NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Wednesday, 24 January 2018
31/08/2016 It was another come from behind win, but Washington v Jarrow Roofing fell somewhat short of the drama played out 24 hours earlier at Dunston. Fifteen minutes in, Paul Chow scored his customary poacher’s goal, latching on to the ball a couple of yards out by being in the right place at the right time. At times he was also Jarrow Roofing’s most effective defender, heading clearances four times in the space of 10 minutes in the first half. Neither team got into any kind of rhythm but then the game turned on the proverbial six pence either side of half time. Two goals by Matthew Waters and Joseph Walton sent the home team into the changing rooms unexpectedly ahead. Walton’s goal was the best on the night, sweetly struck from outside the box. Within seconds of the re-start they could have made it three when Daryll Hall shaved the post with a strong header. They did make it 3-1 a minute later when John Butler was put through and he confidently slotted it past Andrew Jennison. Roofing had a strong shout for a penalty when Adam McGuiness appeared to bundle Paul Chow over and Arjun Purewal pulled one back in the closing minutes but they couldn’t find an equaliser. Both teams can play much better than what was on show. Overall it was just a bit lacklustre. Washington will be grateful for the points. 30/08/2016 Chester-le-Street: Newly promoted. Five league games. No points. Away to Dunston UTS wouldn’t be your first choice to try and get some points on the board. But the Cestrians didn’t just manage their first league points of the campaign, they produced one of the most astonishing comebacks Secret Hopper has seen. The game got off to a terrific start – there was a chance at both ends every minute for the first 10 minutes. Those expecting a goal fest weren't to be disappointed. Dunston took the lead when Oli Leedham drove the ball into the box. Mark Peck stuck out a leg and put through his own goal, leaving the keeper stranded. Leedham set up their second too with a cross to the far post met by Dale Burrell with a free header. Going into the break, Chester-le-Street steadied the ship, but it looked an uphill task for them to get anything out of the game. That all changed in the first minute of the second half. The Dunston defence were caught standing and staring while Lee Mole fired it home. Few in the ground would have predicted the next 45 minutes. Seventy minutes gone and it was all square. The ball fell to Dominic Laws a few feet out and he couldn’t miss. Game on. David Latham was then brought down in the box and Lee Mole converted the penalty. 2-3. Chester-le-Street were bouncing. They weren’t half a yard quicker in the second half, they were a couple of yards quicker. Dominic Laws tormented the Dunston defence and by then it was no surprise when Latham dinked it over the keeper to make it 2-4. But they kept the best to last, with Michael Hepplewhite scoring a screamer from 25 yards out. Dunston were shell-shocked and couldn’t seem to find a way to make any headway in the second half to get back in the game. Three points and off the bottom of the table, for 24 hours at least, and they did it in real style. The broad grins belonged to the Cestrians. 29/08/2016 It was history in the making at Ryhope Colliery Welfare when they took on near neighbours RCA yesterday. Ryhope chairman Darren Norton said: “Our club started in 1892 – we’re the oldest non-professional club in the area but we’ve never met RCA in a competitive match.” And one of their former managers Martin Swales was making a return to the club where he had unparalleled success. “We won the quadruple in the Wearside League twice on the bounce when Martin was manager. That had never been done before.” But it was a game that RCA will look back on and rue a string of missed chances. Callum Hassan had three chances to score but was most effective heading the ball on to team-mates running past him and that move broke the deadlock within minutes of the second half starting – with Colin Larkin finishing well to put the visitors 1-0 up. Although RCA were the better team, Ryhope were never out of it and as the game went on they started to create chances of their own. Kyle Davis broke down the left, put in a perfect cross for Matthew Weirs to knock it in. It was one of their best moves of the match and worth a goal, but RCA will be the more disappointed of the two teams. And the quote of the day was provided by a Ryhope fan. Their bench told the players to relax after seeing off an attack which prompted the fan to add: “I haven’t come here to watch them relax.” Hopefully he’ll have gone home relatively happy with a draw. Secret Hopper then managed to take in the Spennymoor v Corby Town game as well as the match between Coxhoe Athletic and Stokesley, relegated last season from the Northern League. It might have been the Wearside League, but eight goals rounded off the day nicely. 27/08/2016 It was boots ahoy for Andy Potts at Blyth yesterday: Most of the traffic streaming into Blyth was heading for the Tall Ships, but a few of us were swapping boats for boots at Blyth Town vs Thornaby. And it was the footwear issue that was keeping the home bench – or at least those players who were in the matchday squad – entertained during the second half. It all started with some banter as sub Anth Moran was warming up: his classic Adidas ‘Copa Mondial’, plain black with the trademark white stripes, prompted the jibe of “Where’s the technology in them boots?” Times, clearly, have changed. When I first started watching Northern Football, it was colourful footwear (gotta be a good player to wear white boots, came the cry) that attracted attention; now the reverse is true. Or almost. One of Thornaby’s defenders was modelling a luminous confection in pink and fluorescent yellow. Apparently a design shown off to best effect at the other end of the field, according to the fashion police. - “Ow, he’s got F50s on … and he’s a centre half!”; - “Aye, but he’s the