February 18 2018: Billingham blockbuster?


Headed “Billingham United?”, yesterday’s blog had double the usual number of Sunday visitors and a record for the Sabbath.

Apparently that’s little to do with the content – as if it would be – and much more with the simply mention of “Billingham” in the header.

So the plan to head today’s blog Olley, Olley, Olley. Oi Oi Oi – see below – has been ditched. Is this, like today’s header, what’s known as clickbait?

At any rate, the Billingham business has moved on. Richard Bloomfield, who in Billy Town’s programme on January 9 was listed as chairman, chief executive, secretary and treasurer now holds none of those offices.

Before an extraordinary general meeting called by the Supporters Trust on Sunday, the club had neither elected officials nor committee.  Now, says the club’s Twitter feed, they have officials and membership requirements.

Where all this leaves a possible merger with Synthonia remains to be seen, but the tide may be running towards unification. Word is that Town also have issues with the clubhouse.

I’m reminded of Mr Bloomfield’s programme notes earlier in the season which ended rather curiously. “Be careful what you wish for, be very careful,” he wrote. Whether this is what they wished for is anyone’s guess, but they are to be wished great good fortune.

*Ah yes, Bob Olley. He was the chap who painted The Westoe Netty, mentioned a few days back. Jeff Dawson’s pic, for which thanks, is of Bob, now 78, apparently enjoying last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.

Both he and Jeff are South Shields lads, allowing Jeff to note that the site of the famous latreen is now occupied by an automated car wash. “Back in the day when Shields was wall to wall pubs and clubs, many a drunkard gratefully relieved themselves in the netty as they staggered home.

“Nowadays, with no public conveniences available, a doorway or street corner will do.”

And that, adds Jeff, is just the ladies.




February 17 2018: Billingham United?

The train service from Darlington to Thornaby is half-hourly and takes 20 minutes. So how come I’m more than an hour late?

“A failure in the signalling system,” says the announcing android, verbosely. “Signal failure” would better sum things up.

There’s still just time to look into a photographic exhibition at Thornaby’s Trumpton-esque town hall of the town’s past, when the station had one of those classic over-arching roofs, flower beds, porters, a paper shop and the most wonderful waiting room fire.

Is there any station on the network which still keeps the home fires burning?

Thornaby’s Teesdale Park ground, conversely, changes only for the better. What once might have been claimed by the Imperial War Museum as an unreconstructed bomb site is now a wonderful football oasis.

The clubhouse-beneath-the-bunker is tribute to ingenuity and voluntary labour; now there are seats – effectively a new stand – on the roof. “We’re not finished yet,” promises club secretary Trevor Wing.

Talk around the ground is of Billingham Town, across the Tees, where the word is that Richard Bloomfield – chairman and much else – is standing down. Mr Bloomfield has been commuting from up Whitley Bay way; a meeting on Sunday will decide what happens next.

Would it be a great surprise, given the Synners’ current situation, if the two Billingham clubs finally merged?

If the rumour mill is to be believed – usually it isn’t –  then it might not be the only Ebac Northern League amalgamation this summer. There’s also been a piece in Non League Paper about the possible amalgamation of the two Ossett clubs.

Times change, the polar opposite of the FA’s grandiose “restructuring” principles comes to pass, the devil takes the hindmost.

Thornaby, on a decent run since Christmas, are playing West Allotment Celtic – also picking up of late. Stephen Allott, the Celtic statistician, reckons they’re on 997 Northern League goals and the 998th gives them the lead shortly after half-time.

Shortly after that, the visitors have a player sent off; shortly after that, Thornaby hit five.

The game’s also an example of the Northern League’s gender inclusivity. Assistant ref Lynn Brown is customarily addressed as man – as in “Howay liner, didn’t you see that, man?” – and customarily cussed, just like she was a bloke.

The train home’s on time.

February 16 2018: writer’s cramped

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

Thank God! the British journalist;

But knowing what, unbribed, he’ll do

There really is no reason to.

Humbert Wolfe, British poet (1886-1940.)

I guess that even bloggery is journalism of some sort. I’d thought of topping today’s offering with Samuel Johnson’s line that journalism was the last refuge of the scoundrel but that, come to think, was patriotism.

It wouldn’t do to misquote someone, would it?

I guess it’s still journalism to record Martin Birtle’s email that, while never much of a treacle man, he’s now addicted to golden syrup flavoured Weetabix. Or Paul Dobson’s that Cec Irwin (yesterday’s blog) was his first Sunderland hero, his picture still on the bedroom wall.

