Non League Daily

CHAIRMANS BLOG: A sad passing, a birthday and a trophy win

It's been another important week for Northern League chairman Mike Amos as the season heads to its close and here are his latest thoughts.

 

April 19 2015.

It would be wrong to say that this post has no perks. They are myriad, though almost entirely of the intangible sort – the greatest by far the privilege of getting to know so many tremendous football people.

One of precious few tangible perquisites – no wonder the word’s usually shortened – is that I can usually lay my hands on two or three FA Cup final tickets on the not-infrequent occasions upon which Arsenal reach Wembley.

When they don’t, we sometimes form an FA Cup Final Escape Committee (and Scotch Pie Fest) and head to a “junior” match north of the border, though this year’s final is so late that even the Scots will have hung up their boots for the summer.

The first was in 1971. Remember it? A signed photograph of Charlie George still sits on the window ledge at home, amid rather a lot of model steam engines.

There’ve been many more, perhaps the most memorable that of 1979, against Manchester United. Is it still the last time that Sunderland scored at Wembley, as the old question used to suppose?

Now it’s to be Arsenal v Aston Villa. The train tickets are booked, the match tickets still not guaranteed. I’m not without hope, but if anyone wants three day returns to Kings Cross on Saturday May 30, they should form an orderly queue.

April 18 2015

Just 12 years ago, Brandon United were league champions. Today they play their last home game before relegation to the Wearside League (or Northern League third division, as Brandon secretary Barry Ross prefers to call it.)

It’s a sad and poignant occasion, the paying crowd of just 25 including two Northern League committee members, several one-offs and a chap from Peterborough who was last at the Welfare Ground 21 years ago and failed to get a programme.

“I’ve come back for one,” he says and gets lucky in more ways than one – Dean Johnson’s valedictory effort is an absolute gem, a true collector’s item and a very limited edition.

In the championship season, he recalls, they had a committee of 14 plus a ladies’ section. Despite valiant efforts, the community has abandoned them.

Dean also laments the absence of social media regret for Brandon’s plight, though the Facebook posting of their relegation attracted more than 100 likes. “Bizarre,” he says.

Barry and club chairman Dave Bussey insist that they’ll battle on. It’s much to be hoped that they will, but the result has a familiar ring – Brandon United 0 Whickham 2.

News of departures elsewhere, too. It’s Allen Bayles’s last match after 25 years as West Auckland’s secretary – and if ever a man underlined that there’s a great deal more to being secretary than writing letters, it’s that guy. His dedication has been extraordinary, his efficiency admirable and his crack much valued.

The only problem with Allen was that he was given to ringing after the pubs shut – and in West Auckland they close quite late – thus earning the nickname Midnight Cowboy. It even became his email address for a while. There’ll be a few more uninterrupted nights sleep, anyway.

News also of comings and goings at Crook Town, after a greatly difficult season, but more of that ere long.

April 17 2015.

Seaham Red Star receive the second division championship trophy, deservedly and convincingly won, before tonight’s game. Willington’s players line up to applaud them onto the field – nice touch, boys – a veritable phalanx of photographers there to capture the moment.

Among the crowd is John Stangroom, for whom it’s the 1,569th different ground in a football-mad lifetime – and what makes it yet more extraordinary, as previously the blog has observed, is that he lives in Lowestoft and has been blind from birth.
Seaham chairman Des Johnson provides expert commentary; Arthur – John’s guide dog – lies, as ever, patiently at his feet. On Saturday the pair of them are off to some obscure ground in Nottinghamshire – goodness knows how they’ll get there, but it’s quite certain that they will.

Tonight’s other game is between Alnwick and Chester-le-Street and also marks a ground hopping milestone. For Alan Birbeck it not only completes the “set” of all 44 grounds but it’s the second successive season that he’s seen every team both home and away.

I guess there’s a danger that we take the support and loyalty of some of the peripatetic platoon for granted. We really shouldn’t. Thanks John, thanks Alan.