quickest centre half in the league with them on, man.” A (perhaps mercifully) inaudible riposte from the playing field prompted gales of laughter. Better than playing, some say. Sadly for Blyth there was little to smile about at the final whistle. Despite taking an early lead when Lee Middleton headed home from a free-kick straight off the training ground, the hosts suffered a 2-1 reverse. Hesitant defending sank them at one end, missed chances – and some good goalkeeping from Michael Duff – denied them at the other. The club’s brave ambition of League Two football in 10 years shines like a beacon but the first month of Northern League life has led them into the unaccustomed choppy waters of lower mid-table after years of cresting a wave in the Northern Alliance. The good news is that tide may yet turn. With players returning from injury and the team steadily gaining in Northern League know-how, there are surely brighter times ahead for Blyth … and not just for the colours of the boots. 25/08/2016 Easington Colliery F… (hat-tip Clement and Le Frenais). It was a night of Fog and Floodlight Failure as Easington took on Blyth Town. And it was almost second time unlucky for Manchester groundhopper Tony Morehead who was at last season’s ill-fated match at Easington Colliery which was abandoned when the floodlights packed in. Fog meant there was some debate about whether the game should have started at all. It was a marginal decision but, on balance, probably right. The only trouble was that the fog got worse. One of the floodlights then decided to give up the ghost just before half-time and only finally got going again 13 minutes into the second half. Like Tony, many of the regular groundhoppers thought it was going to be Groundhog Day. Many also wondered if the teams would come out for the second half but the referee decided to give it a go. Some supporters were berating him as he took the players off five minutes into the second half when conditions deteriorated. They failed to appreciate that the visibility was much worse from the side opposite the clubhouse. The linesman on that side had real problems – the ball was difficult to see and the other side of the pitch was a blur. The referee gave it 10 minutes for the visibility to improve and that proved to be a good call, with conditions good enough for the game to be played to a conclusion. In between all that there was a scrappy game of football that got more bad-tempered as it progressed. Ian Redman thumped the only goal of the game into the roof of the net and that was the only real highlight of the match. Easington Colliery battled throughout, Blyth Town improved in the second half. A difficult night for all concerned. Not great fun either. 24/08/2016 A bookend of drama marked the Penrith v Dunston FA Cup replay at Frenchfield last night. The game was only 90 seconds old when the ball wasn’t cleared by the Dunston defence. Martyn Coleman took one swing, miscued it but had time to take a more decisive swing. 1-0 to the Cumbrians and Dunston caught napping. Coleman proved a handful for the Dunston defence all game long, but he was left to battle on his own for large parts of the game, with the rest of his team mates playing much deeper and offering precious little close support. Penrith keeper Jonny Jamieson made a great double save on 25 minutes, denying Oliver Leedham and Scott Heslop in quick succession as Dunston came closer and closer to getting an equaliser. The equaliser came on the hour mark, James Luccock and Scott Heslop playing a neat, quick one-two on the edge of the box, and Luccock striking home with a precise finish off the far post. And then with minutes to go and extra time looking a certainty, Liam Thear tried his luck from 25 yards out and struck a beauty to score the winning goal. The Dunston bench spilled on to the pitch and their away support, who had made the long trip in numbers, cheered them into the changing rooms. A game of hard work and stout defending for Penrith and they created some of the game’s best chances. A game of passing, possession and patience for Dunston, who kept plugging away and got their just deserts in the end and a cracking goal that deserved to be a game winner. At half-time a deer was spotted running across the nearby fields which prompted one Dunston fan to hope for “venison burgers tonight”. Whatever they had, it would have tasted all the better with the win. 23/08/2016 The perceived wisdom is that it’s the home team that starts well in football matchess, especially cup games, with the visitors taking time to find their feet. Washington clearly hadn’t read the script in their hard-fought 2-1 win over Pickering Town in North Yorkshire in last night’s FA Cup preliminary round replay. Eight minutes in and they were one-nil up – the ball falling to John Butler in the box and he pushed it through a gaggle of defenders. Early goals usually settle the nerves, but Washington weren’t showing any nerves to settle. A few minutes later and it was 2-0. Anthony Callaghan’s second quality run down the left gave him the chance to cross, Mark Davison was quickest to the second ball after an attempted clearance and he headed it home. It took Pickering more than 15 minutes to get into the game and work their first chance. Gradually the tide started to turn. For some reason Washington looked more and more nervous as the game went on. Their passing game deserted them and they kept losing the ball. Pickering were working hard. They were playing well, but nothing better than what Washington come up against week in week out in the Northern League, which made Washington’s struggles all the more baffling. Coming up to the hour, a suicidal backpass let in a Pickering striker, who rounded Dale Connor in the Washington goal who’d be left stranded and the Pikes player tucked it home. Both teams had more chances, with Washington coming close twice in the last 15 minutes, but they held on. Before kick-off, Washington chairman Derek Armstrong recalled their 6-0 win over the same opponents also in the FA Cup two