September 13 2020: face facts

Friday’s blog supposed that that night’s derby between Birtley and Chester-le-Street – played behind closed doors at Gateshead Council’s insistence – sounded like a cracker.

“So it was,” says ground hopper and Grass Routes reader Stuart Green and he should know – he watched through the fence as Birtley won 4-3. missing only the “excellent” pie and chips from Waddey’s Bar. Behind it all is a story to cheer these troubled times.

Back in 2016, when he was just four, Charlie Graver – whose dad Michael is a former Birtley player – suffered severe head and facial injuries in a road accident. Skin from his thigh had to be grafted onto his face.

Charlie’s slow recovery – described by the Daily Mail as “miraculous” – was supported by Changing Faces, a charity dedicated to those like him. Now fully fit again, he is dedicating himself to helping the cause.

In 2019 he raised £3,845 by competing in the Mini Great North Run. In July this year, during lockdown, he ran every day – a total of 87k, two marathons to raise an astonishing £7,403.

“A kind and thoughtful little soul,” says Kimberley, his mum. “An absolute inspiration,” says Birtley secretary Colin Beat.

Friday’s match would also have been a fund raiser for Changing Faces, an excited Charlie due to make an appearance on the pitch and the crowd likely to have been the maximum 300 allowed. Birtley had sold 200 advance tickets, Chester-le-Street their allocation of 50.

That’s part of the reason why Stuart Green and many others not only insisted that Birtley keep the ticket money but made a donation to Changing Faces.

The club, unhappy at the council’s decision, is working out how much the donation will be. They hope that issues will soon be resolved, beginning with the game against Tow Law on Wednesday.

*Another Covid casualty, Birtley’s excellent programme will this season only be available on-line. Still it carries a full-page ad for the blog, in between an ad for an immigration lawyer and another for Propa Radgie greeting cards – “blunt cards, unpleasant messages and awful language.” I feel greatly at home there.

*From outside the Masons Arms public house in Shildon on September 27 1825, the world’s first passenger railway – the Stockton and Darlington – began its inaugural journey.

The Masons has had several incarnations since then, including a “fun pub” called Spanners which was about as much fun (it may be surmised) as a pox doctor’s waiting room.

In July, transformed, it re-emerged as From Cairo to the Cape, which may not just be Shildon’s first African-themed cafe/restaurant but Co Durham’s, too.

After a lengthy walk around the old town’s urban outskirts – more beating the bounds than walking, really – we looked in at 4pm today for a very late lunch.

It’s friendly, quirky, inexpensive, idiosyncratically kitted out – Shildon meets Soweto – and is unlicensed. The hospitable guy offered to nip over to the Co-op for emergency supplies but, yet nearer, might have crossed the road to the George Samuel Brewery tap which opened on Friday in the former wagon works canteen, next to the Queen of Pain tattoo parlour.

The hour notwithstanding, our meal embraced “Aunty Misty’s American breakfast”, a huge concoction that included fruit on the side and lovely cinnamon toast. There were “smoky pit beans” with salt pork on toast, fish ball stew and a deep and greatly appreciated bowl of daal. With three soft drinks and a coffee the total was £25.

There are plenty who say it’ll never catch on, of course – but they said that about the railways, didn’t they? Closed Mondays, recommended.

September 12 2020: wild about Harry

Like one or two of the Northern League management committee (1992-2016) my “summer” rain jacket has very deep pockets. It’s timely.

Half an hour before I’m due to head off on the long and tortuous bus journey to Tow Law, the postman delivers Harry Pearson’s long-anticipated sequel to The Far Corner.

The rucksack being full of other books – shall we say – The Farther Corner finds a cosy nook beside the spare face mask and the old man’s bus pass.

In the 25 years between the two, Harry has written getting on a dozen other books – those on cricket particularly acclaimed – but his return to North-East football’s roots feels a bit like the prodigal son come back not for the fatted calf but for pie and mushy peas and a quid’s worth of meat draw tickets.

There’ve been a few personal issues, too, from which he doesn’t shirk. “Paul Gascoigne once said a football pitch was the only place it felt safe. I feel the same about non-league football grounds,” he writes.

