Non League Daily

Vase semis, a club saved, and snow in March

March 26 2015.

The very much better news – in fact the great news – is that Celtic Nation are to continue next season.

A meeting tonight inspired new interest, new determination and thus the perfect birthday present for the ever-loyal Jeff Carr. They’ve also decided to keep the name.

Most people know the Celtic Nation story, though few could have written it. What they don’t know, because the confidentiality has been well kept, is that the club resigned from the league several weeks ago. The resignation will now be withdrawn. The lease on the Gillford Park ground has been taken over by Northern Alliance club Carlisle City – who may themselves have Northern League ambitions in coming seasons.

The club accepts that it’s almost certain they’ll be in the second division next season. Had things worked out differently they might again have been climbing the Pyramid in the opposite direction.

I’m some way from the action, but from here it seems that huge thanks should go to Jeff Carr and to Mark Boyd, the manager, both for keeping things going on the playing side and for trying to whip up interest in Carlisle. Mark steps down at the end of the season. Thanks to all the others who refused to let a football club die.

While Celtic Nation are having their crucial meeting, I’m having the perennial pint with Bishop Auckland director Terry Jackson. The real ale’s off, the alternative the John Smith’s Smooth. Let’s just say that I was in even greater need than usual of a boost. Happy birthday, Jeff.

March 25 2015.

Under Milk Wood, described as “A play for voices”, was honed over many years by the Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas and first performed on the Home Service in 1954.

It’s based in the fictional fishing village of Llareggub, which may probably be read both ways, but when we studied it for A-level in the 1960s, the name had been changed to Llareggyb in order to protect sixth form sensibilities.

Didn’t the late Terry Pratchett also write of somewhere called Llamedos Hall?

It’s performed on stage tonight by the theatre group in Osmotherley, a delightful village near Northallerton, and it’s absolutely brilliant – save for having to sit for two hours on a plastic seat. No wonder Northern League folk prefer to stand.

Earlier this one spring day, Kevin Hewitt and I have a meeting at the Ramside Hall Hotel to discuss ways of freshening up the annual dinner. Among the things that we hope will happen is that, running on a loop in the bar, there’ll be a DVD of footage of games throughout the season. It’s being pulled together by Russell Wynn at North Shields – if anyone has film of matches, could they please contact Russell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We’ve also booked a magician, giving little cause for concern for those who are particularly uncomfortable with offensive language. He only swears in spells.

Much of the rest of the day is spent at the PC. If anyone wants me, I’ll be in the general vicinity of Llamedos.

March 24 2015.

Just when you thought it was spring, Esh Winning secretary Matthew Burdess – a spectator – emails in praise of the Whickham committee members who helped clear snow from the lines at Tow Law in order that their match at Tow Law might go ahead tonight.

“What a great bunch of lads they are. A credit to the Northern League,” he adds, which should earn Matt an extra pie next time he’s at The Glebe.

Things are much more clement down at Thornaby. The daffs are out, the woodland’s stirring, even in the dark Teesdale Park looks attractive – and, once again, the product of a great deal of hard work.

Ryton visit, 106 games without a goalless draw and at half-time looking quite likely to end the sequence. Partly it’s because of their own goalkeeper, Sunderland Academy man Greg Purvis signed on loan just the night before, partly because super-striker Jamie Clark, 42, is merely a Thornaby sub.

Apparently Jamie is not so much on the bench as on the penitent stool, having played for Whitby on Saturday – and scoring when he came on. The old lad’s on in the second half here, livening things up considerably. Nathan Porritt’s 70th minute winner continues Thornaby’s good run.

In the matter of proportionality, which we have been discussing, perhaps Thornaby’s crowds are among the most disproportionate. The population’s listed as 22,600 – is that all? – tonight’s attendance fewer than 50 and even that boosted by HM Regiment of Groundhoppers (Hartlepool battalion.)

If ever a club deserved better, if ever a club deserved recognition, it’s at Thornaby.

March 23 2015.

Highworth’s average gate is 0.9 per cent of the population, North Shield’s 0.8 per cent. Yesterday’s blog said as much. It’s called proportionality, apparently, and it looks like setting a rabbit away.

It’s a familiar topic in Scotland, says Durham City man Jamie McAloon – himself a Scot – where football clubs other than the Old Firm are ridiculed for their low attendances. Wrongly, says Jamie.

