Non League Daily

BLOG: A hectic week for Northern League chairman Mike Amos

A cup final, a club folding and cup final planning were all on the agenda for Northern League chairman Mike Amos, read his blog here

April 28 2015

Celtic Nation died tonight; not many mourned. They were as a meteor which swiftly burned out, but blazed brightly while it lasted.

Where now all the supporters ever more? Where the kilted clans jumping through green and white hoops? Where, for that matter, those who just a few months ago helped run the club and kindle the flame.

Of the main men and founder members only Jeff Carr remains – brave, resilient and damn-near indomitable but as full tonight as the town reservoir after three months rain. In truth, says Jeff, this last day he could hardly raise himself from the couch.

The last rites are against North Shields, FA Vase finalists on May 9. Alan Matthews, the Robins’ chairman, reports about 4,000 tickets already sold at their end and 47 buses headed south. Tonight’s team coach is joined by Sunday Times sports writer Martin Hardy, particularly concentrating on North Shields manager Graham Fenton who, 21 years ago, was at Wembley with Aston Villa.

It’s a reminder that no more than a couple of years ago The Observer devoted two pages to a story claiming that Celtic Nation were a Trojan horse for Glasgow Celtic to get into the Premiership. The horse, sadly, is knackered.

Celtic Nation form a guard of honour through which Shields enter the field – great touch fellers – and thereafter provide a fiercely competitive encounter before, down fighting, they lose 1-0. Colin Seel, the PA man, thanks all and sundry. Jeff Carr cannot show his fence. Few can miss the poignancy of the occasion.

Behind the goal, another train heads into the night: each a glimpse and gone forever.

April 27 2015

Morpeth Town play Blyth Spartans in the Northumberland Senior Cup final at St James’ Park, an estimated 600 Morpetians – that’s the term, apparently – in animated attendance.

Most appear dressed for the occasion. There may not have been so many black and yellow scarves in one place since Wolves played Spartak Dynamo in 1900-and-long-gone, the days of lupine the loop.

It’s possible, of course, that not everyone has pulled out a fiver and that ever-generous Morpeth chairman Ken Beattie has bought a job lot from a barrow boy in Qatar.

Certainly his company, Techflow, sponsor the cup competition so magnificently that you’d think Blyth would just do the decent thing and let Morpeth win it. It doesn’t happen. Goals at top and tail of the match give Spartans a 2-0 win in an entertaining game which reflects much credit on the losers.

It completes a good day for Blyth. The other news from those parts is that Northern Alliance champions Blyth Town heard this afternoon that they’ve won their protracted planning appeal and that ground development can go ahead. It’s too late for Northern League promotion in season 2015-16 but removes a huge obstacle to their finally achieving it thereafter.

Our second division clubs should be on their mettle: there are unlikely to be reprieves again.

The cup final crowd’s 1,173 – still fewer than those attracted by St James’ Park’s customary incumbents though the gap may be closing. “The way things is gannin’,” says a Northumberland senior citizen on the row in front, “I’d give it about fower year.”

April 26 2015

Among the many useless pieces of information lodged beneath my cranium is that the phone number of the Rt Hon Ernest Armstrong, the former league president, was Witton-le-Wear 397. That’s the way talking telephone numbers used to be in the days when STD meant subscriber trunk dialling and not something you caught in unguarded moments.

Our local post office was Shildon 1, the police station Shildon 6 and our house Shildon 530. Gradually they kept adding bits – 530 became 2530 and then 772530. Almost everywhere outside the big cities now has a six-figure number, though there’s an area near Penrith which still, perhaps uniquely, retains five. Crossed lines, I might once have lost a bet with Penrith secretary Ian White about that. He has to win occasionally.

The thought’s promoted by the programme for last week’s Marske United v Celtic Nation match – the 397th and last solely to be produced by Moss Holtby. It has been the most extraordinary labour of love, sometimes 100 pages and more and deserved winner of a great many awards. Moss will still have a hand in the job, but now be part of a three-man team. His programmes will remain collectors’ items, great treasures of their kind.

Though doubtless it will remain a family club, Moss’s parents are stepping back, too. Les, his dad, has been a greatly valued club secretary and Tess, his mum, the most welcoming of hospitality supervisors. Club chairman Peter Collinson is also stepping down – how wonderful for all of them if the championship trophy were still to be presented at Marske this Saturday.
Another matter: many around the Ebac Northern League will know my younger son Owen, now with the BBC in London but still very familiar around the grounds.

In 2011 he organised a football tour of Nepal, loosely under the guise of Richmond Mavericks. The hospitality and friendship they received was unforgettable. As evidence of that, Owen and six fellow team members have quickly organised a football-related sponsored walk to support the British Red Cross appeal in the light of the Nepalese earthquake disaster.

On May 16 they’ll walk 27 miles across London, taking in seven different grounds. Support can be offered on-line at or, failing that, he’ll be among the expectant crowd at Bedlington on Wednesday

April 25 2015

Celtic Nation’s position was unique, and latterly, uniquely precarious. They’ve teetered for some time, struggled valiantly but finally fallen into the abyss that is football history.

Obituarists often talk of much being crammed into a short life. Can any football club have had a more eventful or more green-and-white colourful decade than those guys?

Already they were greatly successful in climbing from the nether regions of the Northern Alliance. The appearance of Scottish-American multi-millionaire Frank Lynch, as sudden and as improbable as if someone had found an old lamp and rubbed it, simply accelerated excitement’s pace. Mind, even Hans Christian Andersen might have been pushed to make up that story.
The sugar daddy syndrome? Who knows? I like Frank, have enjoyed several meals with him, never doubted his motives or his sincerity. Even Frank, however, might concede that mistakes were made – particularly last season.

