December 11 2017: Amar’s top award

West Auckland striker Amar Purewal has been name Asian Non League Player of the Year. His twin brother Arhun, now with Consett, was also on the shortlist of three.

Amar’s award is thought partly to be recognition of his seven goals for Panjab, including two hat tricks, in the 2016 Confederation of Independent Foootball Associations World Cup. in which Panjab lost on penalties in the final.

We meet this morning at a pub on the outskirts of Sunderland, the city of the twins’ birth.

Amar’s proudly British, still regularly attends the Sikh temple, has only been to India twice in his life – the first time when he was seven. He has also played Northern League football for Benfield, Durham City, Shildon and Bishop Auckland and hit 61 goals in 115 games for Darlington as the Quakers climbed the leagues.

Much more of all that in my Northern Echo column on December 21.

*Our chat’s at the Oak Tree Farm, a pub run by Farmhouse Inns but in the decidedly unagricultural setting of Doxford International Business Park. Since the blog grumbled last week about paying £8 18 for a large coffee and a small panini at Costa, it should be recorded that here a “small” plate at the breakfast buffet is just £3 99, including unlimited and very decent coffee.

The small plate’s quite big, too, allowing an attempt on the world hash browns balancing record. Great value.

*Yesterday’s blog anticipated the meeting between the FA and the Ebac Northern League management committee, to address questions over restructuring. A reader who asks anonymity points out that Durham FA have been essaying a little restructuring of their own.

From 2018-19 the Durham Alliance League will become a “development division” of the Wearside League, giving them “access to the national Non League System.” DFA also plan talks with the Crook and District League, these days the only remaining adult Saturday league based in the county.

Our man can’t wait. “This opens up the exciting prospect of a Premier League fixture in 2030 between West Ham United and Wearhead United,” he says. Best make that 2031.

*Several club secretaries have also forwarded an FA missive, received today, advising of the possibility of “lateral movement” between leagues. “I’ve read it ten times and still haven’t a clue what they’re going on about,” says one. I bet poor old  Penrith have, though.


December 10 2017: question time

Monday’s Durham Big Meeting day which should not, of course, be confused with the Miners’ Gala. The Gala’s much more fun.

It’s the occasion of the long-awaited meeting between FA people and the Northern League – should, of course, the southerners be able to negotiate a couple of centimetres of snow – to address the league’s questions on the state of play on the 17-year exercise of “restructuring.”

The league even formed a sub-committee to decide what to ask but, quite rightly, I’ve no idea what the questions will be. Here’s a few they might want to consider, nonetheless.

*Is football at volunteer level really to be saddled with automatic promotion? Will a club which believes the step potentially to be too treacherous be relegated instead?

If the FA maintains its obsession with all pigs being equal – in this case 20 clubs in all divisions – on what basis will the league be expected to relegate four or five from the second division when the rules allow for just two?

*What are the prospects of clubs from outside the North-East being relegated to the Northern League in order to balance those who might leave?

*Is there a possibility that the Northern League might become a Step 4 league, in order to appease others at Steps 5 and 6 who believe they can’t compete?

*Will step 4 clubs be given the option of entering the FA Vase?

*Does the FA even begin to understand why leagues on England’s geographical margins face wholly different challenges – and needs – from those in the heartland?

*Is the world’s second oldest football league to be allowed to continue as it has  so successfully- not least over the last 20 years – or is to be slowly, ritually and vengefully eviscerated?

I don’t expect to be told the outcome, and that’s quite right, too. – but the league has a responsibility at once to give all clubs an unabridged version of what’s said in Durham on Monday evening and what its own standpoint now is.

I’m sure that they will.


December 9 2017: under a cloud

Though his year-round disposition is towards peace and good will to all men – almost all men, anyway – it’s unlikely that I’m top of Ebac Northern League secretary Kevin Hewitt’s Christmas card list.

Three weeks ago it seemed that the league, unusually in this weather-wary age, hadn’t all season lost a match to the weather.

Kevin confirmed as much – we’d both overlooked a little early doors hiccup at Willington– so a blog was duly written. It irresistibly and ineluctably tempted fate, like waving two fingers at St Peter. There’s hardly been a ball kicked since.

