Sedan Ardennes v Avranches, Friday 9th September 2022, 7.30pm

September 23, 2022

Jen and I had nipped across to Europe for a week as she had to formally re-enter the UK as part of her visa process. We’d taken the Eurostar to Brussels and after a night there headed down to Luxembourg. I’d planned to take in games in both countries but unfortunately all the matches in the early rounds of the Luxembourg Cup that I’d identified got shifted at short notice.

We had nothing planned on the Friday afternoon though and so I drove for an hour into France to Sedan with a plan to take in their third tier Championnat National game against Avranches.

The opposition name seemed familiar and I eventually remembered that I’d been there when hitching round France as a sixteen year old. I’ve no recollection of Avranches but the photographic evidence suggests that we were headed in that direction.

We got to Sedan a couple of hours early so that we could have a wander around Sedan Castle. It was interesting enough, with cannons, some underground rooms and a few of those curly staircases that favour whichever swordfighter has the higher ground.

The best thing about the castle was a working trebuchet. As only Jen and I were nearby at firing time I was allowed to have a go on it. The lady who was dressed up as a monk wouldn’t let me aim it at the buildings opposite which seemed a bit mean, but understandable I suppose as the cannonball was made of plastic rather than iron and there’s always the risk that an angry householder might stick a knife in it.

After we were done with the castle we parked up at Stade Louis Dugauguez and called into a nearby bar for moules frites. My French is rubbish and usually lapses into Spanish half-way through a sentence, but it was sufficient on this occasion to get us fed.

We then wandered around to the ticket office where we bought seats down the side for ten euros a pop. I’m not sure if the ends of the ground were open and the only other option was the stand opposite for twelve euros.

Our timing worked out as well as it could have done as the moment we stepped into the ground, the rain started. It continued heavily until midway through the second half and with some wind in the air we moved higher in the stand to keep dry, settling in the end for back row sets.

The stadium holds around twenty-five thousand in theory, but there were fewer than four thousand braving the conditions for this game. Most were in our stand, with a home singing section in the corner to our left. I didn’t see any away fans.

Sedan, in green and black, were second to bottom of the table with just two draws to show for their efforts to date. By contrast, Avranches, who were in red and white, were second from top. However, it was difficult to tell which was the better team in the first half as neither side created much.

The game opened up in the second half with neither side putting much effort into defending. It boiled over a couple of times and whilst the ref frequently flashed his yellow card, he didn’t ever seem in control.

Despite all the missed chances it looked to be heading for a goalless draw until a converted penalty seven minutes into added time took the points for the visitors.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland, Monday 5th September 2022, 8pm

September 6, 2022

It’s been a frustrating start to the season with points dropped to late goals in games where our performances have generally been good. The transfer activity was mainly done early on, and the window closed without us recruiting a replacement for Tav or any of the expensive strikers that we had been linked with.

Nevertheless, I was confident that we’d have sufficient quality to beat Sunderland in a game where most pre-match discussion seems to revolve around whether or not it’s a ‘derby’. I don’t really see why the label matters. There’s certainly a north-east rivalry with bragging rights between neighbours and workmates and that’s enough to give it an extra edge over a game against the likes of Reading or Cardiff.

Harry and I were there reasonably early and stopped to look at the statue of George Camsell. I was impressed with it. I also like the idea of celebrating our history with statutes as when you’ve only ever had one trophy in the cabinet the players who’ve performed for us fill that gap to an extent.

I’m not sure about the placement though, I think it makes the area near to the gates look cluttered. I’d prefer to see the statues placed around the stadium perimeter, perhaps supplemented by a few more. Rioch and Todd in their shorts in a dugout would be good, as would one of Jackie collecting tracksuit tops whilst smoking a cigar. Maybe a horizontal Massimo heading that goal that took us to Eindhoven.

The other main talking point was the return of Tony Mowbray as the new Sunderland manager. He gets a lot of leeway from me and he’d probably have to start molesting cats before I’d consider he’d tarnished his legacy. He stayed fairly low key, but got a chorus of ‘He’s One Of Our Own’ from the South Stand. It wasn’t on a par with the reception that he received when he returned with Ipswich as a player, but that was a high bar. Despite his current job I’d keep him on the statue list.

It went well on the pitch. Dael Fry came back in and showed why he should be the first name on the team sheet and Isaiah Jones looked to be getting back to his best. Liam Roberts commanded his box well and made the case to keep his place when Zak Steffan regains fitness. The single goal meant that we could never relax until the final whistle, but for a change we held on to take all three points.

