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 But Mourinho is not Clough and that approach was out of date even in the 1990’s.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.

8th April 2017

Today’s weather was superb and could not have asked for better as we watched Consett take on Newcastle Benfield at Belle View Stadium.

Both sides are known for their attacking play with Consett’s frontline featuring Michael Sweet and Luke Sullivan, whilst Benfield boast Paul Brayson and John Campbell. Consett’s Sullivan was not playing today, but the pace of Jordan Nellis ensured Consett had plenty of dangerous attacking options up top.

The match programme predicted goals and that proved right. Benfield went ahead on three occasions, but Consett stuck to their work and some nicely worked goals towards the end of the match secured a 5-3 win.

The lovely weather reminded me that in Consett, not a place known for sunshine, Football spectators basically shiver their way through 90% of the season. From the end of September to the start of April, a mere three weeks before the end of the season, hats, gloves, scarves and more than one layer of clothing is usually needed.

When the good weather returns we rejoice, only to promptly hang up our chants for the warm part of summer, returning only when things start to cool down again, with the really cold weather only a few weeks away.

It could be different if the FA and FIFA were bold about it. Some of the reasons given for not changing the Footballing calendar is the cricket season and hard pitches. I just don’t like freezing, but I know I won’t stop watching.

7th April 2017

With the Football season winding down you may think it is an odd time to launch a new blog about the league.

Thankfully there is always something to write about in Football so during the summer I plan to write general Football posts instead of lamenting the down period and blogging about my desperate hope for a friendly, any friendly, that I can go and watch.

Tonight I am travelling to Brandon to watch them face Esh Winning. Both are honest clubs that work hard and survive season after season enjoying only sporadic successes. They deserve more.

What I like about watching clubs like Esh Winning, probably my third favourite team with Tow Law and clubs like Brandon is they keep going. It’s easy to keep going as a big club with hope and ambition as your motivation, but the teams near the bottom exist on dogged pride and determination to win against the odds. It’s admirable and when they do win, you cannot begrudge them that small success.

Tonight’s match should be interesting because both teams will fancy they can pick up the points. The first goal could be key as it will test the belief of the other team. My prediction? A spirited 2-2 draw with both teams leaving it all on the pitch.

As this is the only match in the Northern League this evening hopefully a few people make the effort to help support two of the leagues stalwart clubs.

6th April 2017

West Allotment Celtic’s resignation may have been a political gesture designed to illicit a response from their Landlords, Northumberland FA, in the hope they revise or rescind their proposed large rent increases.

As the club can withdraw their resignation at any time until June, their resignation draws a line in the sand like a Footballing game of ‘chicken’. Your move, Northumberland FA. I hope they come to a compromise, any club resigning is a great shame.

While we await the FA response with our fingers crossed, readers should note this financial tight-rope walk is the reality for most grassroots clubs these days.

Northern League ticket prices are £6 for a full adult ticket (£5 in Division 2), £3 for a concession and £1 for kids. Naturally many fresh-faced 17 year-olds sneak in for £1 and equally some elderly looking fifty somethings (or favoured regulars) convince the gatekeeper they are concessions. Others come in for free in the second half when some clubs open the gates. This all affects revenue.

Players demand match fees ranging between £20 and £100 with the better players needing to be kept on contract to avoid them leaving. It’s sometimes puzzling how clubs manage to survive under these circumstances.

The truth is, many clubs don’t and get by relying on the ongoing (and always temporary) personal generosity of a well-heeled benefactor or a community minded sponsor. But neither lasts forever (remember Celtic Nation?)

A six-game run in the FA Cup can net a club £15,000 or more. If you are lucky enough to get T.V. interest during the cup run, add a zero to that figure. This is why you see angry Chairmen stomping around after watching their team wheeze their way to defeat in the first or preliminary qualifying round, not yet fully fit after the summer break. It takes a lot of sponsors to make up that difference in tough economic times and many clubs simply cannot do it.

Lots of clubs are now ground sharing and this is papering over the cracks of a potential Northern League crisis. Clubs need to get their players into the community fundraising.

In what is perhaps the subject of a future post, the prospect of more fluid leagues with enforced promotion into higher leagues that means more travel and higher running costs casts a further cloud over the long-term viability of our local Football clubs.