Today’s plan is to watch Team Northumbria v North Shields, preceded by a festive drink with Shields chairman Alan Matthews and his people. Though the postponement line’s stacking up, TN’s not among them.

I’m on the train when Alan rings to say that Team North haven’t arrived at the ground until after noon, taken a look at the pitch and thought the game would be off. No one leaves Shields.

Some time about 1 30, match referee Shane Sugden arrives and declares the pitch fit. That morning, we subsequently learn, he’d also given the go-ahead for the Bishop Auckland v Jarrow Roofing match when most thought it would be off.

Clearly the man they call Shuggy is blessed with a positive outlook.

So North Shields finally set off and the match begins at 3 20pm. Team North need to look at their match day procedures.

The much better news is that Alan Matthews, who has a form of leukaemia, is in remission and looks in good fettle. Mind, the stuff he’s drinking – some sort of dry fruits cider, apparently – looks like it wouldn’t get far in the path lab.

It’s perishing cold, the crowd pretty decent. TN score early and late, the usually prodigious Gareth Bainbridge misses a penalty for Shields and it ends 2-0. Much credit to both teams, and to Shuggy and his.

Thereafter I’m off to Staindrop, between Darlington and Barnard Castle, to speak at the local cricket club’s presentation evening. It’s a chance to tell the story of the spuggie – 20 years of Northern League dinners may never have heard that one – and the final word from umpire Bird.

Sharon picks me up at 10 30. It’s minus three degrees and starting to snow. Happy Christmas, Kev.



December 8 2017: book sale

Crumbs, Christmas almost upon us and I’ve forgotten – doubtless among much else – to try to flog a few books.

We produced Northern Conquest to mark the Northern League’s 125th anniversary in 2013-14 – 128 full colour A5 pages, overflowing with facts and frippery, and for £4 the bargain of the century.

Even at that price, the book made a nice profit for the league – which makes you wonder how much mark-up there is on other books – but a few (shall we say) remain.

So here’s the deal. New books are now £3, or four for a tenner and for quantities after that make me an offer. Postage is on top, of course – about £1 60 a copy – but who knows what personal delivery can be arranged between now and December 25.

Those who already have a copy might like to forward today’s blog to others who might be interested – a Christmas present for the price of a pint, or these days rather less.

The way the weather’s looking, Northern Conquest could also help put in quite a few Saturday afternoons by the fire.

*Copies available from me at 8 Oakfields, Middleton Tyas, Richmond, North Yorks DL10 6SD – cheques to the Northern Football League – or simply email if your name’s good.  Which it is. The book’s also available on Amazon.

December 7 2017: top award for Vince

There’s a mid-morning media scrum at Newcastle Airport. Have they heard about my home alone ordeal? Do they know that the lady of this house is finally homeward from Washington, and bearing a Redskins bobble hat and a bar of salty Trump chocolate?

The cameras, it transpires, are focused elsewhere. That Ashington chap incarcerated for four years in India is back at the same time, though probably not bearing Trump chocolate.

That’s international arrivals. She’s “domestic”, having changed planes at Heathrow. The domestic arrivals area has just four seats – it suggests under-provision – on one of which I fall asleep and have a nightmare about Costa Coffee.

Folk – most of them, anyway – have been greatly sympathetic about that £8 18 for a large coffee and small panini at Costa at Scotch Corner. Dan Harden recalled visiting a Costa in Athens where a single shot of espresso was 3.5 euros. Around the corner, a local guy was selling the same thing for a single euro.

“I recently read in a  Greek newspaper that Costa was closing all its shops in Greece. I wonder why.”

Tonight’s the Northern Echo’s Local Heroes awards – a big night, but a bit churlish to turn out again after she’s just been welcomed home.

Ay 9pm there’s a call from Crook Town chairman Vince Kirkup, ecstatic at winning the Unsung Hero award (and correctly guessing that it was I who nominated him.)

Vince spent 30-odd years battling heroically to keep Stanley United alive – remember the Little House on the Prairie? – before switching his ceaseless efforts to Crook, a couple of miles down the hill.