years ago. It wasn’t a repeat, and at times it wasn’t particularly pretty, but they’re through to the next round where Shildon await. PS – Pickering Town is well worth a visit for any groundhoppers – as long as your car doesn’t have a heart attack getting up Sutton Bank. It’s a neat and tidy ground with an interesting slope usually seen on nursery skiing slopes. The pork pies aren’t bad either. Not as good as West Auckland’s, but not bad at all. 22/08/2016 Team Northumbria have a couple of jinx teams, according to chairman Tony Stokle, and Alnwick Town is apparently one of them. Last night they managed to overcome recent history with a well-deserved 3-0 win over the team from up the A1. Team North are usually out of the blocks quickly, but it was Alnwick who got off to the sharper start and were the better team for the first 15 minutes. Jamie Dixon had the first real chance of the game, but his effort was well saved by Steven Mundy in the Team North goal. Daniel Taggart put Team North ahead with a shot which crept in off the far post. He then drilled a cross in from the left after an inch-perfect pass from midfield. The Alnwick defence almost put it in their own goal, but quick reactions by Dominic McMahon kept it at 1-0 at the half. Ryan Redford made it 2-0 with a neat flick on the near post, Ben Dibb-Fuller converted a penalty after being brought down. There weren’t too many complaints about the decision from the Alnwick bench. Their No 10 Liam Brooks tried to rally the troops: “It’s not over yet.” Unfortunately for the Northumberland team, it was. Their best chance was crafted by Joshua Hay who turned the defence but his shot only rattled the post. Joel Bradley had an excellent chance to make it 4-0 but couldn’t quite reach a low, hard cross from the left. In the end Team North’s superior fitness and all-round better play was rewarded. A jinx was banished. 21/08/2016 Pete Sixsmith was on hand to see Shildon progress in Saturday's FA Cup tie with Kendal Town. The early rounds of the FA Cup can be a delight as it gives our clubs a chance of meeting sides from outside the area. It’s even better when you are drawn away and I envied the followers of Bishop Auckland, Consett and Newcastle Benfield who were able to make a day of it in Nelson, Clitheroe and Padiham respectively. Shildon got Kendal Town at home, a team we had not played since 1997 when a breath-taking goalkeeping display from Phil Owers kept the score down to 3-0 to the Mintcakes (as I am sure they never call themselves). As a middle ranking Northern Premier League they were a good test for Shildon and the Railwaymen rose to the occasion, winning 2-0 and earning a tie at either Washington or Pickering on the weekend of the 3rd/4th September. Both goals came from young midfielder Lewis Wing, the first coming in the 10th minute from a well-placed free kick that stayed low and went across the keeper, with the clincher arriving 15 minutes from time as he rounded off a good move – a cross from Jamie Harwood was headed on by Rochdale’s record signing, Paul Connor and young Wing tucked it away across the Kendal keeper. In between those two goals, the game fluctuated with both sides having the upper hand at various times. No Burnley with 19% possession here – although the result was the same; 2-0 to the home team. The game probably turned on a controversial refereeing decision by the referee Stephen Dial. Kendal’s Ollie Wood was pulled up for a foul on Nick Liversedge in the Shildon goal, a foul that he may well have been the only person in the ground to see. Certainly, the Kendal manager, who was gracious in defeat, remained to be convinced. As he said, “Had that gone in, it may well have been very different.” The weather was poor with squally rain but there was a decent crowd. The clubhouse did a roaring trade and the burger van was busy selling tea and hot chocolate rather than cold drinks. But it was a bright and sunny day for Shildon who made another £1900 without needing a prayer to go with the excellent Wing. 20/08/2016 It promised to be a classic. North Shields and Morpeth – the last two winners of the FA Vase - squaring up against each other in the FA Cup. It should have been a classic, but it never quite lived up to its billing and for the second time in two seasons Morpeth knock North Shields out of national cup competition. Morpeth seemed to win more individual battles around pitch than North Shields, especially in midfield. Some people saying the art of tackling is dying. Morpeth’s tackling, especially at the back, was exemplary. Chances were few and far between and the rain and wind were not the best encouragement for flowing football. A deflection fell to Michael Chilton on the 30-minute mark and his deft finish decided it. Shields stepped it up a gear for the last 15 minutes, as Morpeth chairman Ken Beattie looked nervously on. In the end he had nothing to worry about. His team just about shaved it. (It was nice to see Denver Morris playing again – albeit as a substitute – and he doesn’t look to have lost any of his pace after such a long long-off.) Tomorrow Pete Sixsmith reports on Shildon’s excellent win over Kendal Town. 19/08/2016 When Team Northumbria is playing, good football is usually on show, and so it proved against Durham City at Belle Vue. For more than 30 minutes Team North kept on creating chances but couldn’t convert them. Durham were on the back foot from the off and it was only some last-gasp defending that delayed the inevitable first goal. Team North were playing their usual fast, incisive, passing game. Durham struggled throughout, never really getting to grips with the game. They didn’t string more than three passes together many times in the game. Their best chance came in the dying minutes of the game, but by then it was all over. Secret Hopper usually tries to find something of merit to say about both teams. Their keeper Daniel Gladstone made a couple of good saves and they kept plugging away but none of Durham’s outfield players stood out, with no particular individual performances of note. They were second best. Sometimes scorelines can be a poor reflection of a game. Not last night’s. It was a comfortable 4-0 victory. More often than not, Team North are fun to watch, trying to play football how it’s meant to be played. 