Particularly he remains the unequalled master of the analogy. Where else might you read that a shot left the Washington goalkeeper flapping at thin air “like a man shooing midges from a picnic” or that getting the good folk of Peterlee and Washington to watch Northern League football “proved about as easy as selling matches to the Human Torch.”

Whisper it, I’m also much struck by the reference to the FA – “a body so spineless it should be carried around in a bucket.”

He doesn’t get up to Tow Law in this book, though there are a couple of trips to Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, today’s opponents. One was a 12-mile walk from near his home in the Tyne Valley, part of my Last Legs Challenge 2015-16, an odyssey also joined by Ryton secretary Stevie Carter.

On a horrible day, the book recalls, Stevie kept spirits up with a series of bizarre tales – “one involving comedian Bernie Clifton at a Skegness holiday camp that is sadly too libellous to be repeated.”

Or in my case, perhaps fortunately, to be remembered.

It’s not a bad afternoon, not bad for Tow Law, anyway. A horse of the breed sometimes known as ragman’s watches arrivals from across the Ironworks road, The tea hut being closed for Covid-related reasons, a couple of ground hopper seek directions to a fast food outlet.

Steve Moralee, the Lawyers’ ever-assiduous secretary, advises a short cut to Gregg’s but urges caution. “It’s known locally as Dog Shit Alley,” he adds.

The six-foot crater which undermined the pitch during the summer has been made good by the Coal Board, or whatever these days it’s called, the neighbouring terracing also reinstated, though without crush barriers to lean against. None stands there.

An advertising hoarding simply says “Work the space”, which may or may not be synonymous with “Mark the hole”. It’s also good to see Billy Johnson,. now in Walker, one of the Lawyers’ team which, indelibly, reached the FA Vase final in 1998.

The only problem is in trying to shift a few books of my own, the exchange rate approximately one Harry Pearson for ten Mike Amoses. It helps that Lawyers’ treasurer and retired bookie Kevin McCormick has a good win on the St Leger.

Ryton deservedly lead 3-1 at half-time and 3-1 it remains. The crowd’s 119. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all to the book in the rain jacket pocket is that I don’t fall asleep on the No 1 back home.

*The Farther Corner by Harry Pearson is published in hardback by Simon and Schuster, £16 99.

Books sold (mine, not Harry’s) 1,051

Books cornered 1,149

September 11 2020: crisis deepens

The situation darkens daily. Both FA Vase and FA Trophy finals were today postponed indefinitely, all football involving teams at Wearside League level and below has been suspended in the boroughs of Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead and other fixtures have been called off or played behind closed doors.

A letter to clubs from Ebac Northern League secretary Kevin Hewitt stresses the seriousness of the position. If the season has again to be abandoned, he warns, for some clubs it will be “terminal”.

Durham FA secretary John Topping says in a letter to clubs in the affected boroughs – all on the government’s “watch list” – that everyone must do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus.

The decision to abort the two Wembley finals, just days after the September 27 date was announced, comes after new government rules reduced the capacity of “test” matches from 10,000 to 1,000.

Thousands of followers of Ebac Northern League sides Consett and Hebburn Town were already making weekend arrangements when the news was announced. Consett’s website talks of a “joint lobby” to request a postponement.

It could now be that, whenever the final is possible, it will be at a North-East venue.

The DFA decision to suspend all football in the three boroughs – including small-sided games – followed talks with leagues and public health officials. It could particularly impact the Wearside League which has five first division clubs in the affected area and seven in the second division.

DFA will review the position on Monday September 21, though the situation shows no early signs of easing.

In addition, all organised football at the Ford Hub in South Hylton, Sunderland – home to ENL clubs Sunderland West End and Washington – has been suspended. This Saturday’s match between Washington and Easington Colliery is off.

Tonight’s derby between Birtley and Chester-le-Street, which was expected to attract the maximum allowed 300 crowd, was also ordered at short notice to be played behind closed doors. It sounds like a cracker, Birtley – in the borough of Gateshead – beating their Co Duham neighbours 4-3.

Saturday’s FA Cup tie between Whitley Bay and Dunston is also off. The friendly between Whitby Town and York City will be played behind closed doors.

