20th April 2017

I’ve realised I won’t be able to maintain my momentum with daily posts in all likelihood during the summer although I’ll do my best when the friendly season restarts.

The announced General Election clearly has a big impact on me and is causing me to think hard about my future. I won’t bore you with the gory details here, but it’s something for me to work through.

19th April 2017

Congratulations to South Shields who have finally fulfilled what looked their likely destiny all season, which was to lift the Northern League Division 1 title. Whether their 33 match winning run is a record or not, it’s still amazingly impressive.

Whenever a team is promoted to the first division there is speculation as to whether they will be able to cut it at the highest Northern League level as, admittedly, it’s a big jump.

No-one really saw this as a problem for Shields when they came up from Division 2 last season. With with the talents of Peter Jamieson (GK), Alex Nicholson, Louis Storey, Darren Lough, Michael Richardson, Julio Arca, David Foley and Gavin Cogden in their ranks, amongst others, they are a match for any non-league side.

I think it is obvious that these players, providing they are up for the additional travel involved in playing a league higher, will be fine moving up a level. Most of them have played professionally and were close to making it at the very highest level.

I expect Shields to go close to promotion again next season in the Northern Premier First Division. The sky is the limit for them if their backers stick around. The interesting time will be when they don’t get promoted, what will the reaction be at that point.

But for now, congratulations and let the good times roll.

18th April 2017

Not much Football in today’s post I’m afraid.

I’ve had a weird day. I work for an MP who announced some time ago that she will retire at the next election, whenever that came about. The PM’s shock announcement means that I might well be out of work come June 8th. It depends who is selected as the new Labour candidate and a, if they win the seat and b, if they want me.

I’m overqualified for poorly paid jobs and competition is high for jobs I actually want! I’m lucky I’ve had a good seven years where I am and a good 12 years since moving back to the North East in mid-2005.

I wish I was successful enough where paid employment was a choice rather than a necessity. I am never jealous of anyone but I know how much better I’d feel right now if I had secure income moving forward where I could sit back and enjoy life on my terms. That dream seems very far away right now, but enough of my problems.

Perhaps professional footballers nearing the end of the season and the end of their contract feels the same way. For some, the end of the season is the end of the road and imagine how hard it will be to get a ‘proper job’ after football? It must be hard!

17th April 2017

Since Consett FC moved to Belle View Stadium I have been the programme and raffle ticket seller for the club. It’s been over three and a half years now, which has flown by. Saturday marks the end of four seasons where I’ve been the seller.

The 90 minutes before the match starts is my favourite part. I like watching the teams warming up, I like predicting who the Manager will select to play and I enjoy saying hello to the regulars as we urge them to part with £1.50 for a programme and £1 for a strip of raffle tickets.

Unfortunately my colleague Joe telephoned me to let me know he was too ill to attend. Judging by how ill he sounded on the phone he made the wise choice to play it safe. Hopefully he will be well enough to attend Consett’s final home match of the season this coming Saturday.

Penrith had travelled a long way today and it was a tough afternoon for them. Consett were up for it right from the off and were great from start to finish winning 4-0, showing the kind of form Chairman Frank Bell will hope appears every week  next season.

It could well have been worse for Penrith but they hung in well under what was a non-stop onslaught. It was good to watch from the home fans perspective, but the final whistle must have been a relief for Penrith.

The benefit of playing on bank holiday Monday was at the end of the match by “football body clock” felt like it should be 5.30pm but it was actually only 3pm. Winner.

16th April 2017

Writing this blog ensured I made it to the Football yesterday when otherwise I might not have got there. Travelling to Esh through Cornsay Colliery, a Police car was blocking the road into Esh Winning near the Hamsteels estate. I’m not sure what caused the blockage, but there was no way past.

I sat for 5 minutes in the queue of cars and nothing happened. Other cars started turning back so I followed suit giving a fleeting thought to just heading home. But knowing I wanted to write about something in today’s blog post, I persevered, turning left at Cornsay, heading over the hill into Waterhouses, turning left at The Black Horse and left again into the ground.

Once there the nice weather, good clubhouse and friendly welcome ensured I did not regret it for one second. The club is well looked after by their Chairman, who has been associated with the club for decades and Matthew Burdess who was, perhaps still is, the youngest club secretary in the Northern League. All their committee do a great job.

Billingham Town were good value for their 2-0 lead heading towards half-time when Esh were awarded a penalty. It was one of those decisions referees hate. There was contact but the attacker got his shot off. I’ve seen much worse not given, but I was fine with the referee’s decision. Esh duly converted the penalty and headed into half-time back in the match trailing by 1-2.

It was a spectator friendly second half with few, if any, nasty challenges. Late in the game Kai Hewitson broke clear and neatly finished a counter attack from a poor Billingham corner to level the scores. It could be argued Esh did not deserve it, but Billingham had not finished them off. It turned out to be the final goal of the match and it ended 2-2.

Billingham will feel it was two points lost and Esh, despite a quiet 85 minutes, did finish strongly and might feel the unlikely win was there for the taking late on. It was that type of game.

