June 7 2018: capital letter

We’re in London, baby sitting. The much-frequented Mumsnet website reckons the average going rate in the capital is about £10 an hour plus, after midnight, a taxi home. It says nothing about train fare for two from Darlington.

On the journey south, Sharon checks the blog on her phone and is surprised to see an advert for a funeral parlour in Berkhamstead.

Yesterday I’d been paddling on-line around the Spartan South Midlands League, in which Berkshamstead play – didn’t they, indeed, contest a Vase semi-final against Bedlington Terriers in 1999, big home win for the Terriers and a moribund goalless draw in the second leg?

This, presumably, owes everything to cookies. It’s extraordinary how cadaverously they crumble.

We’re on the Embankment when my own phone rings. It’s West Auckland committee man Dave Bussey pointing out a mistake in yesterday’s blog – Punjab, and the Purewal brothers, weren’t in today’s Conifa Cup semi-finals as we said but lost in the quarters on Tuesday to Padina.

To whom? It’s a self-proclaimed independent region of Italy, promoted by the right wing political group Liga Nord – which translates as Northern League.

Thoughts of a second Northern League world cup winner – after West Auckland themselves in 1909 and 1911 – are dashed, however, when Padina lose 3-2 tonight to Northern Cyprus.

The Conifa Cup continues to prove newsworthy. The Isle of Man are apparently on the verge of expulsion after a row over someone else’s alleged wrong ‘un while Matabeleland’s goalie in a non-competitive game today is 60-year-old Bruce Grobbelaar. The old boy kept a clean sheet.

That we’re holding the fort in Greenwich, on the other side of the city, is because From Delhi to the Den, the younger bairn’s book on globe trotting football manager Stephen Constantine, is on the shortlist in the football section of tonight’s Sports Book of the Year awards at Lord’s.

He gets a free ticket but has to pay the neck end of £200 for his wife’s.

Owen doesn’t win but has done wonderfully well to get as far as he did. Dirty stop-outs, they don’t land back until 1 30am. It seems a bit optimistic to ask for the taxi fare home.



June 6 2018: gone scumfishin’

But what’n kind o’ fish it was

Young Lambton cuddn’t tell,

He cuddn’t fash te carry it hyem

So he hoyed it doon a well.

The Lambton Worm.

Probably on little more than the national living wage, the blog a couple of days ago employed the splendid word “scumfished”, prompting an anguished email from Gary Brand, a North London-based  Spurs supporter.

What’s a scumfish, he wonders, as young Lambton himself might have done.

Though there may be plenty more fish in the sea, a scumfish isn’t among them. It’s chiefly used adjectivally, a North-East term meaning sweltered, suffocating or barely able to breathe through heat or smoke. It’s what happens when there’s a stythe.

Attempts by the etymologically immoral Scots to claim the word were bolstered, however, by a letter in The Times a number of years ago which claimed that the term had been first used by the Border Reivers when smoking out fortified farmhouses by burning wet straw.

In promoting Guisborough Town fan Mark Cowan’s new e-book, we’d also queried his phrase “as strong as a Scotch Bonnet pepper” – used of former Crook Town player Kyle Davies – assuming it to be the sort of peppermint that kept Granpaw Broon warm in winter.

Since no explanation has been forthcoming, we’ve googled it. A Scotch Pepper is a Caribbean chilli, so called because of a perceived resemblance to a tam o’ shanter and reckoned a brain blower on the Scoville scale (by which such things apparently are measured.)

When not on a scumfishing trip, Gary’s also been watching games in the Conifa Cup, the newsworthy competition for nations and ethnic groups unaffiliated to Fifa.

One invovled Barawa, part of Somalia, who didn’t have to qualify because they’re the hosts – all the team live in London. Home advantage or no, they lost 8-0 to Northern Cyprus.

He also saw a team of ethnic Hungarians from Ukraine play Cascada, which has something to do with Oregon and who were supported by a chap in a straw boater, blue blazer, white trousers and a bow tie.