Kevin Hewitt’s letter urges clubs strictly to follow government and FA guidelines. “Failure to do so could result in fixtures being suspended and ultimately in the season being cancelled, as it was last season.

“The work clubs have done so far has been excellent. but I can’t emphasise enough the seriousness of a repeat of last season’s scenario.”

*Kevin Hewitt, retired local government officer and long-time Newcastle United season ticket holder, has himself – along with other ENL officials – been playing a blinder. When time allows, he also enjoys a game of Football Manager on his PC.

The good news is that he guided West Ham United to victory in the FA Cup final. The bad news is that Mike Ashley’s just sacked him.

*Wednesday’s reference to Dawdon pit pond – officially the colliery cooling pool in which Olympic diver Charmian Welsh trained in the 1950s – stirred memories for long serving former Daily Mail sports writer Doug Weatheral.

It was there that Doug’s brother helped build the high diving board, there that as a young reporter he covered swimming galas for the Sunerland Echo and there that he particularly admired ladies’ freestyle champion Edna Hood, so greatly that he married her.

Edna died 21 years ago. Coming up 88, Doug remains happily buoyant.

*Yesterday’s blog brought an indignant email from Penrith FC secretary Ian White. We’d told of graffiti in the gent’s at Balliol College, Oxford, where an arrow indicated a pile of sheets of toilet paper. “Sociology degrees, please take one,” said the writing on the wall.

Ian, retired as Cumbria’s chief probation officer, is himself the “proud” possessor of a sociology degree. His is from Durham. They’re a much higher class there.

September 10 2020: testing, testing

So what happens now with the FA Vase final? No sooner does the FA finalise a September 27 date with a 10,000 Wembley capacity for Vase and Trophy games together than the government announces that the capaciity for “test” matches will be cut from 10,000 to 1,000.

Does that include the Wembley showpiece? Will all the excited weekend planning at Hebburn Town on Tuesday evening – doubtless replicated at Consett – have to be aborted?

Grass Routes has asked the questions, but so far received no answers. My understanding, however, is that the capacity will indeed be decimated and that, set to receive a maximum 250 tickets, both Ebac Northern League finalist will ask for the final to be deferred. The request is unlikely to be granted.

*In the Borough of Sunderland, meanwhile, the City Council called an emergency meeting late this afternoon of all local and regional football leagues.

The borough faces local lockdown, the situation exacerbated by that wretched charity match at Burnside Workmen’s Club in Fencehouses after which, protocols ignored, the virus seems to have taken wing.

The upshot is that the council wants all football in the borough to be suspended for the duration – do they know this at the Stadium of Light? – as a signal to the government that it’s acting urgently and responsibly.

Ebac Northern League secretary Kevin Hewitt notes advice from the council’s public health people which contradicts recent counsel from the FA.

“I draw the firm conclusion,” says Kevin, “that so far as Covid-19 is concerned, not only does the left hand not know what the right is doing but that it’s not aware that there’s an almost identical body part doing its own thing.”

*The blog following the Hebburn match noted a colourful multitude of ribbon rosettes – the sort of thing that might be found upon a large and expensive box of chocolates – adorning not just the football ground perimeter fence but, across the road, the cemetery fence, too.

Grass Routes reader Kein Connolly says that the ribbons first appeared on the cemetery in April – a rainbow gesture of support for the NHS – followed by the football club, care homes, parks and private property. “I’m originally from Hebburn and think it’s a great gesture,” says Kevin – and the great thing is that not one seems to have been vandalised.

*Last Saturday’s blog on the Thornaby v Billingham Town match said gthat Thornaby was the only Ebac Northern League club with two separate bars and was at once held over a barrel by Bishop Auckland FC director Nick Postma.

Bishops now have an “outdoor” bar, too, named – like Whickham’s cosy tea hut – the Corner Flag.

It’s perhaps less than coincidental that the Heritage Park ground is now the Bishop Brewery Stadium, wholly coincidental that this evening I should have a beer with Nick’s fellow director Terry Jackson, the most assiduous of men.

So in these unprecedented times, what’s a football club director been doing all day. “Cleaning bird s**t off the turnstiles,” says Terry.

*Though book sales are now becalmed, Unconsidered Trifles remains appreciated – so much so that Keith Gill, who has a very good story to tell, asks me to ghost his autobiography.