18/08/2016 A new/old name joins the "army" of Secret Hopper correspondents (well, there are three of us so far). Pete Sixsmith has kindly agreed to contribute to the blog and readers of Northern Wisdom magazine will be well-acquainted with his prose. Last night he took in the Penrith v Shildon game: One of the pleasures of retirement and the single life is that you are free to do more or less what you want. And so it was that I was able to combine a day in the Ullswater arear with Shildon’s game at Penrith – and a jolly fine day it was too. The weather was warm verging on hot. I travelled across via Alston and then up to Hartside summit, pausing for a cup of tea and a scone as generations of cyclists and bikers have done, and then down the snake of a road to Penrith and on to Pooley Bridge. Lunch was taken in The Sun Inn and was washed down by a fine pint of Jennings Cockerhoop and then on to the MV Lady of the Lake, built in 1877 so even older than the Northern League. It was a lovely trip, relatively child free, with a pensioners bus trip from Stockport pushing up the average age considerably. From the recovering Pooley Bridge, it was on to Frenchfield, a good example of how to build a new stadium, albeit one on the very edge of the town. There are no houses nearby, just the thunder of lorries on the A 66 and the silhouette of cows as they wander across the pasture above this well-appointed stadium. I do miss Southend Road. The stentorian tones of Walter Brogden rang out across the pitch urging the crowd to buy raffle tickets, urchins played in the goalmouths at half time – or at least they did until Mr Brogden ordered them off the pitch - the pies were of the highest standard and there was even an advertising hoarding for a local taxidermist. All that has gone; the pies have been replaced by a burger van, the owner of which was proudly showing off the medal she won for completing a run in aid of Alzheimer’s ; the stadium announcer was efficient and effective but without Walter’s intonation and the few urchins present spent most of the game retrieving balls from the surrounding fields. As for the taxidermist, he may well be stuffed and mounted in Whitehaven for all I know. The game started off at a rare old pace and Shildon found it difficult to string a worthwhile move together. The Cumbrians, welcoming back Martyn Coleman from a stint at Mariners Park and goalkeeper Johnny Jamieson from local big boys Workington, ended the half the stronger and took the lead from the spot in the 44th.minute through Coleman. Whatever was said in the Shildon dressing room at half time worked as they came out galvanised and took the game to Penrith. The arrival of Paul Connor, still Rochdale’s record signing, prompted this return to form. He scored the first goal rounding off a slick move and played a major part in the second goal, finished off by stand-in skipper Lewis Dodds. But Penrith came back, forcing a couple of decent saves from Nick Liversedge in the Shildon goal and hitting the post with a crashing shot. However, it was all to no avail as Anthony Bell wrapped it up with a quarter of an hour to go. The journey home was tempered by the sad news of the death of Bob Blake. Some will know him as a supporter of Sunderland, others as a dedicated Northern League watcher, particularly at Chester le Street and Sunderland Ryhope CA while others will recognise him from his attendance at the Riverside Chester le Street. He finally succumbed to the malignant cells that came to control his body and died, in the words of his sister Helen, “quietly and peacefully.” A lovely man and a good friend, he will be sadly missed. 17/08/2016 Tuesday was Secret Hopper’s first chance to check out Chester-le-Street’s first division credentials with their match against Sunderland RCA. The last time Secret Hopper was at Chester Moor was when they clinched promotion in a cracking game against Brandon. And it wasn’t just the division that was different – the weather was just a tad better too, with something approaching a proper summer’s evening instead of the wintry conditions that greeted the Brandon game, not that the weather put a dampener on celebrations at the end of last season. For much of the first half it looked an uphill task for the hosts: RCA were a yard quicker and faster going about their business, always having a free man available, with Stephen Callen helping himself to a hat-trick. 4-0 down and niggling fouls and cards crept into Chester’s game alongside frustration. Dominic Laws came on as a substitute for Chester-le-Street and brought a bit of much-needed fizz to the team, with a couple of excellent runs and crosses. Secret Hopper shared his appreciation for the sub with his next door neighbour by the dugouts. It was just as well I had good things to say about him – the bloke was his dad. He set up Chester’s first goal, scored by Lee Mole who bagged a second and a there was just the merest hint of a comeback, as RCA seemed to have turned off, presuming that they were cruising to a win. But despite all of Lee’s efforts, it wasn’t to be. Another cracking game, this time under the moonlight. 