He’s chairman, groundsman, ineluctable chief fund raiser and very much else. His tireless energies and constant cheerfulness come against a background of chronic health problems and numerous operations.

There’s a very real possibility that that famous old football club wouldn’t still exist were it not for Vince Kirkup. It’s great that he (and others like him) are recognised, though there seem to be an aewful lot of two-legged cuddies in Crook.

“It’s like a local knighthood,” says Vince and one that’s richly and abundantly deserved. Arise, Sir Vincent.



December 6 2017: diddle diddle dumpling

The elder bairns offers a lift to Blyth, assured that his reward will be a plate of the wonderful, heavy duty mince and dumplings served from the clubhouse canteen whenever we did ground inspections up there a couple of years ago.

Alas, things have changed. Now there’s a fast food van which sells good burgers for £3 50 but chip butties (£2 50) of which the lad thinks little.

He may have had his chips, but not his mince and dumplings. It’s a change from banging on about Costa, anyway.

Blyth, second season in the Ebac Northern League, are playing Northallerton Town in the Ernest Armstrong Cup – the teams second and first in the second division. The programme –  another brilliant effort from Andrew McDonnell, formerly at Bedlington Terriers and Morpeth – still talks of chairman Barry Elliott’s ambition to reach League Two “at least”.

It also explains why Blyth are these days nicknamed The Braves: it’s from the motto audaces fortuna juvat – fortune favours the brave.

Though warmer than last night at Consett, it’s still a bit fresh up near the Northumberland coast. Big Andy Curtis, Northallerton fan, wears woolly hat and shorts – and not alone. Barely believable, they’re quite the fashion.

There’s no sign, however, of Town physio Steve Clark, Another case of man flu, explains his wife Lesley, the club secretary. It’s becoming an epidemic.

Pete Sixsmith at Bishop Auckland v Heaton Stannington texts the news that it’s a happy Wednesday for Bishops because Shaun Ryder has scored the first two goals. The bairn explains that Shaun Ryder sang with a band called Haopy Mondays. He doesn’t know who sang Monday Mnday, though.

Northallerton take a first half lead, are reduced to ten men after a tackle that might most kindly be described as unfestive and are pegged back near the end. It ends 1-1 before going to a penalty shoot-out. Northallerton win to keep alive their chance of winning the cup for a third successive season.

It’s great to get a lift back home, but the poor bairn’s still not very happy.  There are dumpling grounds for complaint.

December 5 2017: Mirror image

Consett have won the Club Mirror football club of the year award, chiefly a reflection of the Steelmen’s community commitment. A great achievement, but it’s still to the Grey Horse that we repair for a pre-match pint.

The beer from the Consett Ale Works – out the back – is as superlative as ever, the log fire’s blazing and the welcome’s every bit as warm.

Conversation turns to whether this is Co Durham’s best pub: the Victoria in Durham City probably shades that one but the Grey Horse is a real winner, nonetheless. It’s with a great effort of will that at 7 20pm we head for Belle View.

Consett are playing neighbours Tow Law in the Brooks Mileson League Cup, the teams similarly placed in first and second divisions but otherwise separated by just a few miles of the A68.  “Make no mistake, this will be a really tough game,” writes team manager Mark Eccles iu the excellent programme, and could hardly have imagined how wrong he’d be.

There’s no sign of enterprising club chairman Frank Bell, who’s (once again) in Lanzarote, where he and Dianne have scuba diving interests. What’s Lanzarote got that Consett in December hasn’t?

Happily, Dianne has left behind a vast cauldron of her incomparable soup, with which to warm the faithful at half-time.

Another absentee is the Lawyers’ assiduous treasurer Kevin McCormick, another who seems to take more holidays than some of us take baths. This time, explains his mate Steve Moralee, it’s man flu.

The first half’s so one-sided that the talk turns to whether familiar referee Helen Conley is a Paula Ratciffe lookalike. Must be the pony tail.

It’s 4-0 at soup time, ends 7-1. The prolific Michael Sweets adds two more to his total, as does all-time record scorer Michael Mackay, now 35 but still deadly in front of goal. It’s Tow Law who’ll look in the mirror on Wednesday morning and wonder what on earth hit them.