Among much else, Keith was one of the forces behind Tudor Crisps in Peterlee in the 1980s – remember “A canny bag of Tudas”? – and later a founder of the worldly wise Phileas Fogg snack food empire in Medomsley Road, Consett.

Ghost ships aren’t my thing, but there’s still a chance to read the provisional text and to have lunch in the Shoulder. The script recalls a visit to Balliol College, Oxford, where Keith – Sherburn Village lad originally – was taken by the better class of graffiti in the gent’s.

On one wall a writer asked “If I’m into flagellation, necrophilia and bestiality, am I flogging a dead horse?”

On another, an arrow indicated a pile of sheets of toilet paper. “Sociology degrees,” it said, “please take one.”

Books sold (and paid for) 1,044

Books with not a ghostly 1,156

September 9 2020: Albion tragedy

Last Wednesday’s blog reported from the monsoon match between Hurworth Albion and Darlington Cockerton Club, Wearside League second division.

Albion’s Facebook page now records that Jack Dell, one of their players that night, has died. He was 30.

“A valued member of the team, not just on the field but off it,” says the post. “Jack will be deeply missed across the football community. We will never forget his kindness and his willingness to help anyone with anything.”

Albion’s game against Shildon Reserves on Saturday has been postponed. May Jack rest in peace.

*Dabbling around Dawdon in early August, the blog – via veteran former Daily Mail sports writer Doug Weatheral – had cause to recall former Sunderland winger Harry Hooper, who played against Dawdon for Hylton Colliery Juniors.

Harry has also died, in a care home in Norfolk, after a long struggle with dementia. He was 87.

Born in Pittington – east of Durham – he’d been on Sunderland’s books as a youngster, but his dad – Sheffield United’s captain in the 1936 FA Cup final – preferred that he signed professionally for West Ham, where Harry Hopper senior was assistant manager.

In 1954 he was on standby for the England World Cup squad, but never won full honours. The country already had two decent wingers in Matthews and Finney, he’d reflect.

Wolves signed him in 1956 for a club record £25,000, but after 19 goals in his only season he moved to Birmingham City, becoming the first British player to score in a European cup final when City faced Barcelona over two legs.

At Sunderland, signed for £18,000, he scored 19 in 80 appearances but his pinpoint corners are said to have created many more for Messrs Clough and Hurley.

*Mention of Dawdon Colliery recalls its pit pond – officially the cooling pool – an outdoor and all-weather training base in the 1950s for Olympic diver Charmian Welsh.

Charmian was from Thornley in east Durham, her grandfather the pit manager and her father the under-manager. They called them Old Arthur and Young Arthur.

Dawdon pit pond was most notable for the thick layer of coal-black goo at the bottom and for the view from the 10-metre board – Sunderland to the north and, on a good day, Redcar to the south. Sounds a bit like Easington’s ground, and probably with a similar ratio of good days to bad.

Suitably acclimatised, Charmian was just 15 when fifth in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, also competed in the Melbourne Games four years later and won double gold in the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff.

I’d interviewed her in 2008, by then living in Howden-le-Wear, near Crook. “I trained in all weathers – rain, wind and even snow,” she said. Times and temperatures change.

September 8 2020: earthly pleasures

It’s impossible to walk around Hebburn Town’s ground and not to remember when it had nowt, or next-to-nowt, and less than that after the wreckers’ periodic predations.

Now they’re not just looking forward to a first Wembley appearance but have a positively handsome home, upgraded almost beyond recognition and with the Hornets’ black-and-yellow everywhere in evidence. Even the television and broadcast tower is sturdier and more accommodating than some clubs’ stands.

No wonder they like to play that Belinda Carlisle song about Hebburn being a place on earth.

It’s tempting to suppose that the hundreds of ribbon rosettes tied to the perimeter fence – the sort of thing which decorates birthday prsents – are something to do with the Vase final celebration, too, but they’re also on the cemetery fence across the road.

What’s that all about, then?

Tonight the Hornets are entertaining Shildon, the pre-match warm-up marred for Shildon supporter and former director George Thompson when he takes a ball full in the face – “trying to trap it with his head,” says a friend.

