May 18 2018: a fine spectacle

As probably everyone knows, the Ebac Northern League is the world’s second oldest. The North Yorkshire and South Durham claims the same distinction for cricket, first contested in 1893 – a year after the Birmingham League.

The six founding teams included Constable Burton, a small village in Wensleydale, who became the first champions. A century later, it also had a local policeman called PC Burton. Not many may know THAT, though.

The NYSD’s 125th anniversary celebrations apropriately conclude today at the 50-over match bewteen Durham and Yorkshire at Chester-le-Street, though the formalities begin at 11am, three hours before the match does.

Chris West, the league’s admirable president, appears a bit flummoxed. “I’ve never spoken to a sober audience before,” he says.

As luck would have it, two Durham County cricketers who’ve also played Northern League football – Geoff Cook and Andy Fothergill – are on the same table as me, Geoff’s one of only two NL footballers to have played cricket for for England. The other, of course, is Steve Harmison.

Geoff, lovely chap, played for South Bank, of fond memory. Andy may best be remembered as a Bishop Auckland winger in the verdantly moustached Harry Dunn’s time as manager but also played for Crook Town, Durham City and Guisborough.

He’s 56, still enjoying his cricket with Durham Over 50s and, as if life couldn’t get any better for him, is about to move into the same road us us, about 50 yards away. “The estate agent never told me that,” he says.

It’s also good, as always, to see Northern League secretary and Durham member Kevin Hewitt, sporting a pair or extravagant yellow sunglasses of which Dame Edna Everage would have been properly proud.

“They’re Oakley’s,” he protests. Annie, get your gun.




May 17 2018: illegitimate concerns

Celebrating Darlington Travellers Rest’s promotion to the top division of the Crook and District League, yesterday’s blog noted that the team had a Latin motto – supare possomus. Whatever could it mean?

Mike Rayner thought it should be supera possumus, meaning “We are the best”, and that the team’s resident classicist must have spent too long in the Travellers’ bar.

Steve Wolstencroft had no idea – “I got thrown out of Latin at school” – but, such the level of expertise visited upon this blog, consulted his daughter Sarah who has degrees (note the plural, one’s a PhD) in the subject, lectures part-time at Glasgow University and when not doing that is full-time chief sub-editor on the Scottish Sun.

“Needless to say she gets her brains from her mother,” adds Steve.

Sarah, at any rate, favours possumus  – “we can” – and superare meaning to rise above. As shortly we shall learn, she appears precisely to have hit the spot.

Ray Gowan’s email not only insists that he used the phrase in his half-time talks at Shildon but ends with the well known cod Latin “Nil illegitimo carborundum” which (as any fule kno) reputedly translates as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The phrase is said to have been coined by British Army intelligence during World War II. There are many slight variations, all pretty hopeless. Nil illegitmo carborundum most accurately translates, it’s said, as “the unlawful are not silicon carbide.” The Latin for bastard is spurius.

Alan Smith, the Travellers Rest’s long serving secretary, offers a people’s etymology – the Latin, he says, was offered by a friend in the language department at Durham University after their long-gone second team’s opening game.

At half-time it was 1-1. “We can win this one,” said the manager. They lost 12-1 – “and I was that goalkeeper,” adds Alan.

Supare possumus the motto became – or not, as the case may be.

*In view of ongoing events at Northern League level, Crook and District League president Maurice Galley wishes to point out that, should the Travellers decline promotion, they will not be relegated (perhaps because there’s nothing below). Instead, says Maurice, they will be promoted to the Northern Premier League east division. Wisbech, adds Maurice, would love it.

*Email exchange with blog reader Gary Brand has included an invitation to him to name the fictional character who overused the phrase “Poop, poop.” It was, of course, Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, who flunked his Latin exams three times.

Such failure notwithstanding, Grahame heads one of the chapters Dulce domum, which presumably means Sweet home. There’ll be precious little of that these next three days. More shortly.





