On Saturday 2nd February, at the 3rd time of asking, Spennymoor were able to play their home 4th round tie in the FA Vase.
This competition has 6 rounds, the last 3 of which are national, i.e. not split into regional groups. Then there are the semi finals played over 2 legs and the final at Wembley Stadium. This time round Spennymoor were lucky enough to have a home tie against Lordswood FC of the Kent Senior League. The winners of this tie would be at home to Bremerton Heath Harlequins of Salisbury in the 5th round which is to be staged on Feb 9th.
Before I write about the day and the game, I want to mention the trials and tribulations that footballers at this level face. The trip from Lordswood to Spennymoor is around 600 miles return. Lordswood were lucky enough to have been offered the loan of the West Ham United team bus for the journey, but would still need to travel up on the Friday for the game. The players are all part time professionals and have regular employment. So they needed to take time off work to travel up. Firstly they were due to play this tie on 19th January, sot he players had to arrange to take 18th Jan off work. Then when game was called off and rearranged for following week, they needed to take of 25th January, and finally, the 1st February. Imagine you trying to get 3 successive Fridays off work at short notice. Its a far cry from the pampered life of a premiership player. Those premiership players would do well to look at the sacrifices made by players at this level before they moan they are over worked having to play 38 games a season.
Anyway, back to Saturday. It was to be a busy day at Spennymoor as firstly there was a meeting of the supporters and the Chairman to discuss the supporters views on promotion at the end of the season. Then after this, there was to be the formal turning on of the new floodlights all before the important cup tie.
The first thing for me was to get to the game. I did not have my usual transport, so was initially looking at 2-3 hours travel by bus train and bus to get to the 12 noon meeting. However, after much pleading and grovelling, Michelle offered to give me a lift to Durham and my parents agreed to pick me up from there and drop me in Spennymoor. Getting home at that stage looked like 2-3 hours on public transport as I had no lifts arranged. However, one of the Spennymoor fans responded to my pleading on the club forum and was able to give me a lift to Low Fell from where I could quickly get a bus to Newcastle. In fact, I was back in Newcastle not long after their game with Chelsea had finished. It seemed strange to have been elsewhere and arriving back in Newcastle as the fans milled away from St James’ Park.
There was a good turn out for the meeting in the Sponsors lounge at Spennymoor. The Chairman Brad Groves held a very open and honest meeting, setting out the pre requisites before the club would take promotion, including having appropriate 3 year sponsorship deals in place, the support of the majority of the players and most importantly the support of the fans of the club.
The meeting however started with Brad saying that he was paying the admission costs for everyone at the meeting. This being a national cup competition, the club have to account for everyone entering the ground as gate receipts are split with the visitors. How many chairmen would do this? also, at the end of the meeting there was a glass of champagne for everyone there. Again this was paid for by the chairman.
A few Premiership chairmen could learn lessons from this is how to treat the fans, the lifeblood of the company.
Brad explained the risks to the club involving promotion and what had been done to counter those risks. It was refreshing to see someone in charge of a football club be so open and honest with the fans. It was even more important to meet a chairman who understood both business and football.
Brad then took questions from the supporters and refreshingly did not shy away from answering the awkward questions.He also realised the sacrifices supporters would make in moving from a league where you get home for tea to a league where some away games are 300 mile round trips.
Without wanting to rake over old issues, one sore point with supporters is the club were forced to change their name to Spennymoor Town (from United) when the club reformed in 2005 after United ceased to exist. The fans want to be called united. The chairman answered this point head on and explained why he did not want to revert to the old name – to do with the ill feeling & loss caused to others when the old club went out of business. No shying away from the issue or blaming the FA, just an honest answer.
The outcome of the meeting was a near unanimous approval from the supporters that they wanted the club to take promotion.
At the end of the meeting the chairman remained behind to talk to the fans about the club and any issues they wanted to raise. I’m afraid to say that I hogged his time and spent probably the best part of an hour discussing the club and his visions for its future. I have to say that although I had never met him before, I was very impressed with both his business acumen and football knowledge, I was left thinking to myself that Spennymoor Town Football Club are in very good hands.
