October 11 2017: something unique

Me and wor Nan made up wor minds, te gan te catch the train

Te gan te the toon te buy some claes, for wor little Billy and Jane.

But when we got te Rowlands Gill the mornin’ train had gone

There was nae mair te pass the day till twenty minutes te one

Tommy Armstrong: Wor Nanny’s a Mazor

On a good night, as everyone knows, the crack can be as entertaining as the match. So it proves at Brandon United v Willington.

The conversation turns to pubs, and in particular to micro-pubs. Tim Grimshaw – top bloke, photographer of churches, pub signs and hounds at the grounds – mentions that there’s a new micro, the Railway Inn, at Rowlands Gill, between Newcastle and Consett.

The strange thing, says Tim, is that Rowlands Gill doesn’t have a railway. Nor does it, but until 1954 it was on the discursive line from Newcastle to Durham via Blackhill (where the engine got its pipe for five minutes), Lanchester and Witton Gilbert.

Lintz Green, next station down, is still recalled for the unsolved shooting of the station master in 1911.

It’s Rowlands Gill which became immortalised, however, in Tommy Armstrong’s glorious song about missing the train. Born in Shotley Bridge in 1848, known as the Pitman Poet, he fathered 14 children and may have been yet more prolific at writing songs and verse.

His work ranges from the melancholy Trimdon Grange Explosion – “Let’s not think about tomorrow, lest we disappointed be” – to altogether jauntier numbers like The Ghost That Haunted Bunty.

Wor Nan’s the best, and best known, of all, though old Tommy may have used pitman’s poetic licence to suppose that the morning train had gone. My 1922 facsimile Bradshaw tables four in the morning and another six after noon.

What’s highly unusual is that I know all the words and feel compelled to offer a rendition during a lull in play. What’s utterly unique is that Tim thinks I can sing.

This is the guy who lasted just one enchanted evensong in the church choir back in Shildon, who regularly reduces The Laughing Policeman to tears, who couldn’t – as they say – shout coal.

Yet more improbably I have a rasping cold which makes me sound rather like Bob Dylan on a very bad day (of which in recent times there’ve been a great many.)

There’s a short silence. In the second half, most of a decent derby crowd decamps to the stand overhang, where we’ve been all night. This could be either a) because it’s started to rain or b) because they want an encore. The latter is more likely.

Fuirther diversions come with news of other matches: a greatly enjoyable encounter between Morpeth and Marske, a Wearside League game at Silksworth abandoned because of a serious player injury and another ambulance no-show, Shildon’s FA Youth Cup tie with Guiseley.

Brandon’s is a Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup tie, ends 1-1 after 90 minutes. Willington, who’ve won the Northern League Cup more times than any other club – but not since 1974-75 –  edge home 4-3 on penalties.

It’s been a very good evening. A mazor, as probably they say elsewhere. I can sing The Ghost That Haunted Bunty, an’ all.




October 10 2017: double meaning

That Peter Glen-Ravenhill scored for Whitley Bay tonight is doubtless no great surprise – any more than goals last Saturday for Billy Greulich-Smith of Shildon and the prolific Ben Dibb-Fuller at Team North.

Since he plays for Newton Aycliffe, Andrew Grant-Soulsby may regret also being listed among last weekend’s scorers – an own goal for Ryhope CW.

What clearly they have in common is that all have double barrelled (or should that be double-barrelled?) surnames.

A hyphentaed moniker was once deemed the preserve of the upper classes, like (say) Augustus Fink-Nottle in the Jeeves stories. Said to be “a teetotal bachelor with a face like a fish”, Gussie Fink-Nottle was quite recently compared by the writer Max Hastings to Boris Johnson.

The Foreign Secretary is neither a bachelor nor teetotal. Whether he has a face like a fish is for others to decide.

Back in more single minded days, the only Northern League player with a double barrelled surname may have been Trevor Dixon-Cave, Horden’s long serving goalkeeper. Quite likely he was a pit yacker like most of the others, but he didn’t half sound upper crust.

These days the Ebac Nothern League can just about field a Double Barrelled X1, so there must be hundreds of them down south.

On top of the four already mentioned, there’s Josh Home-Hackson (Ryhope CW), Oscar Mainer-Stone (North Shields), Bruno Mendes-Correia and Eamon Nugent-Doyle of West Allotment Celtic, Joseph Scaife-Wheatley of Thornaby, Kieran Duffy-Weekes of Newton Aycliffe amd true blue Andrew Murray-Jones at Penrith.

No goalie among that lot. Where’s Trevor Dixon-Cave when you need him?

Joseph Scaife-Wheatley is, I think, a scion of the family once headed by unforgettable Whitby Town chairman Bob Scaife – the only man to gain three stones on a sponsored slim – and his son Bobby, a successful manager at Dunston, Billingham Synners and elsewhere.