May 16 2018: Evenwood remembered

In the Crook and District League second division, than which grass roots go no deeper, Evenwood Town lost 1-0 tonight to Bishop Auckland Hogans. It means that, ahead of their final game on Saturday, Darlington Travellers Rest are promoted.

I’ve long been the Travs’ president. Their motto’s Supare possomus, which Wikipedia declines to translate but which sounds good and is probably the Crook League equivalent of “You’ll never beat the Arsenal.”

Once every town had a “district” league. Now Crook’s is the last Saturday league in Co Durham, its 17 clubs – eight in the first division, nine in the second – stretching to Alston (which is in Cumbria) and Bowes (which has had a pass-the-parcel sort of existence but, when last we checked, had been returned by North Yorkshire.)

The Travellers is now the only Saturday pub team in Darlington, a town of 100,000 people, the Crook League history a lugubrious litany of closed boozers – some missed more than others.

But what of Evenwood Town? It may not be said that this is the same club which three times won the Northern League – or that Evenwood’s a town at all – but the name doesn’t half stir memories.

At the fourth time of asking, they were admitted to the Northern League in 1931, having already reached the Amateur Cup third round as an Auckland and District League (RIP) club. Quite remarkably, they won the Northern League in 1949 and again in 1970 and 1971 and in 1956 reached the FA Cup first round, losing 7-2 to Darlington.

All that in a south-west Durham community of little more than 2,000 people.

As so often has been the case, their chief opponents were apathy and vandalism. As long ago as 1953, someone burned down the wooden dressing rooms, compelling the club to commandeer a double decker bus for the purpose. Ground criteria probably weren’t quite so strict in those days.

In the 1990s they were much boosted by the arrival of former Northern League secretary Gordon Nicholson and by the appointment as manager of Dr Graeme Forster, a colourful metallurgist from Quebec – the Co Durham one – who later managed West Auckland and Tow Law before selling his soul to the hosses.

Memory suggests that Graeme also had a greyhound called Evenwood Town, and that it won at Brough Park.

The club effectively ceased to exist in 2005, when the name was changed to Spennymoor Town and its activites moved to the Brewery Field – a decision which greatly enraged Gordon Nic but which seemed to me the only way to secure senior football in Spennymoor. Evenwood, sadly, were already finished.

For the moment, the Crook and District League remains at two divisions. I’ve told them that if they decide to amalgamate them, thus ensuring that the Travellers Rest will still be in the bottom divisiion as well as the top, the club president will sue.

*Speaking of Crook, a memorial service for Jimmy McMillan – the only footballer ever to gain four FA Amateur Cup winner’s medals  – will be held at St Catherine’s church in Crook market place at 11am on Saturday May 19. All are very welcome.

May 15 2018: there be dragoons….

Mike Bayly’s writing a book called 100 Football Grounds to See Before You Die. Like a kid with school dinners, he saved the best – Esh Winning – till last. Mike’s now sent the chapter draft, plus some quite brilliant pix from last season’s game with Penrith.

It’s not just that wonderful football ground for which the Deerness Valley is famed, however. Esh Winning’s also home to Field’s, the North-East’s last coal-fired fish and chip shop until another was rebuilt at Beamish Museum.

Mike recalls the tale of how, in 1922, William Field was walking to look for work in Witton Park – about ten miles away – when, very conveniently, he bumped into a bookie’s runner and put his last £2 on Light Dragoon in the Cesarawitch. Yet more conveniently, it romped home at 100-1.

With his winnings he opened his first shop the business now run by Jeff Field, his great grandson. Like Light Dragoon, it remains a very good bet.

*Speaking of dragoons….Andover Town – Wiltshire, is it not, wasn’t there a naughty limerick about a policeman from Andover Junction? – won promotion from the Wessex League (Step 5) to the Southern League’s western division and on their twitter account five days ago said that they couldn’t wait.

