Non League Daily

A busy week for Northern League Chairman Mike Amos

It's been a busy week for Northern League chairman Mike Amos as he witnessed one of his league's clubs progress in the FA Vase and saw a whole host of other matches.

March 5 2015

The league management committee meeting is quite uneventful, really, it’s coming home when the trouble begins.

As usual, some of us have a swift pint, though it’s probably a first that someone pays with a credit card. The five present are also asked to give their tip for the first division title: four go for Shildon, the other North Shields. There’s an incentive for the others.

Also as usual, Brian Mulligan (he of the credit card) gives me a lift as far as the A1/A689 interchange at Bradbury where Sharon, ever-patient, awaits. We’ve not gone 200 yards, not even off the south-bound slip road, when she realises she has a flat tyre. It’s 10 30pm and we’re standing on a grass verge in the dark.

Sharon says she’s freezing. I tell her she should have been at Billy Town on Tuesday evening. For some reason she takes little comfort from the observation.

We’ve a “roadside assistance” tie-up with Honda as part of the warranty. What they don’t provide is a spare tyre, nor allow customers to buy one. All we have in the boot is what apparently is known as a skinny tyre, which mustn’t be allowed to exceed 50mph.

Honda contact the AA, whose chap is just down the road in Newton Aycliffe. He’s there by 10 50pm, takes one look at the hapless duo on the verge and realises he’s seen us before. We’ve had more punctures than the Tour de France.

The AA guy also says that the directions were exemplary. On one occasion, he recalls, he was summoned to a report that a car had broken down near Scotch Corner. The controller had asked in what direction they were heading.

Paris, they said.

He found them half way to Penrith.

He’s very good, very professional and we’re on the road again – strictly 50mph – not much after 11pm. On Friday morning there’ll be another £100+ garage bill and another load of chew.

On the verge? Too damn right we are.

March 4 2015

For wholly different reasons in the past couple of days, folk have gone out of their way to enthuse to me about what both have called the Northern League “family.”

The first was Jackie Traynor, for ten years a familiar and ever-cheery Northern League referee and most recently assistant manager at Birtley. Jackie, still just 48, was diagnosed with leukaemia last September. They told him there’d be some bad days but that they could get him through it. So it has proved; there’s no sign of the disease.

Jackie hopes in the summer to stage a charity match by way of acknowledgment – more in the next NVNG. In the meantime he just wants to thank all those who wrote, or called, or texted – or simply showed that they remembered. It meant a great deal.

The second example of what it means to be “family” followed an accident fire at Northallerton Town at the weekend which has severely damaged the home dressing room and adjoining buildings. From the moment that news of it hit social media offers of help poured in from other clubs. Since both play in black and white, Tow Law even offered a spare set of strips.

Town chairman Peter Young cites many more familiar names and, of course, is also full of praise for his own people who’ve valiantly rallied round.

Like all families we have our rows. At times I wonder if we’re not thoroughly dysfunctional. But we are a family for all that – and a strong, unified and caring one. It does no harm at all to be reminded of it.

March 3 2015

South Shields have brought down a coach load for the Ernest Armstrong Cup semi-final at Billingham Town. They’ve even brought their own dominoes, an old fashioned corncrake and a thirst.

“It’s lovely, just like it used to be years ago,” says the clubhouse barmaid, though rushed off her feet. The raffle guy’s having a good night, too.

Among the visitors is the familiar face of Dick Bailey, 82, who in August will have been a regular Shields supporter for 70 years. Back from the war, his dad took him to his first match at the old Horsley Hill stadium, North Eastern League. “I can still remember it, standing on the slope,” he says and the Mariners have had many adventures since then.

The Ebac Northern League has many loyal and venerable supporters, goodness knows, but has anyone been following the same team on a weekly basis for more than seventy years? One or two possibilities come to mind – ideas welcomed.

The match is held up early in the first half when assistant referee Craven Beal is injured. Happily, Thornaby committee member and NL assistant ref Matt Carroll is in the crowd and effectively becomes fourth official. Since it may not be said of referee kit that one size fits all – those who know the gentlemen concerned will understand – Matt sticks to his tracksuit. Thanks, young man.