Gateshead Leam Rangers v Durham City, Saturday 3rd September 2022, 2.30pm

September 5, 2022

Durham City have been having a bad time of it lately. They were relegated from the Northern League to the Wearside League in the summer and any hopes of consolidating at the slightly lower level had been dashed by losing all of their eight fixtures to date whilst conceding an average of more than nine goals a game.

Jen and I watched them ship eleven goals without reply in their fixture with Hartlepool a few weeks ago. They have changed a lot of their players since that one and it’s difficult to establish any sort of pattern of play when you’ve got new players coming in each week.

I’d seen on social media that a dozen or so players had been let go in midweek and the talk amongst the handful of Durham fans that were there to cheer them on was that they had done the right thing in shedding those without the right attitude.

In Durham’s previous game they had arrived with just eleven players and played most of the game a man down after one of them just walked off the pitch and headed home. For this game Durham had again turned up without subs and with four new signings making their debuts.

It was three quid in and I reckon the crowd probably peaked at around twenty-five. I watched the first half from the only seating available, a bench that may have served six at a push, under a covered area.

Gateshead Leam Rangers were probably not the opponents that Durham would have wanted in that they went into the game in second place in the table having won six and drawn two of their ten games.

The home side, in a Norwich-style kit, were patient in their build ups and quick to counter. It paid off with three goals in the opening quarter of an hour. Steady pressure extended the lead to six-nil by half-time.

One of the Durham fans near to me was invited to training on Wednesday by a member of the coaching staff as the teams headed to the changies. Even if he proves to be useless it’s worth doing when you can only raise a match-day squad of eleven.

The goals kept coming in the second half, with Gateshead reaching nine with still twenty minutes to play. At that stage the Durham goalie indulged in some timewasting, probably a first for a team that far behind, and pissed off the home side causing a few of them to bring it up with the ref.

Injuries reduced the visitors to nine men in the final stages as the goals rained in with Gateshead adding another five to nick a fourteen-nil victory.

The score line made me think of the only other time I’ve been at a game with a fourteen-nil result. It was back in 1978 when I was keeping goal for Barmoor Boys U14s and Stockton West End rattled all fourteen past me at the Norton Cricket Club pitch. I think that game might only have been thirty-five minutes each way. Just as well really.

Windscale v Richmond Town, Wednesday 31st August 2022, 7.45pm

September 4, 2022

Harry and Isla had gone back to Teesside ready for the start of the new school year, leaving Jen and I with a few days left in The Lakes. I’d noticed that the Ennerdale Show was taking place and so we thought that we’d have a wander along. There were various competitions such as best pair of carrots, best set of three hounds, a bit of horse parading and even some fell running. We didn’t enter anything.

The dog was soon bored with looking at beagles that were half his width and so we left after a couple of hours and went for a walk at Ennerdale Water. There were far fewer people around and with a free car park and well signposted walking trails I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular. Perhaps everyone was at the show, focusing on winning Best Six Peas in a Pod.

That evening we called in to Egremont for a Wearside League Premier Division game between Windscale and Richmond Town. I know Egremont pretty well, or at least I knew it well thirty years ago when working at Sellafield. Thursday nights frequently culminated in the Old Hall nightclub for what was known as ‘Grab a Granny’ night. Looking back, it seemed like anyone in their thirties was considered a granny those days and it may very well be that some of them were.

Jen and I still had Henry with us and that caused a problem when I noticed the sign at the Falcon Club entrance prohibiting dogs. It’s a reasonable restriction as I’m sure plenty of dog owners would just bring their pooch for a walk, perhaps when a game wasn’t taking place, and then let it piss or crap on the grass.

Jen very kindly offered to skip the delights of eleventh-tier football and take Henry for a walk around the neighbouring estate. There was nobody taking money at the gate and probably around fifty people lined up around the perimeter fence.

If you look at the map of Wearside League teams, Windscale are the only one on the west side of the country. The rest are, well, in or around Wearside. I’ve no idea how Windscale ended up in a league that otherwise comprises clubs from a small part of the north-east and I doubt that it’s a popular journey for visiting teams and officials.

Windscale were in blue, with Richmond Town in red. The visitors had the best of the play for most of the first half, but it was Windscale that took the lead half an hour in with a well-directed header from a free kick. They could have doubled their lead just before the break when a shot from the edge of the box hit the inside of the post and somehow bounced out rather than in.