Scotland’s comparatively small, around five million people and 42 “league” clubs. England has almost 60 million and 92 league clubs. The maths, says Jamie, start to stare you in the face.

He once read that Brechin City were proportionally the UK’s best supported club – population 7,200, average gate 600, 11.1 per cent – but suspects that that’s been overtaken by the arrival of Ross County, based in Dingwall where the population’s 5,500 and the average gate 2,500.

That’s about 45 per cent, though they may not all be Dingwallers. There is or was a branch of the Ross County Supporters Club in Crook, run by a bloke called Tree.

Jamie’s properly impressed, nonetheless. “Newcastle United would need to fill a 200,000-seat Maracana to have such a local representation,” he says.

Coincidentally there’s also an email from the Rev Frank Campbell, Church of Scotland minister and Northern League assistant referee, who lives near Jedburgh. Though his visits are less frequent these days, he has Tow Law v Hebburn coming up and will doubtless charge the usual flat fiver as recompense for taking the high road.

So Frank’s dragged into the proportionality debate, wonders if Gretna in their heyday might have had a claim but now eyes Hoffenheim – playing Bundesliga football on a population of 3,300.

Jamie’s wisely reluctant to get into a discussion about the best supported Ebac Northern League club on those terms, but is quite sure it’s not Durham. At the risk of getting things out of all proportionality, might it just be West Auckland?

March 22 2015.

“When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.”

Such, almost always, is the case around here. I am a Humpty Dumpty among bloggers. Just occasionally, however – about as frequently as an eclipse of the sun – I employ a word in precisely its formal meaning and still get into trouble.

“Howay man,” chides former Bedlington Terriers vice-chairman John Garbutt after the word “crepuscular” crept into Friday’s blog. The c-word means “twilight”, thus perfectly describing conditions during the near black-out.

John’s querulity is good natured. Others, happily, still seem to appreciate the blog, too. Tennis coach and Shildon supporter Ian Wilkinson enjoyed the anecdote about George Best so much that he forwarded it to Besty’s former wife Angie – “a frequent tennis partner in Marbella back in the day.”

Former Esh Winning chairman and Frankland prison governor Dave Thompson noted the reference to the pub near St James’ Park where a notice warns that no one from the FA, the Premier League or Sky Television will be admitted without first seeking permission.

Dave now works for the private security service G4S in Liverpool where a pub has an almost identical notice about G4S employees. Clearly they saw him coming.

Phil Bloomfield notes the reference to the crowd of 76 at Highworth’s last home league game. “The population of Highworth is 8,151 (2011 census), so the attendance of 76 was 0.9 per cent of the population.

“North Shields average 322 according to the NL website and the population is 39,747. An average attendance of 322 represents just 0.8 per cent of the population. Proportionally fewer go to see Shields.”

Phil’s clearly right, but it is a minor quibble. The Great Fall must wait a little longer.

March 21 2015.

Bob-bob-bobbing, the Robins of North Shields are just 90 minutes from Wembley after a tense \and by no means straightforward Vase semi-final win at Highworth.

It’s in Wiltshire, six miles from Swindon. Highworth had had a crowd of just 76 for their midweek league game – about par for the Hellenic League course by the look of the stats – but this one’s all ticket, 1,200 or so, and has attracted the attention of the local police.

I ask the lads in the Saracens Head if anyone can remember a limerick involving the Wiltshire Constabulary. Pete Sixsmith suggests the one about the young man from Devizes which, whilst geographically correct, is anatomically awry.

The one in mind was about the policeman from Andover Junction. Objections that Andover is in Hampshire are dismissed as nit-picking.

Someone else in the Saracens has been to have a look at the pitch. “It makes Tow Law look like members of the Flat Earth Society,” he says, memorably.

A house in Sheep Street, Highworth, just behind the church, was also the base in the 1970s/80s of the official Abba fan club, the postman obliged to deliver up to 1,000 letters a day. Probably they met their Waterloo.

No need of limericks, a North Tyneside band called The Black Middens has recorded a new version of Red Red Robin in recognition of the Vase run, though it’s the yet more familiar strains of “Tell Your Ma, Your Ma” which greet Dean Holmes’s 70th minute match winner.

Shields won’t need telling that there’s still a lot to do – a lot for their magnificent committee, too. Still, a seventh successive Wembley appearance for Ebac Northern League clubs is well within range. Victory at the Daren Persson stadium next Saturday, and I may not be home for me supper, never mind me tea.

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