As you might have spotted from the team names, this one was a bit of a change from watching the likes of the Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns. Jen and I were in the UK for Easter and I took the opportunity to watch a game between a couple of teams from the Wearside Combination League. Really? Yes really.
To be more precise, it was the final of the Alan Hood Memorial Trophy and that was pretty much the reason for my attendance. Alan was my Dad’s cousin and my godfather. He died in a car crash in 1987 and the Wearside Combination League re-named the former Blind Institute Cup in his memory.
Alan actually played in the first football match I ever went to. He was captaining Easington Colliery and his dad, my great-uncle Jim, took me along to watch. I reckon it will probably have been the 72-73 season, maybe 73-74. Anyway, Alan came over to talk to us as the teams were warming up and told me that the Vaseline on his eyebrows was to prevent him getting cut when head-butting the opposition players. I, of course, believed every word.
After he stopped playing he became a ref and went on to make the Football League list. I remember watching him reffing reserve games at Ayresome Park and running the line in an old First Division game against Derby.
The venue for the final was the Boldon CA ground and so I took a drive up the A19 with my Dad and my son, Tom. There are two pitches, one of which is used by Northern League Jarrow Roofing and the other by Boldon Colliery Welfare of the Wearside League. This game was on the Boldon Colliery Welfare pitch, but it was still a step up from the places where these teams usually play.
The sign on the gate stated that it was £2.50 to get in, but it was charity donations into a bucket instead. The trophy was on display as we went in. It’s an impressive looking effort, but so it should be as it’s a full-size replica of the European Cup.
The setting didn’t really seem worthy of the trophy. You wouldn‘t expect to win the European Cup on a pitch full of dandelions where the grass was a good inch longer than it should have been. There were about forty people milling around when we arrived with the usual old blokes supplemented by friends and family of the players.
We’d got lucky in a way, with the top two teams in the Wearside Combination having made the final. Sunderland Hendon, who were presumably named to avoid any confusion with the Barnet-based Hendon that play in the Isthmian League, were taking on the equally precisely named Sunderland The Alexandra.
Hendon were kitted out in a very Spanish looking red and white stripes with blue shorts combo with The Alexandra sporting blue shirts and white shorts. The uneven pitch wasn’t the best surface for passing and so neither side really bothered, preferring just to lump the ball upfield at the earliest opportunity.
There was more squabbling than goalmouth action in the first half, with players turning on their team mates whenever a move broke down, Hendon were marginally the better side though and some dodgy defending from their opponents allowed them to go in at the break a couple of goals up.
By the time the second half kicked off the crowd had grown to around two hundred. An early penalty to Hendon allowed them to increase their lead to three and it looked to be game over. The Alexandra players certainly thought so and started their post-mortem on the pitch rather than wait until they got to the pub.
Surprisingly, they stopped the arguing just long enough to pull a goal back and set up a frantic final twenty minutes. Being frantic generally isn’t enough though and it wasn’t sufficient to compensate for the panic that set in whenever one of them found themselves anywhere near the penalty box.
Hendon hung on for the win and we watched them lift Alan’s trophy. I doubt any of them knew who he was or why he wore Vaseline on his eyebrows. We did, though.