Henry and Jen completed their walk and returned to the car park during the half-time interval. That was my cue to call it a night and follow the remainder of the game on Windscale’s twitter feed. It took them until added time to notch a second goal and seal the points.

Holker Old Boys v AFC Blackpool, Saturday 27th August 2022, 3pm

August 30, 2022

This was a day that started with a dawn-chorus of birds and snores in a tent at the Krankenhaus festival organized by Sea Power at Muncaster Castle. We’d rented a house less than a mile along the A595 from the venue but there wasn’t a path by the road and so the most direct accessible route meant an hour long walk through a golf course in the wrong direction and then up over the fells.

Harry and Isla were keen to camp and so we set the tent up at the festival. There was plenty for them to do in addition to watching bands and we toured the grounds and castle, watched a bird of prey display and walked into Ravensglass via a Roman bath house.

There was also a dog show with categories judged by Sea Power’s Neil, Abi and Scott, as well as Martin’s parents. Henry failed to win a rosette in categories such as ‘Dog most like a drummer’, ‘Best Trick’ and ‘Walking like a Cruft’s Dog’. In one category he was beaten by a soft toy.

The main reason I was at Muncaster though was the music, specifically Sea Power’s music. They opened the festival on the Friday afternoon by playing Open Season in its entirety. It’s a great album which I still like to listen to, but my main thought afterwards was how far they have progressed in the seventeen years since it was released.

Saturday night they played a ‘regular’ set. Or near enough. I’d been expecting a similar set-list to that of their recent tour, but they dipped into the back catalogue for some songs from ten years or so ago before finishing with the usual classics. Two Fingers was probably the highlight.

Sea Power closed the festival on Monday afternoon with what was trailed as a ‘gentle rarities’ selection. It lived up to its billing with some so rare that I’d forgotten they existed. I was hoping to hear ‘Lovely Day Tomorrow’ and I wasn’t disappointed.

Anyway, back to Saturday. After the dog show Harry and I headed south for a game in the tenth-tier North West Counties Division One North between Holker Old Boys and AFC Blackpool. I’m not sure if Holker is a place in its own right, but the Rakesmoor ground was on the outskirts of Barrow, up a narrow country lane.

We arrived around ten minutes before kick-off and with plenty of space in the car park. It was a fiver at the gate for me with Harry and the dog getting in for free. We took seats in the covered stand behind the goal at the top of the slope and had views of hills to our left, with Lakeland mountains behind them.

I reckon there were probably a hundred or so watching by the time everyone arrived. Holker were in green, with Blackpool in what I presume is a traditional orange kit for teams from that part of the world. The visitors had some early opportunities and came closest when hitting the bar, but it was Holker that struck first from a direct free-kick mid-way through the first half.

At half time I nipped into the clubhouse for a drink and noticed that the gents toilets were labelled the Jim Redfern Suite. Nice touch.

Blackpool started the second half well, equalizing after a striker latched on to a long ball and rounded the keeper for a tap in. They went ahead on the hour after the Holker keeper could only parry a shot to the feet of a fella who gratefully finished it off, before increasing their lead after a low cross from the left provided another easy tap in.

At three-one down with ten minutes remaining it didn’t look like Holker’s day. They pulled one back from a penalty though after the Blackpool keeper clattered someone and then equalized with five minutes to go from a close-range glancing header following a corner.

The drama wasn’t over at that point with Holker pushing for a winner. They missed a couple of good chances before nicking an injury time winner that sparked a mixture of celebration and argy-bargy as Blackpool tried to get hold of the ball to quickly restart. When they finally did get the opportunity the ref blew almost straight away to signal a victory for Holker that just ten minutes earlier did not look remotely on the cards.

Barrow v Lincoln City, Tuesday 23rd August 2022, 7.45pm

August 29, 2022

Jen and I were over in the Lake District for a couple of weeks, primarily to take in the Sea Power festival at Muncaster Castle. We’d spent a couple of hours earlier in the day walking the dog up on the fells and with him suitably tired out I thought I’d drive down to Barrow in the evening for their League Cup tie with Lincoln City.

I’d bought my ticket for a tenner online and when navigating my way around the ground I stopped at the fanzone for a burger. There were tributes to former players on the wall and one of them was for Kenny Lowe. I worked with Kenny for Capper Pipes at ICI about thirty-five years ago, although it’s his dad, Kenny Senior, that I’ve a better recollection of. Kenny Junior eventually went pro towards the end of his playing career and subsequently managed Barrow. It looks like he has been doing well managing in Australia in recent years.