13/08/2016 Fans of the Northern League come from far and wide and one of our biggest followers is London-based former soldier and banker Brent Reid. Secret Hopper first met Brent at Easington Colliery last season and coincidentally we caught up with him again for a chat back at the ground on the Durham coast. He comes up for Northern League games at least twice a season, timing it so he can see as many games as possible in as short a time as possible. This week it’s been Team North, Tow Law, Blyth Town and Easington Colliery. It was the sad demise of Blue Star that first drew him to the Ebac Northern League. “I heard that they were about to fold or move so I wanted to see them before they went. That was in 2006 and I’ve been coming back every year since. “I get to at least two or three games in a week. “I like the standard of football, enjoy the craic and meet very friendly people. The grounds are of a good standard too.” And there’s one group of people involved in our league that he defends stoutly. Referees and their assistants at times come in for a lot of stick from managers and fans, but Brent has a different perspective. He’s seen games the length and breadth of the country and all levels of non-league football. “The standard of refereeing in the Northern League is very good compared to other leagues at this level.” He also defends criticism from other teams and leagues in the country for Northern League clubs not taking promotion. “People elsewhere don’t realise what impact it can have on people’s jobs and to demand that players have to travel to places like Colwyn Bay on a weeknight is a nonsense.” He’s been to every Northern League ground, apart from newly-promoted Stockton Town and he’s aiming to tick that one off later this season. And he’s only missed one of the Northern League’s FA Vase appearances over the last decade. “The Northern League is the best Step Five league in the country by miles. There are players who haven’t made it with league clubs but they still want to play.” Like Secret Hopper, he’s a big fan of baseball and American football. He’s a fan of Chelsea and the Baltimore Orioles, but I suppose we’re all allowed one fault. Or two, in his case. Family connections also mean he’s a Hibernian fan too. His ground hopping exploits aren’t confined to non-league football – he’s been to every baseball ground in the States (both new and old stadia – a grand total of 55, as well as all the league grounds in England, obviously). So, next time you see someone with a Hibs baseball cap on, chances are it’ll be Brent. 12/08/2016 Secret Hopper has officially designated this week Heaton Stannington Week. On Saturday it was The Stan against West Auckland in the FA Cup. The next day it was back to Grounsell Park, albeit for a game between West Allotment and Consett rather than the hosts. And so it came to pass that only a few days later, the only game of the day was at Easington Colliery who were up against none other than Heaton Stannington. It was a return to the ground for London ground hopper extraordinaire Brent Reid, who was at the ground last season when the floodlights were about as reliable as a Russian drugs test. (More of Brent tomorrow.) And as it was the only game, it drew the usual suspects of ground hoppers (and Harry the Dog naturally). Both teams fashioned chances in the first half, but neither could convert promising crosses or moves. The breakthrough came in the second half when another dangerous cross was delivered into the Heaton Stannington box. The ball found its way to Easington left back Aidan Goodey who tried his luck, took a shot, only for Matthew Smith to see the ball spill through his hands at the near post. It was a howler. And you know it’s a howler when your defenders turn and walk away without offering any words of sympathy or encouragement. Up until then his handling had been pretty solid but it took the wind out of Heaton’s sails and they never quite recovered. Goodey sealed a good night for him and for his team with a second after a nicely timed far post run. PS: dear Heaton Stan: We must stop meeting like this. 11/08/2016 Day five, match five and it’s off to the second division game at Esh Winning, playing host to Thornaby. And it didn’t start well for the home side. An Esh Winning fan asked a simple question of the defence: “Are you going to mark up or what?” And for the first 20 minutes, with them standing around giving forwards free headers and letting them run through them, the answer was clearly “or what”. Meanwhile, over at the Thornaby bench, they adopted the stick rather than carrot approach with Matthew Robinson. “Robbo, get your head up…..” I won’t share the rest of the sentence with you, as some of you may be of a sensitive disposition. But it worked – he went on to score a brace and didn’t complain when substituted, even though he was on a hat-trick. Ben Jackson needed no such prompting to run at the Esh Winning defence, causing them problems throughout the game. It will be little consolation to them, but at least Esh Winning are clearly trying to play better quality football this season. More energy, more movement and more passing. Jonathan Yipp up front exemplified their approach, working the Thornaby back four. Going forward they looked a better team than the last time Secret Hopper saw them play at the end of last season, but their defending was pretty dreadful at times, especially for the first two goals. Phil Hayes pulled one back when they were five down but there were only cursory handshakes. They were denied a second by a terrific save by Thornaby keeper. Both teams tried to play good football, the only trouble was that one was more successful than the other. For the neutral it was a match well worth the journey to the Deerness Valley. 10/08/2016 - Secret Hopper is getting spoilt for choice. A day after a wonder goal at Team Northumbria, fans were treated to another fantastic goal as Jarrow Roofing and North Shields met in an FA Cup reply. Roofing’s quirky ground is one of Secret Hopper’s favourites in the league. And considering that this was only their second competitive game of the season, both teams looked sharp and lively, but as the game went on Shields started moving and passing the ball the better of the two. Lee Mason broke the deadlock and it was just about deserved as the team from North Tyneside took control of play. And Shields doubled their lead in the second half with a magnificent 40-yeard cross-field ball by Marc Lancaster, met first time on the half volley by Jack Devlin. A Gareth Bainbridge third was controversially ruled offside by the referee. For Roofing, James Fairley caught the eye early on, causing the Shields’ defence real problems as he motored down the left wing, but they couldn’t quite capitalise on his pace and crossing. He’ll cause a few right backs problems as the season progresses. Injuries and substitutions affected the flow of the game towards the end and Roofing kept on battling, as you would expect, but it’s Shields who move on to the next round. An entertaining game enjoyed by a good turn-out, but perhaps not as entertaining as the goal fest at Alnwick. 