Bruno Miguel Gustavo Mendes-Correia may have the most splendoured name of all.

Perhaps the trend towards hyphenated surnames is simply a desire to reflect marital equality. Perhaps it’s because the parents aren’t married.

No doubt all of them are good, down-to-earth North-East lads. Any more examples? Give it both barrels, guys.

October 9 2017: railway cats

Yesterday’s blog sought the identity of five North-East stations based on brief descriptions from Simon Jenkins’s new book “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations.”

The reader who supposed the one approached over an eleven-arch viaduct with spectacular views to be Windsor may need a geography refresher. Try Durham.

The others were Newcastle, Hexham, Darlington and Middlesbrough,  the last two said to be due multi-million pound facelifts. The first to name the set was Nigel Brierley, a Northern League enthusiast who, by happy chance, lives in Huddersfield.

“Nowhere is Britain’s railway architecture so honoured as in Huddersfield,” writes Jenkins, while Sir John Betjeman thought Huddersfield’s the most splendid station facade in England.

In front of it stands a statue of Sir Harold Wilson, though poor Harold has recently been overshadowed by a station cat called Felix, whose 100,000 Facebook followers may make him even more popular than Heaton Stan Harry (who’s a dog.)

Promoted last year to senior pest controller and given a high-vis jacket and a name badge, Felix is said to draw visitors from all over the world – the Far East, especially – and now has a book deal. He may not catch many mice but he scares the hell out of the pigeons.

Heaton Stan Harry’s a good lad, for a dog, and may be alone among Northern League mascots. We seem to have eschewed the fashion for grown men poncing about in animal costumes, though Morpeth Mickey and Guisborough Gus may be just around the corner.

Felix wasn’t the first railway cat, of course. That was Skimbleshanks, immortalised by T S Eliot:

There’s a whisper down the line at 11 39

When the Night Mail’s ready to depart,

Saying Skimble, where is Skimble, has he gone to hunt the thimble

We must find him or the train can’t start.

Nigel Brierley’s presently roaming the North with one of those 4-days-in-8 Rail Rover tickets. We may do the same next week.





October 8 2017: stations in life

Birthday lunch and since there are only about 11 weeks to Christmas, the granddaughters – aged two and four – insist on getting out the crackers.

“Why aren’t ghosts any good at telling lies?”

“Because you can see right through them.”

Gosh, says Sharon – or words to that effect – that joke’s nearly as old as granddad.

For once, the only football-related present is a new Shildon scarf. Since a real Indian summer is forecast for next weekend, it may not make its debut at Guiseley.

Among the other presents is a splendid book by Simon Jenkins called Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations. Though Shildon is inexplicably not included, the North-East is well represented. Readers are invited to identify the following: answers tomorrow.

“The grandest of provincial stations, if not the most lovable.”

“Some distance from the centre of the ancient town….everythig has the sunny appearance of a greenhouse. The adjacent station restaurant claims a bizarre affinity to the Indus Valley.” (The hard one.)

“Some distance from the centre of town. Crowned with an extraordinary tower, with pilasters, arched windows, a clock and finally a steeple.”

“In a town struggling to recover its spirits….a heavy responsibility rests on the restoration of the station.”

“The station sits at the end of an eleven-arched viadict overlooking the town….and from which the view is one of England’s great spectacles.”

October 7 2017: break point

Among the happy birthday traditions in this house is that, some time near the big day, Sharon drives me to and from a game. A real treat.

The big day’s on Sunday. Today we make the 160-mile round trip to the A1 to Alnwick (where on production of a tenner she can take a dander around the Duchess of Northumberland’s gardens, an’ all.)

It’s a first visit to the alternative St James’ Park since the Last Legs walk in August 2015. On a glorious summer afternoon we’d had a pint on the decks outside the pub in Boulmer, admired the wonderful views down the Northumberland coast, remarked that we should make the most of such days because you never knew what was round the corner.

Less then half a mile later, almost literally round the corner, I fell off a kerb,threw down an arm to break the fall and broke the arm instead.

Now it’s the international break. Is everyone at it?

It’s also Non League Day, a few distinctly southern accents suggesting a degree of attraction. Those who suppose the north Northumberland twang to be tricky, all r’s over tit, should hear the deep south.

I swear that I heard one of these guys ask for details of the ham salad. Turns out he wanted the home side.

Alnwick’s a lovely little club, relations anything but fractured. Among many others I remember former player/chairman John Common, in the habit of leaving sheep and chicken carcasses in the visitors’ dressing room.

John had also been fined by the club for falling asleep during the annual Northern League dinner in 1997, my first as chairman. It wasn’t, happily, during my bit but while guest speaker Johnny Giles was on his feet.

“It seemed the natural thing to do,” pleaded John and none who heard Mr Giles that night could disagree.