Despite already having a ticket it took a while to get into the Holker Street ground. I joined a queue for the main stand twenty minutes before kick-off and still managed to miss the first ninety seconds. A fella behind me was furious, complaining to a steward that “It’s the same every week”. You’d think that if he knew about the difficulties getting in then he’d turn up that little bit earlier.

I spent the first half in my seat at the back of the main stand. The fella next to me was able to give me some info about the Barrow team and when he found out that I was a Middlesbrough supporter we traded memories of Boro players from the seventies and of various pubs in the Teesside area.

Lincoln went a goal up after a few minutes, but Barrow equalized soon after and the teams went in level at the break.

At half-time I went for a drink and discovered that I could walk around the perimeter and watch the second half from the stand opposite. I felt guilty about not returning to continue my discussions with the fella from the first half, just in case he was left wondering if he had offended or bored me, but switching sides gave me the opportunity for more varied photos.

Not a great deal happened in the second half. I watched John Rooney, the younger brother of Wayne, for a while. He had a lot of the same mannerisms as his brother, including that jump and twist reaction when something doesn’t quite come off. I’d been told that he was lacking fitness and that showed, but he put the effort in until being subbed and looks a decent player at this level.

As it was getting late, and I had no real interest in which team won I left on eighty-six minutes. I was less than ten yards outside of the ground when a roar went up that was too loud to be anything other than a home goal, almost certainly the winner. I drove past the ground five minutes later and heard another, more muted, celebration that I took to be the final whistle.

I was wrong though and as I listened to the round-up on the radio, FiveLive reported that the final score was two each and that the tie would be going to penalties. I was a few miles up the A595 by the time Lincoln prevailed to take their place in the third round.

Ponteland United v Wallington, Saturday 20th August 2022, 2.30pm

August 28, 2022

Jen and I were up north for a party. It was an excellent evening and whilst I enjoyed meeting new people, the best part was catching up with friends that I hadn’t seen for, in some cases, as little as a fortnight, and others ranging from anything from a few months to thirty-odd years. Even for those that I’d not seen for a long time the conversations fell easily into place as if we’d just picked up the chatting from the last occasion that we spoke.

As good as the party was, I didn’t want to start the drinking at two in the afternoon and so Jen and I headed for Ponteland first and a game in the eleventh tier Northern Alliance Premier Division. Ponteland looks to be a fairly posh commuter village, a place where geordies move to when they’ve ‘made it’. Alan Shearer once lived there, and I imagine that if Ant and Dec didn’t have to work down south they would probably be lunching in the Blackbird pub as we did.

There’s a Pele tower too. Nothing to do with the Brazilian, by all accounts, but a place where the vicar would hide from marauders by cunningly ‘going upstairs’. I’m not sure you get many marauders these days or how much protection the tower would provide in its current state, but I’m glad it hasn’t been turned into a florist or a nail salon.

The game took place at Ponteland Primary School. It’s a big pitch if it is usually used by the under elevens. Ponteland United have recently moved to a nearby leisure centre but that pitch wasn’t quite ready. It means that I got the opportunity to tick off the school pitch and I’ll no doubt return to see them at their new place before long.

The sign on the gate stated that it was two quid to get in, but nobody was taking any money. We were an official short too, with just the one lino accompanying the ref on their long trek from the changies. Each of the teams provided a replacement for one half and both did a good job at enthusiastically flagging the opposition offside.

Ponteland were in Newcastle colours with visitors Wallington in green and black. The home side took the lead ten minutes in and held on to it until half-time.

The second half was marred by rain. Normally I wouldn’t have been too bothered by light drizzle, but I only had the one coat with me and didn’t want to have to turn up at the party soaked through. I’d spotted a gap in the fence behind one of the goals and I drove around from the school car park and positioned the car so that I could see the far goal. Whenever the rain stopped I got out and watched from the rail and when it started up again I followed the progress from the more comfortable and drier front seat.

I got lucky in that all four goals in the second half were scored by Ponteland at the end that I could see. They ran out five-nil winners and I was perfectly placed to drive off to the party the moment the ref blew the final whistle.

Ashington v Sunderland RCA, Tuesday 16th August 2022, 7.30pm

August 27, 2022

The Northern League season is well underway now and with Ashington having won their opening four games to top the table I thought I’d head through the Tyne Tunnel to take in their fixture with Sunderland RCA. It was eight quid admission to the Woodhorn Lane ground with another pound-fifty for a programme.