A final thought: Wednesday’s blog noted that when finally we got back from Morpeth, Sharon had made the younger bairn a “football” birthday cake complete with green icing, plastic figures and candles for floodlights. He loved it.
Back in London tonight, he’s gone to the greyhound racing at Crayford or somewhere, spots a dog called Cake Angel and puts a fiver on it.

It wins at 10-1, huge odds for the dogs. Unlike the birthday cake, that lad really does have jam on it.

April 16 2015.

The regular pint with Terry Jackson at Bishop Auckland actually has a five-minute agenda: we need to sort out some details of the League Cup final at Heritage Park on May 5.

Our cup finals have traditions. One of them is that, no matter when and where they’re played, folk will whinge. I even had an email suggesting that a Tuesday evening was inappropriate and that the game should be played on the following Saturday.
Without wishing to detract from the importance of the League Cup, I suggested, it might just be possible that others would wish to attend a certain other match in north-west London the same day….

The Ernest Armstrong Cup final has been on the May Bank holiday for several years now. Part of the thinking behind a noon kick-off is that families could still have part of the day to do other things. Thornaby’s ground has been transformed in recent years; they’ll be great hosts.

The League Cup final, the game which traditionally lowers the curtain, has kicked off at 7pm throughout my long time in league management. A later kick-off – with the possibility of extra time and penalties followed by presentations – could mean that it was turned 10pm before the hospitality began.

Among the most important things to remember about both this year’s finals is that all under-14s will be admitted free. We look forward to their support – and that of their parents.

Agenda completed, the conversation returns to the usual subjects – the usual suspects, too.

April 15 2015.

Many weeks ago my sons got it into their heads that tonight, at Morpeth, would be the title-clinching match for Shildon. Though clearly that’s not going to happen, they’ve both booked time off work and are determined to make a good day of it.

The younger lad, 31 yesterday, heads north from Kings Cross. For a two-night stay his backpack contains a toothbrush, a football scarf from some foreign field and the 2015 Wisden, in which he has a short piece on cricket on Pitcairn Island.
Among the problems about playing cricket on Pitcairn is that it only has 56 people. There used to be 62 but six are in jail in New Zealand. They did manage a game against Norfolk Island, though – a mere 4,000 miles away.

The Morpeth party’s joined by familiar Northern League striker Adam Emson, now at Crook Town but on the injured list. He’s doing a psychology degree which, so far as can be remembered, chiefly concerns beetroot and rats. I may have missed something there.

Morpeth Town prove as welcoming and as hospitable as ever. It’s particularly good to see the Rev Ted Walton – Father Ted when at Newcastle Blue Star, now 88 – wearing a black and yellow scarf. Good bloke, Ted.

The match ends goalless, the title destination still anyone’s guess. We’re back shortly before midnight, the bairn greeted with a “football” birthday cake – green icing, goals, little players – like he used to enjoy when much younger. Clearly there’s no place like home.

April 14 2015.

The Evostik League announces today that Brigg Town and Rainworth Miners Welfare have both resigned and asked to be placed at Step 5 – Northern League level.

Both are in the Evostik first division south, with clubs stretching from Humberside in the east to Sutton Coldfield which, memory suggests, is somewhere around the back of Birmingham. There’s nothing relevant on the Brigg website but Rainworth’s talks of worry, sleepless nights and a battle for survival.

In the meantime there’s still talk of yet more restructuring and of the possibility of compulsory promotion – on which we’re being kept totally in the dark by the so-called “focus group” which is supposed to represent our interests.

A couple of weeks back I suggested that for the FA to introduce compulsory promotion could be a form of assisted suicide. Might not the football world look at what’s happening elsewhere and upgrade the potential charge to corporate manslaughter?

Tonight I’m up at Tow Law, third time this season, and it’s absolutely bitter in the wind. Among those it’s very good to see is the Rev Frank Campbell, Church of Scotland minister and Northern League assistant referee, who’s had a funeral in the afternoon and arrives – complete with black clerical vest and dog collar – at 5 20pm.

