Non League Daily

UNDERDOG BLOG: North Shields v Kendal Town

The Underdog Blog made the long trip to the North East to see North Shields face Kendal Town in the FA Cup Preliminary Round

Winless Newcastle United have just lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal. A familiar story, perhaps, but as Steve McClaren walks his team around the St James’ Park pitch applauding the fans after a valiant performance with 10 men, there’s a feeling that things might just be getting a little better.

I’m sat in Chirton Social Club just a few hundred yards down the road from North Shields FC with my wife and two small children ahead of their FA Cup Preliminary Round tie against Kendal Town. As the dozen or so Magpies around me finish their drinks and head for the exits, Savage continues to rile them with his forced narrative of a fantastic three points for Arsenal. “Forget Newcastle…”, I believe, may have been the phrasing that caused most discontent.

As we drink up (£4.66 for a pint and a half plus two soft drinks? We’re coming again!) and make our way towards the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park with a dozen or ULTRAso visiting supporters, there’s reason for hope of an upset. Shields haven’t done too badly in the Cup just recently.

Earlier this year, around 6,000 made their way to Wembley to see The Robins come from behind to beat Glossop 2-1 after extra time to lift the FA Vase. Effectively the League Cup for 9th, 10th and 11th tier teams, it was Shields’ first silverware since lifting the Amateur Cup in 1969.

As we enter Ralph Gardner Park, I keep an eye out for Gerry Leteve; he’s a diehard North Shields ‘Ultra’ who often stands near the entrance gate that I’ve been told to look out for to chat with. The trouble is, I’m not sure what he looks like.

Affectionately known as The Morgue, the Daren Persson Stadium is the product of a sponsorship deal with a local funeral director. It’s an interesting affiliation for a football club but clearly a fruitful one for the resurgent Robins. Alongside main club sponsors DFDS Seaways providing mini cruises for local fans, it seems they’ve got retirement to the cemetery covered.

As the two sides head out, Lynsey and the kids head towards the undercover stand on the farside of the pitch. I linger behind the goal, mouthing the word ‘Gerry’ at passing strangers while trying not to get beaten up.

The teams are announced and I’m disappointed to learn that Shields’ star man, Gareth Bainbridge, is out injured today. To suggest he offers the home team’s greatest goal threat is an understatement – he reached a century of goals for Shields earlier this year in just 88 games. Just my luck, then, that the non-league Ronaldo isn’t in the matchday squad.

As the game gets underway, the North Shields Ultras gathered around the left corner of the pitch strike up a song aimed at their visitors that made me laugh out loud: “You can stick your mint cake up your a**e!” they sing, within seconds of kick-off.

Resigned to not knowing who Jerry was, and conscious that I was an outsider stood alone trying to making eye contact with passing strangers while chuckling to myself, I decide it might be best to join my wife in the stands.

Passing through the Ultras, there’s a great sense of atmosphere at this side of the ground. No self-conscious singers here; it can sometimes be the case at this level with smaller SHIELDScrowds.

I join the kids in the stand to discover the ball struck my six-year-old on the shin in the opening minutes and bounced away. He’s thrilled and pain-stricken in almost equal measure.

“Look! Look, Dad! I’ve got a bruise!” he says, rolling up his jeans to show me the evidence.

The opening period sees chances for both sides, with Kendal almost pouncing on a poor back pass early on and Shields forcing a save from the visiting ‘keeper with an effort from outside the box. It already bodes well for a competitive encounter.

“SETTLE!” screams the Kendal goalkeeper. I’m not sure if he’s passing instruction to his teammates or has a rare form of Cumbrian non-league tourettes. I make a note to listen out for him screaming Penrith AFC in the second half.

On the far side of the pitch I notice Chirton Social Club being advertised as ‘the new home of North Shields FC’. Next to it is a hoarding promoting the most Geordie sounding solicitors you could wish to find; next time you have a legal issue, make sure you visit Hadaway & Hadaway (man).