09/08/2016 Goal of the season might have already been won. Bedlington Terriers were 5-0 down with only seconds to go. Team Northumbria attacked again to make it 6-0. Many of us were heading towards to exit when Jonathan Wright threw caution to the wind, spotted the Team North keeper off his line and took his chance: scoring from the halfway line at the re-start with an absolute peach of a goal, struck very sweetly, leaving the keeper stranded. Hopefully cameras at the game captured the gem – it deserves to go viral on social media. The Terriers didn’t have much else to cheer on the night. In truth they were second best all over the pitch. Team North played their usual fast, fluent passing game and could have had a few more. Hopefully it’s just early season cobwebs and work in progress for Bedlington. They looked like a team that hadn’t played much together. If you put six past your opponents you usually deserve the headlines, but the Terriers goal stole the show. 08/08/2016 So, here we are again. Back to Grounsell Park for the second time in 24 hours for another FA Cup match involving two of our teams – this time it’s West Allotment Celtic and Consett. And if this match had been a cartoon character, it would have been Scooby Doo’s nephew*. And for the second time, the match kicked off early, catching a couple of ground hoppers off guard, causing them to miss some of the early action. Despite all the pre-season games, there’s nothing quite like competitive football and no doubt it’ll take players another couple of matches before they’re up to full speed and it rather showed, especially in the first half. A strong, gusting wind didn’t help either. A series of bad-tempered, niggling fouls were the most consistent part of the opening 45. After an hour, a replay looked on the cards, but then goals from Danny Craggs and Michael Sweet sealed it for Consett. West Allotment never looked as though they could pull two goals back, despite the promptings of David Henderson. Towards the end of last season, Consett turned a corner and were one of the most improved and entertaining teams in the league. They couldn’t quite re-create that form today. But, for the second time over the weekend, the team that won looked just a bit stronger and quicker. All in all, a scrappy do. 07/08/2016 Fifty years after that famous day at Wembley, West Auckland could have been cursing the lack of a “Russian” linesman (even though the original came from Azerbaijan). West’s Stuart Rose proved an inspired substitution, scoring within seconds of coming on, adding a second and then being denied a hat-trick. Many were convinced that a deftly taken shot crossed the line. Even the Heaton Stannington bench looked on sheepishly. Their keeper Matthew Smith did what you’re taught to do from when you start playing the game – he played to the whistle. Or in this case the lack of one. Referee Tony Pattison looked over to his assistant who kept his flag down and on play went. To say that the West bench and fans were less than happy would be an understatement. And it could have come back to bite them, with Stannington substitute Paul Bell just failing to control a through ball with a good opportunity to level with minutes to go after a cracking goal by Ryan Bailey gave them a lifeline. In the end West’s superior fitness and a bit more nous saw them home. Secret Hopper’s bank balance remains intact, not having to come up with the money to buy gravy bones for Harry the Dog, who stood to gain the canine treats if they had overcome West. Next time Harry. Next time. And today it’s back to Grounsell Park for the West Allotment v Consett tie. 06/08/2016 The cricket season is in full flow. There’s some kind of running, shooting, sailing and jumping mullarkey over in South America. Politicians have just started their (well-earned?) summer holidays. Most importantly, the Northern League is back in business. But first, a few incidents from some pre-season games. Secret Hopper’s first engagement of the 2016/17 season was at Consett who were taking on Berwick Rangers from Scottish League Division Two. It was the first pre-season match involving a Northern League team. Consett’s ground obviously impressed one visitor: “Canny ground this.” While a Consett fan was in pre-season training too: dusting off the acerbic put-downs for visiting players. “Get yer wellies off” was the sage advice to one of the Berwick players who sent one shot so wide of the mark that it was more in danger of hitting the linesman than the goal. At Ryton and Crawcrook the referee bit back. A player berated him for blocking a pass The whistler’s “Your pass was so rubbish*, I couldn’t get out of the way” soon shut the player up. (*Not exactly the word.) After almost 50 years of watching football, there aren’t many “firsts”, but one came at Blyth Town’s opening pre-season friendly against Frimley Green: three Blyth players playing rocks-paper-scissors to decide who took a free kick. And it was a case of going to Gretna for the love of the football life rather than with the love of your life when Secret Hopper took in the Ryedale Cup, featuring first division new boys South Shields. But now it’s down to business. And there’s a game on each of the first six days of the season - a wonderful start for all ground hoppers. The fixtures pick themselves for Sunday, Monday and Thursday but it’s choices, choices for Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s great to have football back. 05/08/2016 Secret Hopper correspondent Andy Potts delves into the archives for tomorrow’s Ashington FA Cup match against Nelson, with a previous match between the two played