On Thursday he’ll be attending a semi-final involving Punjab, the team likely to include one or both of the Sunderland-born Purewal brothers, long familiar in the Northern League. Truly it’s a small world.

*It’s a sadness to learn of the death of Bob Forster, father of Graeme and Colin and once a familiar face on Northern League grounds.

Graeme was the vociferous manager of Evenwood Town, West Auckland and Tow Law – maybe even Crook – but has now sold his soul to the hosses. Colin, still on the circuit, is a good talker, too.

Bob was quieter, perhaps more measured, certainly a proud dad and a very nice man. Rest in peace.


June 5 2018: a curmudgeon writes….

A couple of days back we talked of Guisborough Town fan Mark Cowan’s new e-book, On Unfamiliar Grounds. Perfectly timed for the World Cup, Andy Potts sends a link to his own – and it’s free to download until Thursday.

Last year Andy – sports journalist, Sunderland fan, former Spennymoor United programme editor – published Ancients and Mariners, an account of a Northern League season.

It recalled a gate of 16 at Hebburn – things much changing for the better there, then – described the long serving former league chairman as “sometimes curmudgeonly” (huh!), even recalled the wonderful story of the time that excitable Chester-le-Street manager Billy Cruddas got himself sent from the ground and took shelter in an overhanging tree.

Perhaps an ornithologist, perhaps an arborealist, the referee saw through the camouflage. “A volley of Cruddas expletives could not be passed off as birdsong,” Andy wrote.

This one, at any rate, recalls his years in Russia – chiefly writing about ice hockey but always with an eye for football and a heart for Sunderland.

Back in 2006, he supposes, Moscow Dynamo’s Pitrovsky Park had the air of Roker Park in its last days – “much loved, crammed with memories of famous triumphs of the past but reduced to a shadow of what it once had been.”

He also recalls a “pre-revlutionary midfielder” who swapped Bishop Auckland for “Dynamo’s supposed football forbears”.

I’m sure I’ve written about him myself. can’t remember the detail, and have Andy’s exercise Kindling away for a short break later in the week.

“Unlike most football books,” says the blurb, “this one involves Stalin, Lenin and Putin as much as Yashin, Streitsov and Arshavin.”

Mind, Yashin did make a famous save in the 1966 World Cup, pushing the ball around the post at Roker Park. “Fulwell End,” Andy recalls. Much enlarged , the photograph had price of place at Dynamo’s training ground for years.

The book’s called Snow on the Seats – “Promises to be more absorbing than a group stage match between Russia and Saudi Arabia” – and is available via Amazon.

Curmudgeon, indeed….

June 4 2018: unputdownable

To Winston Churchill – said to have observed when disturbed on the toilet by the Lord Privy Seal that he could only deal with one s**t at a time – are attributed some of history’s great insults.

None – and the reference to alcohol is coincidental, though the reason for all this will be revealed in due course – may more frequently be recalled than Winnie’s response to an allegation by Bessie Braddock MP that he was drunk.

“”My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Lady Astor didn’t think much of Churchill, either. “Sir,” she told him, “if you were my husband I’d posion your tea.”

“Madam, if you were my wife I’d drink it,” said Winnie. He thought Ramsay MacDonald a sheep in sheep’s clothing, too.

The best are perhaps apocryphal. Lady Margot Asquith, a society aristocrat, is said while at a party to have become fed up with her forename being serially mispronounced by Jean Harlow, a buxom blonde actress.

Harlow called her Mar-gott.

“No, no Jean,” said her ladyship, “the t is silent, as in Harlow.”

The art of the insult seems to have died somewhat, though I liked the Sunday Times columnist Camilla Long’s observation that Nigel Farage was 100 per cent political herpes – “back in six months, whatever you do (or three days, like last time.”)

And George Melly, the late jazzman, retorted when told that Mick Jagger’s face was all laughter lines that nothing could be that funny.

The queen of the put down was the American writer Dorothy Parker – she who after an abortion said that it served her right for putting all her eggs in one bastard – and it’s that which brings us to the point.

