Well today it was back to watching Ebac Northern League football again. Its been a long time it seems since I’ve seen Northern League football.
I went to see Newcastle United on Thursday night in the Europa League tie at home to Maritimo. That was a waste of time. The Newcastle players seemed to treat the first half as a half paced training session. That was bad enough for the 21,000+ fans who braved an awful night to support their team. however, the second half was even worse.
It seems the Newcastle players thought that simply turning up on the pitch for the second half was enough to earn their multimillion pounds salaries. Sadly this sort of contempt for the paying public is far too common place in Premier League football. The cost of admission is not cheap for top flight football, even this game was £15 or ore to get in. That’s a good few drink! Is it too much to expect the players to make some effort?
Anyway, there is an alternative, its non league football. Today at Durham City it was £6 to get in, and for that money you get a game played with 100% passion and commitment from the players. They are playing for personal pride and whilst they may not possess the skills of Premiership players, their effort far surpasses that of the prima donnas in the Premier League.
I had not been to Durham City’s current ground. All my previous games watching Durham City were at their old Ferens’ Park ground on the riverside in Durham. Sadly this ground is no more and the site is now luxury housing. It is probably nearly 30 years since I saw Durham City play.
Since that time, Durham have won the Northern League twice and been promoted to the Northern Premier League division 1 which they won. Sadly for Durham, their sponsor pulled out at the start of their season in the Northern Premier League Premier Division which left them effectively with no income. All their contracted players left and they had to play the season with youth players. They ended the season on 0 points, although they won 2 games. They had 6 points deducted for irregularities. The sponsor pulled out after learning that Durham would not be able to get promoted to the Conference North as that league did not allow artificial pitches.
Durham then survived a couple of seasons in the NPL Division 1 before taking voluntary relegation to the Northern League again. This was to reduce operating costs. Travelling in the Northern League is usually less than an hour, compared to 2-3 times that in the NPL.
This is Durham’s first season back in the Northern League.
Today’s game came with Spennymoor unbeaten in 28 league games and Durham coming off a midweek 6-1 home win.
The New Ferens’ Park ground is situated a couple of miles out of Durham city centre and is easily accessible by car, but not by foot. The ground is less than a mile off the A1(M) Motorway, so was easy for me to drive to. I arranged to meet a couple of my Newcastle United supporting friends there. There is free parking at the ground or on the nearby streets. This is always a bonus.
After a couple of beers in the clubhouse at the ground, we made our way into the ground. Sadly, there was only 1 turnstile open. Thus we missed kick off trying to get into the ground. This is a rarity at this level. For some reason, the game kicked off about 3 minutes before 3pm! This despite there being a presentation to Durham City before the game to mark their 2000th Northern League Game.
The first view of the ground did not make very attractive viewing
The main stand is impressive, but sadly that is it, there is no other stand and no terracing. This main stand has around 300 seats and standing in front of it for 600 or so under cover. This meets the minimum ground requirements of the league. The rest of the ground consists of a narrow tarmac path around the perimeter fence with grass/mud behind it.
The pitch is a 4G artificial pitch that gets lots of use during the week. I believe it is partitioned off into smaller pitches for 5a side football. Having a 4g pitch should give Durham the advantage when at home. The pitch itself is flat and appears to play like a grass pitch. One unusual thing was that the goals are not fixed into the ground. This would mean holes n the artificial surface which would be exposed when the pitch is split into smaller pitches for 5 a side purposes. (These are played across the pitch.)
My understanding is that despite the pitch being used regularly, Durham City FC do not get any money from this as they do not own the pitch, but merely rent the pitch.
The game itself was a hard fought affair. Durham played like a side at the top end of the table rather than at the wrong end of the table. Spennymoor seemed to be rather sluggish and did not perform to their full ability. For some reason, they seemed to be lacking any creativity down the left side of the pitch. They deservedly took the lead in the first half, but did not press home their advantage. Half time came with the scores level at 1-1. The Durham equaliser being a penalty. No arguments here about that.
After queuing up for refreshments, we were told they had run out of Bovril and soup. Clearly they club had not catered for the increased crowd as a result of Spennymoor’s visit. The crowd was given as 249 which is double the normal crowd at Durham. Hopefully Durham will have the admission and catering sorted before the visit of Darlington in December when the crowd is likely to be at least double today’s.
Durham came more into the game and by mid way through the second half, they were deservedly 2-1 ahead. Then Spennymoor stepped up a gear and showed why they are unbeaten in 28 games. They scored twice and missed a penalty as well to run out 3-2 winners. A little bit harsh on Durham, but….. The day was made even better by Darlington losing at Team Northumbria and Sunderland losing at home to West Brom.
One thing about the ground here was how poor the floodlights were. I am surprised that they were up to Northern League level, let alone the higher levels Durham have played at. It was like trying to light a concert venue with 60 watt light bulbs.
If Durham play for the rest of the season like they did today they will rapidly move up the league. Their performance today would have earned them at least 1 and if not 3 points against most teams.
Hopefully my companions can be persuaded to go to more non league games, its where the future is. Cheap and ultra competitive football with players giving 100% effort, unlike at the Premiership level
Roll on Tuesday and Whitley Bay away for Spennymoor Town.