Saturday, 24 March 2012

Easington Colliery 1 Northallerton Town 3

Northern League Second Division
Attendance: 39

If they come to hand out prizes for the finest views in the Northern League Easington will be right up there with the best. Should the quality of football slip Welfare Park spectators can treat themselves to a panoramic picture postcard vista of the Durham coastline and North Sea.” So says Northern Goalfields Revisited, the bible of the Northern League.

You can only begin to imagine my disappointment when I turned up at the ground on a fine spring day to find everything other than the pitch hidden by sea mist. It was like discovering that the star player was on the bench. I kept looking over to see if he was warming up, so to speak, but, no, the conditions persisted throughout the 90 mins. Dammit. You could see the players' breath as the mist sporadically wafted across the pitch like dry ice over a stage. They reminded me of racehorses panting on the gallops on a crisp autumn morning. (Well, OK, not exactly racehorses). Later plumes of smoke rose from the old  miners' allotments.

Denied the view, there wasn’t much else for me to point my lens at. Welfare Park consists of three completely open sides and, on the other, is a short covered stand with three rows of wooden benches and various areas of terracing. The windows of the changing rooms have been replaced with chipboard – painted green indicating a permanent arrangement – and the window of the bar had wire mesh on the outside and steel bars on the inside.

The ground reflects its location in one of the most economically deprived communities in the UK,  a land of shuttered shops and missing hubcaps on the scarred and forgotten Durham coast. As a former mining village Easington was used as the location for the Billy Elliott film. I approached the ground along  an avenue of 83 trees, one planted for each miner who died in a mine explosion in 1951.

The club isn’t faring any better than the village. It was promoted back to the Northern League (step 6 of 7 in the pyramid) last season but has struggled. Easington currently sits bottom of the table  and only decided against folding after a 14-0 drubbing by Team Northumbria because of encouragement from the league. Solidarity, I suppose you call it in these  parts.

The average attendance only narrowly exceeds the number of men on the pitch and my son was certainly not complaining about it being too noisy to read his book as he was last week at Barnsley v. Reading (see pic at bottom). “Where are you from?” asked an approaching away fan. “York,” I replied. “We’re just here for the day out.” (Never like describing myself as a groundhopper. Sounds too nerdy. But then what I was doing having a day out in Easington?) It transpired that he was totting up the number of Northallerton fans for reporting back. By virtue of the fact that we live in North Yorkshire we agreed to be counted as fans no 31 and 32. I estimated the number of home fans at a dozen.

We’ took the lead on eight mins and then doubled it on 14 mins with a looping header. The match pivoted on an incident shortly afterwards. An Easington attacker appeared to have his heels clipped as he burst into the box but no penalty was given. One of his team mates was subsequently sent off for dissent. The home bench was incensed. “You’re a foooking dis-gree-erce!” screamed the Easington manager at the linesman. “’Eere lino. Lino! You only giving throw ins today?” added the coach. I felt sorry for the man in black. There’s no chance of him not hearing such abuse on day such as this. Why on earth do people want to be officials especially at this level? Easington rallied well and were rewarded with a goal but Northallerton restored the two goal advantage with a superb half-volley before half-time. In the second half a string fine saves by the Easington goalie prevented a heavier defeat.
After the match we went for a wander which took us onto a grassed area that’s the site of the former colliery. We walked towards what from a distance looked like a folly tower. On another stretch of coast it might have had romantic associations. A belvedere for the squire’s lady, perhaps. Not here. The tower is actually a pit cage converted into public art. At last we got our view of the sea and that’s where we headed.  An unremarkable match but a memorable day out, indeed.

Star turn: Defending for Northallerton was Craig Winter, son of ex-Premiership ref Jeff. I remember watching him play for Marske six years ago.

Football then and now: Dunno why but I thought of this Lowry painting the other day. It’s entitled “Going to the match” and depicts Burnden Park, Bolton. I saw a  recruitment ad for Man U. They seek a ‘associate director – mobile’ who’s role is “to manage and develop the relationship with Manchester United’s various telecommunications sponsors, to strengthen and promote our brands and to maximise business opportunities”. Say no more.

Top clip: The essence of non-league is encapsulated in a sublime opening three mins of these lovingly crafted highlights  of the match between Mertsham and Maidstone. It’s all there: the condiments resplendent on the counter of the tea bar, the tinny tannoy announcements, the real-life spaniel mascot in his yellow and black jersey,  “We will rock you” as the teams come out, the rattle of the ball on a tin roof following a woefully missed header and then the spaniel again, rolling on the ground.

A better view: Conditions were much clearer at Oakwell last weekend - where I took this pic.