Or Pete Sixsmith’s amendment that the all-the-pies Evenwood goalie who chased Ashington fans round the field wasn’t Barry Richardson but Stephen Rutherford.

We might even record, further to recent comments on compulsory programme production, that ground hopper extraordinary Tony Incenzo found a crowd of four at Whitewebbs Eagles match in the Barnet Sunday League but was still able to pick up a programme. Thanks to West Auckland fan Dave Bussey for that one.

The chief reason for such introspection, however, is an email from Penrith secretary Ian White who comes across – in The Guardian, inevitably – a familiar quotation from the Sunday Times writer Nicholas Tomalin, killed by a Syrian missile in 1973.

The only real qualities needed to succeed in journalism, Tomalin once wrote, were rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.

As Mr White somewhat unkindly observes, two out of three isn’t bad.

February 15 2018: memories of Portland Park

It’s ten years tonight since the final game at Ashington’s famous old Portland Park ground, a 3-2 defeat to Seaham Red Star and a crowd put at 1,954 – which may have been the year of the gateman’s birth, or something.

Truth to tell, as now it can be, the gate was getting on twice as many – but 2,000 was the most the safety certificate allowed. Bar drunk dry, they sent out to the supermarket, a convoy of blue-light trolleys returning with emergency supplies.

Rather fewer are at the new Woodhorn Lane ground for an event to mark the anniversary, none doubting that time has wings.

It’s not that they don’t like the new place – a piece in The Times the other day claimed that the stand and social club complex had cost more per seat than any new stadium development in the land, save Arsenal’s – it’s just that it’s not Portland Park.

“Portland Park had heart,” says former chairman Jimmy Lang. “This place is nice, but it has nee heart.”

Mark Fitton, so angry ten years ago, is happier now. “The best thing that ever happened,” he says.

Club chairman Ian Lavery, also chairman of the Labour Party, tells the gathering that the road has recently been bumpy and that it may remain so for a while yet. He also recalls Third Division (North) days in the 1920s when Portland Park attracted 11,833 for an FA Cup tie with Aston Villa.

The gate was around £800. “Just think,” says Ian, good Socialist, “what would have happened if we’d invested that money properly.”

The lads recall other memorable days – the 1973-74 run to the Amateur Cup semi-final, the Craven Cup final against Evenwod maybe 20 years ago when the heavyweight Evenwood goalie – would that have been the late Barry Richardson? – chased Alf Marchetti round the ground and for no greater sin than the constant suggestion about eating all the pies – the match at Newcastle Blue Star when a goal area covered in tea bags suggested what they tought of the home club’s catering.

Ian’s also getting worried about spending so much time in London. “I’m getting Cockney turns in my accent,” he says. This, remember, is the town where the joke about a bloke going into the hairdresser and asking for a perm was born….

Earlier in the evening I’ve been up to Ellington, a few miles north, for a chat with Cecil Irwin – See-sel in those linguistically unique parts – three times the Colliers’ manager but perhaps better remembered for his 350 right back appearances for Sunderland in the 1960s.

His full back partnership with Len Ashurst is still affectionately recalled, the Roker Park crowd given to a song about Cec and Len, Flowerpot Men. “They were on children’s television,” says Cec, unnecessarily. “Nowt to do with hippies, understand.”

He’s now 75, still golfing, appears not to have gained an ounce. Much more of See-sel in my Northern Echo column next Thursday.


February 14 2018: The Italian job?

blacktreacleSt Valentine’s Day passes almost unrecognised, Ebac Northern League football is again washed away, what’s left but to return to the subject of the etymological netty?

Unlike the Oxford English Dictionary, Keith Stoker – clearly  a bit of a linguist – offers a possible explanation. He’d always supposed the North-East term to come from the French nettoyer, meaning to clean or clean out, he says.

It sounds quite plausible until another email arrives from retired journalist Steve Wolstencroft. Could it, he wonders, be from gabinetto – the Italian for toilet. “The only reason I know this is that my dad served in Italy during the war and occasionally used the word to refer to the lavvy.”

Sounds very feasible, doesn’t it?

Steve also recalls his wet-eared days on the Blyth News, late 1960s, when a very well spoken young man from one of the country’s great universities arrived on what these days would be called an internship.

Sent to Cambois – pronounced Cammus up there – he asked a local fpr directions to his subject’s house. “Cortainly, bonny lad,” said the Northumbrian gentleman, “sivvinth netty doon.” Whether he ever found it is not recorded.

*The biblical account of Samson and his Philistine wife (Judges chapter 14) may be considered a Valentine’s Day love story, too, though it’s more of an immorality tale.

