August 12 2017: under the weather

Seduced by the early sunshine and by the solemn promise of Mr Tomasz Schafernaker that the weekend would have something about it, I head for Seaham along the coast line, dressed appropriately.

By 1 30pm the sky’s as grey as the North Sea, which balefully returns the stare.

Perused en route, The Times has a story about a school in Darlington which has appointed pupils as secret shoppers to report back on the teachers.

“Underhand, deceitful and incompatible with the normal order of relationships in school,” says the union lady. And they thought that we were bad.

By the time of the mile walk up the hill from the station it’s raining, spirits lifted when Seaham secretary Dave Copeland at once stands a pint in that smashing little steel-clad clubhouse.

Dave, a fantastic football man, is also the Wearside League’s registrations secretary, a member of Durham FA and has long been much involved with the myriad Russell Foster Youth League. “My wife keeps on asking when we’re going to have a holiday,” he says.

Red Star are playing Marske United, the programme noting that Jordan Hugill – rumoured to be on the verge of a £5m move from Preston North End to Sunderland – played for both clubs and for Consett and Whitby Town, too.

There’s also a photograph. The lad has more tattoos than Edinburgh Castle.

Though Seaham score early, Marske’s 4-1 win is quite comfortable. That Danny Earl’s a good player, isn’t he?

The crowd’s 111, a number inexplicably regarded by the cricket fraternity as unlucky. Perhaps it’s just unlucky for me, because before I get back to the station it’s raining again.

Mr Schafernaker has much for which to answer.

August 11 2017: when in Rome….

When not trying to paint two miles of fence with one hand tied behind his back, Darlington Railway Athletic secretary Alan Hamilton has been doing his Latin homework.

The football club approaches its centenary in 2018-19. Though Alan accepts that few folk down Brinkburn Road way may now engage in classical discourse, he feels that a Latin motto would be “quite classy.”

Twelve Ebac Northern League clubs have mottoes – four in English, one (Marske United) in French and seven in Latin. They are:

Dunston UTS – Nulli secundus (Second to none), North Shields – Messis ab altis (Harvest from the deep), Penrith – Res non verba (Action not words), Stockton Town – Fortitudo et spes (Endurance and hope), Whitley Bay – Ludus est omnis (The game is everything), Bedlington Terriers – Virtus unita fortis ((United we are stronger) and Durham City – Floreant cives (The citizens flourish.)

Since the Romans never got around to inventing railways – or football, for that matter – the RA are struggling a bit.

Committee member Jack Usher, a 20-year-old Arsenal fan, has suggested “Skintus maximus”,  which while an undoubtedly accurate reflection of the club’s financial position has been rekected because (“as every schoolboy knows,” says Alan) Latin had little room for the letter k.

Venerable team manager Peter Mulcaster’s suggestion of “Pecuniam non habemus, nobiscum risus” – (very) roughly translated as “We don’t have much money but we do have a right good laugh” – has also failed to make the shortlist.

“Again the sentiment is right but the motto is perhaps a little over-long,” says Alan, who has been looking over the border at Queens Park’s “Ludere cause ludendi” – WE play for the love of playing.

The RA – probably not to be confused with the Royal Academy – thus quite fancy “Nos ludere ad ludens caritas” – to play for the sake of playing.

It would have the bonus of at once advising academically inclined money spiders that there are no brown envelopes at the RA

Scholars to a man, Grass Routes readers may have ideas of their own. Alan’s at but please copy me in at

What’s Latin for thanks very much?

August 10 2017: What’s in a name?

O N Chenecks (2)


Monday’s blog pondered the improbable names of some of the FA Cup extra-preliminary round combatants, among them the team listed on the FA website as Northampton On Chenecks.

Were the Chenecks a tribe of displaced North American Indians, as rather it sounded, or was the River Chenecks alittle known tributary to some mighty South Midland waterway?

The FA, it transpires, has failed to see the point. Gary Brand and Brian Weir both tell the story; Brian, in Northern Ireland, sends the picture above which clearly illustrates it.

Chenecks was formed out of Northampton Grammar School, the name an amalgam of the four houses – Chipsey’s, Spencer, Beckett and St Crispin’s. When they ground shared with Old Northampton Rugby Club, they became O.N. Chenecks.