Congratulations to Stockton Town FC who wrapped up the Northern League Division 2 title yesterday. They will do well in Division 1. Consett vs Penrith for me tomorrow.

Happy Easter!

15th April 2017

Lincoln City are now very close to their goal of promotion to League Two as National League champions. Manager Danny Cowley has done wonders for the Lincoln as he did at his previous clubs. He is one to watch for the future, although Lincoln will be clinging onto his services for dear life!

I went to University in Lincoln so the club is special to me. In 1999 I remember watching Lincoln vs Peterborough and recall excellent performances by two very young Peterborough players, both who went on to have great Premiership careers.

Simon Davies, best known for his successful spell at Spurs and Matthew Etherington, who joined Spurs in the same deal were excellent that day. Etherington was later sold to West Ham and then Stoke City, making over 150 appearances for each club before retiring in December 2014.

Etherington’s well-documented gambling problems are arguably as well-known as what he did on the pitch. Davies had an excellent career with Spurs and Wales and was a lynchpin of the Spurs midfield for many years.

But back to Lincoln. After university and a brief spell back in the North East I returned to Lincoln and lived there from February 2003 to July 2005. Lincoln made the League Two playoffs in both 2003 and 2005, unfortunately losing on both occasions. I made the trip to Cardiff International Stadium for both finals. Despite the results, I loved the experience.

Fast forward 15 years and it’s been great to see Lincoln finally enjoying some success and featuring on BT Sport on many occasions. Coupled with their historic run to the FA Cup quarter finals it is little wonder they are pulling in record crowds and almost filling Sincil Bank every match. They even gave Arsenal a scare in the biggest match of their history.

The good news for the club is their FA Cup fairytale did have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to the tune of £2.5 million from prize money and TV revenue. Their many appearances on BT Sport as they attempt to wrap up the National League title will be earning them yet more still.

It’s all a far cry from when I lived in Lincoln when the club was the first to go into administration in early 2002, just a few months before I graduated. I remember marching through the city centre with a bucket to collect money for the club along with hundreds of supporters who travelled from across the country wearing their own club shirts in a real show of sporting solidarity.

I recall creating a poster with my friend Mark criticising ITV Digital. ITV had pulled their sponsorship money which was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of Lincoln staying out of administration, which they formally entered on 3rd May 2002, three weeks before I left University.

As our group and banner was photographed by journalists, a lady stood next to me and asked if she could be in the photo. I said yes but didn’t really look to see who it was. It was only when I saw the photo in the Lincolnshire Echo the following day that I noticed it was the local MP, Gillian Merron.

Many football clubs have since followed Lincoln into administration, accepting the penalties that now come with it, which are severe.

Not many clubs rebound from the financial mire as Lincoln have now done, but for Lincoln it’s taken a great Manager, a successful season, a historic cup run and 15 years. Who knows what the future holds for them, but in football you enjoy the success right now and that’s what the fans are doing.

It’s up to the board to get the strategy right behind the scenes to safeguard the clubs future for as long as possible and make the most from this opportunity.

Good luck to them.

14th April 2017

Use it or lose it was the message to Hebburn Town fans earlier in the season when their officials realised the numbers did not add up and the club faced closure. Money talks even at the lower reaches of the footballing pyramid even if only to survive rather than thrive.

It was good to see the Northern League tweeting to encourage fans to “break the attendance record” for Hebburn Town yesterday to help generate some vital gate money for the club, if nothing else to give a boost to their dedicated committee to keep plugging on.

When Consett play away I like to visit other clubs if the weather is not too horrific. My natural tendency to avoid travelling usually sees me rock up to Esh Winning or Tow Law Town. If I fancy travelling a bit further I love the facilities at Willington FC and if all the above are playing away, which seems to happen quite often, I am happy to watch Brandon.

There is something about Esh Winning FC that I just like, so I’m thinking about heading there to watch them fight it out against Billingham Town tomorrow at 3pm. You can’t go wrong for a fiver entry. I was all for heading there today, until I realised it was Friday.

 

13th April 2017

Darlington 1883 FC have made steady progress up the Football league structure since having to start from scratch when they went bust in 2010.

The club was dealt a fresh blow yesterday when the FA revealed their ground fell short of the National League requirements (they must have 500 covered seats and they only have 280), therefore they are ineligible for promotion.

Darlington’s board are speaking to the FA about it as we speak and hopefully the two parties will agree a deal whereby Darlington will upgrade their ground as a condition should they gain promotion via the play-offs, which remains a possibility. Anything else seems unfair to me.

Record breakers South Shields FC have been denied a world record by the Guinness Book of Records because their 31 match winning streak happened in non-league Football. The record keepers say the huge variance in worldwide grassroots Football means they are unable to accurately state whether or not this is a true record.

This does not and should not tarnish South Shields great run, or take the shine off their achievements this season.

Lifting the FA Vase would be a nice way to round it off don’t you think? I think they will do it.

12th April 2017

I was locked in a meeting for two hours last night so was only vaguely aware of the developing Borussia Dortmund bus explosion situation.