Goodness knows how treacle spilled into these daily musings, but we’d wondered if the quotation “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” – and the image of the poor dead lion colonised by bees – were still on the side of the can.

Bishop Auckland FC volunteer Peter Jackson provides the evidence, though it’s still just Lyle’s black treacle (and golden syrup) and not Tate and Lyle’s, as we’d supposed.  The two sugar refining firms merged in 1921, having previously been bitter rivals.

Harry Tate, and not many may know this, was also the founding benefactor of the Tate Gallery and gave them his collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Thursday offers the prospect of some football-related activity up Ashington way. For the moment, however, that puts the tin lid on it.


Feb 13 2018: Netty results


Taking the pic: Robert Olley and friends at the re-opening of the Westoe Netty at Beamish in 2008.

Saturday’s blog reported an emergency meeting of the Guisborough Town committee at which I was co-opted in absentia, and with special responsibility for cleaning the netties.

Since Guisborough is south of the Tees, and thus beyond the linguistic pale, they hadn’t actually used the word “netty”. Truth to tell, club chairman Don Cowan had to google it – you know, the internetty.

“Dry toilet, North-East England, origin uncertain,” it said, though Don also discovered that Netties is a Mexican restaurant chain.

“If they ever think of opening one down the Bigg Market, I trust that the marketing people will do their homework before confirming the name,” he adds.

To some disappointment, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “netty” simply as an obsolete word meaning “made from net.” The lady of this establishment wonders, somewhat fancifully, if it’s a corruption of “necessary house”, the term used by Samuel Pepys for such privy places.

The late Scott Dobson wrote a book called The Geordie Netty – 32 pages, five bob, now £41 new on Amazon – though my copy appears to have walked.

In Larn Yersel’ Geordie, however, Dobson employs the phrase “Weor’s the netty?” and translates it as “Can you direct me to the men’s room?”

The North-East’s best known netty, however, may be that painted in 1972 by Robert Olley, one of the region’s great school of pitman painters.

The Westoe Netty was near Harton Colliery in South Shields. When it ceased operations in 1996 – the netty, not the pit – it was preserved brick by brick in a Hebburn shipyard until Beamish Museum could be persuaded to spend a penny or two on its reconstruction.

It reopened in 2008, the scene pretty much re-enacted right down to the kid peeing on the old feller’s boot.

The netty was meant simply to be an exhibit, not a convenient stopping off point. Sadly, ir proved a victim of its own success. so many people using it for the purpose for which it was no longer intended that two years later it was closed again.

The plan was to relocate it with proper plumbing. Last we heard, however, visitors to that part of the museum still had to tie a knot in it.

February 12 2018: sinister doings

Here’s a question from the Pub Quiz section of Camra Angle, the magazine of the Sunderland and South Tyneside branch of the Campaign for Real Ale.

What do Queen Victoria, Ronald Reagan, H G Wells and Michelangelo have in common (with ten per cent of the present world population)?

The answer is that they’re all left-handed – gibble fisted, cuddy wifters or even, whisper it, cack-handed. (Cacere is the Latin for, er, defecate. See how much we owe it?)

In the absence of much football, yesterday’s blog also discussed Latin roots and listed “dextrous”, meaning adroit or agile, among its 20 classically derived words. It’s from the Latin dexter, meaning right handed, but what – asks Darlington RA secretary Alan Hamilton, of the lefties?

The Latin for left handed was sinister – and it’s because such folk were considered decidedly odd that the word edged, dark and insidious, into English.

Keith Stoker, who passed GCE Latin with a credit – a damn sight more than I did – scored 19 out of 20 but came unstuck on “mellifluous”, which means sweetly flowing and is partly from the Latin mel, meaning honey.

The correspondence then touched upon Mel Park, home of the mighty Melchester Rovers, and then the well-remembered Tale and Lyle treacle tin with the biblical text “Out of the strong comes forth sweetness.” Is it still there? Has anyone a treacle tin to check before we put the lid on it?

The quote’s from the Book of Judges, something to do with Samson slaying a lion with his bare hands and then coming back later to pinch the honey from the bees which had colonised the carcase. It ended badly with the Philistines, but there are enough philistines around here.

(Joke heard last Friday at Richmond Methodist pantmime: Why’s your horse called Treacle? Because he has golden stirrups.)

Another of yesterday’s 20 words was recumbent – recumbere, to lie down – which was coincidental for Don Clarke because at the foot of the blog he found an image of a supine young lady wearing nothing more than a bikini.

We’re back to cookies, of course, but Don’s puzzled. “I’m trying to remember what I got up to last weekend to prompt such a cookie. Ah, chance would be a fine thing.”