Gary, who’s a Londoner – and, for his sins, a Spurs man – also sees quite a bit of FC Romania and Sporting Bengal, both in the Essex Senior League. “Sporting Bengal are, well, Bengali,” he writes. “FC Romania are, well, Romanian.”

Romania did have an English player last season but he only lasted a couple of weeks. The good old secretary’s English, though.

Keith Stoker fancied a trip to Holland – “just up the coast from Clacton-on-Mud” – Don Clarke supposed Corinthian Casuals the greatest name ever, Martin Birtle had a great uncle in Odd Down and Tow Law secretary Steve Moralee points out that Quorn were Quorn Methodists until 1952, when they became irreligious.

That one’s drawn from the truly remarkable Football Club History Database, where even the “Q” section ranges from Quarry Nomads to Queens Park Strollers.

*Brian Bennett’, Ashington’s faithful press officer for more than forty years, claims an exclusive after last Saturday’s Cup tie with Ryhope CW by interviewing three different members of the Harmison family  Steve, who’s joint manager, Ben who scored the only goal and James, now starting his 21st consecutive season of Northern League football.

Mostly his time has been spent with the Colliers and with Bedlington Terriers, but James has also had spells with North Shields and Newcastle Bue Star. Probably there are current Northern League footballers with a still longer playing record. Anyoe like to suggest who they are?




August 9 2017: weighty matters

Some of us get weighed every 30 years or so; heroic Crook Town chairman Vince Kirkup is one of those who weighs himself every morning, though it doesn’t need scales to suggest that the lad’s shed from an already spare frame.

“Nearly a stone, it’s all the pre-season running around,” says Vince, though the running around has sparked a new optimism at the Millfield.

Some impressive friendly wins – the ten goals against the local Macdonalds may be discounted, the lads not really lovin’ it at all – were followed on Saturday by a 6-2 victory at Easington.

Tonight they’re at home to Darlington RA, a meeting of Messrs Constantine and Mulcaster, the Northern League;s two most peripatetic – and enduring – managers.

Among the 131 crowd, it’s lovely to see former FA Cup final referee Peter Willis, 80 in October, the first time I’ve seen him on a Northern League ground for around 40 years.

Peter kept goal for Tow Law and Willington, didn’t start refereeing until he was 26, was also a long-serving Durham police officer and reckons that, like pollisses, refs are getting younger.

He also tells the tale of a Sunday morning motor patrol when he was passed at high speed, activated blues and twos and pulled the errant gentleman over. “Can you help me, officer, I’m desperate for a s***house” said the racer.

“It’s your lucky day, son,” replied PC Willis, “you’ve found a one.”

The game ends 1-1, second half goals within a minute of one another. Vince has a restorative pint.

*Yesterday’s blog was mistaken, and probably not for the first time, to suppose that the Northern League’s individual scoring record is nine in a match. It’s the ten scored by Jackie Coulthard in South Bank’s 13-0 wallopping of Ferryhill Athletic on May 2 1936.

“In cricket weather, South Bank ran up a cricket score,” The Northern Echo reported.

Jack, who’d scored 64 league and cup goals for Stockton in 1931-32, died in World War II when his merchant vessel was torpedoed.

*Reflecting appreciatively on the improvement’s to West Auckland’s pitch, yesterday’s blog supposed that not even the Flat Earth Society could level it. John Briggs sends a link to the Society’s website. “The Flat Earth Society has members around the globe,” it says.

August 8 2017: Nine tales



There are no words adequately to describe the early August weather at West Auckland tonight, though “vile” may come closest.

It’s been tanking down all day, it’s maybe 10 degrees but feels colder and more miserable and there’s even an ill wind to put a spoke in Guisborough Town press officer Bill Perfitt’s best brolly.

Perhaps it’s not wholly surprising. “Redcar pound shop,” says Bill.

In the field behind the bottom goal, a flock of sheep huddles together for warmth and comfort, perhaps taking ovine consolation in the fact that – unlike at least one dozy human – they haven’t taken two hours and three bus journeys and then paid good money to get in.

The evening’s much cheered, however, by the appearance of 85-year-old Ernie Curtis – that’s him atop the blog – a delightful chap who was West’s centre forward in the 1961 FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley and had barely set foot on the ground since.

The night before the final – an undeserved 2-1 defeat to Walthamstow Avenue – they’d watched the Crazy Gang, which didn’t mean Wimbledon. “It seemed quite appropriate,” says Ernie.