Reporting the Ebac Northern League’s annual meeting, Saturday’s blog ended with the perhaps surprising observation that I never once fell asleep. It prompts an email from Penrith FC secretary Ian White, recalling Parker’s reaction on being told in 1929 that US president Calvin Coolidge was dead.

“How do they know?”

June 3 2018: wholly grounds

Mark Cowan’s a Guisborough Town fan, geography teacher, very canny impressionist and imaginative and entertaining writer.

A few years back he published Far From the Madding Crowds, a year in the life of his heroes. Now – electronically, free – he’s produced On Unfamiliar Grounds.

Well you know what they say about familiarity.

The action takes place in 2012 and 2013, remains broadly bordered within the North-East, encompasses everything from Grangetown Boys Club v Thornaby Dubliners in the Teesside League to Newcastle United v Metalist Kharkiv in the Europa.

He has sat in the gods at the Stadium of Light – “the last time I was this high I was on a commercial flight” – and in the dear old pagoda on a stormy night at Shildon, right beneath the only (allegedly) bit of the roof that leaked.

St James’ Park not only offered the chance to dust down one of the more apocryphal stories about Gazza – the one where he comes down to breakfast in a New Zealand hotel, is told that there’s no bacon and wonders how there can be no bacon in a country of ten million sheep – but to show off a bit of geography.

“”There is strong evidence that parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile went from 1570 to 1971 without significant rainfall. Newcastle’s absence of silverware is turning into the football equivalent.”

Manifestly he’s also done his history homework; more instinctively he enjoys the rich possoibilities of the English language.

Chester-le-Street lad Danny Graham, then playing for Swansea at Sunderland, is said to be as popular as a pork pie at a vegan convention; Kyle Davis of Crook is reckoned”as strong as a Scotch Bonnet pepper.”

It’s probably something that Granpaw Broon used to sook.

There are also dotty little digressions, like the contemplation, which watching Willington play Stockton Town, then in the Wearside League, of the ingenious names folk give to tanning parlours.

In Durham there’s Bronzi Beach, in Newton Aycliffe Tanz In Ere and in Sunderland, Tantalize. Mt favourite was in Thornley, east Durham. Like the tan, it’s wholly faded from memory.

The word count runs to 60,640, themselves carefully measured. Mark’s book can be downloaded, no charge, at .www.smashwords.com/books/view/835448.

June 2 2018: annual report

Up in the world, today’s Ebac Northern League annual meeting is held at Alnwick Castle, courtesy of the Duke of Northumberland and through the good offices of Alnwick Town. 7 09 train from Darlington to Alnmouth, slightly hairy four-mile walk into Alnwick, breakfast at Barter Books – once the town’s rather grand railway station.

The sad irony, of course, is that as things stand Alnwick are relegated. They bow out in style. Some more snippets from the annual occasion:

*The litter bins near Alnmouth station carry slogans promising “Free eye tests”. At least I think that’s what it said. The meeting’s sponsored by Specsavers (honest).

* League chairman Glenn Youngman looks even happier than usual: his ninth grandchild had arrived at 8 40am, beating the eighth by three days. “Just two more for a team,” says Glenn.

* League media and PR manager Mike Snowdon is also in Barter Books, clutching a volume by David Nobbs, who wrote the Reggie Perrin stories. “I could buy half the shop,” says Mike.

* The most expensive sports book I see is a history of the Royal and Ancient from 1754-1900, a snip at £460.  No sign of the league’s wonderful 125th anniversary history but I still have copies of that for just £3.

*Ashington secretary and social media guru Gav Perry is elected to the league management committee, beating Tow Law secretary Steve Moralee in a second ballot. “It reduces the average age to about 67,” says George Courtney, the president.

* George estimates at the start that the meeting will last 44 minutes. He’s only an hour and nine minutes out.

* Prize money’s doubled for the two preliminary rounds of next season’s FA Cup, to be split 75/25 between winner and loser.