I would hate to think we reach a point where clubs dread winning a key match because promotion would see them face closure due to increased financial pressure. I am told it would cost an extra £30,000 for a club to get promoted from the Northern League Division 1.

West Allotment need the support of their FA to keep going and I hope they get it.

5th April 2017

Durham City played their final match of the season at Consett FC on Tuesday night where they have co-habited at Belle View Stadium this season and some of last.

As a Delves Lane resident, being able to watch both of my favourite Northern League sides each week, a mere two minute drive from my home was a luxury I have greatly enjoyed.

Manager Ollie Hotchkiss is a vocal and positive voice on the sidelines and despite massive financial constraints and the prospect of his better players being poached by financially more stable clubs, he has built a good young team that is exciting to watch and has enjoyed success this season.

This is a great achievement for both Ollie and we should not forget former Manager Chris Moore. Durham was in the promotion race for a good chunk of the season thanks to players like Dan O’Reilly, Kieran McWaters, Adam Crathorne and Brad Hird proving their worth at Northern League level. These players and others will get even better next season and wherever Durham play next season, they will be worth watching. I hope it is only a matter of time before they get a new permanent home.

Tuesday’s match against Thornaby was Durham’s final match of the season, which is an early finish. One of Durham’s committee members commented that this was something Durham might have taken issue with had they remained in the promotion race as they would have had a more congested end of the season compared to other clubs who still have 4 or 5 matches left to play.

Durham’s final game almost boiled over towards the end of the match as Durham had let a 2-0 lead evaporate and at 2-2, a Thornaby player went in hard and appeared to go over the top of the ball with both feet in the air, resulting in an angry reaction from Durham players with lots of pushing and shoving.

The referee, who had a good game overall, consulted both assistants and decided to book Durham’s No. 8 for his reaction post tackle and the offending Thornaby player, their No. 2, for the tackle itself. Another referee could certainly have shown a straight red card and it was one of those decisions where one team was going to feel let down. If you don’t mind, I’ll sit on the fence. It was a close one.

Incidentally the same player for Thornaby, their right back, was sent off for a second bookable offence about five minutes later and on that occasion could have few complaints, it was a clear yellow card, although the player was clearly frustrated and angry as he returned to the dressing room.

Durham can be proud of their season. I’ll definitely watch them next season when time allows and recommend you do too.

4th April 2017

It’s terrible to start this blog on a sour note but it is impossible to ignore the resignation of West Allotment Celtic and the resignation earlier in the season of Norton & Stockton Ancients. But before all that, what on earth am I doing here?

First off I am taking inspiration from the excellent daily Football Blog by former Northern League Chair Mike Amos, who uses the date as his blog title. I like this approach as readers immediately know what’s going on and it eliminates the need for a creative headline for the post.

Staying with Mike for a moment I actually considered standing as Northern League Chair and despite my relatively tender age of 34 at the time, Mike took my interest seriously and met me at a Morpeth FC match to discuss the role. I greatly appreciated his time and love his writing.

But back to my first point.

Whenever I visit a Northern League ground, the well-kept pitches and facilities are looked after by an increasingly elderly group of always fiercely loyal and dedicated men. Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of younger people that will be the future custodians of the more mundane aspects of running a Football club.

The clubs who have the money are always the ones who make the headlines. The South Shields of the world draw in the crowd with ambition and big signings, but the unsung heroes are the committee members who volunteer and help keep the club going, running into the trees to find those valuable match balls and ensure referees are looked after.

This reminds me of another club I have a soft spot for which is Wolviston FC in the Wearside League. Their committee invited me down to consider becoming the new Manager in 2014. Myself and a friend who was planning to coach with me received a very warm welcome and plenty of advice from their Manager, who was a UEFA A full-time coach himself and happy to pass on the reigns if someone could be found.

Alas, the travel was a bit much for us but being taken seriously even when things don’t work out was very much appreciated. The Wolviston committee have over 120 years service to the club between them. This is fantastic and they deserve unlimited praise, but for that excellent club to keep going they need new volunteers.

Check them out if you are in the area, it’s a great set-up.