Kendal take the lead from a set piece just before the half hour mark via the head of Danny Forbes. An assured looking central midfielder, his run to meet the corner ball saw him get ahead of his marker and power the ball beyond Bannon.

Shields are back in it before too long. A great run down the left flank and cross from Ormston in the 40th minute was met by Luccock who finished instinctively to equalise. He runs straight for the Ultras and is mobbed; it’s brilliant to see.

As half-time arrives, we make our way back round to the entrance way. We’re passing through the Ultras as an announcement for all children to leave the pitch is made. A dozen or so of them, none older than about eight, pile on to have a kickabout. As the kids trudge off, one small toddler stands alone crying his eyes out. The Ultras boo in pantomime GAMEfashion before an impromptu rendition of “SACK THE BOARD!”

As we stand around, a man approaches me. It’s Gerry! I shake his hand (a little too enthusiastically given the likely reputation I’m developing) and we step outside the main gate to chat. It turns out he’s tried to get in touch pre-match but I didn’t get the message and recognised me from my photo. I ask him about his affiliation with the Robins:

“I first used to come when I was 13 in the 60’s. In 1969, they won the Amateur Cup, which is the equivalent of the Vase. I was there that day although I’m showing my age telling you that! In those days they’d play at (their previous stadium) Appleby Park on a Monday night and get crowds of two or three thousand.

“I used to be a season ticket holder at Newcastle but I gave up about nine years ago. I just got disillusioned with the whole lot. I came out (of St James’ Park) one day, shouting and swearing, and a pal of mine asked me why I went when I didn’t enjoy it. He was right!”

Gerry was suggested as the man to speak to by a member of the Ultras and I’m fascinated to find out more about how they formed and have grown:

“A lot of them are disenfranchised Newcastle fans”, he tells me. “They’re just fed up of going to Newcastle (United) and seeing the same. The prices, the Sky thing; they’re just fed up seeing the same thing. A lot of these lads live on the estates round here and know each other from going to Newcastle (United).”

With 356 in, made up almost entirely of home fans, it’s an impressive crowd for this level. There’s no doubt last season’s cup run helped, too, as the Club continues to grow following promotion the season before last. Gerry is clear that’s not the only reason for their increasing popularity, though:

“It’s just grew and grew. Last season I think the average was 501. I think you’ll find this season they’ll get the biggest average home and away crowds ever as a lot of these lads follow them all over.

“They’re well supported now because people are getting disillusioned with the Premier League. The prices…I mean, Liverpool away last season was £53 or something. And if you’ve got kids as well…people just cannot afford it.”

It hasn’t always been so rosy for the Robins since the sale of Appleby Park, though:

“When they sold the ground, the club went into freefall. The chairman and the committee have brought it up from when there were crowds of 30 or 40. So to go from that to get promotion and win the Vase is a massive achievement.

“There’s supposed to be a clubhouse being built here which is in the planning process,” he says, gesturing towards a big patch of grass outside the ground. “If they get that, it’ll be a huge boost. There aren’t many clubs without a clubhouse (and) that’s a money-spinner for the whole Club.”

I ask him what it was like to see his local side walk out at Wembley for the second time in almost five decades supporting Shields:

“Wembley was great. Wembley is Wembley. The only trouble is they never fill it. There were about 6,000 Shields fans there (of the 10,000 attendance). There were 48,000 there in ’69 when they beat Sutton United. I was at that game as well. Before that, in the 50’s and 60’s, they’d get 100,000 for Bishop Auckland for the non-league Amateur Cup. Nowadays, they cannot fill it for anything.”

And what about a return trip in the FA Cup, I ask him, tongue in cheek. How do Shields fans feel about the season to come?

He continues: “We’ve got a lot of injuries at the minute, plus expectation (from the Cup win) last season. Bainbridge, who’s a real talisman, is injured today. He’s a real popular figure here and is an incredible goalscorer.