* Good of the league to make a presentation to Alnwick secretary Cyril Cox, in recoignition of 50 years in football administration – much of it travelling on the bus from his home in Newcastle.

* Only the first division winners will be promoted next season. At step 6 – second division level – it’ll be the winners and the nine second placed clubs with the best points-per-game ratio. The FA’s so quickly moving the goalposts I’m not sure I understand the rest. Does anyone?

* A benefit of no longer formally being involved is that there’s no need to wear a tie. Most of the league committee look scumfished. Consett chairman Frank Bell might win the best dressed delegate award, a 75-way tie for worst.

* It’s so warm that folk recall the annual meeting at Tow Law (of all places) a few years back, which on a boiling day was held on the pitch. Best not go outside at Alnwick, it might frighten the duke’s hosses.

*North Shields chairman Alan Matthews again draws attention to the misuse of white passes – issued to club chairman, secretary and treasurer – especially by team managers at games in which they have no involvement. Alan’s also unhappy at the number of people claiming to be “media.”

*Alnwick have appealed to the FA against their relegation, apparently arguing that other clubs havem’t their own grounds. Newcastle University, second in the Northern Alliance, have also appealed against their failure to be promoted.

* According to today’s agenda, Darlington RA are relegated to the North Riding League. They’re not happy about that, either.

* One of the lads has a share in Its Pandorama, out in the 3 50 at Hexham, and recommends an investment. It’s sixth.

* Morpeth Town chairman Ken Beattie, pressganged into promotion, makes a gracious little speech about the joys of Northern League football. He’s not looking forward to Peterborough and Loughborough next season.

* League secretary Kevin Hewitt’s report puts it differently: “”It will do little to help the UK government meet their target for greenhouse gas emissions.

* All clubs will have to have defibrillators by the end of 2020. Grants are available.

* With just three votes against, clubs will be required to start matches with 1-11 next season. Washington got a bit carried away in 2017-18.

* The meeting’s in the guest hall where, happily, the minstrels’ gallery remains onoccupied. Not even Whitley Bay’s yon-end choir.

* Though the league is trying to address the postage issue, FA rules still decree that a programme will be compusory in both divisioins in 2018-19. They probably won’t be in the Football League.

* On the playing front, the main topic of conversation is the number of well known players being signed by Hebburn Town.

* Stockton Town chairman Martin Hillerby is conspicuous by absesnce – there’s a civic reception for the Vase finalists back home.

* The new season kicks off on August 4, the FA Cup the following week.

* I don’t fall asleep.


June 1 2018: bedtime stories

Headed “To sleep perchance”, the blog a few days back confessed that I can kip anywhere. It might have added that it’s a paricular struggle to stay awake in front of the television news.

It’s thus coincidental that this afternoon I should be visiting an old friend in the coronorary care unit at Darlington hospital and irrelevant that he was reading a book on quantum physics. That must be what having a dicky heart does to the brain.

Maybe 30 years ago I was whipped late at night into the same unit, false alarm good intent. The surroundings being stressful, there’d been a sleepless 24 hours before 10pm came around again.

I asked the nurse if I could have a television; she in turn asked the chap in the next bed – a Londoner – if he’d mind. “It’s mint imperial to me,” he said, a memorable example of rhyming slang.

She duly wheeled in a television, just in time for the headlines. Zzzzz…..

Workington FC director and Grass Routes reader Dave Cumberworth is another who can sleep wherever he lays his head, a particularly welcome gift when he was flying the world looking after blast furnaces.

“Being a heavy sleeper I usually covered myself in a blanket from head to toe and that was it for five or six hours,” he recalls.

Headed on one occasion from Heathrow to Santos, in Brazil, he expected to change planes at Rio but no one told him about a change at San Paulo as well.

Thus it was that the cabin crew, seeing his blanket, threw all the other blankets on top. Dave finally woke in a hangar.

“What happened after that is another hilarious story,” he says, though whether as gripping as quantum physics we shall probably never know.