West, now managed by Gary Forrest – who two seasons back guided Shildon to a treble – are among the pre-season favourites.

Among Gary’s conditions on assuming office was that West did something about the pitch- and while the Flat Earth Socierty itself could never make it level, they’ve clearly been working very hard – not least all day today. Well done.

West lead 3-0 after 18 minutes, finally score nine. They look fast, fit and inventive. “It took us till Christmas to score nine last year,” says some sodden soul on the way out.

Someone at Guisborough, facing a miserable drive home, recalls that they once lost 12-0 to Consett.

West Auckland stalwart Cliff Alderson reckons that the last time they scored nine was in a famous 9-2 win over Ashington – Alan Oliver’s time as manager, getting on 20 years ago – in which the prolific Roy Allen hit eight but missed the penalty which would have given him a share of the Northern League’s individual scoring record. Whatever happened to him?

Should I recover, on Wednesday evening I’m off on the No 1 bus to Crook. Chris Wood, Guisborough’s eloquent PA man, is flying out to Malaga. He may have the better bet.


August 7 2017: Odd’s and sods

When they talk of the magic of the FA Cup – or, indeed, of the Vase – perhaps they also embrace the joy of scrolling down the early round results and letting the imagination wander wantonly around the names.

The 185th and last tie at the weekend featured Odd Down – a suburb of Bath, it transpires – though for Keith Bell it recalled his early forays into 5s and 3s, back home in Co Durham.

Old hands, says Keith – long in Canada – would suggest that he had played an odd down. Don’t we all. There’s another reason for all this, however, to which shamelessly – and in about six paragraphs – we shall return.

Were there a bucket list of clubs to visit it would certainly include Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Boldmere St Michael’s and the blessed Leicester Nirvana, all in action last weekend.

They might be joined by Northampton on Chenecks – who? – Badshot Lea, Highmoor Ibis and the glorious Brimscombe and Thrupp.

The FA’s expansionist ambition is also evident in the presence of FC Romania, Sporting Bengal, Eversley and California and Wick, which when last encountered was at the end of a very long railway line in Caithness.

The church is also well represented. There’s Glebe (which is church land), Hassocks (which are kneelers)) and, of course, a great army of saints marching in and out.

Vegetarians might want to support Cheddar, vegans Quorn.

Keith’s email is particularly welcome, however, because it offers the opportunity to record that the 5s and 3s summer league at the Brit came to a conclusion tonight. Seventeen of us entered; the trophy resides here.

Ah, the magic of the cup.


August 6 2017: Great Ayton


Some of the West Auckland lads have been down to Doncaster today for a surprise 90th birthday party for Norman Ayton, the Northern League’s only life member. They took the World Cup, too.

That’s Norman, second left, with Cliff Alderson, Dave Bussey and Stuart Alderson.

The title’s a constitutional curiosity, since a football league is a body of member clubs, not individuals, but if Norman ever fancied raising a side we could hardly refuse him.

Come to think, he was also identified on West Auckland notepaper as chief executive long after he’d left the North-East for Doncaster, where memory suggests he ran a market stall. Last time I saw him was when West were drawn down at the wonderfully named Askern Villa in a cup tie.

A great club man, Norman was secretary and chairman and also a long-serving Durham FA member.”Great Ayton”, for the benefit of those far flung from North-East England, is also a large village near Guisborough which was the birthplace of Captain James Cook.

Back in 2003, the club held a night in Norman’s honour, though the surest sign of esteem may have come from Northern League president George Courtney – a man, shall we say, noted for a certain financial prudence.

George bought him a pint of Guinness. “He didn’t drink it, he had it framed,” he said.

*Towards the other end of the age scale, it’s very good to hear from Craig Dobson, the brilliant young man who produced award winning programmes for West Allotment Celtic and for North Shields and who, wholly unpaid, transformed the appearance of the league magazine in the last stages of its 27-year life.

Craig had a history degree, wanted only to be a journalist – so much for the lessons of history – and worked in a supermarket  in order to make ends meet.

Now he’s got a pretty perfect job at the National Football Museum in Manchester, which staged the league’s 125th anniversary exhibition back in 2013-14. Last week he was promoting a Subbuteo exhibition – lovely to see that he’s got his feet beneath the table.