January 14 2018: Monopoly commission

So which is the only Ebac Northern League club to be featured on a Monopoly board? It’s West Auckland, World Cup winners in 1909 and 1911 and included in the Co Durham edition alongside Sedgefield Racecourse and the Riverside county cricket ground. Yours for £140 (though don’t tell the encircling property developers.)

The “Old Kent Road” slot is occupied by the Anker’s House, a tiny and very humble herrmitage that’s part of Chester-le-Street parish church. Mayfair, no less appropriately, translates into Durham Cathedral

Amazon, alas, regrets that they don’t know when or if the edition, one of more than 100 “locals”, will be back in stock.

Yesterday’s blog mentioned Monopoly because the Penrith and Eden Valley edition is on sale, £25, in the Blues’ clubhouse. On that one, Old Kent Road mutates into the Gillwilly Industrial Estate – it’s probably a business park these days – while Mayfair has been flooded by Ullswater.

Frenchfield, by common consent among the most attractive of the newer grounds, appears not to be included at all. There’s gratitude.

It’s a pity we didn’t float the idea of a Northern League edition to mark the league’s 125th anniversary in 2013-14. How might those 24 spaces have been filled? Some suggestions, past and present:

The former Three Tuns Hotel in Durham (where the league was formed), Charles Samuel Craven’s grave, the old Normanby Road ground at South Bank where a first day game was played.

St James’ Park in Newcastle, once a rather humbler home to Northern League football, Brammall Lane, Sheffield – the most southerly ground – Raydale Park, Gretna, the only one in Scotland, Appleby Park, North Shields, Portland Park, Ashington, and Ferens Park, Durham, remembered after all these years.

Kingsway at Bishop Auckland, Croft Park at Blyth, Hillheads at Whitley Bay, Dr Pit Welfare at Bedlington, the Brewery Field at Spennymoor and Tow Law’s Ironworks Road ground would recall the scene of great triumphs; West Auckland would be included for reasons above, Penrith because they started it and Shildon because it’s my blog (and because of the Pagoda.)

There’d have to be Stanley United, home to the Little House on the Prairie, Billingham Synthonia (RIP), Esh Winning for its incomparable setting, Ryton for its bus shelters and Alnwick Castle, because it’s where this year’s annual league meeting will be held.

The Mayfair slot? Wembley, of course, home from home in the 1950s and for the last 20 years.  What else might we have included?





January 13 2018: or take a chance?

Penrith’s a greatly pleasant old town, perhaps not always appreciated by those who thunder along the A66 en route to the Lakes but now at the centre of a Penrith and Eden Valley edition of Monopoly.

It’s on sale for £25 behind the clubhouse bar, though Guardian reading club secretary Ian White insists that he hasn’t so much as dipped into the community chest in order to buy one. “Much too capitalist for me,” he says.

A better bet may in any case be John Hurst’s brilliant centenary history of the club, now remaindered for just £2.

We start the afternoon in Dockray Hall, a Grade I listed building in the town centre where Richard III once laid his head but which is now a pub selling excellent ale. Mr White, ever generous, hands over a Cranston’s meat and potato pie, another Penrith staple.

Across the road, the municipal Christmas tree still twinkles brightly. Is this a Cumbrian custom? Do they, like folk in the Low Countries, believe that Christmas ends not on Twelfth Night but at Candlemas (which, memory suggests, is at the start of February)?

Or is it just that the scaffies are on strike?

The Bluies are on a roll, four successive wins. West Auckland, the visitors, still smart after last week’s Vase defeat at Stockton. The match is sponsored by Edwards Menswear, whose magnaminity appears not to have extended to a new top coat for the club secretary.

Though it has a reputation for being a bit wet yon side of the Pennines, this is Penrith’s 28th league game, more than any other club. The pitch looks in excellent fettle. Alex Francis puts West ahead, Andy Murray-Jones – another of the league’s double-barrelled brigade – equalises early in the second half.

Blues player/manager Kyle May is then sent off for two yellow cards in as many minutes and the prolific Nathan Fisher, somewhat surprisingly on the bench, comes off it to score West’s winner.

