March 19 2017

We’re back to the subject of “proper” football grounds in close proximity. Both Gary Oliver and Brian Weir draw attention to neighbours beneath our noses – what of Jarrow Roofing (of the Ebac Northern League) and Boldon CA, of the Wearside?

They’re up the same track, at their closest probably no more than 50 yards apart – memory suggests, indeed, that there are groundhoppers who claim to have sat on the fence and watched two games simultaneously.

“Who knows,” muses Gary, “there may be a Northern League derby in the not too distant future?”

Brian, who lives in Northern Ireland but is a true football nomad, then wanders off in all manner of interesting directions and ends up on the Shetland Islands (than which there are few more blessed places on God’s earth.)

“I’m sure it will not have escaped your notice,” he writes, “that North Isles have been admitted to the Shetland League for the summer season.” It had, of course.

North Isles are primarily Yell and Unst, the latter home to Britain’s most northerly bus shelter – a glorious idiosyncractic place, worth googling – and Britain’s most northerly church.

We’ve waited (in vain) at the bus stop, paid a weekday visit to the church and just happened to bump into the minister – sent on a three-month attachment and still in Shetland more than a decade later. He was from Langley Park: we spent half an hour recalling Sir Bobby Robson.

The two islands are connected by a ferry – and North Isles have “home” grounds on both. Brian wonders if, gicen the sea crossing, any club has a greater travelling time between its two “home” grounds, but probably knows the answer already.

*Friday’s blog recalled colour clashes at Manchester City, coincidental because the following day’s Times reported that City have become the first Premier League club to have a separate sponsor for their shirt sleeves – or “sleeve partner”, as the club prefers.

We’ve also heard from Ebac Northern League president George Courtney, the referee responsible for that sky blue/blue sky thinking vack in 1985, who recalls that  the reported “quite a few boos” could be translated into sporadic outbreaks of the familiar chant about the so-and-so in the black.

George is oddly wistful. “The so-and-so in the yellow,” he says, “just doesn’t sound the same at all.”

March 18 2017

Here’s the first paragraph of my Northern Echo report after Bedlington Terriers’ appearance in the 1998 FA Vase final:

“Wembley was as clement as ever. If Wasdale in the Lake District is England’s wettest location – as always we were taught in O-level geography – then those few acres in north-west London must be the dryest. Probably it explains why so many fair weather fans get there.”

So long as the sun shone on the Terriers, fair weather fans abounded. There were five successive Northern League titles, a 5-1 FA Cup first round win over Colchester United and a gallant defeat at Scunthorpe in the second, subsequent runs to the late stages of the Vase.

We’ll support you ever more? Who could ever have doubted it. The Dr Pit ground was rammed like the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic.

Now fast forward. After a couple of years of struggle, the Terriers were relegated at the end of last season, are holding their own but not exactly breaking roundies in the second division and today host promotion chasing Billingham Town.

The paying crowd’s 26, getting on half of them from Teesside and one – by bus, train and a hoof from Newcastle Central Station to the Haymarket – from Middleton Tyas.

A day after St Patrick’s, musicians from the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society have drawn a good crowd to the Haymarket; in the Terriers’ clubhouse, the Guinness font wears a leprechaun hat.

It’s not wholly coincidental that I’m at Bedlington today. South Shields, Vase semi-final second leg, will have plenty of well-wishers – plenty of bandwagon jumpers, too – without me.

All I’ve seen and read of Mariners’ chairman and saviour Geoff Thompson suggests that he’s a top bloke, so level-headed that you could probably draw a plumb line over his bonce and, for a lot of highly commendable reasons, is in it for the long haul.

Warm congratulations to all at Mariners Park. Their followers will love the Wembley experience. But what if things were subsequently to go pear shaped? Would the Mariners’ complement again be nearer the 30 or 40 – the real fans – who every other week followed them to ground sharing at Peterlee?

Back at Dr Pit Welfare, Terriers take a three-goal lead, are pegged back by two in the last 15 minutes from the irrepressible Craig Hutchinson but hang on for a deserved victory.

It’s a terrific game of football, played on a difficult pitch in a generally good spirit. Both club chairman Ronan Liddane and team manager Paddy Atkinson agree afterwards that it’s their best display of the seaaon – and it deserves to have been watched by a bloody sight more than 26.

March 17 2017

The Museum of Jerseys (www.museumofjerseys.com) should not be confused with Jersey Museum, though the search engine seems determined to launch a cross-Channel ferry.

It’s a website devoted to football kit and its oddities, to which Craig Stoddart draws attention following yesterday’s note on Billy Town’s third choice kit of melange and fluorescent yellow shirts, anthracite shorts and socks the same as the shirts.