I eventually left the chairmen as the officials of Lordswood arrived along with representatives of Spennymoor Town Council ( the clubs’ landlords) and Thorn EMI. The latter two groups were there in connection with the floodlights.
It is no secret that the floodlights at the Brewery Field were not the most powerful. Indeed it is said that those who smoke whilst watching the game were asked to stand in the top corner via the Tees Crescent turnstiles to ensure that corner of the pitch was illuminated by their cigarettes!
The hard work of the club Chairman and others resulted in the Town Council agreeing to pay (part?) of the cost of the new floodlights. The lights themselves were purchased from Thorn Emi who have for 50+ years had a plant in Spennymoor. They have supplied the club with the latest lights to enable them to be demonstrated to other potential purchasers.
An example of the good business acumen behind the management of this club!
Sadly for me, during the game it was not dark enough to get some good pictures of the floodlights in action, so here is one taken earlier in the week by a fellow fan ( thanks Chris)
As well as the new floodlights, the new dug outs were in use today – on the opposite side of the pitch to the main stand.
If you look back over some of my old posts, you will see how much work has been done to improve the ground, The pitch has improved leaps and bounds, the ground has new tarmac, the ground is painted every summer, new toilet blocks, including disabled toilets. New floodlights, new catering, new club shop etc. It is important to remember this work has not been done at the expense of the playing side as Spennymoor have won the league for the last 3 years.
After leaving the Sponsor’s Lounge, I went to the bar and was spoken to by a couple of fans who told me that someone had offered me a lift and made sure they pointed out Gaz who had offered the lift to me. Non league football is like a little friendly community where everyone tries to help each other.
Lordswood are another step 5 team, but the Kent League is generally regarded as a little bit weaker than the Northern League, so most fans were secretly confident of a result, but it is a cup competition and anything can happen.
There was a Lordswood banner at the game. Fortunately for Spennymoor the reverse of the motto isn’t true every time as Lordswood certainly battled.
The game itself was not the most exciting game. It was very much a case of job done as far as Spennymoor were concerned. With “Titch (Gavin Cogdon) at his unplayable best, it was no surprise to see him doing his famous handstand celebration after opening the scoring on 9 minutes. A second goal did not follow until just before half time, but just on the stroke of half time Lordswood responded with a goal.
The second half was predominantly Spennymoor and it was no shock that Titch got his second and Spennymoor’s third early in the half. From there on, there was only going to be one winner. The score line could have easily been much bigger but for a number of good saves from the Lordswood goalkeeper.
So, Moors are through to the last 16 of the competition and are already 4/5 on favourites to win the competition despite it only being the 5th round next round.
I would not be doing them justice if I did not mention that despite being second best on the day, Lordswood did not give up trying until the full time whistle and despite at times Titch and others running them ragged, they did not resort to foul play or physical football. The team, their supporters and officials are a credit to the game, unlike Spennymoor’s opponents earlier in the week. I won’t embarrass them by mentioning it was the thugs of West Auckland Town that I was referring to.
After the game, Gary, gave me a lift up to Low Fell, and despite him being red & white & me black & white (Sunderland & Newcastle respectively) we managed to avoid footballing strife! Thanks for the lift Gary, much appreciated.
So, I got the bus from Low Fell into Newcastle and met many Newcastle fans still delirious at their last gasp winner against Chelsea. It seemed strange to be stood outside ST James’ Park waiting to meet Michelle & Jack and being totally indifferent to the celebrations of fellow Newcastle fans. I was left feeling that I was part of something special at Spennymoor and was a valued member of the crowd, rather than just a cash cow as you seem to be at Premiership games.
I am already looking forward to my next trip to Spennymoor for the game against Darlington on Friday 15th February. It should be something special. In the meantime, I am intending to be at the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area Final 1st Leg at Leyton Orient v Southend on Tuesday night – only 2 90 minute ties from Wembley for Orient.
Non league football, its the way forward and the way the game should be – friendly, fun and with players playing for pride, not money. And great value for money as well