Penrith prove as honest, as sporting and as hospitable as always. They’re a great club . Many fear, however, that at the end of the season they will arbitrarily be hooked into the North West Counties League.

That few might want it, that it would add to the club’s costs and travelling time and detract substantially from volunteer enjoyment, may be of no concern to the FA, for whom all roads lead to symmetry (and, quite likely, the cemetery.)

It’s a small example of what can happen in the hapless, hopeless quest for homogenisation. It’s what happens when you have a monopoly.

January 12 2018: glasses ceiling

Probably it was the American humourist Dorothy Pakrer who observed that men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses (though personally I’m quite smitten by specs appeal.)

It may also be the case that men seldom make passes to goalies who wear glasses, which would explain why much of my time between the sticks – yesterday’s blog – was spent fishing the ball from the net.

Don Clarke sympathises. “”You must have made your debut about the same time as Jimmy Montgomery,” Don supposes. “He was also myopic but did canny.”

Monty’s ability to pick up long shots was often questioned: he did pretty well on the short stuff, though.

*Yesterday’s blog also recalled superheavyweight goalkeeper William “Fatty” Foulke, Sheffied United and Chelsea, prompting Martin Birtle to recall the well-told tale of a breakfast at the team hotel to which Foulke had come down early, seen a table of food intended for the whole party and scoffed the lot himself.

Though the story’s well known, Martin questions its authenticity. Could it, he wonders, just be Foulke lore.

*Mention a few days back of Doggarts department stores, once familiar throughout the North-East – more memories to come – also recalled Bishop Auckland boys’ habit of threatening to bare their backsides in Doggarts window if things went wrong.

In Darlington, posher, they talked of being bare faced in Binns. In Sunderland, says Don Clarke, it was Joplings and in Newcastle, remembers Ray Ion, it was Fenwicks. These days, of course, Fenwicks is best known for its spectacular Christmas window dressing. There’s no posterior motive.

No such nonsense in Shildon, of course. There was only the Co-op. the dividend was already declared.

*Alan Shearer’s spurious assertion that it was a long time since a team beginning with the letter N had been to Wembley, prompts Norman Robinson to recall when there were five – Newcastle Benfield, Newton Aycliffe, Northallerton, North Shields and Norton and Stockton Ancients. That was the all-Northern League FA Vase final in 2012, when all our clubs were represented. It probably doesn’t count.

January 11 2018: pigs might fly

fatty foulke

Tommy Lawrence has died, aged 77. Known sometimes as the sweeper keeper but more familiarly as the Flying Pig, the great Liverpool goalkeeper was, if not my hero – that was Pat Jennings – then my role model. More of that in a moment.

Folk have this thing, this outsize regard, for heavyweight goalkeepers, none more unmissable than William “Fatty” Foulke – that’s him above.

Foulke made 299 appearances for Sheffield United, transferred to Chelsea and was also a suitably big hitting batsman for Derbyshire. When Billy Foulke came out, it was said, the opposition appealed against the light.

Some called him the Leviathan, others the Colossus. Some called him Little Willie, but that’s a bit ambiguous.

He also won an England football cap, a 4-0 victory over Wales, but was never picked again. That he was given to a somewhat simian swinging on the crossbar was reputedly a factor.

He was replaced at Sheffield United by William Bigger – who was, of course, much smaller. Foulke died in 1916, aged just 42. The death certificate said cirrhosis.

*Billy Foulke’s Sheffield United career began in 1900, a couple of years after the club’s improbable Northern League sojourn.

Among roly-poly goalies, none may be more affectionately remembered hereabouts than Steve Tierney, known as Tino if not as Tiny, a 20-stone stopper who, like Tommy Lawrence, was a very good goalkeeper.

His Northern League career had begun  as a 16-year-old at Darlington Cleveland Bridge, though he may best be remembered for turning up late for his debut at Horden. There’d been a queue at the pie shop, he explained.

Tino died in 2005, remembered at a match between a Northern League X1 and Gretna, Scottish FA Cup quarter-finalists at the time, through which the league raised £10,000 for his dependants.

Gretna gave £2,000 and their services, Billingham Synthonia were magnificent hosts, Durham City moved a game to another night and gave all its proceeds to the fund. Every club sold at least £50 worth of draw tickets, wonderful prizes donated by the North-East football community.