against a background of hardship and economic strife. The game is a throwback to a different era – the last time these two teams met in cup action was way back in 1926-27. The second-round tie at Portland Park pitted two Division 3 (N) teams against one another, with both clubs enjoying their best ever runs in the FA Cup. For Ashington, cup glory – or at least a decent run in the competition – was a huge boost. The great depression was underway, and disputes between miners and collieries across the land left little scope for hard-up striking colliery workers to spend their shillings on going to the football. So acute was the crisis that the opening game of the season – ironically against Nelson – had to be postponed. Fears of a low attendance, and perhaps of public unrest as the industrial dispute wore on, made it impossible to play the game as planned. Subsequent home games in September, against Wrexham and Doncaster were marred by crowd trouble, with around 1,500 ticketless supporters trying to force their way into Portland Park without paying. It took until Oct. 2 before the situation calmed down and the crowd, although small, was at least well-behaved and willing to go in through the cash turnstiles. Life in the Football League was always a challenge for Ashington. Geographically remote and often struggling for support, the Colliers – like local rivals Durham City – rarely scaled the upper reaches of the table. But in 1926 the Cup proved something of a salvation. A 2-1 win at Stockton in the first round proper set up the clash with Nelson. The Lancashire team was enjoying its best ever run in the competition after thumping Stockport County 4-1 in Round One, and had enjoyed a convincing 4-0 home win over Ashington in the league earlier that season. Come December’s cup tie, Nelson were up in third in the table; Ashington were bumbling along in mid-table, alternating from week to week between scintillating and struggling. Cup fever, though, has always been endemic in North East football. Despite all the hardships in the mines, a crowd of 5,265 – including a good contingent from Nelson – came to see the game. Few details of the match can be found today, although one online account credits Stevenson with Nelson’s goal. The report in the Lancashire Evening Post of December 13, 1926, omits details of any the scorers but notes that once again Portland Park was an ‘unfavourable ground’ for Nelson after a ‘keen and at times brilliant contest’. The reporter praised Ashington goalie Ridley and said that the ‘home defence secured chief honours’. Ashington went on to face Second Division Nottingham Forest in the third round, attracting a crowd of 9,242. A combination of the desperate economic situation, heavy rain and rumours that the game was already a sell-out resulted in a lower attendance than hoped for, but the club earned a handy £512 in gate receipts. Forest proved the stronger, scoring in each half to overcome the Colliers’ resistance and win 2-0, aided by an injury early in the second half that left the home team down to 10 men. That season’s FA Cup is most famous for leaving England for the first and only time – Cardiff City won the trophy with a 1-0 victory over Arsenal in the final. The local non-league scene was also well-represented, with Chilton Colliery beating Annfield Plain 4-2 in the first round before losing to Accrington Stanley while Bishop Auckland went down 0-1 at home to Bedlington in round one. Bedlington fell at the next hurdle, losing 4-0 at Carlisle. Crook Town progressed to the second round with a 2-0 win at Workington, but suffered their first defeat of the season against Southport, then of the Football League. 04/08/2016 - Will it be gravy bones for Harry? The long road to Wembley starts on Saturday for some of our teams. And there are many FA cup ties that catch the eye. North Shields and Jarrow Roofing lock horns at The Morgue. The Marske tie against South Shields will be a good test for two teams that many expect to be battling at the top of the league; while the league game between Seaham Red Star and Morpeth at the end of last season was one of the best games that Secret Hopper saw in 2015/16. But Secret Hopper is sorely tempted to go to the Heaton Stannington v West Auckland match. The Stan are the joint-lowest ranked team in this year’s competition, qualifying by finishing 9th in the second division. No doubt their most famous supporter will be in attendance. Harry the Dog has his own season ticket and Twitter account at: https://twitter.com/heatonstanharry By his own admission he “loves going to Heaton Stan FC and watching Durham CCC. Mud connoisseur, expert retriever of cricket balls & cheeky charmer of the ladies!” While everyone knows the historic exploits of West Auckland. Apparently the teams last met 65 years ago when West Auckland won 2-1. Both are “only” 13 games away from the final. Heaton Stannington also has a replica of the FA Cup on loan for the week. And Secret Hopper makes this pledge: if The Stan win, he’ll treat Harry to some gravy bones. 02/08/2016 - Blyth Town FCFT Barry Elliott is a man in a hurry. Blyth Town is a club in a hurry. Before a ball has been kicked in anger, one of the league’s two new clubs has already set its sights high. “We have a 10-year plan to get to League Division Two and if we don’t get there, I will apologise for trying,” said Barry just before the club’s first pre-season game against Frimley Green, better known for hosting the BDO darts championships. “That ambition is not being arrogant; we have put together a committee and a team to achieve it. There are some clubs who don’t want promotion but we want to go up. “Blyth is a football town. We get on very well with Blyth Spartans and organised a pre-season game with them. Hopefully it will develop into a friendly rivalry and spur them on to bigger and better things too. The competition will be healthy. “But for us it will be a team effort – on and off the pitch.” The club has 31 teams based at the ground on the outskirts of the town – from the u7s to the