Today the club announced that it was refusing promotion following the departure of key behind-the-scenes figures “for business or personal reasons” and the subsequent loss of sponsorship income “on an already very tight budget.”

So what does the FA do now? Presumably Andover must be relegated to step 6 – Northern League second division level – as would have happened with Marske United and Morpeth Town, had they tried to stand up to the bullies.

For being prudent, for trying to live within their means and thus not becoming yet another casualty, Andover will be severely punished. It has come to this.

Their decision has had a knock-on effect throughout the National League System, including the promotion of AFC Mansfield, third in the Northern Counties East League, on the points-per-game principle.

Rumours that Northallerton Town will be marched off to make up numbers in the NCEL, whether or not they want it or is in their interests, become ever more plausible.

Word also reaches here that the FA may now only relegate two from each step five league. How different might things have been for Jarrow Roofing, third bottom, had they known that a fortnight ago?

*The Ebac Northern League’s new website – – goes live on the afternoon of May 22. New features include tables automatically updated as results come in, details of scorers, crowds, cards, incidents and what have you and links to all manner of other websites and social media. Many of the existing features will remain.


May 14 2018: bottom line

Congratulations to Redcar Athletic, Wearside League champions. Their ground’s been passed and, subject to anything the FA might decree – jokes about the South West Peninsula League may be inserted here – they’ll be in the Northern League next season.

It’s a good set-up and, led by Kevin Fryett, they’re good guys. That it’s taken them so long is partly because they fell short on several previous ground inspections, usually through floodlight problems.

It’ll be the first time for almost a century that a Redcar side has been in the Northern League, the last lot resigning in 1922 when the northernmost Northern League club was Esh Winning and the southernmost Scarborough.

Few may have missed them. The ground was in the middle of Redcar racecourse, the pub where they changed more than a mile away. Players usually walked between the two.

Among those particularly relishing the chance to see Athletic in the Northern League is ground hopper and blog reader Mike Rayner, who anticipates pre-match fish and chips at Oliver’s in Bath Street washed down with a pint in the Plimsoll Line, the Wetherspoons at the end of the high street – which recalls a rather embarrassing story.

Back in the 1960s, the O-level history paper had a “Write briefly on three of the following” section.  One of them was Sir Samuel Plimsoll, of whom I’d never heard, but since I’d also not heard of most of the others, I wrote a fanciful piece on the chap who invented the sandshoe.

Talk about sunk. Sir Samuel was the maritime safety campaigner who came up with the aforesaid line, though it’s said that sannies were subsequently so nicknamed because of the coloured line between sole and upper.

If the sea went above that, your feet got wet.

The Redcar link’s a bit obscure, though it’s said that Sir Sam once “stayed” at a house in the high street which later became Marks and Sparks. Perhaps Messrs Wetherspoon might now consider renaming their establishment the Kevin Fryett.

After all this time, I could write a book about him.

May 13 2018: fen and games

Not least because the nearest railway station to Wisbech is ten miles away, it’s unlikely that Marske United and Morpeth will be letting the train take the strain next season. We did in 2012.

The month was January, the nearest station March. Dunston UTS, unbeaten all season on their travels, were one of six Northern League teams in the last 32 of the FA Vase.

A few days earlier, we’d learned of the death of the wonderful Jackie Weatherall of Billingham Synthonia, a man whose dedication to grass roots sport was matched only by his determination never to be recognised for it.

Wisbech is across the Fens – flat, fertile and featureless save for the occasional distant glimpse of men hard at work, picking if not choosing.  It is England’s market garden, if not its vegetable plot.

A Sky News survey for some reason named Wisbech the seventh “most English” town in Britain, Niklaus Pevsner much admired its Georgian architecture.

Most of the toilers will have been eastern European. Wisbech and other towns thereabouts have a great many immigrant workers. “We call it Wisbekistan,” said a taxi driver, though he insisted he had nothing against them.

“They’re my best customers, especially the Latvians and Lithuanians when they’re drunk on a Saturday night.”

