September 6 2018: Kinnelloquence

George Kinnell was a Scottish centre half – from Cowdenbeath, home of the tawse – who spent a couple of 60s seasons with Sunderland.

Almost ten years his junior, his brother Andy was also a pro, chiefly with their home town club. Jim Baxter, their cousin, is the only one of the three with a statue in his honour at Hill of Beith. Both Kinnells are still with us.

Don Clarke well remembers Gordon from his own formative years, recalls a friend calling to say that Charlie Hurley would be back in the Sunderland side the next day.

“For Kinnell?” asked Don and received an “absolutely withering” state from his mum.

You get the point? Continuing the theme of unusually named football teams, yesterday’s blog noted Geoff Thornton’s email that a six-a-side bunch in Crawley were called Kinnellref and simply couldn’t work out why.

“Were you being a little coy,” wrote Keith Stoker but, honestly, the mind wandered no further than the Kinnell brothers and the true explanation never occurred. It does now. I must get out more.

*Still over the border, a recent blog recalled- via former Willington and Billingham Synthonia assistant manager Eddie Kyle – the annual stooshies between pit-belt neighbours Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock Juniors.

Ray Ion now forwards a recent Newcastle Benfield programme in which Ian Cusack writes of a recent visit to that deep-digging derby but admits to some difficulty in knowing if they were swearing or not.

“The two tribes mingled with little visible or audible confrontation,” he writes,. “though it’s always hard to be sure of this because even babes in arms in Ayrshire sound like Mick McGahey in a particularly belligerent mood.”

It was when the final whistle blew that, paradoxically, it all kicked off – and not just the “provocative cavorting” from the winners. Ian notes “innumerable volleys of profane abuse” but, as in sunny Sussex, I probably wouldn’t have understood a word.

*Yesterday’s blog noted that Dave Robinson, the Ebac Northern League’s diligently devoted registrations secretary, was in hospital with a kidney infection. Happily, he came home on Wednesday evening and, it’s much to be hoped, is on the mend.

It prompted an email from Bob  Rogers, league vice-president and grandson of Charles Samuel Craven, our founder. Bob, who lives in Hong Kong, had only one kidney when he was born –  there’s probably a long medical word for it.. “It seems to have worked out fine so far,” he adds.



September 5 2018: good stuff….

Tonight’s plan was Whickham v Shildon, the fixture reversed at short notice because of wanton (there are other words) vandalism to Whickham’s floodlight cables.

No problems with the Dean Street lights, amply illuminating an outstanding display by 20-year-old Jack Blackford, the home left winger.

Wikipedia says that he was just 17 when making his Football League debut for Hartlepool United, his home town club, but that he didn’t again appear that season and only once in the National League in 2017-18.

It also says that he stands 1.7m, but that could mean anything. Not very big, anyhow.

Young Blackford has also had trials with Manchester City, Aston Villa and Rangers. They know their business, but it’s hard to imagine the lad staying at this level much longer. He’s a bit special.

Whickham, only one point all season, fight gallantly but lose 2-1. Blackford almost inevitably, hits both.

For various reasons, it’s a third Shildon visit this season. On a previous occasion we’d wondered which was the greater, the number of flags behind the bottom goal or the number of fast food takeaways in the better-days main street.

It may not be flag day in Shildon because only seven are tied to the fence, but the short-ish main street alone has 11 fast food joints and not one of them a chippy. There’s also a Costa, open 7am-8pm and said to be very popular, a couple of beauty parlours (“ear piercing available”), one or two tattoo places, a nail bar and a funeral director’s.

The last seems appropriate. The high street, and by no means just in Shildon, appears dead on its feet.

* Several folk at the match ask about Dave Robinson, the Ebac Northern League’s wonderfully efficient and uniquely dedicated registrations secretary. Dave’s in hospital with a kidney infection, something that’s plagued him before. He will have universal  good wishes for a swift return to full vigour.

*Nothing yet to explain Campion FC’s shirt sponsorship – which appeared at Billy Town last Saturday to be S Express – but after yesterday’s what’s-in-a-name blog Geoff Thornton recalls not only that he once refereed Crouch End Vampires. a bloody battle no doubt, but that when he was on the Crawley League committee they refused a request from Parson’s Pig to change their name to Purple Haze.

“No,” says Geoff, “I didn’t understand it, either.”

His all-time favourite, he adds, was a team in the Crawley News six-a-sides called Kinnellref. I’ve told him that I don’t understand that one, either, but I’m just a slow lad from Shildon. Perhaps someone will translate.

September 4 2018: S’expressions

What’s in a name? Having decided to follow the fortunes of Rothbury FC, Julian Tyley notes their 7-2 Northern Alliance win at Wideopen.

The obvious assumption, says Julian, must be that the home defence played as their name suggests. Are there, he wonders, any similarly descriptive names?

A swift leaf through the 2009 Non League Club directory discovers Unathletico, which pretty much says it all, in the Bristol Suburban League, Invisible in the fourth division of the London Weekend League and Tiptree, jammy beggars, in Staffordshire.

