Friday, 25 March 2016

Newton Aycliffe 3 West Auckland 1 (aet)

Durham County FA Challenge Cup final
Attendance: 604

Setting off for a cup final after breakfast on a Friday seemed somehow wrong but on arrival at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground in Hetton le Hole for an 11am kick-off everything suddenly seemed right and any reservations I had about going to the match were dispelled.

Bathed in spring sunshine the setting was supreme. What better way to start the Bank Holiday weekend? A couple of other spectators were already discussing a potential double-header at Crook and Spennymoor the following day. Another had more immediate, food concerns. “Burgers?” asked his companion. “It’s Good Friday. You canna have burgers! Fish and chips on the way ho-um!” Children played games pushing sticks into the ground, lots of people were in t-shirts and one chap had even broken out the deckchair in honour of the occasion. The scene reminded me of another bank holiday cup final at Thornaby last May. Today was just the tonic for the endless, grey, wet winter. I set the camera to ISO50 for the first time for months and memories of that sodden afternoon at Penistone Church were soon banished.

The ground used to be home to Eppleton Colliery Welfare. In 1999 Sunderland City Council announced the investment of £2.2m in the redevelopment of the ground, a move heralded by then chairman as “the most exciting thing every to have happened to us.” His dreams didn’t last long. Eppleton, Durham County Cup winners in 1990, dropped out of the Northern League after an 11-season spell in 2003, having won just 23 matches in their last six seasons. They folded two years later since when Sunderland under 21s and Sunderland Ladies (Twitter hashtag: ‘howaythelasses’) have taken up tenancy.

Eppleton’s loss is most certainly Sunderland’s gain. Today the stadium looks fantastic and the pitch pristine, although slightly sloping. Only the corner entrance (see above) through a tall wall gives the hint of its origins, a little reminiscent of the entry to Tow Law Town. There is just one stand, built in 1992. The other elevated viewpoint is the balcony of the Bob Paisley Bar (see below) within the Hetton Centre behind one of the goals which was constructed for the community as part of the ground’s redevelopment. Access to the balcony – more the sort of feature you get at rugby grounds – isn’t obvious as your correspondent found out. A gate in the fence below the balcony leads to an enclosed grassed area and directions from the lads watching from above just led me to another blind corner much to their mirth. You have to exit the ground completely then enter the Hetton Centre.

From a quick check of the semi-final results I expected Whickham to be opposing Newton Aycliffe, having defeated West Auckland 3-0 but they were subsequently expelled from the competition having fielded an ineligible player. West Auckland progressed in similar fashion when Darlington 1883 were thrown out ahead of their first round clash. In fact, West had only won twice in the five rounds to the final having been exempt from the first round.

Newton Aycliffe, competing in their first ever County Cup final, are managed by Peter Dixon who left West Auckland following a fall-out with the board in October 2014 taking most of the team with him (eight of Newton’s starters today had previously played for West), all of which gave an extra edge to today’s encounter.

West Auckland took the lead after just four minutes when a drive by Hudson took a couple of deflections on its way into the net. Newton Aycliffe, having had the lion’s share of possession for most of the match, deservedley levelled on 54 minutes with a chest down and volley into the top corner by Campbell. They won the cup with two goals in the first half of extra-time, one a freekick bent around the wall by Knight and the other coming at the end of a solo 30-yard run by Garthwaite. Both lads sprinted over to the balcony to peel their shirts off below their squad mates on the balcony and get booked as a result. There was more leaping around and high japes at the trophy presentation. County Cup? Felt like the FA Cup! What a good Friday.

Highlights: For 20 mins of highlights courtesy of North Shields FC TV click here. I don’t have room for all the pics this time but click here for the full album.

Famous sons: Hetton le Hole’s most famous footballing son is ex-Liverpool manager Bob Paisley who died just over 20 years ago. It’s surprising the whole ground or community centre isn’t named after him although perhaps fitting that Eppleton are still remembered in the name. The town has a memorial to the man rather than a statue and he was never knighted.  Bob’s father worked down the pit and Bob played for Hetton Juniors at the Eppleton ground as a teenager. “It all started when young Robert got his hands on a pig’s bladder from his uncle’s butchers shop,” says a feature about Bob’s origins framed on the wall of the Hetton Centre. Nearby is a brass memorial plaque to the seven men who died in a pit explosion in 1951. Bob described Hetton as “a close-knit community where coal was king and football was religion”.

The village was also once home to Harry Potts, who managed Burnley during a successful period in the 60s; Ralph Coates (bizarrely my favourite footballer when I was a boy), ex-Tottenham in the 70s; and Kevin Keegan’s granddad.

No comments: