Ground hopping: Durham City v Spennymoor Town 24th November 2012

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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.

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DURHAM CITY HISTORY

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

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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.)

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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.

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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

ADMISSION £6

PROGRAMME £1.50

TEA £1

 

Roll on Tuesday and Whitley Bay away for Spennymoor Town.

Remembrance Day & Respect

Having just come back from Belgium, and realising the lives that were lost by soldiers on all sides during 2 World Wars, this Remembrance Day is particularly poignant. Seeing so many place names on signs in Belgium where you know thousands died in the 2 World Wars makes one think about the sacrifices made.

WHY REMEMBRANCE DAY?

It is remembered on 11th November to mark the signing of the Armistice Agreement to end the First World War on 11th November 1918. It is a time to reflect on all those who gave their lives for their countries.The day was specifically dedicated by King George V on 7 November 1919 as a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I.

Remembrance Day is not about nationalism or jingoistic behaviour. It is a time to reflect on all those who died.In particular it is a non political occasion. In London each year the leaders of all the main political parties lay wreathes at the Cenotaph in the same ceremony.

Football has in recent years marked Remembrance Day by holding a minute’s silence on the games immediately preceding Remembrance Sunday. These silences are usually impeccably marked.

During World War One professional sport, particularly football, was very much frowned upon. So the FA and the War Office decided to get the public on their side by forming a ‘Footballers’ Battalion. One of the many ‘Pal’s Battalions’ formed at the time, it would eventually become officially known as the 17th Middlesex Regiment.

Clapton Orient Chairman, Captain Henry Wells-Holland, who had wanted since the outbreak of WW1 to form a platoon made up entirely of Clapton Orient footballers and staff, assisted the FA with their plans. A meeting was held at Fulham Town Hall on December 16, 1914 for all footballers interested – and ten Clapton Orient players signed up. In the weeks and months which followed, more and more players enlisted into the 17th Middlesex.

So the O’s were the first Football League Club to enlist en masse, and some forty one players and staff from Clapton Orient saw active service during World War One.
Three lost their lives – Company Sergeant Major Richard McFadden MM F/162 October 23 1916 (68 goals in 142 O’s games, Private William Jonas (July 27, 1916) 23 Goals in 74 O’s games and Private George Scott ( August 16, 1916), 34 Goals in 213 O’s games.
Sergeant Major McFadden was something of a hero. Before he joined up, he’d already saved the lives of both a man trapped in a burning building, and a small boy who was drowning in the river Lea. Whilst on the front line in France, McFadden frequently went out into no-mans land to bring back wounded colleagues, and was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.

 

 

History was made in northern France when almost two hundred O’s Supporters travelled over to the village of Flers to witness the unveiling of the O’s Somme Memorial in July 2011.

This was undoubtedly the highlight of the three day trip organised by Steve Jenkins, Deputy Chairman of Leyton Orient Supporters Club and Les Bailey, the standard bearer of the Leyton Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Clapton Orient, as the club was known at the time, were the first English football club to enlist en mass to serve King and Country. As well as the entire playing staff, club officials and supporters all enlisted into the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment – more commonly known as the ‘The Footballers’ Battalion.’ Clapton Orient did indeed ‘take the lead’ and the club’s patriotic example was to earn plaudits from the very highest level – including royalty.

During this historic trip on the 8th, 9th and 10th July, official wreath laying ceremonies and memorial services were held at the resting places in northern France of the three Clapton Orient players who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 – William Jonas, George Scott and Richard McFadden, as well as the grave of Sid Wheelhouse, the former captain of Grimsby Town who played for the O’s whilst waiting to ‘join up’ with his fellow footballers.

A wreath and short service was also held at the Football League memorial in Longueval which is no more than a few kilometres down the road from Flers and in walking distance of Delville Wood where William Jonas gave up his life.

The O’s Somme Memorial is over two metres high and is made of solid granite. It looks very impressive and imposing as it stands near to the main through road in Flers in the grounds of St Martin’s church. The two main features of the memorial are a contemporary football – the same as used by the Royal East Surrey Regiment as they kicked off towards the German lines in 1916, along with a pair of early 20th century football boots. It is the brainchild of Steve Jenkins who insisted that a memorial be erected on the Somme and that it would be extremely apt that the O’s be the very first English football club to have such a tribute in place.

The O’s Somme Memorial Fund was set up in August 2009 with fellow O’s fan, Theresa Burns and former O’s player Peter Kitchen ‘joining’ up with Steve to ensure that the dream of a memorial on the Somme became a reality.

The people of Flers made everyone very welcome and it was great to see everyone having a great time but also ensuring that the day’s events were held with full respect for the fallen on the Somme and in particularly the O’s boys of 1916.

Today at Leyton Orient a parade & minute’s silence was held in memory of those who died. The crowd remained in their places at half time as they paid tribute to those who died. Even the players warming up for the second half stood in respect of those who died.

 

 

 

DISRESPECT BY SOME

Sadly, despite foreign players of all nationalities today wearing their clubs specifically designed shirts with a poppy embroided onto them, one player refused to wear the shirt and insisted on wearing  a shirt without a poppy on it? A German player perhaps? No, Podolski and other German player wore the poppy shirt with pride. The person in question was S*nderland’s  James McLean. This idiot chose to exercise his right to choose whether to respect those who died in 2 World Wars by trying to make a political point about a matter that is by its very nature non political. Interestingly McLean was born in Northern Ireland and was happy to represent Northern Ireland at various age groups levels. He then switched to represent the Republic of Ireland at senior level. Well he did represent the Republic of Ireland until he was not selected for one game by the Republic manager. His response was to make numerous abusive tweets about the Republic’s manager. How to win a place back in the team – NOT!

S*nderland AFC have behaved in a rather weasily manner over the issue. They claim to fully support the poppy appeal but also appear to support their player.

The club are the employer and it is they who decide what kit is to be worn. McLean should have been instructed to  wear the kit the club chose. I wonder what S*nderland would do if McLean refused to wear a shirt with the sponsors “Invest in Africa” logo on it. I doubt they would allow him to wear a shirt without this logo. This hardly suggests that S*nderland are actually fully committed to the Poppy appeal despite their claims.

In contrast to McLean, another S*nderland player Connor Wickham chose today to tweet in support of Remembrance Day & the Poppy Appeal.

Sadly some equally biggoted journalist Brian McNally has spent the night trying to justify the unjustifiable and claiming that anyone suggesting McLean should have worn the kit he was told to is acting like a North Korean dictator. Sadly people like McNally seem to forget that with rights come responsibility.

Ground Hopping: FC Bruges v Newcastle United 8th November 2012 Belgian Chocolates & Beer

A slight different theme to this ground hopping trip. Rather than going a few miles to and from a game and being back home for tea, this game involved lots of travel and took up 3 days.

Newcastle United were to play away at FC Brugges in the Europa League group stage. When the draw was made it looked a fantastic opportunity to get to a European game for the first time in many years. The added attraction was that my son Tom would be able to lose his European virginity. ( I mean going to an away European game – well the red light district in Bruges was apparently virtually non existent).

Initially it seemed that half of Newcastle were planning to go to Bruges with estimates of those planning to go being around 16,000. Then came the news that instead of the 5,500 tickets Birmingham City got for the game last season, Newcastle were to get around 1750 tickets. The official reasoning given was that Bruges expected to sell the rest of the tickets themselves.

Tickets were initially put on sale to season ticket holders with the most loyalty points. I no longer have my season ticket, but thanks to a friend unable to go repaying a favour, I managed to get one of the prized tickets. Sadly though no such luck for Tom. The tickets being  as rare as rocking horse droppings, I was unable to get one for Tom.

However, by this time we had booked our train tickets and hotels, so we were going anyway- ticket or no ticket. Then came the warnings from the police in Bruges that despite European Law guaranteeing the right of free movement for EU Citizens throughout the EU, they had made it an offence to be from Newcastle and would arrest anyone without a ticket in Bruges on the match day & confiscate any alcohol at the borders. POLICE ILEGAL THREATS TO DETAIN PEOPLE.

These threats seem to have put some people off from travelling to Bruges and the estimated numbers by the beginning of this week were down to 5000.

The week before the game, somehow FC Brugges suddenly found 900 more tickets for Newcastle fans. The fact FC Brugges were a club in turmoil having sacked their manager and on a losing streak meant that they couldn’t come close to selling their tickets. Still no joy in getting a ticket though.

Wednesday afternoon we all met in St Pancras Station, Tom and some of the lads having been for a quick beer before I got their. I actually worked a full day before popping the mile or so to St Pancras from my work. Tom had come prepared having bought a 12 pack of beer for the train. However, the limit was 5 units of alcohol per person and we had roughly 24 units between 2 of us. His bag went through x-rays at baggage check with no problems, but they decided my back which had some clean underwear, 2 yoghurts and a phone charger needed to be searched. We then had a ridiculous stand off when they asked could they search the bag, I said go ahead and the jobsworth refused to search the bag and kept repeating could he have permission to search the bag. Quite what his problem was I do not know. Surprisingly, I remained calm and did not get any attention from the police present who seemed to wonder what the jobsworth’s problem was.

The trip on the Eurostar was only 2 hours to Brussels and passed quickly with  the beers and swapping of war stories from previous campaigns. These European trips bring out the old faces from many years ago. These days some of the old faces really are looking old. A comment passed made us feel old. The Original Newcastle Bender Squad are now knocking 60 years of age. most of the NME (Newcastle Mainline Express) are now around 50 years old and even most of the original Gremlins are over 40 now. Too old to be the subject of police attention? Not likely! Northumbria’s finest still give everyone a hard time. Even if the topic of conversations these days are arthritis, injuries and who has died instead of where the opposition thugs can be found.

Anyway, a change of train in Brussels and 50 minutes later we were in Bruges. We had a hotel next to the station so it was a quick bag drop and then out for a drink. EXCEPT the station is 1/2 mile or more from any pubs. The walk from the station was down streets without lighting. This was to be a feature of Bruges, a lack of street lights. Anyway, we got to the town centre and it seemed deserted, most bars and cafes were shut. Indeed we drew a complete blank in trying to find food. A town without many fast food places – what is a football fan to do.

The first bar we found had a mad barman who was giving beer away if you raced him to drink it down. Good job it was free as 2 double vodkas cost 25 euros! Beer was 4 euros 40. Getting served there was a nightmare, so we moved on and found a bar where the woman running it was happy to play our requests, so it was a 1980s fest with lots of Madness, Specials, Jam etc. oh and numerous renditions of the Monkees Daydream Believer which we all sang along to! We left that bar just after 3am as it closed and instead of heading home went to another bar for a night cap or two. Here we met a rather annoying Hibs fan who seemed to want to come and repeatedly tell K he was Hibs. Not sure what his problem was, as we were by now down to 4 of us and just having a nightcap. He was told where to go, but didn’t take the hint initially. I suggested politely to him that he might like to go forth before he was helped on his way. This time he took the hint and skulked back to his acquaintances elsewhere in the bar. Eventually we got back to the hotel well after 4am- probably nearer 5 am in reality.

The room Tom and I had a double bed with a bunk bed over the top. I obviously graciously allowed Tom to have the top bunk, but after he got up to go to the loo in the night, he obviously could not manage the ladder as when I awoke bright and early at 11am he was asleep on the double bed as well.

Tom got up complaining about the cuts and bruising on his hand. He clearly had hit someone or something the previous night, but we couldn’t remember hitting anyone, even the annoying Hibs kid. When we met the rest of the lads, no one could remember any trouble either. Everyone concurred the injury looked as though he had hit someone or something. Medical treatment? Yes, we got him an anaesthetic

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We had walked into the centre of town and found a bar a couple of streets away from the main square. This meant we could have a drink and avoid the attention of the police as best we could. Instead of paying 4.5 euros a drink in the pub we were drinking cans of Jupiler from the off licence across the road at 1 euro 40 a time. The landlord was happy with this as we were stood outside the pub and attracting others into the place.

We stayed here for around 5 hours having a quiet drink and a good laugh. Northumbria police did pass the pub whilst I was across the street. As they walked passed me, they were on the phone radioing in they had found a group at the Cafe de Kuppe – so we got out tick in the Northumbria Police I Spy book of football fans.

Even funnier was when the undercover Northumbria Police officers started to follow one group of Newcastle fans. They could not have been more obvious if they had tried. It didn’t help when one of them was on the radio in sight of the pub. They were laughed at by most and the various chants of “We know  who you are” and “You’re old bill and we know you are” had them skulking away after initially trying to hide in a doorway.

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The 2 Undercover officers standing out like a sore thumb

 

One thing I did notice  whilst outside the bar was the number of people riding bikes and how the traffic was just so laid back. Very unlike England! At one point around 50-75 children rode on their bikes to the adjacent town hall for a lesson. These were kids around 10 years of age or younger. I couldn’t imagine that happening in England. There was no fuss made and not that many adults with them although there were 2 police motorcyclists with them.

Eventually, one of the lads decided he didn’t want to go to the game and sold Tom his ticket for face value, so it was time to go to the game. The police were putting buses on to the game leaving the Market Square at 5pm allegedly. We got there at 5:20 pm to find the special buses had gone without us. The police said to walk to the bus station and get a service bus. However the staff at the bus station said for us to walk to the ground and it was only a 20 minute walk. Well, 45 minutes later we were still walking. The traffic was gridlocked, so it was quicker than the service bus anyway. An hour’s walk eventually got us to the ground where we had our tickets checked something like 6 times before we got to the turnstiles. We were also subject to a search as well.

Into the ground and it was time to try to find our seats. This was easier said than done as the seats had no numbers on them. The stewards seemed to all have different ideas how you found which seats was which. The result was chaos.

The ground itself was sparsely populated. With barely 18,000 people in a 29,000 capacity ground.

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The Home End – hardly full

The FC Brugges fans we taunted with chants of “We could have  sold all your tickets” and the perennial favourite of “ They’re here, they’re there They are every f*cking where Empty seats” I at first thought there we S*nderland fans in fancy dress, but realised they were not dressed as pink seats.

The game itself started badly with Newcastle managing to make a very poor FC Bruges side look semi decent and let them get a 2 goal lead. I was going to leave at that point, but the thought of the 4km walk back to the town centre put me off. Newcastle did rally and by half time unbelievably were on level terms.

Half time brought more reminiscing with faces from the past before a drab second half was played out. We were kept locked into the ground for 20 or so minutes. When we left the ground, it soon became apparent there were no buses back to the town centre so it was a long walk back to the town centre and drinks in the main square area and playing the avoiding the police game.

As we had an early start, getting up at 04:35 the next morning to get ready for the train at 05:35, I went in search of food- but was unable to find anywhere that was open and was able to serve promptly. I ended up having a back of crisps in my hotel from the expensive vending machine – very good living – not.

Tom had decided to stay out for a drink with some of the others but said he would be turning in early. Well, as he was climbing the ladder to his bed, the alarm was going off t 4:35 am. So much for an early night. He came back with a souvenir beer glass. We did solve one mystery though. As Tom climbed up the ladder trying to get into bed he hit his hand on the artexed wall, This was what he had done the previous night as well and accounted for the injury on his hand. One of the other lads had a worse hand injury but I don’t think it was the wall he had hit!

There were some sorry sights on that 05:35 train to Brussels. I had a look round Brussels station in the hope of finding something to eat, but the only burger joint was the only place in the food court closed. So I had to make do with a croissant for breakfast – not good at soaking up the beer.

Arriving back at St Pancras goodbyes were said to the rather dishevelled and tired looking lads as I headed off home. tom was on his way to Sheffield having University work to hand in by 3pm. Some of the lads were heading back to the North East for a weekend of drinking at one of the lads weddings.

Me, I was so knackered that I went home rather than to the greasy spoon for breakfast. The sum total of my day today since getting home has been to speak to Michelle, which is the highlight of any day ( she made me write that) and typing this blog. I have lain on the sofa and fiddled with my laptop and watched old episodes of the Simpsons.

THOUGHTS ON THE TRIP

It was great to see so many old faces and have a good drink and laugh with them

It was good to see Tom enjoying himself at a European match. When I was his age, a European match meant a trip to Queen of the South for a pre  season friendly.

I fail to see why people rave about Bruges. It was not particularly pretty. (It wasn’t ugly though),

Bruges seemed to have a ban on food after 10pm. Even the Burger Bar (QUICKS) was shut by 10pm.

The authorities in Bruges seem to have an aversion to street lights.

There is a lack of transport facilities to get anywhere near the football ground

The town centre itself is rather small and has little to attract anyone to it.

The beer was nothing special

I won’t be rushing to go back to Bruges. Its an unremarkable little town with little to make it stand out from any other Northern European town.

THE GROUND

I did not take my camera to the ground, so the only photos I took of the ground were on my mobile phone. They are shown below along with some pictures I have got from the internet. It is not a particularly attractive ground, even though it was extended and refurbished for Euro 2000. Bare concrete and lack of seat numbers. The ground is like the town- nothing special

 

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Oh and the title of this post? I lied about the chocolates. We never had time for them as it would have impinged on the drinking time.

An Ending

Guilty | Juneau Empire Mobile.

In 2011 when I rode the Police Unity Tour, I was riding in memory of Anthony Wallace, the first legally deaf police officer in the USA who was murdered in front of his mother in August 2010 whilst on duty in Alaska. I had the privilege of meeting his mother Debbie for dinner in Washington DC after the bike ride.

The trial of his murderer ( & of another officer) has only just taken place, some 26 months after the killings.

I am pleased to see that the killer was convicted and will receive 99 years in prison for this murder PLUS between 20-99 years for the other murder.