Craig’s particularly keen to draw attention to the occasion when for esteemed Ebac Northern League president George Courtney the sky really was the limit.

It was August 31 1985, Manchester City – whose home kit was sky blue-white-sky blue –  against Spurs, whose home kit was all-white and second choice all sky-blue.  George was the man in the middle.

Rather than be all white on the night, Spurs kicked off in white-sky blue-white – effectively the opposite of their hosts – but after a few minutes, George stopped play because he (and presumably a fair few at Maine Road) could clash on, as they say in his native Page Bank, no longer.

The MoJ attributes it to “sultry conditions”. Always was a sultry lad, was George.

Since Spurs hadn’t brought anything else, and amid “quite a few boos” from the home crowd, City were obliged to change into their away strip of red-and-black stripes and black shorts – a rare example of the home team changing, though where clashes occurred in the FA Cup both teams had to change. (the FA might like to explain that one.)

That account, no mention of melange and anthracite, was posted on moJ on Wednesday. A few days earlier, someone on the same website had recalled the Arsenal v Sunderland game in 2005-06- Arsenal having deployed a distinctly dark red shirt to mark their last season at Highbury.

Since Sunderland’s away kit was predominantly black – how on earth were they allowed it? – they wore the traditional red-and-white stripes and white shorts and socks, so as not to clash with the Funners’ redcurrant.

Sunderland lost 3-1, ended the season with just 15 points – 23 from safety – and, of course, were relegated. Some things seem not to change at all.

 

March 16 2017

 

It’s without intended offence to anyone that the only thing I miss after almost 30 years official Northern League involvement is the bundle of programmes which daily landed on the doorstep. The postman takes the opposite view.

Producing a programme and sending it within three days to a league official is a requirement of our FA-imposed rule book – a chore, admittedly, but one which had triple benefits.

Firstly it kept me in touch; secondly it was a constant reminder of the wonderful and highly accomplished labours of love which so many of our clubs produce and, thirdly, the programmes provided all sorts of snippets for the league magazine.

So I was delighted to be asked to help judge this year’s programme competition – first prize £250, winner to be announced at the annual dinner – and again to have a great bundle of the things to help pass a quiet evening.

How else might I have known that Easington Colliery chairman Paul Adamson had led a group of the lads on a coast-to-coast cycle ride, raising £1200 to help fix the antediluvian floodlights? (It seems to have worked.)

How else might I have discovered that South Shields’ list of club officials now includes a chef – surely a first for a club at this level – or that Brandon’s derby with Esh Winning was sponsored by the Tufty Club?

The real eye-opener, however, was in Billingham Town’s programme from Noveber 26, a week before the Vase tie at Bottesford Town.

Because of home and away colour clashes, Billy had commissioned a third strip. Each shirt, good idea, was sponsored by a supporter.

The new kit, says the programme, would be “melange and fluorescent yellow with anthracite shorts and socks the same colour as the shirts.” Whatever happened to good old black and white?

Coincidentally, I was at that match and remember nothing save for a wonderful Sam Smith’s pub nearby and that Billy Town won 3-2. Melange and anthracite? Is this Teesside’s answer to Fifty Shades of Grey?

 

 

 

March 15 2017

I blame Oscar Wilde, he who in 1895 wrote The Importance of Being Earnest. There’s been confusion ever since.

Why else would tonight’s Stockton Town programme talk, on the cover and elsewhere, of the Earnest Armstrong Cup semi-final?

Whilst doubtless he had his earnest moments – NW Durham MP, government minister, deputy Speaker of the House of Commons – the Northern League president from 1981-96 was a wholly engaging and generally easy going chap.

Few football-related speeches would pass without his joke about the chap on the Roker End at Sunderland – the uncovered end – who didn’t want to get his best cap wet.

Brooks Mileson, whose memory is perpetuated in the naming of the Northern League Challenge Cup, had similar problems. Despite massive publicity when Gretna reached great heights, half the country still thought he was called Miles Brookson.

The crowd’s 193, the score after 90 minutes 2-2, the result a penalties win over Durham City. Stockton meet Northallerton Townn in the Ernest (sic) Armstrong Cup final. Spellchecks will be in operation.

*Ryan Sessegnon, who scored twice for Fulham against Newcastle at the weekend. had become on August 20 last year the first player born in the 21st century to score in the Football League or Premiership. He was just 16 years and 93 days old – but still, as Neil McKay points out, an oldie compared to Kelvin Thear of Tow Law.

