December 2 2019: Fed and watered

The blog on November 26 had cause to recall the Federation Brewery, effectively owned by the region’s workmen’s clubs and the Northern League’s principal sponsor from 1993-97. It reminded former Alnwick Town secretary Cyril Cox of a perhaps unforgettable league dinner at Newcastle Civic Centre.

The Fed, either very generous or very green, offered free beer for all until ten o’clock. “The beer barrels were stacked high behind the bar,” Cyril recalls. “Every two tables were served by a waitress who brought massive jugs all evening.

“When it got close to 10pm vases of flowers on the tables were emptied and were in turn filled with beer or lager. The poor waitresses were shattered.”

All that’s remarkably coincidental because it’s 100 years this month – and in Alnwick – that the fledgling Fed paid £10,000 for its first premises, without first letting the brewer have a look. Not least because they’d been a munitions factory during the war, they were ruinous and wholly unsuitable.

Finally settled in Newcastle, the Fed brewed its first pint in 1921 – “the only true free trade brewery in the world,” said a House of Commons early day motion in 1996, sponsored by Easington MP John Cummins. It may also have been he who ensured that Fed Best was sold in the House of Commons bars.

For 17 years the chairman was Jim Ramshaw, who’d played football for Shildon and – a lesser claim to fame – had a stand at Hexham racecourse named after him.

They’d moved to a new £20m brewery at Dunston in 1980, soon linked up with the neighbouring football club and at peak production were turning out 10,000 barrels a week (and not all for the Northern League dinner.)

Sadly, for the beer was very drinkable, the brewery closed in 2004 and the premises were sold to S&N. Newcastle Brown Ale production was moved to Tadcaster in 2010, though the Lancastrian function suite remains.

By 1996-97, my first season as league chairman,the annual dinner had itself moved to the Lancastrian Suite, though both the venue and the speaker (Johnny Giles) proved so disappointing that we moved thereafter to the Ramside Hall Hotel near Durham.

It’s proved an excellent venue but, despite many suggestions, the lads have never had free ale all night.