Leek Town’s defence may also be pretty porous, Crouch End Vampires may have been bloody difficult opponents while Personal Best FC were clearly something to beat in the London Weekend League.

As for Wick….

Indolently, as always, Saturday’s blog dwelt upon Idle, prompting Allen Nixon in Northallerton to recall his appeareance in one of my columns in 2008 after taking part in the Idle Athletic Club 10k Trail Race.

Intended to mark Yorkshire Day, which is on August 1, it took place two days later – “as if,” the column observed, “to live down to the name.”

Allen, 67 at the time, came home in 305th place. “As records indicate there were only 305 finishers, I trust you will agree that it was a truly Idle effort,” he said.

Mr Nixon also draws attention to the Kent village of Loose  and, yes, there really is a Loose Women’s Institute.

Martin Birtle, who watched Billingham Town v Campion in the Vase on Saturday, was more concerned with the name on the visitors’ shirts  which appeared to be S Express. “I’m too young to look it up,” he says.

Since the Sunday Express has never promoted itself in such a way – not even while going to hell in a handcart as the late Mr John Junor would have observed – this may (or may very well not) be down to the generosity of S’Express, who are something called an acid house band.

It’s unlikely that Martin was seeing things. Can anyone quickly explain?


September 3 2018: Bobby’s job

Yesterday’s blog recalled a few former Football League men who’d hacked it – or possibly vice-versa – in the Northern League and wondered about others.

Neil McKay proposes Julio Arca at South Shields, Martin Birtle recalls that former internationals Curtis Fleming, Bernie Slaven and Terry Cochrane all turned out for Billingham Synners – 28, 21 and 35 appearances respectively – Andy Hudson proposes Peter Leven, who after a substantial pro career, chiefly with Kilmarnock and MK Dons, spent a season with Jarrow Roofing.

He’s now in Belarus as B team and academy manager at Dinamo Brest, whose chairman’s an interesting chap called Diego Maradona.

There’s also a very jolly contribution from Ray Gowan but, like school dinners, we’ll save the best till last.

Then what of goalkeeper Phil Owers, whose 118 Football League appearances – 114 Darlington, a couple apiece for Gillingham and Hartlepool – were sandwiched between a great deal of Northern League bread and butter.

Phil played on and off for Shildon between the ages of 15 and 47, starred in a glorious fanzine strip called Phil-O the Armadillo – he hated it – also earned a mention in Harry Pearson’s incomparable book The Far Corner.

“A safe shot stopper but looks more like a man you’d buy insurance off than a goalkeeper,” wrote Harry of a match against Seaham, and while he was on, had a word about Shildon winger Colin Blackburn, too.

“Disappeared from the game so completely that rumours circulated he’d run off to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Phil also played for Crook, Bishop Auckland and Brandon and was West Auckland’s manager when, aged 52, he came on as a sub (and, of course, kept a clean sheet.)

Anyway, Ray Gowan was assistant manager to Peter Feenan at Brandon United in 1983-84 when he mentioned to someone that they needed a midfield general. “Have you thought about Bobby Kerr?” he was asked.

Kerr, of course, had been Sunderland’s FA Cup winning captain in 1973. “What’s he doing now?” asked Ray.

“Sitting at home waiting for someone to ring him,” he was told.

He stayed for a year, helped B randon to the Vase quarter-final, which they lost to Irthlingborough Diamonds. “I witnessed the longest face I’ve ever seen in a dressing room when he realised that the chance of a re-visit to Wembley had gone,” Ray recalls.

Inevitably, the subject of money had also arisen. “How much do the other lads get?” asked Bobby. A fiver, said Ray – and that’s what a Sunderland all-time hero settled for.

September 2 2018: pro’s and cons

Billy Askew is probably best remembered at Hull City, 19 goals in 253 appearances, but played also for Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and, er, Evenwood Town.

We’d recalled the last of them in Friday’s blog, the poor lad taken waist-high by Stephen Guy, a coal mining midfielder with Langley Park. It was Northern League second division, 1994-95.

“Doc” Graeme Forster, Evenwood’s blue-touchpaper manager, doesn’t recall the match but well remembers the season – former England international Eric Gates, Under-23 man Paul Atkinson and Irving Nattrass, who enjoyed a successful career with both Newcastle and Middlesbrough, all played alongside Askew for Evenwood.

“How much would they cost in today’s mad market?” the Doc wonders.

The point’s inarguable, though goodness knows there’s money around. Has anyone with a substantial Premier or Football League pedigree ever lasted more than a few games in the Northern?

*Sometimes they still go the other way, of course. Guisborough Town chairman Don Cowan sends a cutting from the Scottish Sun – inevitably tagged “exclusive” – about former Town striker Danny Johnson’s arrival at Motherwell in the Scottish premier.

That Don himself was born and raised in Motherwell appears to be coincidental.

Signed from Billingham Synthonia following a match with Guisborough – “he did practically nothing but scored two goals” – Danny went to Cardiff City for £5,000 and a friendly. “There was talk of him being the next Robbie Fowler,” Don tells the paper.

He didn’t make the first team, eventually joining Gateshead before moving over the border. “With his red hair he had a bit of an edge, he wouldn’t let people kick him about,” said Don.

