February 20 2019: chairman fights for life

Willington chairman Richard Tremewan is fighting for his life after collapsing during the second half of Tuesday evening’s match at Chester-le-Street.  He is thought to have suffered a stroke and a bleed on the brain.

“He seemed as right as rain in the clubhouse before the match, chatting to everyone and running round as usual,” says Willington manager Rob Lee.

Formerly chairman at Bishop Auckland, Richie has led a transformaton at Willington – where he lives – both on and off the field. He’s also club secretary.

“There’s no two ways about it, it’s a completely diofferent place. He’s done a fantastic job,” says Rob.

The most charismatic and enthusiastic of men – he even got Newcastle Brown into the clubhouse after I’d nagged him – Richie helps run a successful double glazing business and is also a keen mountain biker. He’s 48.

He was first taken to hospital in Durham and then transferred to Newcastle where he underwent an operation tonight. This Saturday’s game with Bedlington Terriers has been postponed – “the players just couldn’t have got their heads around it,” says Rob.

*The Rev Canon Leo Osborn, inveterate ground hopper and the Northern League’s chaplain for many years, is back on holiday in the North-East and keen to tick off Darlington’s temporary home at Blackwell Meadows. That’s if he can find it.

As usual I give him impeccable directions, as usual he gets hopelessly lost, as usual he blames me.

The Quakers have done tremendously well since Northern League days, now in the National League North and tonight hosting Brackley – yet another team which plays at St James’ Park – which is about as far south as north goes. The journey from Northamptonshire has taken four-and-a-half hours.

Blackwell Meadows is the home of Darlington Rugby Club, and Quakers may not be there much longer. The club’s thought to be considering a move back to the former George Reynolds Arena, now home to Mowden Park RFC, with a fans’ vote likely in the summer.

“The club will face significant challenges and decisions in the coming months,” writes chief executive David Johnston in tonight’s programme.

The gate’s just 916, the first time this season that it’s been under 1,000 and well below the notional break-even figure. The game’s poor, the small consolation that the drummer’s reduced to almost total silence. Drum minor, as it were. Brackley win 2-0 to remain in the play-off places.

Leo’s headed back up the A1 to Alnwick, another place where the ground’s called St James’ Park. Whether he’s found it is anyone’s guess, but if he hasn’t, we all know who’s to blame.



February 19 2019: something fishy

At risk of upsetting the animal rights fraternity, last Saturday’s blog noted a conversation between customer and barmaid at the Boathouse in Wylam, en route to Ryton and Crawcrook Albion.

Customer: “Is there anything vegan on the menu?”

Barmaid, doubtfully: “Chips?”

It prompts an email from Keith Stoker, chiefly a supporter of the two Ryhope clubs. “Beef dripping is the only medium in which to fry fish and chips,” it begins.

These days he has to make a 4.6 mile weekly round trip to a chippy in Hendon, once Sunderland’s docklands, after his local place started using sunflower oil. In Hendon, a big sign assures customers that everything’s cooked in pure beef dripping – “and boxes of the stuff stacked on every shelf as proof.”

What Keith’s unable to explain is why Wearside folk – and they alone – describe a bag of fish and chips as a lot. Two bags are two lots. If money’s a bit tight, they ask for half a lot, an interesting quantitive exercise.

Lot on their plate, can anyone explain?

*We’d particularly mentioned fish and chips in Seaton Carew, prompting Allen Nixon to recall that one of the resort’s outlets is called The Almighty Cod and stirring for him memories of  Rotary Club meetings and the piece of cod which passeth all understanding.

It might as well be stated, not least because it’s true that last Friday we attended  one of those murder mysery evenings in Harrogate. Sharon’s first course was mackerel – at least she said it was, though it might just have been a red herring.

*The ubiquitous Peter Mulcaster’was manager of Seaton Carew, Wearside League development division, earlier this season. We’d mentioned that, too.

It prompts an email from Peter Young, Northallerton Town’s chairman during one of Peter’s three spells as the North Yorkshire club’s manager. “When I became chairman Peter became my guide and mentor as we traversed the Northern League.

“He knew everyone and everyone knew him – possibly because he seemed to have managed most of the clubs at some point in the past.

“This family of ours needs people like Peter, always optimistic and always enthusiastic.”

Just one thing puzzles the chairman. Why does Mully always end his emails with a couple of kisses


February 18 2019: farewell, old friend

Henry Nicholson and I were friends since raggy-arsed infancy on the cobbled back streets of Shildon. In those days we knew him as Harry.

Forever we’d play football, bunking over back yard doors on the innumerable occasions when the ball went out of play, occasionally switching to cricket with Henry’s coalhouse door as wicket and long leg about five yards away.