NVNG summed it: “While other leagues look out for their backs, we look out for our own. A small tribute to a great guy.”

*I was never much of a goalkeeper, an inability no better illustrated than when my secretary – ah, those were the days – stitched a rather fetching flying pig onto the back of my goalie top.

The Northern Echo were playing the Evening Gazette, from Middlesbrough, at the Hundens Lane ground in Darlington. It had 14 pitches, stretched in linear fashion away from changing rooms which resembles Boer War latrines.

The teams perceived to be best were allocated pitch No 1, second best No 2 and so forth. We were on pitch 14.

After an inactive minute, someone hoofed a long ball towards my area. Anxious early to allay team mates’ misgivings, I shouted “Keeper’s” and charged towards the ball. So did their centre forward, a 15 stone photographer.

Neither of us had touched the thing before we were in collision, as the legal profession would have it. Caught in a very painful place, I stayed down. No paramedics on pitch 14, I was finally supported back to the latrines by the bairn’s buggy and taken off to the Memorial Hospital.

The doc did all the checks, confirmed (somewhat to my surprise) that nothing was missing – “but if you want to keep fit in the future,” he said, “I think I’d stick to jogging.” So ended a hapless career.

January 10 2018: Amber and go


Darlington RA v Crook Town is my 50th game of the season, lukewarm by some standards. It’s also a fourth visit to the RA, nearest ground to home. The previous three have ended in home defeats.

RA haven’t won since October 21 at Alnwick, are second bottom of the second division and welcome new manager Paul Edwards, formerly a player with Whitby Town and Blyth Spartans and most recently manager at Thornaby.

It’s the first of three successive home games. “If we win those three we could be in Europe,” says Alan Hamilton, RA’s ever-optimistic secretary.

Crook, conversely, have ten points from the first six games under new manager Chris Lax but haven’t played since December 21.

Before the match there’s a minute’s silence in memory of David Moyes, whose death we recorded a few days back. Thereafter it’s greatly entertaining, RA fighting back from 2-1 down – both Crook’s goals from Christian Holliday, the man they call Bisto in memory of his days as an Army cook – to win 4-2.

At the final whistle, Alan Hamilton says something I never thought I’d hear on an Ebac Northern League ground: “Can you come back on Saturday?”

*Exactly 18 years ago, the cover of the league magazine, above, featured Crook Town stalwart Jeff Patterson and his wife Dawn with their new daughter Amber – named after the club’s traditional shirt colour.

“I’m just glad that all those years ago they didn’t call the shirts yellow,” said Jeff at the time.

Jeff and Dawn seem to have changed little. Amber’s grown up a bit. When she reached 18 at Christmas, her dad looked forward to a first legal drink with his daughter. “We went down town, I bought her a pink gin and she left to go with her mates,” he reports.


*What else was happening at the start of the new millennium? Dunston Fed had withdrawn their application to the Unibond League – “we worked out it would cost us an extra £15,000 a year,” said club chairman Malcolm James – West Auckland’s clubhouse had suffered a serious vandal attack at New Year, Jarrow Roofing gaffer Richie McLoughlin had been asked to feature in a Tyne Tees Television series called Obsessions, Washington had won nine successive matches and clubs were getting new-fangled websites. Bedlington had two.

Particularly, however, memories are stirred by the death – 18 years ago today – of William Coulson Hall, both the Northern League’s and the Football League’s oldest former player.  He was 98.

A wonderful character, Billy Hall – known sometimes by a much more scatalogical nickname on account of his first two initials – was born and raised in Tow Law, played for the Lawyers, won Northern League championshi medals in 1924 and 1925, worked at the Black Prince pit and declined to wash his back in the belief that it would weaken it.

Much of his Football League career was spent with Blackpool, where he was leading scorer in the second division championship winning side. He later played for Southend before returning to Tow Law, where he lived out the back of the ground and was long the club’s gateman.

Probably Billy could have achieved even more had he not been so fond of a drink. “Aa was wuss than that George Best,” he once told me, “aa just couldn’t content mesel’.” A lovely, lovely man.