“A few players have come in this season and they’re finding their feet. But these games are money-spinners for small clubs. These (Kendal) are a quite good team and obviously you just want to try and get through the Qualifying Rounds.

“I think 1982 they played Walsall at home in the First Round and got beat. But Blyth have been the real standouts in the Northeast. They’ve had some great cup runs. In 1978, they played Wrexham at St James’ Park and the official crowd was about 48,000. There was a
poznanlot more there than that! I was there that night and there were 55,000-plus. You couldn’t move. They’re not gonna get to the Sixth Round but…well, I wouldn’t imagine anyway!”

I have a feeling that Gerry will be there if they do – like a non-league Forest Gump, he’s been at every notable match in the last half century. As the second half has kicked off, we shake hands and make our way back to our spots at opposite sides of the pitch.

A brilliant version of Twist N Shout and a chant around the local rivalry with Whitley Bay gets going before a short burst of the North Shields Poznan. My three year old daughter points at the group: “I want to go and stand where all the men are singing and dancing,” she says. Clearly all this non-league football is rubbing off.

A rain shower completes the ‘four seasons in a day’ weather midway through the second half as the stand fills with fans seeking shelter. My wife has made friends with another ground-hopping fan while I was chatting with Gerry and he presents an exiled Sheffield United collectors badge – her team growing up – from his pocket. He recommends Hebburn for a Bank Holiday Monday match.

The second half offers more of the same without any real clear cut chances. A brave save at the feet Zach Clark is the best chance Kendal create, earning the winger a yellow card.

A potential turning point comes in the final 10 minute with the introduction of Gary Day for Shields. Replacing the hard working Dan Wilson, Day controls a great long ball with what might have been his first touch before turning into the box and being brought down by Kendal’s Rob Williams. An instant red card and some confusion over whether the foul was inside the box means chaos reigns for a short time.

The resulting free-kick is blazed over in the last real chance of the game. It’s a fair result in a competitive match where, once again, the difference in level wasn’t always apparent.

As a result of Tuesday night’s replay, an announcement follows the final whistle that Monday’s 11am home match is cancelled – an odd ruling from the FA around the completion of replays by a certain date that offers little flexibility, it seems, for both the fans and the semi-pro squad.

I keep an eye out for Gerry on the way out but, as I suspected, he’s already gone. “I’m relying on a lift from my mate,” he told me at half-time. “He wasn’t gonna come until the last minute as he’s supposed to be decorating for his Mrs so I’ll probably have to dash.”

We finish the afternoon with fish and chips in Whitley Bay and talk about the North Shields song for their neighbouring town. It turns out we were all paying close attention to the songs.

“Dad,” asks my son from the back seat. “What’s Kendal mint cake?”

The Underdog Blog Record 2015/16

P 2 W 0 D 1 L 1 F 1 A 3 GD -2

North Shields FC vs Kendal Town FC

FA Cup Preliminary Round

Saturday 29th August 2015

Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park, North Shields, Tyne and Wear

North Shields FC 1–1 Kendal Town FC
Luccock (40)             Forbes (28)

North Shields FC: 1. Bannon, 2. Walker, 3. Grey, 4. Ormston, 5. Parker, 6. Hughes (Captain), 7. Luccock, 8. Forster, 9. Wilson, 10. Richarson, 11. Carr.

Substitutes: 12. Coulson, 14. Fenton, 15. Holmes, 16. Bowman, 17. Day, 18. Smith.

Kendal Town FC: 1. Whiteside, 2. Aspin, 3. Henry, 4. Forbes, 5. Williams, 6. Smalley, 7. Carney, 8. Bailey, 9. Connerton, 10. Wilkins, 11. Clark.

Substitutes: 12. Kilfin, 14. Helliwell, 15. Thomas, 16. Noblet, 17. Mason, 18. Kitchen.

Referee: Barry Gordon

Att: 356

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