The medical attention is swift and sympathetic, but George will carry the evidence for several weeks to come.

Less than three weeks to Wembley and the only problem is that no one knows what’s happening. How many tickets will they get? What time’s kick-off? Will there be Sunday train travel? Will LNER ever get its finger out? The same, obviously, applies to Consett.

The uncertainty’s compounded by the wretched virus, of course, and the likelihood of further restrictions ahead. Wednesday’s match between Bedlington terriers and West Allotment Celtic is another early season victim, because a WAC player has tested positive.

Tonight it’s still pay-at-the-gate, the crowd given at exactly 300, but precious little evidence of social distancing on the far side. It’s clearly a big problem.

The ever-dangerous Graham Armstrong gives Hebburn the lead after half an hour, victory secured by Olly Martin’s added-time second. For Hebburn, yet greater joys may be ahead.

*We’d been talking on the way up in Harvey Harris’s car about the desirability – or otherwise – of switching the Vase final to a North-East venue. Harvey’s in favour.

Coincidentally, an email awaits from Neil McKay making the same point – St James’ Park, Stadium of Light, maybe even the Darlington Arena, says Neil. “I know that missing out on Wembley would be a huge blow, but these are unprecedented times,” he adds.

I demur. The FA, much to their credit, have worked really hard to make a Wembley finals day possible and for players and supporters – even in these strange days – there really is nowhere like it.

Who knows what might happen yet.

September 7 2020: grit guy, great guy

John Burton , one of the most influential men in the post-war North-East, will be 80 on Tuesday. He twinkles still.

Best remembered as Tony Blair’s agent and mentor in the Sedgefield constituency, John has also led the smashing folk group Skerne for 50 years – still does – was a long serving councillor, remains a pillar of the church in Trimdon Village, was a very able footballer, a much respected PE teacher – Respected? the kids used to shout “Come on, Sir” when he played Northern League – and is a genuine, lovely guy.

“Without him, it must be doubtful whether I’d ever have become Prime Minister,” Tony Blair once observed.

“John Burton is grit,” said Neil Kinnock. “Indeed, he is probably one of the flintiest particles that the Labour Party has ever had.”

As if all that weren’t enough, 20-odd years ago I also recorded in print that John had won the award for Trimdon’s tallest nettle, 8ft 4in and proud of it.

It still seems barely credible that the Sedgefield seat is now Conservative and that Trimdon Labour Club, where so much was celebrated before a worldwide audience, is now a carpet showroom.

Keith Proud’s biography – The Grit in the Oyster, published in 2003 – records that John played football for Fishburn Juniors alongside Gordon Jones, later of Middlesbrough and England, and for Trimdon alongside Tony Knox, capped for England’s amateurs while with Whitley Bay.

Subsequently he scored 75 in a season for Stockton in Wearside League days, a record which the book supposes will never be bettered because the league no longer exists – which may be news to those who for nearly 130 years have so carefully curated it.

He also played for Shildon – the highlight, obviously – for Bishop Auckland and was the FA’s youngest full coaching badge holder when appointed player/manager of Ferryhill Athletic.

Unfortunately, the committee which had been so impressed by his qualifications still wanted to pick the team and dictate the tactics, resulting in John’s swift departure.

Lawrie McMenemy, with little prompting, likes to tell a very similar story about his managerial apprenticeship at Bishop Auckland.

John had also represented Durham County, asked by DFA secretary Walter Turnbull on his first appearance what his expenses were. “Ten bob,” said John, offering the approximate bus fare from Trimdon.

Turnbull produced timetable and notebook. “Seven and fourpence,” he said and paid it to the penny.

He is to be wished the happiest of birthdays.

*The Covid effect apprehensively outlined in yesterday’s blog seems already to be worsening. As well as the midweek games at Whitley Bay and Willington, Tuesday’s matches between Ryhope CW and Consett and Newton Aycliffe and Sunderland RCA have also been postponed.

Kevin Hewitt, the Ebac Northern League’s admirable secretary, has written to all clubs stressing that while the league is “mindful of the need” to complete an already shortened season, it will give utmost consideration to the welfare of players, officials and spectators.