The Nicholson kids also ate boiley. Does anyone remember boiley?

Henry was a goalkeeper, even better than I was – almost anyone was better than I was – but let me be goalie partly because I was even more useless playing elsewhere but chiefly because that’s the sort of kind and generous bloke he always was.

He died yesterday after a long and horrible illness.

He played Northern League football for Bishop Auckland and Willington, probably others, though memory murmurs that he only played football- and cricket – for Shildon BR. Very useful bowler.

He was also a manager and assistant manager – among other clubs at Brandon United where he was No 2 to Ray Gowan after Ray stepped up to replace Peter Feenan. “Henry never had a bad word for anyone – great lad, great loss,” says Ray, who was also Henry’s cricket captain at the BR.

Unlike some of us, Henry never left Shildon. He became a Durham County councillor for the area and was town mayor for two successive terms – the very embodiment of civic pride.

He it was who opened the Northern League 125 exhibition at the Locomotion museum in Shildon in 2014, taking time to recall happy days when we had nowt but a deflated football

Though our politics diverged, he was a hugely honourable and a principled man with a huge smile and a warm heart. Rest in peace, old friend.

*Much happier news, Brian “Scoop” Bennett – Ashington FC’s wonderfully dedicated press officer these past 45 years – had the Woodhorn Lane press box officially named in his honour at the weekend. Henceforth it’s the Brian Bennett Press Box.

“I was completrely overwhelmed. I’d no knowledge of it at all,” says Brian, who also received a framed certificate. Like Henry Nicholson was, he’s an all-rounder – in the summer he’s press officer for Ashington Cricket Club, too.


February 18 2019: chips with everything

Seaton Carew’s on the coast a mile or two from Hartlepool, if not the last resort than – like a Victorian apprentice – forever trying to improve itself. Nice beach.

Seaton was the only place I ever heard the late and much lamented Gordon Banks sing for his supper – sitting next to him and able at close quarters to observe his profuse sweating.

“Far more nervous doing this than ever I was playing football,” he said, and would by no means be the first top player – Alan Kennedy comes at once to mind – thus to be affected.

There’s never been a Northern League team in Seaton, though memory suggests several attempts in the Wearside. The newest, in the Wearside development division, was managed earlier this season by Peter Mulcaster, who may have managed more football clubs than any man alive.

Has the old boy finally hung up his sandshoes? You really wouldn’t bet on it.

The place is perhaps more famous as the home of John Darwin, the rogue who a few years back faked his own death after purportedly sailing off into the sunrise in a canoe.

Seaton quite enjoyed the notoriety. Thereafter it became Seaton Canoe.

Most recently it was in the news because Richard Money, among Hartlepool United’s more short-lived managers, claimed that part of the reason for his “mutual consent” departure after about six weeks was because he’d been verbally abused in a Seaton Carew fish shop.

Beats being battered, I suppose, and that finally brings us to the point.

Yesterday’s blog noted consternation in the admirable Boathouse pub at Wylam – downhill from Ryton and Crawcrook Albion – when a lady asked if the menu had anything vegan.

“Chips?” asked the barmaid, uncertainly, prompting John Maughan to recall a visit last year to aSeaton Carew chip shop where “a very thin lady with a posh accent” asked if the chips were fried in vegetable oil.

The assistant – “rather less thin” – knew at once. “We only fry with pure beef dripping and I’ll tell you something else, love, every fish shop around here fries with beef dripping.”

“The thin posh lady,” says John, “left looking a little despondent.”

February 16 2019: knickers….

The RMT men finally having suspended their Saturday strikes, there’s chance to catch the train along the Tyne Valley to Wylam and then 25 minutes up the hill to Ryton  and Crawcrook Albion – though first, of course, a livener in the Boathouse

Another customer asks if there’s anything vegan on the menu. The barmaid looks puzzled. “Chips?” she asks.

The lady sticks with her tomato juice.

Ryton have had a funny season. “Up and down like a harlot’s drawers,” says committee man and former referee Don McLeod, by way of Tyneside vernacular.

Such the strangeness of the season, it’s mid-February and after today’s meeting with Redcar Athletic they’ve just two more home games.

Still, it’s a lovely late-winter day, the talk in the clubhouse beforehand of centre forward Scott Jasper who this season has turned down good money from three first division clubs in order to remain loyal to Ryton. Good on him.

Ar half-time, however, Redcar lead 4-0, Ryton are down to ten and poor Jasper’s hardly had a kick. Upstairs the hospitality’s as sumptuous and as generous as ever. Many clubs look after their guests well, but it’s doubtful if any has Ryton’s largesse. The players’ post-match curry smells pretty good, too.