senior team which will be competing in the Ebac Northern League for the first time. When the club was set up two decades ago they were nomads – playing on pitches around the town. Now they have a new clubhouse which is already being extended, a new pitch, practice pitches, five-a-side pitches and work is underway for a multi-sport play area. Much of that is down to the hard work of club founder Sandra Orr and her team but also with contributions of more than £1m - £350,000 from Blyth Valley Council and £600,000 from the Football Foundation along with £100K from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund funded floodlights, a stand, perimeter fence and hard standing which enabled the club to bring ground up to meet NL2 criteria, allowing Blyth to finally take promotion. The club also won £150,000 through a national competition sponsored by Budweiser for grassroots football. Sandra said: “We were the first community charter standard club in the North East – the top endorsement from the FA. We give boys and girls the opportunity of a lifetime in football within one club. “We also have a very successful girls and ladies section at the club. “Barry came to see us saying he wanted to help us move into the Northern League and onwards. That was Christmas 2013 and we were in the top five of the Northern Alliance. Before he came we thought the Northern League was unattainable and he’s turned us upside down in the best way. “The town had a bad reputation as a place with a drugs problem and the club was just in the right place at the right time. Scores of parents brought their children to the club. “The town was desperate for a good sports club and the number of teams grew very quickly. “For the Budweiser competition, we were at the lowest level eligible to enter the competition and thanks to a great online campaign we won the money, beating scores of other clubs from around the country.” Blyth kick off their season with a home game against Hebburn Town. The club is based at the South Newsham Playing Fields, Sandringham Drive, Blyth, Northumberland, NE24 3PS, 01/08/2016 - Stockton Town FC In the first of two features, Secret Hopper visits Stockton Town who, along with Blyth Town, have joined the Northern League. There are quite a few similarities between the two clubs: - Both have been leading teams in their respective leagues for several years; - both have been unable to make the move up because of ground grading issues; - both have impressive, modern facilities; - both have thriving youth teams; and - both have ambitious plans. Martin Hillerby has been chairman at Stockton Town for 10 years and is an electrical project engineer. He said: “A town the size of Stockton deserves to have a Northern League team. “Until seven years ago we were a junior team and had no senior football team. A substantial number of our players went to Billingham Town, Billingham Synthonia and other clubs. “I ran the junior team which was exceptionally talented and we were faced with a decision – do we stay as we are or do we apply to go into the Teesside League Division Two? We decided to go into the league and progressed into the Wearside League. “And that’s what kick-started our long-term ambition. In the first year in the Wearside League we finished 10th. The next year we finished third. Four years after that we won it.” The club has already set its sights on finishing in the top six of the second division. “We’ve signed Fred Woodhouse from Bishop Auckland – he was in my junior team. I think it says a lot about the club that he’s prepared to drop down a division. “We’re looking forward to competitive football. We really enjoyed our time in the Wearside League but the time had come where it was best for everyone that we managed to be promoted.” There has been major investment at the club: · Around £950,000 has been spent on the facility with grants from the Premier League & the FA Facilities Fund, Sport England and the Football Stadium Development Fund. · Matches will be played on a new 3G pitch. · A new covered standing area will be installed by the autumn which is in addition to the current covered seating. · New changing rooms and a refreshment outlet are pitchside. “We want to be an integral part of the Northern League and the local community. “We are aiming to have a high profile in the town. We have a lot going on, not just around being in the Northern League. “We have a football development officer who works in the community and with local schools. There’s also a busy social scene at the club.” Stockton has a thriving youth team set-up, with 21 teams from u7s to u18s. The junior teams have an enviable record of success, with recent highlights including the under16s winning the County Cup last season, while the under14s reached the County Cup final. It’s a youth development policy that is clearly working. “In a recent Wearside League fixture 13 out of the 16 in the squad had played junior football for the club.” Stockton also has a sizeable clubhouse (with a TV screen bigger than some clubs’ changing rooms). Martin added: “It’s a great facility and we’re trying to be a hub for the local community – we want to be the focus for football activities in the town.” The club leases the land in an arrangement involving the Sixth Form College and the local council, with the club appointed as managing agents for the site. For ground hoppers Stockton Town FC is in Bishopton Road West, Stockton-on-Tees, TS19 0QD. The club shares its entrance with Stockton 6th Form College and as you turn on to the site, the football club is the building to the right at the back of the car park. Pre and post-match hospitality is available in the clubhouse for spectators, club/match officials and players. The turnstiles are to the left of the buildings. Players, managers and coaching staff should go to the main reception where club officials will be on hand to guide you either to hospitality areas or the changing rooms as required. Extra staff will be on hand on matchdays to show people where to go. Tomorrow it’s Blyth Town.