Ground Hopping: Whitley Bay v Spennymoor Town Saturday March 3rd 2012

I know its a bit late writing this blog post, but….. Well there is no good excuse actually.

This was a game between the two biggest sides in the Northern League. Both sides still had things to play for.

Spennymoor need the points to boost their challenge for a 3rd successive league title. They are also still competing in the League Cup and the Durham Challenge Cup. Spennymoor have not applied for promotion though, so even if they win the league they will remain in it for next season.

Whitley Bay have won the FA Vase for the last 3 seasons and 4 times in the last 10 years. However a couple of weeks ago they were knocked out at home to West Auckland.  Whitley By have applied for promotion though. They need to finish in the top 2 in the league to have a chance of promotion. Before this game, it was only a very distant hope that Whitley Bay could get up to second place.

Why have one team applied for promotion and the other not? In the case of Spennymoor it is because financially they are not ready. This club have only existed for 5 years following the bankruptcy of Spennymoor United. Part of the problem was that a number of years ago the clubhouse burned down and was not insured. This meant the club lost its main source of income and a steady decline followed.  The ground also declined over this time. The new directors are putting the club on a sound financial footing before applying for promotion. A rare sensible attitude in modern football.

Whitley Bay after all their recent FA Vase success you would think were flush with money and easily able to afford promotion. They have played at the Northern Premier League level before ( this is next step up the promotion ladder). It ended in financial disaster for Whitley Bay and the club have spent many years now regrouping.

I attended the game expecting to find a rather neat and smart Hillheads ground. Parking in the free car park near the ground, Michelle, Josh & I approached the ground;

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The first view of the ground did not impress. Decrepit fencing and the match board not even showing there was a game on. Hardly makes one think the club is well run.

£6 admission cost is one of the dearest in the Northern League, but is the same as Spennymoor charge and is very reasonable for a game of football. The obligatory programme was purchased and at £1 is a good read. Interestingly it has pen pictures of the HOME side rather than the visiting side.

Once inside the ground, the first thing we see is a trailer.

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I’m not sure why Whitley Bay think they are on their way to Wembley. Somebody ought to point out to them that they lost to West Auckland.

Into the ground itself and there is a modern roof on the terrace down the halfway line. There is even a gantry for TV cameras on the top.

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That is definitely the best feature of the ground. Both ends and one side of the ground are terraced. The terracing is rather unusual. It has only a few very deep steps. This is not conducive to seeing much if there is a large crowd in attendance. Also, the terracing is made of flagstones, not concrete. This means that numerous flagstones are uneven or loose and dare I suggest it dangerous. Shame that money from the cup run was not invested on the terracing.

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In addition to the issues with the terracing, the fence around the pitch has definitely seen better days.

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The far end of the ground has obviously seen better days. I’m not sure how one describes the end best. There are only 2 deep steps of terracing then  a pile of stones and earth held back by planks of wood. If there were to be disorder, then this would provide a ready made source of ammunition. I’m not quite sure what has happened to cause this strange feature.

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You will also notice the advertising hoardings on the pile of stones. Not exactly what advertisers are paying for. Its not conducive to encouraging people to invest in advertising at the club.

Continuing my look round the ground. there is yet another trailer advertising Whitley Bay going to Wembley. Shame it is ona burger stall that is not open. They’d have been better opening the stall and taking down the out of date signage.

Finally, lets look at the main stand. You’d expect this at least to be as impressive as Whitley Bay’s recent success. Given the state of the rest of the ground, it is not unreasonable to think that the profits from those fantastic cup achievements has been invested in the ground.

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The state of the roof on the main stand is more reminiscent of a club in decline rather than one riding high on a record run of success in the FA Vase. So, the question remains as to where all the money from the FA Vase success has gone. Especially when you also consider that Whitley Bay have by far the highest crowds in the Northern League.

Now unlike other clubs in the Northern League, the directors at Whitley Bay pay themselves for their involvement with the club. Elsewhere the directors or committee men work for no fee and indeed often dip into their own pockets to run the club. Now I’m not saying the directors are bleeding this club dry and taking money that should be invested back into the facilities. You may think that though. I couldn’t possibly comment!

The game itself was nothing like the feisty affair at Spennymoor earlier in the season when 2 players were sent off and more could have followed. This time, it had an end of season feel about it. Whitley Bay seemed to play like a side that had nothing much to play for other than pride. In reality, they probably do have little left to play for as finishing second would be highly improbable. The game ended 1-0 to Spennymoor and continued their campaign for a 3rd title in a row.

The highlight of the afternoon was the chanting from some of the Spennymoor fans about Whitley Bay and their loss of the FA Vase. Football fans can be cruel.

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The Spennymoor Choir

One oddity about watching football at this level is the informality. Go to a football or premier league game and you will be searched, and have plastic drink bottles taken off you before being allowed into the ground. In the Northern League, they allow you to bring kid’s scooters into other ground with you.

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About spen666

I'm a 40 something football fan and cyclist. I've been a football fanatic most of my life and have completed the 92 football league & premier league grounds Added to this numerous non league grounds, a number abroad and you start to get the picture. I took up cycling in around 2000. Although my father was a former World Vets Champion, I got into cycling accompanying my son to ride in London. This was followed by my commuting to work each day into Central London. Then doing some Sunday rides, then some audax events (www.audax.uk.net) and then a week's cycling holiday in France with a friend. From there, I got more and more into cycling and in 2009 completed LEJoG and in 2010 rode in the USA with the Police Unity Tour. I completed blogs for those events at www.aminearlythere.blogspot.com and www.bothesidesofthepond.blogspot.com Feel free to read them and learn more about me. I live alone which suits me as it gives me time at weekends to pursue my interests of cycling and football. (Well what did you expect me to say? That I'm sad at being single?) I'm currently looking for my next challenge. Any suggestions gratefully received.
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