It’s all very sad. Sad for the founder members like Stephen Skinner, Mike Linden and Jeff Carr – especially Jeff, who remained loyal to the end. It’s also sad for the Ebac Northern League and for football, which has lost another club. Perhaps Carlisle City will try to take their Northern League place in 2016-17.

Crook Town also have worrying issues which need to be addressed. What better diplomats than I might call a fact finding mission, I head this afternoon for their match at Whitley Bay. (I once won a limerick competition with an effort that ended “I wonder who’s Kissinger now”.)

Hillheads is always a pleasure, the match topped and tailed by a presentation to Glen Martin – retiring after 13 years and three Wembley appearances as physio – and by raising a glass of something bubbly to toast Ann Barkas’s 60th.

Whitley Bay win 5-0. Crook, already relegated, have an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday to which I’ve been invited. As the great limerick writer supposed, I wonder who’s Kissinger now.

April 24 2015

The Royal and Ancient Order of Ground Hoppers, many from the Hartlepool detachment, considerably swell the crowd at South Shields v Stokesley – played, of course, at Peterlee.

There appear to be three main topics of conversation. The first is the weather, cold and drizzling after three glorious days, the second whether the ubiquitous Lee Stewart can hit the 300 games target. Probably not.

The third concerns South Shields themselves. Are they finally on the way back to south Tyneside? In his programme notes, Mariners secretary Philip Reay warns against false dawns. “If the chairman (Gary Crutwell) and I had had hair, it would surely have been torn out long ago,” he says.

The rumour mill’s grinding nonetheless. The favourite new location, 6-4 they reckon, is Harton College – which has a 3G pitch. Second favourite, 2-1, is a share with Harton and Westoe of the Wearside League. Ante-post favourite, the Gipsies’ Green stadium is now out at 8-1 with 20-1 bar.

There’s another meeting at 9am on Saturday morning but probably no announcement for a while yet. I’m saying nowt.

So the conversation turns elsewhere. Who might have known that Philip Reay was once a North-East AAA champion athlete or that he trained with the very best? Who might have known that Christopher, his son, is now a community coach with Sunderland and that very day had been asked to join one of his seniors at a school. They put hum inside the Samson the Cat suit.

Who might have known that it maintained a family tradition? “I was once Pudsey Bear on telly with Steve Cram,” says Philip.
Shields 3-1 victory is their fourth successive win – perhaps some time since that’s happened. A real new dawn over the North Sea? Watch this space.

April 23 2015

Wick is at the northernmost extremity of Britain’s rail network and also (for those who enjoy such places) has the country’s most northerly Wetherspoons, named after the chap said to have invented the fax machine.

The last time I was there, about ten years ago, was in pursuit of my friend Sharon Gayter from Guisborough as she successfully attempted to break the women’s world record for running from Lands End to John o’ Groats.

I’d caught an early train from Darlington, arrived in Wick at 10 15pm, grabbed a taxi for the additional 17 miles to John o’ Groats and overtook her two miles from the finish.

The first train out wasn’t until 6am next morning. One of Sharon’s support party gave me a lift back to Wick, leaving five hours to walk around the Royal Burgh. About 2 30am the Northern Constabulary pulled up and demanded to know what I was doing. “Waiting for a train,” I said. He scowled. Humourless lot, Scottish policemen.

This one’s a long-planned short break: overnight on Tuesday at the Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh and on Wednesday in Wick. The Wetherspoons sells scotch pie, chips, beans and gravy for £4 95.

The journey’s magnificent, snow on the mountains and sun on the sea. With a railcard and booked well in advance, the single fare for the 400 mile scenic route from Edinburgh to Wick is £10 35 – until the Northern League management committee decided to allow free admission to under 14s at both cup finals, it must have been the world’s biggest bargain.

Two hours in Edinburgh on the return, we look (inevitably) into the Oxford Bar where Ian Rankin is said to gain inspiration for his Rebus stories. Blow me if Rankin himself isn’t there, imbibing ideas by the pint.

We’re back at 9 30pm. To judge by the amount of phone messages, texts and emails, the Northern League still has plenty going on. I shall return to all that the morrow.

April 20 2015

A pub meeting with Lol Lyons and Trevor Wing, Thornaby’s chairman and secretary, to discuss arrangements for the Ernest Armstrong Cup final on May 4. One of us is on lager, one coffee and the third Diet Coke. You’d be surprised.

All of us, I fancy, are particularly hoping for a fine day so that everyone can make the most of the sylvan Teesdale Park setting. Thornaby do so much that is exemplary these days that even the tea hut helpers wear chefs’ whites. There’ll be ample overflow parking near the top of the access road.

There’s been a similar meeting with Terry Jackson at Bishop Auckland, who host the League Cup final the following day. As at Thornaby, there’s a huge enthusiasm for the occasion – and plenty of free parking at Bishop, too.

The Ernest Armstrong final, Billingham Town v Norton and Stockton Ancients, kicks off at noon on Bank Holiday Monday. The Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup final – Newton Aycliffe v Shildon as things stand, though Ashington’s appeal to the FA against removal from the competition will be held early next week – is at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland at 7pm on Tuesday May 5.

We’re hoping for very healthy gates at both finals – not least because all under-14s will be admitted free. Otherwise both games are just £5 and £3 for concessions.

Common to both club meetings has been the thought that, when the hurly-burly’s done, we’ll all sit down and enjoy a nice drink. Mine, as always, will be a Diet Coke.



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