Such an influx inevitably brings pressures. “Death of a country idyll,” an Express headline had said and the Mail, never to be outdone, had “How the Baltic mafia is terrorising an English market town.”

The football team then played in the Ridgeons League, that of Wroxham, Wivenhoe and Walsham-le-Willows. Probably they could never have imagined that a single promotion would send them to the land of Whickham, Willington and Whitley Bay.

The match ended 2-2, the ineluctable Bulford scoring one of Dunston’s and claiming the other. Five other NL teams, including West Auckland, were in the draw for the last 16. The rest is history.

*Yesterday’s blog noted Ebac Northern League president George Courtney’s problem with getting into finals day at Consett, prompting Crook and District League official Maurice Galley to point out that at their Colin Waites Cup final at Willington this Saturday their president will himself be on the gate.

Maurice adds both that George will be very welcome – “concessions only £1” – and that kick-off has been brought forward to 1pm, so as not to clash with the FA Cup final. Definitely not the royal wedding, he adds.

*Thanks to all those readers – Don Clarke, anyway – who sought details of the “netty” joke mentioned in Friday’s blog. Alas, it’s not really one which translates into writing, though Don’s header is worth repeating. “Shaggy bog story,” it says.



May 12 2018: finals thoughts

Seventeen or so casual observations from today’s Ebac Northern League finals day at Consett – Chester-le-Street 2 Ryton and Crawcrook Albion 0 in the Ernest Armstrong (second division) final and Bishop Auckland 0 Dunston UTS 1 in the Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup final.

*Consett appear to handle everything wonderfully well and, most importantly, with a smile.

*Living the moment, Ryton have hired a 52-seat coach for the short journey from the Tyne. “We could probably have got them all on a mini-bus,” says club secretary Stevie Carter.

*It’s always surprising how few officials from other NL clubs attend the league’s cup finals.

*Among the happy exceptions is Darlington RA secretary Alan Hamilton who not only gives me a lift but points out that the workmen’s portable netties on the A1 are now described as welfare stations.

*Weather-wise, it’s a very pleasant afternoon. For Consett, come to think, it’s positively tropical.

*Has it ever been the case that the highest placed club in either final was tenth (Dunston) and that the other three were in the bottom half of their divisions?

*Bishops, extraordinarily, haven’t been in the League Cup final since 1976, when they beat Ashington 2-1. Before today, Dunston have won it four times in the past 20 years – a hat-trick from 1998-2000 – and on three other occasions been finalists.

*League president and former World Cup referee George Courtney is denied admission at the gate. “Don’t you know who I am,” he says (or words to that effect) and, finally, someone does.

*George’s shirt comes in for considerable comment (shall we say.) “It’s a Ted Baker,” he protests. “More like Hilda Baker,” says league secretary Kevin Hewitt.

*Neither Chester nor Ryton have ever won the Ernest Armstrong or its predecessor Craven Cup. Chester were beaten finalists, on penalties by Team North, in 2011.

*FA rules allow the media team to tweet goals from the first game but not from the second, which kicks off at 3pm. Might detract from the Premiership, and things.

*Stentorian Dunston chairman Malcolm James appears to have lost his voice.

*Appointed tunnel attendants (yesterday’s blog), league management committee members Derek Breakwell and Graham Craggs carry off their duties so magnificently that they’re promoted in the field – as they used to say in the military – to tunnel superintendents.

*Teased hereabouts a few days back because of all the extra black pudding it (allegedly) cost me to get him to take the role, league media and PR officer Mike Snowdon hands over a brown paper package. It’s Bury black pudding. Brilliant.

*There’s a short cut from the ground to the Grey Horse that only takes seven minutes.

*The very substantial difference between attendance for the two games underlines the wisdom of the league’s late decision substantially to reduce the £10 admission charge.

*Since the league cup began in 1923-24, the record number of wins is nine by Willington – the last in 1975, against Bishop Auckland.