This season they’re struggling, admirable chairman Tom McKie anxious to know how many might be relegated from the second division. The short answer is that neither I nor anyone else has a clue – and that shameful state of affairs is entirely due to the FA’s obsession with homogenisation.

How can it be right that, even as the end of season nears, none will know if they’re on safe ground. It could be a slaughter, though.

Alnwick are playing Heaton Stannington, club mascot Heaton Stan Harry – a dog with 394 followers on Twitter – conspicuous by absence. “He sometimes likes a lie in,” says Heaton Stan secretary Ken Rodger.

Very comfortably, Stan win 6-2, sending Alnwick to the foot of the table. Hearing of the upcoming birthday, both Ted Ilderton – on ref assessment duty – and Ken Rodger stand a bottle of Brown. The wonder driver’s outside at quarter past five. I might quite enjoy being 39.


October 6 2017: Winter’s tale

Anticipating next Saturday’s big match between Guiseley and Shildon, the blog a couple of days back recalled the 2002 FA Cup tie between Guiseley and Guisborough at which Newcastle United publications editor Paul Tully had talked of the Premiership’s frst Braille programme.

It was a case of the blind misleading the blind. The match, a 3-3 draw, was at the KGV and not at Guiseley, as we had supposed. The only time I’ve been to Guiseley was in 2006, against Newcastle Benfield Bay Plastics (as then they were known.)

The sign outside the ground identified them as Newcastle BF, though our boys were clearly no fools.

Managed by former Hartlepool United favourite Paul Baker – and with Andrew Grainger in goal, then as now – they’d already beaten Conference North side Hyde United and leading Unibond club Cammell Laird.

Thanks to Shaun Bell’s 73rd minute goal, the giant slaying continued. Shildon should take encouragement.

Mention of the earlier Guiseley game gives Paul Tully chance to recall the prank to leave a copy of the Braille programme in the referee’s room.

Security manager Dave Pattison, in on the wheeze, advised against trying it out on Graham Poll, next up at St James’ Park. “Dave thought that Poll wouldn’t get the joke, would give three penalties against us and send two of our men off,” says Paul.

Instead they waited for Jeff Winter, Boro’s finest. Jeff not only saw the funny side, but spent the rest of the afternoon tapping around the place with a white stick “apart from the 90 minutes of the match, of course.”

Paul’s other memory of Guisborough, that scorching day in September 2002, is that he won the meat draw, carried the booty in triumph back to Hexham and discovered when he got home that half of it had gone off in the heat.

West Allotment Celtic secretary Ted Ilderton himself won the half-time draw at last week’s match with Alnwick, the winning number picked out by entertainer Declan Donnelly – at the game to watch his 17-year-old nephew, who scored for WAC. “It was quite a nice bottle of wine,” says Ted, an Ant and Dec fan now.

October 5: sweets talk (again)

Newcastle for the second time in three days, but on this occasion by train from Northallerton and this time (see Tuesday’s blog) no free sweeties. Perhaps it’s only Be Nice to Passengers Week in Darlington.

The elder bairn’s also on Tyneside, Durham County Cricket Club’s awards do at the Sage, and so is my dinner suit. Poor lads, there may not be too much to present.

Newcastle Benfield again have a Thursday night fixture, against Morpeth Town, and no matter that England are on the box. The crowd looks quite decent, maybe 150, and only two in the clubhouse glued to the international.

A notice in the bookie’s en route insidiously offers those opening an account 33-1 against England to win – winnings to be paid in further bets. As concern grows about gambling addiction, shouldn’t that be illegal?

Things in the city are delayed by 40 minutes because the Metro’s playing silly beggars (again). “A power trip,” says the PA – gosh, I haven’t had one of those since retiring from the Northern League chair – but not even a poke of black bullets by way of compensation.

It’s good to see familiar faces like former Morpeth secretary Les Scott and his wife Kath – their first match of the season – and Whitley Bay club shop manager Doug Parker, who still reckons that his finest hour was selling nine replica shirts to a five-a-side team.

Now he claims to be the first Ebac Northern League club shop with a credit card facility. “£900 worth of sales in the first two months,” says Doug.

Familiar former manager Peter Dixon denies every rumour spontaneously put to him, even declines a pint. “You’ll only put it in the blog,” he says.

Truth to tell, though, a lot of the conversations are about who’s bad – not very good, anyway. There’s an awful lot of illness about.

Morpeth, conversely, look very good indeed – pretty near irresistible at times. Benfield are handicapped when Dan Taylor’s knee seems suddenly to give way beneath him.

Morpeth lead 3-0 when I leave a few minutes early to start the return journey. No problems this time and the chauffeuse, bless her, waiting patiently at journey’s end. Sweets to the sweet, as probably they say in the ticket office at Darlington station.