Shortly afterwards, a text message arrives from Pete Sixsmith, who’s at the Shildon v Sunderland RCA game, to the effect that RCA goalkeeper Scott Pocklington has spent half-time sitting behind the goal after a “disagreement” with team mates.

Soon after that, Pete again texts to say that Shildon have pulled it back to 3-1 after Pocklington dropped a cross. He may also have dropped a bollock.

The game ends 4-1, the crowd’s just 49 – one down on last week, when they won – but Ryton secretary Stevie Carter takes comfort in the fact that it’s the first time since October that they haven’t had to switch on the floodlights.

And if Spring is in the air, can Wembley be far away?

February 15 2019: in the Pink

The blog a week or so back lamented the disappearance of the Saturday night Pink – perhaps a little prematurely.

Attending evensong at Portsmouth Cathedral last Sunday, Peter Chapman noticed the Sports Mail on sale in the newsagent’s opposite – and though it appeared to be a Sunday morning publication, it’s a remarkable success story, nonetheless.

Published by the Portsmouth (Evening) News, the Pink folded in October 2012 after 109 years – always hot, mostly metallic – but resumed at the start of the following season following what they called “an outpouring of emotion” from readers.

Perhaps they weren’t emotional enough. When the paper folded, the Saturday night sale had been around 3,700. In the spring of 2016, when the owners again warned that closure was imminent, it was 2,792.

The paper was again relaunched and after the closure of the Southampton Pink in 2017 became the only survivor of a brand once a Saturday night fixture in every decent-sized town.

In January-July 2018, however, its Audit Bureau of Circulation figure was 14,767, including 5,732 subscriptions – a remarkable turnaround in the present publishing climate, and with a small percentage of each sale going to Portsmouth FC.

Clearly Pompey chimes, but as Peter Chapman points out, there’s just one snag – “the Northern League,” he reports, “doesn’t appear to get much of a look-in at all.”

*We’d also recalled Bishop Auckland’s 12-3 win at Kingstonian in the 1954-55 Amateur Cup, the week after the Two Blues lost to York City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Blog reader John Maughan recalls his father telling him that contemporaries were placing bets on the Bishops winning both competitions. Sadly, he can’t remember the odds.

*Ahead of next week’s FA Vase quarter-final between West Auckland and Chertsey, aka the Curfews, a pretty indisputable claim from familiar former Northern League manager Ray Gowan – he’s the only man to have played for both sides.

His Chertsey spell came while at college in 1963-64, the curfew bell resounding astill. “That bloody bell caused the ground to shudder and made out fitness exercises that much more difficult,” he recalls. “Happily, it also drowned out the oaths from the coach.”

Chertsey, he notes, have come through from the furst qualifying round – “they’ll be truly dangerous opponents”

One more thing: the ubiquitous Mr Gowan played for Kingstonian, an’ all.


February 14 2019: love story



It must be 20 years since the Northern League magazine dubbed West Allotment Celtic secretary Ted Ilderton “The Rottweiler”. Something to do with a liking for red meat perhaps – dog with a bone, anyway.

It stuck, and no matter that the old lad’s bark is usually a lot worse than his bite. There’s even a Rottweiler blog in the West Allotment programme.

Then today the card above arrived on Ted’s doormat from his old mate Alex Smailes, Northumberland FA bigwig and assiduous Liverpool scout – talk about every dog having his day. Their Barbara has yet to comment.

Down here I join about 30 others on a litter pick along the railway path from Shildon to Newton Aycliffe. Goodness knows it’s needed, the place choked with cans, bottles and goodness knows what else.

There’s a bike, a boule, a scooter, two odd gloves, a golf ball, a million bottles. “It’s a bit like the Generation Game,” someone says, “all we need’s a cuddly toy.”

Among the volunteers is former Darlington mayor Gerald Lee, who started Litter Free Durham with five folk 15 years ago. Last year there were 4,000 volunteers and still swimming against a great tide of garbage. What louts we are.

Gerald was a goalkeeper, had trials for Liverpool, played for his native Willington. Rob, his brother, is Willngton’s dedicated and long serving manager; many other family members have been involved with the club. Gerald’s grandson is with Fleetwood, where we’ll see what Mr Barton makes of him.

Gerald’s also greatly and rightly impressed by the way things are being turned around at Hall Lane, both on and off the field. Probably a bit late for promotion this year but none knows, of course, how many will go up.

Early evening, it’s the regular beer in Barnard Castle with Bishop Auckland director Terry Jackson, as full of ideas and enthusiasm – and, these days,optimism – as always.

Back home by 8 15 and, soon afterwards, fast asleep in the chair. Valentine’s Day, don’t you just love it.