An example of true Christian stoicism, he’s on the exposed side, wearing gloves but nothing else of a supplementary nature to protect him from the gale whipping wickedly across the North Pennines. For all that endeavour, and all those miles, Frank’s expenses are the usual flat fiver.

Isn’t it people like Frank Campbell – and clubs like Tow Law – who we should be cherishing and promoting, not forever trying to find new ways to get clubs to live beyond their means?

Not least because of the seven mile walk to the ground, there are no sleepless nights around here.

April 13 2015.

You thought that the Ebac Northern League first division race was tight? It’s as naught compared to the Darlington and District 5s and 3s League (Division C.) There isn’t a Division D.

Tonight’s the last of the league season. The top two teams are on 33 points, the next three – of whom the Brainless Britannia B are one – are on 32. There are two points for a win and two promotion places. Perm any two from five.

We’re away to the Baydale Beck, who do a good line in potato skins but, statistically, haven’t much of a dominoes team.
Almost everyone has a smart phone in front of them. They’re not bothered about the ongoing cricket in the West Indies, nor even Liverpool v Newcastle, they’re trying to find out what’s happening on the domino tables in and around Darlington.

It doesn’t help that no one really knows the rules. OK, we’re aware that what might be termed goal difference applies – and that ours isn’t very good – but what if the goal difference is the same?

Is it decided on the head-to-head record of the two teams concerned – as widely is supposed – or by a play-off next Monday? What if there’s a three-way tie?

We win 5-3. No one really knows what’s going on elsewhere until we get back to base at 10pm. We’re third, same points as the second team but having won two individual games fewer over the season.

It’s mildly disappointing, no more. What, though, if the first division title – or the second division promotion places – are decided in similar fashion?

How utterly heartbreaking that would be for the teams thus pipped. It could very well happen, of course, and without even the consolation of a plate of potato skins at the end.

April 12 2015.

Colin Richardson died, in hospital but unexpectedly, at 11pm last night. He was 71. When old men meet to recall the great characters of North-East non-league football, the man they called Rico will be very high on the list – but Colin, unlike some of them, was also enormously successful.

Much of his playing career was with the all-conquering Spennymoor United side of the 1960s, though he also had spells with Ferryhill Athletic and Willington. They were still “amateur” days, of course, which didn’t wholly explain why he earned £5 a week at the factory and £9 at Ferryhill.

AS a manager he led both Whickham and Bridlington to FA Vase victory at Wembley, took Newcastle Blue Star – then, like Whickham, a Wearside League club – to the FA Cup first round, led the successful North Shields side in the club’s earlier incarnation and also managed Spennymoor United and Gateshead.

Once familiar for his curly perm, Colin was described in the 1981 Wembley programme as a “personable extrovert” – a noisy, colourful, passionate, charismatic and totally driven football man who’d be hugely committed during the match and enjoy nothing more than a pint with the opposition after it.

I’d interviewed him in 2006, when manager of Gateshead and still able to say – with no real satisfaction – that he was the last North-East manager, Whickham 1981, to win at Wembley. Whitby was in Yorkshire, and thus foreign fields; Whitley Bay had won the Vase, but at Villa Park. As for the professionals….

“I still say to people that all that standing around on cold football grounds, all the knockbacks, were worth it for one moment of leading your side out at Wembley.”

So why had so few North-East managers shared the thrill? “We’re just not good enough at every level. Realistically there should be a Northern League side in the Vase final every season, two in the semi-finals, but they’re knocking each other out in the early rounds.

“One of the most ridiculous things is all these big club academies, the biggest waste of time and money I’ve ever known in football. When you had youth teams, you’d expect five out of ten to get through to the reserves at least. Now it might be one out of 60 and we’re not getting the players from professional football.

“Newcastle United send us 18-year-olds who couldn’t kick my backside. The closest they come to intensity is when they run into one another.”

Colin prodded his chest – half of them, he said, had a heart as big as a pea. “What I look for is proper footballers. I just wish around here I could find some.”

He will be very greatly missed.

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