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.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Richmond Town 1 Prudhoe Town 1 aet (4-5 on penalties)

Wearside League Cup final
Attendance: c 250

The non-paying spectators get the best view at Earl’s Orchard. And what a view. Stand on Slee Gill road looking south are you are greeted by surely the finest and most ancient castle backdrop to any sports field in the land. The view from the ramparts of the Norman castle is pretty good too as I found out last September when I first espied the ground and promised myself a return visit the following spring. 

The merits of the vantage point were not lost of the castle’s early inhabitants. A balcony was attached to the castle (you can easily still make out the joist holes on the right of the pic) so that the earl and his court could watch knights jousting way below. Football has been played in the former orchard for 85 years including a spell in the Sixties when the club was called Young Conservatives. (It’s that sort of place: William Hague is the sitting MP).
Jackie Charlton opened the pavillion in 1975. The rest of the ground as such consists of a rail around the pitch, a gazebo across an open gate in place of a turnstile and scaffold and corrugated steel dugouts less than 100 yards from the rushing River Swale. (The ball was kicked right over the trees and into the river at one point and will probably have been in York by the final whistle). From the river side you can spot Culloden Tower, a folly built in 1747 after the eponymous battle.

These days Richmond Town are faring well. They were promoted to the step 7 Wearside League, a feeder to the Northern League, for the first time last season. Given their ground’s historic location its development in the event of promotion can safely be ruled out but the club is considering options for the 1st XI next season including a place in Catterick.

That didn’t happen. Richmond finished in a very creditable third place but they did reach today’s league’s cup final which presented the perfect opportunity for a visit. Visitors Prudhoe (pronounced ‘proo-der’, from near Newcastle) have a Northern League pedigree and finished just four places below their hosts this term. A close encounter was anticipated – and so it proved.

Prudhoe took the lead against the run of play just before half-time with a looping half volley from the edge of the box. Richmond deservedly levelled it on the hour when a cross was headed back and knocked in from close range. A stalemate ensued right through until the end of extra-time. (Funny how whenever, as a neutral, you don’t want extra-time you nevertheless get it). Prudhoe won the penalty shoot-out 5-4. The scorer was buried in team mates’ bodies.
Crowds at this level don’t quite share the same passion and just watched on as if bemused without even offering a sporting round of applause. After a short delay to draw the raffle (let’s get our priorities right) the trophy was presented, the PA played the obligatory We are the Champions and the Prudhoe lads posed for a victorious team photo. In front of the castle, of course. Where else? 

Star turn: Well, hardly … but talkSPORT reporter and QPR nut Tony Incenzo paid a visit to Earl’s Orchard last week. Didn’t realise he was also a very well travelled groundhopper. He’d done the 92 by the time he was 17 as described in this vintage clip from Swap Shop c 1981. 

Extra-time: Students of sporting architecture will enjoy a trip to the ruins of grandstand of Richmond racecourse which was in use from 1775 to 1891. It was designed by renowned York architect John Carr.
From the once sublime to the ridiculous: On my way home I diverted via the R&R Ice Cream Stadium (sic), home to Bedale Town of the Teesside League to admire the equally grandly named Will Abbotson stand. (More of a converted birdhide, it appears). A match between local boy and Huddersfield manager Simon Grayson’s XI and Bedale Legends (‘sic’ again) on April 22 raised over £11k for charity.
Recommended viewing: Here is a link to some outstanding pics from the home of Lyme Regis, a ground as scenic as Richmond Town. And, in contrast, click here for an equally evocative film of the derelict ground of East Stirlingshire, finally demolished 18 months ago.

 A spot of egg chasing: Another stunning ground I initially spotted from on high was Stacks Field, home of Ilkley RUFC (below). I visited last month and the pics and write-up are here.