There’s a large covered seated stand down one side, with a smaller one opposite. A burger van was parked behind one of the goals and as I hadn’t eaten before I set off, I paid it a visit. Chips were still fifteen minutes from being ready, so I settled for a cheeseburger. I was a little surprised to be charged fifty pence extra for adding onions to it, but I suppose it means that those who don’t like onions don’t have to subsidise those of us that do. Maybe they should apply the same logic to ketchup. Or sugar in tea.

Ashington were in a white shirt with a black V, whilst mid-table RCA were in blue. The visitors took the lead early on with a finish that I missed as I was making my way up the steps into the main stand. Ashington had most of the play in the remainder of the first half, but lacked patience in the final third and often just pumped the ball aimlessly into the box.

I went into the clubhouse at half-time, to get a coke and a warm. The temperature outside was colder than I’d expected, and I should have worn an additional layer or two. I stayed there for the remainder of the game, watching through the windows and by careful positioning also keeping an eye on the Rangers v PSV match on the television via the reflection in the glass that appeared to float above the real game.

Ashington pressed forward throughout the second half and with around ten minutes remaining the body language of some of the home players suggested that they felt it wasn’t to be their day. However, a cutback cross from the right was swept home to level and then in the third minute of added time a ball in from the left was met with a downward header that gave the keeper no chance and clinched three points that had looked well out of reach.

Five wins from five for Ashington strengthened their position at the top of the table.

Middlesbrough v Sheffield United, Sunday 14th August 2022, 2pm

August 26, 2022

Harry and Alistair were both away on holiday, so I went along to this game by myself. It was a hot day and there was plenty of drinking going on at the bar outside the main gates. It didn’t seem as busy as the season opener a fortnight ago, but I suppose it’s a bit more difficult for a lot of people to travel on a Sunday.

I should have arrived earlier as the food and drink kiosks inside were sold out of diet coke and water. If I’d wanted a non-sugary drink, then coffee or tea were the only options left. Surely, it’s not too much to ask for to have sufficient stocks of drinks that would have sell-by dates well into next year. I think part of the problem is the free drink scheme where mainly old folks seemed determined to take up their entitlement regardless of whether they wanted to drink it or not. Maybe I’ll have to start bringing my own supplies.

The game was decent. We started slowly but scored an excellent equalizer after some good one touch passing to open them up. We conceded another in the second half but drew level in the last few minutes. A draw always feels better when you come from behind.

I’d have liked to see Fry and Steffan lumping it forward on fewer occasions, but in the absence of Crooks and with a few new signings still to come, I was happy enough with the performance.

A downside was the constant aggro between the home and away supporters where they were segregated by stewards. I’d have just removed anyone who took a step into the empty seats between themselves and the opposition fans. It won’t be long before there are fences between blocks at this rate. Another pitch invader increased the likelihood of fences between us and the pitch too. It’s as if Hillsborough and Valley Parade never happened.

Horseracing at Ripon, Saturday 13th August 2022

August 25, 2022

Ironopolis had the second run of his career in a one mile restricted novice race at Ripon. Isla was away on holiday and so it was just Jen and I that went along to see how he got on. We were able to leave the car in the shade under a tree in the Owners Car Park and got in just in time for the first race.

There was a good turnout with the Club Enclosure sold out and plenty of people taking advantage of being able to take their own beer into the Course Enclosure. A brass band was knocking out the tunes in the bandstand. It made me wish that it was a drinking day.

We watched the first race from the Club Stand. When it was time for Ironopolis to run we could have gone into a a small section reserved for Owners and Trainers, but we had a good enough view from the seats immediately behind that section. There was a dedicated bar for us too, where we caught up with some of the other syndicate members, before heading out to the parade ring for a chat with the trainer and jockey.

The pre-race chat between the syndicate mainly dealt with the horse being backed into 6-4. He drifted to 9-4, but still went off as 2-1 favourite in a nine horse field. There was a consensus that the price was too short, although I could see why he would attract support after a strong finish on his first run and an assessment in the race card that he was likely to improve.

The word from the trainer was that he still doesn’t do much when working at the stables. He didn’t do a lot in this race either and was never in contention, jogging home in sixth place. The jockey reckoned that he didn’t like running around a bend. Others thought that he likely needs softer ground and a less undulating track. Perhaps he needs to be told that lower grade horses usually get their balls chopped off.

We watched the third race from the grandstand, for a different perspective. As we were looking after the dog we called it a day after that one and headed home. Hopefully Ironopolis will be back on a track that suits him before long.