay, whose Arsenal supporting son helps coach Jarrow and who it’s lovely to see. As the mercury hovers a mite above zero, the other 101 wear quilted anoraks, woolly hats and thick gloves. Philip, to no surprise, wears a T-shirt.

He also faces a problem in September when his daughter’s being married – on a Saturday. It threatens to be the first Mariners game he’ll have missed for 15 years. “I’m working on it,” he says.

There, too, is insatiable ground hopper Lee Stewart, on a roll and on a diet – the roll’s accompanied by burger, chips and gravy – and Russell Wynn, whose sequence without a goalless draw now stretches to an incredible 344 matches.

Russ is a North Shields supporter and member of the league’s media team. Early in the season, Shields lost 1-0 to Ashington, a 92nd minute goal. “Mixed feelings,” he insists.

The first half’s goalless – Russ still hasn’t seen a first half goal in 2019 – the deadlock broken by Damon  Reaks of Northallerton in the 65th minute. Town fans go wild, Russ goes wilder.

Jonny Evans equalises with just about the game’s last kick, a blow for 16-year-old debutant goalkeeper Max Richardson who’s had a great game – but Max then saves the first of Jarrow’s penalties and Town go through 5-3.

A very good night – and Sharon takes me home.