January 9 2018: Braw Brora

Like so many Northern League club officials, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion secretary Stevie Carter is a man of many hats and endless energy.

He’ll miss the game against Bedlington on January 20, though – off to watch bonny Brora Rangers at East Fife, Scottish FA Cup fourth round.

Brora’s his birthplace, a Sutherland village of just 1,140 people and impossible to get much further north without attending Wick Academy. Once it was home to the UK’s most northerly pit, once nicknamed Electric City, the first Highland community to have mains power.

The team plays in the Highland League, answers (inexplicably) to the Cattachs, beat Fort William 16-0 the other week and saw off Stranraer in the third round of the Cup. Such the excitement ahead of the East Fife match that the Scottish FA is paying for an estimated 500 fans to make the 600-mile round trip.  “It’s winnable,” says Stevie.

Tonight Ryton are at Billingham Town, the team to whom they lost 8-0 in the second game of the season but whom they beat 1-0 to reach the quarter-final of the Ernest Armstrong Cup. “Ryton in a quarter-final….” says Stevie.

The impressively produced programme identifies Richard Bloomfield – a barrister with whom I had dealings as Northern League chairman – as Town’s chairman, chief executive officer, secretary and treasurer.

It’s an example of multi-tasking which clearly leaves him unable to fry a few onions in the tea hut. The tea hut’s shut, a particular disappointment to fans of the celebrated Billy burger.

Town are tenth in the second division, Ryton 14th – possibly safe from relegation but uncomfortable because none in this FA-produced farce knows how many will go down.

The other thing’s their yellow away kit, the socks not just bright but positively fluorescent. You know Mr Edward Lear’s poem The Dong With the Luminous Nose? This is the throng with the luminous hose.

They’re two down inside 15 minutes, not impossible but still with a mountain to climb (as possibly they say in Fort William.) It ends 4-0. Stevie will be hoping for an awful lot better for bonny Brora.

January 8th 2018: Grace notes


Briefly recalled last week, Doggarts was reserved for a quiet day. The department store was familiar all over the North-East – 16 branches from Ashington to Stockton, Wingate to West Stanley – but who knew that the family included an FA chairman, an MCC president and an England test cricketer (who’s still alive)?

The photograph atop the blog is of the Bishop Auckland branch, where it all began in 1899, and which might almost have entered the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Whenever a south Durham lad wanted to underline his confidence in a claim, he’d insist that if it didn’t happen he’d show his backside in Doggarts window. In Darlington, posher, they’d threaten similar exposure in Binns.

The stores which Arthur Doggart had begun in 1899 finally shut up shop around 1980. “We weren’t small enough to become a self-service operation and not large enough to have really big bulk buying power,” Jamie Doggart, son of the founder, once told me.

The Bishop Auckland branch is now a champagne bar – get Bishop! – where the Tees Valley Jazzmen, led by indefatigable Durham Amateur Football Trust chairman Keith Belton, play occasional gigs.

Keith doesn’t talk of playing at the champagne bar. He talks of playing in Doggarts window.

Arthur Doggart, strict but benevolent, was a prominent Baptist and future president of the Baptist Union. His stores – “the fair dealing family firm,” they proclaimed – had departments from hardware to haberdashery, mantles to millinery, furniture to footwear.

“It was incredibly labour intensive” said Jamie. “Father’s philosophy was that if there was a counter (and there were an awful lot) there should be someone behind it.”

Assistants, immaculately attired, were forbidden to address one aniother by first names, even if – as sometimes happened – they were man and wife. Each was given a book of staff etiquette and might be fined a penny for wasting company paper or string.

They were a happy band for all that. Really it could have been the model for Are You Being Served, and Arthur Doggart old Mr Grace, save that Doggarts probably had a lot more credit.

Many had Doggarts clubs, many the stories – especially in the first golden age, when Bishop Auckland and Crook seemed semi-permanently in the FA Amateur Cup final – of men taking out a club and then selling it at a loss, in order to buy a train ticket to Wembley.

Still, of course, we’ve to touch upon the FA chairman, whose end was extraordinary, and the England cricketer still with us. With thanks to more remarkable research by Ray Ion, there’s also the matter of the extraordinary opening offer at Bishop.

We await another quiet day. I’m free.