Ron Burn, recently retired after 30-odd years as Boro’s youth development officer, is at the Age UK men’s breakfast in Durham this morning. I’m an under-age guest, of course, limited to one sausage.
We fall to talking of 21-year-old Lewis Wing, signed from Shildon last season – the last man Ron brought to Middlesbrough and in full-time football terms very much a late developer. Already he has a couple of first team games under his belt.
He’s convinced that the lad has a good future at a high level. “Tremendous striker of the ball, great vision, sees things that other players would never see.”
It’s coincidental that I’m at Shildon tonight for the derby with Bishop Auckland, Dean Street temporarily three-sided while foundations for the new 250-seat stand are laid. It’ll arrive on the back of a lorry.
The good news is that the much-loved Pagoda won’t just remain, as always had been the intention, but eventually will return to the purpose it’s served for almost 100 years. “It needs repairs but it’ll only be in a coma. It’ll revive,” says club chairman David Dent.
It’s nothing like the derby crowds of old, of course – not when the Christmas Day road between Bishop and Shildon was wick with folk – but a decent turnout, nonetheless. The West Auckland contingent have a Twitter message on their phones about the £26m annual profits of the High Street Group, headed by their team manager Gary Forrest.
Gary, of course, was formerly at Shildon, too – top bloke but goodness knows how he finds time for football.
Bishops are boosted by the return of mild mannered goalkeeper Scott Pocklington, who broke his leg in a July friendly at Willington and in the first 20 minutes alone makes three or four vital saves to keep his team in the game.
Others enthusiastically eye 17-year-old Shildon central defender Dominic Curl, ten years with St Mary’s boys – Bishops’ sister club – and tipped for great things. Could he be the next Wing man?
An excellent match ends 3-2 to Shildon, thanks to two late goals. It’s a hat-trick for the outstanding Billy Greulich-Smith who, memory suggests, began his Northern League career at Brandon and had a couple of full-time seasons at Hartlepool.
Billy didn’t quite make it. There must be much better players at Hartlepool, and elsewhere in the pro game, than ever I’d supposed.