The game’s won by Lewis Whensley’s header – a rarity, apparently. Amid much rejoicing, Town head for the final.

March 2 2015

Though doubtless familiar with human fraility, the Rev Canon Leo Osborn has hitherto turned an unseeing eye to that of his beloved football team.

It has been akin to the Edwardian advert for beef extract, save that Bovril has been – well – extracted. “The two infallible powers: the Pope and Aston Villa.”

At last, however, our esteemed league chaplain may be approaching a new awareness, if not the Road to Damascus then at least the Descent to the Championship.

“We’re not having a goals of the season DVD this season we’re having a corners of the season DVD,” he says over coffee in Starbuck’s. (It’s Lent.)

Leo’s been chaplain since 1998, has become a friend and support to many but will be standing down in the summer as he approaches semi-retirement.

There’s a possibility of a completely new model of chaplaincy, to be discussed by the league management committee on Thursday and by others later this month. In the meantime, Villa have a crucial Premiership match against West Brom on Tuesday evening and an FA Cup quarter-final against the same opponents at the weekend.

Should they win both then faith may temporarily be restored; should they lose both, the poor chaplain may need counselling of his own.

March 1 2015

Unhinged as ever, yesterday’s blog queried the origins of the Door Hinge, a terrific micro-pub not 200 yards from the ground now shared by Welling and Erith and Belvedere.

The name, the landlord had said, was because his late mother’s maiden surname was Hinge and her first name Doreen – thus known from schooldays as Dor Hinge. Was it, we wondered, a little story confected for hicks from the sticks?

Nope. The younger bairn finds an account of the pub’s opening in the Welling News Shopper (or some such.) Though the lady’s name was actually Indge, and her alternative nickname Rusty, the etymology is unquestionable.

Since these are licensed premises, there must somewhere be a variation on the junior school joke about when is a door not a door….

Micro-pubs are new, the first opened in Herne Bay in 2009. By the end of 2013 there were 30; now the Micro-pub Association has 100 members. Though small may indeed be beautiful, the Association admits that the definition is “challenging.”

All that’s certain is that the Guinness Book is going seriously to have to downsize its claim that that place on Southport sea front is Britain’s smallest pub.

Broadly they should be free houses, sell quality real ale, eschew all forms of electronic entertainment and perhaps “dabble” (as the Association puts it) in snacks. A micro recently opened on Billingham Green, there are a couple on Baker Street in Middlesbrough – with Sherlock Holmes names – and on Hartlepool railway station the Rat Race, among the smallest and quirkiest of all in what was the former newsagent’s stall.

Another good thing about the Welling micro is that it sells excellent home-made sausage roll. (Dor Indge would have been proud.) The last bit’s Hinge and bracket.

February 28 2015

Whether they be chairmen, chairpersons or simply chairs, it is a truth universally acknowledged that those who lead leagues have an unparalleled understanding of football.

Thus it is that, after a goalless first half in the Vase quarter-final between Erith and Belvedere and North Shields, I convene over coffee with Southern Counties East League chair Denise Richmond and agree that it’s going to be a one-goal game.

Thus it also is that after 60 minutes the Robins are deservedly two up. That’s how it remains, Shields chairman Alan Matthews almost in tears – and not alone – in the dressing room afterwards. “I’ve had a haircut,” he says, by way of non-sequitur.

These are great occasions, the sort of day about which loyal club folk can only dream as they go about their chores. None could deserve it more than Alan and his committee who’ve worked over many years to build a strong, community-rooted club and an attractive team.

Well done also to team manager Graham Fenton, to his dugout colleagues and to a resilient team and thanks also to the Shields fans – vocal, passionate but entirely well behaved. Good on you all: you did the Ebac Northern League proud today.

We toast the victory in a nearby micropub called the Door Hinge, an excellent spot. The landlord’s explanation that his mother’s maiden name was Hinge and her first name was Doreen – “that’s what she called at school, Dor Hinge” – may be assumed, however, to be an offering to a hick from the sticks.

My voice is all but gone with all the shouting – a good thing, it’s generally agreed – but it’ll be back, full throttle, for the semi-final.

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