Born on July 18 2000, young Mr Thear was just 50 days past his 16th when he scored at Durham City on September 6. Like Ryan Sessegnon, he’s continued to score. Like Ryan, he’s tgipped for great things.

*Many will recall that Bishop Auckland were formed in the 1880s by Oxbridge theology students studying for the priesthood at Auckland Castle. The famous Two Blues, of course, are those of Oxford and Cambridge.

None – not even former club chairman Steve Newcomb, who marks our card –  can remember a serving Bishop of Durham attending a match. It’ll happen this weekend when the Rt Rev Paul Butler will be a guest at Heritage Park – the bishop watching the Bishops.

Though the Rt Rev Tom Wright, the previous bishop but two, was once a guest at the annual league diunner, Church of England clergy tend to be more into their cricket. Can anyone bring to mind a previous example of a bishop gracing the Northern League?

Dv, the blog returns tomorrow.

March 14 2017

Recording that Northern League side Middlesbrough Ironopolis reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1893, yesterday’s blog noted a contemporary newspaper report that Nops defender Bob Chatt had “stuck to his opponent like an American postmaster to his office.”

Thanks to Mr Dan Harden in Kansas, the unique adhesion of American postmasters will be explained shortly: suffice that the drink had a lot to do with it.

Firstly, however, some Chatt lines.

Born in 1870 in Barnard Castle, he was one of three Barney boys in the Aston Villa side which lifted the FA Cup in 1895 and the only man in history to win  FA Cup and FA Amateur Cup medals in that order.

Villa, of course, didn’t hold it for long. A few days after their triumph, the silverware was stolen from a shop window in Birmingham. The FA fined them £25 for their carelessness.

Chatt also helped the Villans, who should not be confused with the smash and grabbers, to three successive league titles – the first, in 1893-94, by six points from Sunderland. His goal in the 1895 FA Cup final was timed, perhaps approximately, at 30 seconds – a record which stood for a century.

After leaving Villa, he was reinstated as an amateur, in the Stockton side which beat Harwich and Parkeston in the 1899 FA Amateur Cup final at Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough. Since it was only March 25, the ground was covered in snow.

Chatt went on to play for South Shields and Willington Athletic and became a trainer for several clubs, including Newport County from 1922-31.

Whatever the authenticity of his amateur status, he and his wife Chrissie are said to have spent some time living in a tent by the River Greta, near Barnard Castle. Greta Griffiths, their daughter, swore that it was the reason for her forename. It is not, I suppose, inconceivable.

And that sticky situation? Before 1971, says Dan, US postmasters were appointed by the president. Typically they were “political hacks”, in a job for life save for some major malfeasance, like refusing to deliver the mail.

“Refusing to deliver the mail was usually the result of some prolonged, alcohol-induced, stupor. During the stupor nothing, including mail delivery, happened. Everywhere, down to the smallest hamlet, had a postmaster.

“It was often the easiest, most long-lasting and best paying job in a rural community. You stuck to your office like a good defender.”

Since 1971, postmasters have been appointed on ability to do the job and are subject to annual appraisal. Most still manage to hang on. That’s the story, and the stamp of the man, anyway.

March 13 2017

A little bit of football history was made at the weekend: for the first time since 1893, two FA Cup quarter-finals were won by five or more goals – Arsenal and someone else. In 1893, one of the beaten sides was Middlesbrough Ironopolis, of the Northern League.

Back then the league had just six teams: Newcastle East End (who became United half way through the season), Sheffield United – who also had a Football League side but got better crowds in the Northern – Middlesbrough, Stockton and Darlington.

The Nops, as Ironopolis were known, played in maroon and bright green stripes on the Paradise Field, pretty much where Ayresome Park used to be. It was there that, on February 4 1893, 12,000 watched a 3-2 FA Cup victory over Notts County.

Charlie Watts, later to play for Newecastle United (if not for the Rolling Stones) was said by the local papers to have been “a capable custodian”; Bob Chatt – who memory suggests was to score the fastest-ever FA Cup final goal, for Aston Villa – “stuck to Elliott like an American postmaster to his office.”

What was so espcially adhesive about American postmasters is uncertain. Mr Dan Harden, our man in Kansas, may have thoughts on the matter.

Fifteen thousand peopled Paradise for the quarter-final with Preston North End. It ended 2-2, the Nops walloped 7-0 in the replay.

Ironopolis were already Northern League champions, having dropped just a point when their ten match season ended on January 23 and retaining the title they’d won in the previous two seasons.

The following year they joined the Football League second division, found that money couldn’t buy quite as much as they thought and folded at the end of the season.