Sunday, 19 May 2013

Newcastle Benfield 0 Spennymoor Town 1

Brooks Mileson Memorial Northern League Cup final
Attendance: 431

When and where will it all end? It’s a question that was asked at many non-league clubs in this postponement-ridden season but no more so than at Spennymoor. The regular season was originally supposed to have finished on April 27 but they had the FA Vase final at Wembley the week after – and still had a further two cup finals and four other matches to squeeze in over the following 15 days. This, their final (sic) match, had assumed the same spectacle as that bloke in diving costume staggering over the line in the London marathon a couple of days after everyone else.

For me an even greater draw today, though, was watching the last ever match at Consett’s much loved Belle Vue ground. The hosts (curious that their final match didn’t involve them) had had similar re-scheduling problems not helped by the abandonment of a match against Newcastle Benfield due to floodlight failure earlier in the month.

Consequently the last week of the Northern League season included a sort of mini-tournament between Consett, Newcastle Benfield and Spennymoor, the latter two playing each other as recently as Friday. Oh, and Consett also shoehorned in a friendly against a Sunderland XI (the first opposition at Belle Vue in 1950) and Newcastle United U21s. Hartlepool wanted to play here too but the club couldn’t find a date. In all Belle Vue staged 12 matches in 27 days excluding games involving sides from the community. Groundhoppers have never had so many opportunities to pay their respects to a doomed ground.

With the calendar back on the wall and the fat lady singing her last encore (“I never can say goodbye”?) we were ready for the final finale. Spectators’ neckwear set the tone for the occasion. The elders of the tribe (otherwise known as the gents of the Northern League management committee) wore ties and jackets while the Spennymoor fans (didn’t see any from Benfield) sported their Vase scarves. In fact, the atmosphere was a blend of Boxing Day, an end of term assembly and, given the hour (Sunday noon kick-off), something congregational. Every time I go to a Northern League match I’m struck by the conviviality and strength of old fashioned community spirit.
Also among the attendees was Alan, now 75, who, as an 11-year-old, was in charge of concrete mixing for Belle Vue all those years ago. The concrete of the once grand grandstand is now crumbling in places with the paint peeling off and all that remains of his efforts on the former stand on the far side of the pitch are two concrete supporting pillars. In part reminiscent of Crook’s Millfield (where I began my season), Belle Vue has a bowl shape in the style of some Scottish grounds of its era with banking on three sides made from ash and cinders from old mineworkings. Access is via a single turnstile which takes you from the impressive frontage and under and into the stand.
A pool of water beside Kev’s Corner Flag Snack Bar hinted at the difficulties the club has faced with drainage. Indeed, the chairman had been at the ground until 11.30pm the previous night and was back in the early hours of this morning to ensure the pitch was ready for the final. Today was the last time he will have such worries; the new ground which opens in October has an artificial 3G surface. The thin mist and coolness gave the game an autumnal feel.
Hot favourites Spennymoor won a keen contest with a single goal, a stooping header from a cross on 20 mins. (Click here for highlights). Their victory song with the cup was “What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a hamster? Is it a hamster?” in tribute to their late trainer, I believe. Up for the cup? This weekend you bet but I’m ready for the break now as well. New balls, please.
Programme notes: An excellent bedtime read. I note that Consett have twice won the Sunderland Shipowners Cup. Bet that was a feisty competition. Benfield goalie Andrew Grainger is an England international … at beach football.

Star turn: Among the Northern League chiefs was Spennymoor man George Courtney, the UK’s top referee of the 80s who reffed in the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals. Another refereeing notable (for me, at least) was the lady liner who was the fourth official at yesterday’s cup final.

Mentioned in dispatches: Hard cheese to FC United of Manchester, thwarted at their third consecutive play-off final attempt to reach the Conference North. Commiserations too to FA Cup team of the season, Hastings, relegated in the Ryman. Loved the story about Matt Le Tissier turning out for promoted Guernsey as a sub at Colliers Wood.

A different sort of WAG: Couple of great quotes in last week’s NLP. Said Tony Stokes, top scorer of tiny Concord Rangers from Canvey Island just promoted to Conference South: “To top it all I met my girlfriend at Concord. She worked on the burger bar and one thing led to another! Now we’re expecting our baby in October. We’ve just signed contracts to move into a bungalow on Canvey, we’ve got a baby on the way, we won the cup, we won promotion. It’s been a perfect year!” And said Gary Vaughan, manager of play-off winning Trafford: “I sat down with Goody (his assistant) over a pint and said that we’ve got to start playing football this season”. Always a sound strategy that.

And finally ... As a farewell to another season here is a compilation of commentary clips courtesy of Five Live and Lulu. I particularly love the bloke getting all squeaky at 1:33.


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