I work in Politics, or more accurately, around politics and I use Football as a means of escapism from my day job as well as indulging my genuine interest in sport and my interest in how teams are built by combining players skills and personalities into hopefully a winning formula.

Thank God no-one was seriously injured and hopefully Dortmund defender Marc Bartra, well-known to any Football Manager enthusiast, is back playing again very soon after he recovers from the broken wrist he sustained from the impact of the first explosion.

Football can seem insignificant sometimes.

11th April 2017

South Shields FC have been the talk of the Northern League for the past two years signing big name players like Julio Arca, Carl Finnegan and Michael Richardson. They are an ambitious club who have their sights far higher than the Northern Premier First Division.

They seem to have found the final piece of the jigsaw in the well travelled Peter Jamieson. Consett, a former club of the new Shields keeper, found him a tough nut to crack as they fell to a 1-0 defeat. Shields hailed Consett FC as their toughest opponents of the season.

For Northern League ground hoppers the place to be tonight is Mariners Park as South Shields host Marske, days after clinching promotion against local rivals North Shields and the first home opportunity for fans to gather and celebrate. Expect a bumper crowd and a high energy atmosphere.

I expect Shields to be challenging for the top of the Northern Premier First next season. They have quality players, fans who believe and if they add further quality to their squad they will be a force and odds on for a third successive promotion. It will be interesting to see how they get on.

Perhaps a few of the current Northern League sides will be pleased to see the back of them! In a nice way of course.

For those fancying the journey tonight, Mariners Park is on Shaftesbury Avenue, South Shields, and has a post code of NE32 3UP. I’d recommend getting there early.

10th April 2017

Manchester United’s Luke Shaw is a fantastic player who plays the style of Football I enjoy watching. He gets forward, he has pace and is creative.

To play that style of Football demands a high level of Footballing intelligence to know when to venture forward and when to stay back and a high level of fitness to be able to cover that much ground across the 90 minutes.

On multiple occasions the Manchester United Manager Jose Mourinho has publicly criticised Shaw’s attitude, fitness, weight and application. Shaw has remained quiet, but he must be slightly embarrassed by the ongoing digs in the media the Manager enjoys making.

Mourinho has form in making public critiques of his players. He did it to Juan Mata at Chelsea, but in my view Shaw has had it much worse. Mourinho clearly likes the hard Manager approach, similar to that of Brian Clough. But Mourinho is not Clough and that approach was out of date even in the 1990’s.

It must be difficult to know how to motivate a player who already has more money most of us can imagine at the very tender age of 21. Shaw’s success must breed a calmness that contradicts the high intensity he would need to push himself to the limit and fulfill his potential.

Managers should know the players who need to be told they are great with an arm around their shoulder and those players who react better when they are challenged and criticised. I will not, however, ever agree that it is in the public domain where these criticisms should be made.

Reports today that Manchester United plan to sell Luke Shaw this summer suggests to me their approach to dealing with the player has been wrong. Shaw would be well within his rights to say “That’s enough!” and move on to a club where his undoubted ability will be more appreciated.

Mourinho’s criticisms of Shaw will also effect his transfer value. How can they possibly hope to recoup most of a £27 million fee if Mourinho is quoted in the news as stating Shaw’s performance was only good because of his play-by-play guidance? It’s self-defeating.

9th April 2017

Yesterday evening I travelled to the Live Theatre in Newcastle to watch “The Red Lion” which features one of my favourite actors, the Trollied and Brassed Off star, Stephen Tompkinson. It was excellent.

Tompkinson is joined in the play by two other actors, veteran actor John Bowler and young Gateshead actor Dean Bone.

Bowler plays a kitman with a life-long association and affection for “Red Lion FC” whilst Tompkinson plays a non-league Manager steeped in the realities of Football at the grassroots level where hard-nosed practicality usurps any high morale code held by the club romantic. Bone plays a skilled young Footballer who just wants to play and becomes the centrepiece of this ideological sporting struggle.

Whilst enjoying the excellent play and marvelling at how the actors memorise and flawlessly deliver one and three quarter hours of dialogue, some of my fellow crowd members proved almost as entertaining.

Just before the play started a man entered the cabaret area, which for you non-thespian Football fans means you get a table and sit at the front of the theatre, with a full tray of drinks that he promptly dropped and spilled everywhere.

As the loud liquid “ploosh” sound was followed by a deafening split second silence that was then nicely finished off by a palpable groan from the crowd, I almost shared his embarrassment. This may or may not have been as painful as the look of the people he spilled the drinks over.

In the same group was a woman who, once the play began, leant her head back and happily slept open-mouthed throughout a good portion of the play. Her snooze was only interrupted when ar mobile phone went off twice halfway through the show. She woke up. It was her phone.

These incidents alone would have been crowd drama enough, but the husband and wife couple next to me were lovingly caressing one another’s legs throughout.

The only time I had a problem with this was when the man reached a little too far over and started stroking my leg instead of hers. I laughed as his wife grabbed his hand and firmly placed it back on her leg. I must admit to being little perplexed when she then shot me a look as if I had somehow corrupted her husband. He looked unmoved.

I love the theatre.