“Because of the seriousness of the situation it may be that we err on the side of caution, for which we make no apologies,” he adds.

*One of John Burton’s 80th birthday presents will be a copy of Unconsidered Trifles. Paul Trippett, a long-time friend and colleague – and Newton Aycliffe FC committee member – calls at the house for a copy this morning. Hardback, too, that’s how highly he thinks of the guy. Even without such a milestone, others still edge sales onward.

Books sold (and paid for) 1,038

Still awaiting a birthday 1,162

September 6 2020: Covid confusion

Yesterday’s Ebac Northern League games between Penrith and Whitley Bay and Sunderland West End and Chester-le-Street were called off after positive Covid-19 tests in the Whitley Bay and Chester-le-Street camps – and now Tuesday’s ever-anticipated North Tyneside derby between Whitley Bay and North Shields and Chester’s match at Willington on Wednesday have also been postponed.

It provides a greatly worrying start to an already truncated season – and league secretary Kevin Hewitt has little doubt there’ll be further virus-related postponements.

“The chances of it happening again are somewhere between highly likely and almost inevitable,” says Kevin.

“It’s not the lack of advice that’s the problem, it’s the inconsistency and lack of joined-up thinking when you have to take into account all the agencies involved.

“In what is already a difficult and unprecedented season, the league will be mindful of the need to complete a full fixture schedule while giving the utmost consideration to the wellbeing of players, club officials and spectators alike.”

Life has been further complicated by advice from the government, FA, Public Health England and Test and Trace that is at best confusing and, at worst, conflicting.

Guidance from Test and Trace, says Kevin, can differ depending on who you talk to.

“It seems that league officials are expected to make a judgement call. As the season progresses and hopefully things become clearer it’s hoped to develop a commonsense policy that offers clarity to all concerned. We’re in touch with the FA and other agencies on a day-to-day basis.”

*It’s 10 30am and the bells of the ancient church of St Mary the Virgin in Masham – North Yorkshire brewing country – are calling the faithful to worship. In these strange times, the church also offers a “telephone service” (as, it’s believed, do BT.)

Others among us are called to the lovely little cricket ground almost in the shadow of the spire, where once I saw Durham’s clergy beat Bradford in the Church Times Cup in circumstances which were near-miraculous.

It’s the Wensleydale Evening League’s finals day – their own season much shortened – two semis and a final and Richmond Mavericks, the elder bairn’s team, in the first match.

The Mavericks also have a football team, both operating under a cod-Latin aegis which (allegedly) means “They don’t like it up ’em.”

There’s a problem, however. Not only are they unaccustomed to playing on a Sunday but some of them are unused to being abroad at 10 30am. “I woke up at 10 15 and thought s**t,” says an apologetic latecomer.

On top of that, the boy has also hosted a birthday bash on Saturday, starting early and finishing late. He insists he’s OK, takes a respectable 2-26 from his allotted five overs but with the turning circle of the Queen Mary is run out while going for a second run without ever having faced a ball. Thornton Watlass win very comfortably.

Proceedings have been interrupted by a downpour. The second match has barely begun before it’s tanking down once again, the event almost certainly abandoned. It’s been a strange old summer – and the winter, alas, may be stranger yet.

September 5 2020: mission possible

Missing the FA Vase semi-finals isn’t just because I’d promised myself a parmo at Thornaby but because a friend from Huddersfield, who knew Teesdale Park when it had nowt, is anxious to see its incredible transformation.

The theme of today’s blog, indeed, may be supposed one of renaissance – and of glorious transformation.

Thornaby are at home to Billingham Town, a big local derby for the first game of the Ebac Northern League season, crowd necessarily limited to a greatly enthusiastic 300.

The hosts, impressive 2-0 FA Cup winners against Bridlington Town in midweek, again include Greek international goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopolous, coming up 42 and affectionately remembered at Middlesbrough, Hartlepool United and elsewhere.

It’s tempting to suppose that “Dimi” – officially Dimitrios – is from the same root as words like “diminutive”, in which case the keeper, a man with more clean sheets than Binns’ bedding department – has been spectacularly misnamed. The Thornaby faithful reckon him 6ft 5in, Wiki says 6ft 7in. On any argument his is a greatly commanding presence.

Billy Town have themselves endured some very sticky times of late but like Thornaby – indeed like Consett and Hebburn, in belated semi-final action – have emerged better and resilient for the experience.

Keeping tabs on the Vase games proves unexpectedly difficult, however, partly because our man at Corinthian can in all the ground find only an area of about two square feet in which there’s a mobile signal – “I’m being bitten by gnats but can’t move” he reports, valiantly – and partly because the internet, asked the latest score from Consett, insists that they’re beating Ryhope CW 3-2.

Thornaby’s the only ENL club with two bars, and both are busy. So’s the admirable tea hut, so much so that by half-time they’ve not just run out of chips but out of parmos, too. Apollo Quedraogo – club chairman, restaurateur and founder of the feast – insists that more are on the way.

“I’m a man on a mission,” says Apollo – a moon mission, perhaps? – but once again I fail to get in parm’s way.

Celebrated ecstatically – euphorically – the game’s only goal comes half way through the second half when Thornaby’s Kallum Hannah, prolifically familiar at most of the Teesside clubs, scores from ten yards.

His goalie, truth to tell, will have more difficult afternoons – but big Dimi likely have a lot more clean sheets, an’ all.

*When finally the tom-toms start to beat. it emerges that both Vase semi-finals have gone to extra-time – and that, as yesterday’s blog confidently predicted, there is to be another all-Northern League occasion at Wembley.

Goodness only knows what the logistics of all that will be – or, indeed, the ticket availability – but in the meantime, warmest congratulations to Consett and Hebburn, and to Thornaby and Billy Town, too.

*Perhaps the only cloud over the start of the season is the postponement of today’s matches between Penrith and Whitley Bay and Sunderland and West End and Chester-le-Street – whether Covid-related I know not, though you’d not bet against it or against it happening again. More, with luck, tomorrow.

September 4 2020: book end

Yesterday’s blog was bookish, chiefly in praise of Harry Pearson. It’s coincidental that Bill Wheatcroft’s blog should not only follow a similar route but offer a copy of Unconsidered Trifles for answering a simple – some might say very simple – question.

Which Ebac Northern League team does Mike Amos support (other, of course, than all of them?)

Bill lives in Derbyshire but has long been a Northern League enthusiast and was a mate of the late and lovely Bobby Davison, Crook Town and England, who’d also shifted that way.

His blog – http://www.floodlitpitch.blogspot.com – also includes some evocative pix of NL grounds past and present.

Happily, he liked Trifles – “mostly concerning his journalistic days, but with a decent sprinkling of football and humour” – though his favourite, justifiably, is Alan Adamthwaite’s masterful and greatly readable biography of Bishop Auckland legend Bob Hardisty.

Inevitably, he’s also a Harry Pearson fan – “wonderful phraseology, like no one I’ve read before” – and is greatly taken by John Phelan’s compendious Hopes and Heroes, a glorious labour of love chronicling the story of south-west Durham clubs in the FA Cup between 1886-2000. Like most of us, John still has a few left.

Bill’s little competition, incidentally, was won by Christopher Holmes in Chesterfield, though Chris may be able to claim inside knowledge. Like all the best folk, he was a Shildon lad, too.

*Yesterday’s blog – this one, not Bill Wheatcroft’s – had cause to quote Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism that the only two certainties in this world are death and taxes.

The 18th century American politician and scientist is also credited with the observation that time is money and that there never was a good war, or a bad peace.

From Kansas, however, Dan Harden emails with the suggestion that it was Franklin who first observed that God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy – though Dan’s quick to point out that the Franklin Institute demurs,

“The FI claims that what he actually spoke of was rain falling on vineyards and that rain eventually became wine, thus proving that there is indeed a God in the universe who does indeed love us.”

The beer version, Dan sugegsts, was a mutation created by the marketing arm of a big brewer – but whatever it was, they certainly had a point.

*It would be greatly remiss not to wish huge good fortune to Consett and Hebburn Town in Saturday’s much delayed FA Vase semi-finals. As blog reader Gary Brand points out, none of the four semi-finalists has ever previously been past the fifth round. Wembley on September 27 will have two newcomers – and all-ENL final seems to me assured.