On Saturday, the former Northern League man scored Motherwell’s first in the 3-1 win at Dundee, ‘Well’s first win of the season. A not-so-wee dram would doubtless be poured in east Cleveland, too.

*After a good FA Vase day for Northern League clubs, save for Thornaby at Thackley, yesterday’s blog supposed Billingham Synthonia’s 3-0 win over Knaresborough Town to be particularly commendable. It was asking for trouble.

“The best result of the day was ours,” growls West Allotment Celtic secretary Ted “Rottweiler” Ilderton after their victory over Yorkshire Amateurs, second in the Northern Counties East league top division.

“You’re getting worse than the Sunday Sun, nowt in there about our match, either,” the Rottweiler adds. Perhaps it was in the Scottish Sun, exclusively, instead.

September 1 2018: Idle gossip

Thackley’s vaguely bewteen Bradford and Leeds, next to Idle, home of the renowned workmen’s club.

Everyone from Mohammad Al Fayad to Paul Gascoigne is an honorary member of the Idle Workmen’s Club, founded 90 years ago by sewage workers whose shift patterns were proving incompatible with opening hours. The sign shows a bloke leaning on a shovel.

That today it doesn’t open until 7pm is a bit incompatible with a pre-match pint, too.

Thackley are hosting Thornaby in the Vase – we have a couple in the Commercial, instead – and it’s a real pleasure to discover that our boys’ new chairman is the splendid Apollinaire Quedraogo, perhaps the only Burkina Faso Under-17 international goalkeeper to play Northern League football.

That was back in 2003, when Apollo – as universally he’s known – was with Norton and Stockton Ancients when Ray Morton was manager. He played one game,. a 5-4 defeat at South Shields, and was never chosen again.

Once a refugee, he now owns a successful restaurant in Middlesbrough, dresses immaculately and brings huge enthusiasm to all that he does. The other Thornaby committee lads all sport club ties, too, though some – it has to be said – look as comnfortable as a bear in a tutu.

Apollo and club secretary Trevor Wing – the best of men – talk of yet further improvements at the recently transformed Teesdale Park ground. “Wait till you see the new cafe,” says Apollo.

Thackley are in the Northern Counties East premier division, Thornaby in the Ebac Northern League second. The programme recalls that the sides met once before, a decade ago at Thornaby, when the crowd was 38 and even then someone pinched the gate money.

It’s a first visit for the blog: lovely late-summer day, nice ground, nice people. Sadly, an added time second can’t save Thornaby from a 3-2 defeat – the only Northern League team to lose against “outside” opposition. Particularly well done to Billingham Synners.

For Thornaby the outlook remains positive; under Apollo, ready for take-off.

August 31 2018: Nature of the Beast

Doubtless there are readers, not least recently retired Penrith FC secretary Mr Ian White, who will be surprised to learn that tonight I’m at a Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party gathering to watch a film about Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover.

Though the blog is strictly non-political, such events may not be supposed a natural habitat.

All’s going well enough until Stephen Guy, son of the late Durham Miners’ leader Davey Guy and himself a former pitman, gets the microphone and looks around a room full of activists.

“I thought I was among friends until I saw Mike Amos from The Northern Echo,” he says.

Oh crumbs, what’s he heard? Out on me ear again? Stephen continues: “Last time he mentioned me in the paper I was a Northern League full back and used some of my mining technique to chop down Billy Askew.”

Billy Askew was the former Middlesabrough, Newcastle United and Hull City man, playing in 1994-95 for Evenwood Town when managed by the magnificently excitable Dr Graeme Forster.

Stephen played for Langley Park, then ground sharing at Brandon, in what was to prove their final season after finishing bottom of the Northern League second division and folding.

Stephen expands afterwards. “I took him out by the hips,” he says. “You must have been at the match, it was all over the paper.”

It’s an enjoyable evening, raffle prizes ranging from an inflatable elephant – grey not white – to a poster for some Socialist gathering or othet.

I win something – more than ever happens at the football – and am given the choice of what’s left. In part-exchange for a Cranston’s meat and potato pie, a signed photograph of the Beast of Bolsover is on its way to Penrith.

*The blog is enjoying much its most popular week since it began two-and-a-bit years ago. Very real thanks to the faithful for their loyalty and to newcomers for their interest.

Just two matters arising from yesterday’s reminiscenses about the Rothmans Knockout Cup, firstly an email from West Auckland committee man Dave Bussey confirming that Shildon won 2-0 at Vale Rec, Guernsey, back in 1975.

Three other NL teams were in action against Channel Islands clubs the same day – Spennymoor United won 5-3 at home to First Tower of Jersey, Oaklands of Jersey went to South Bank and lost 7-0 and Willington beat St Martin’s of Guernsey 8-0.

There’s also an email from former Bedlington Terriers vice-chairman and enthusiastic ukulele player John Garbutt, confessing that, dragged there by Mrs Garbutt, he quite enjoyed the Battle of the Flowers on Jersey.

“My Northern League mates were heard to a man to comment that now I was a ukulele player I’d be right at home among the pansies. Oinks.”