Norton and Stockton Ancients v Billingham Town, Friday 26th December 2014, 11am

1 - station road

I’ve occasionally wondered if Norton should have been my team rather than Middlesbrough. After all, It’s where I’m from. Unfortunately for the Northern League side, I’d never heard of them when Jack Charlton was making the Boro the talk of the playground in ’73 and their chance was gone forever. I don’t even recall ever having gone along to see them play before and so the eleven o’clock Boxing Day fixture with Billingham Town was a chance to put that right.

I parked up by the Cricket Club and made my way along the side of the cricket pitch. This was all familiar territory. We used to go into the club as teenagers to play snooker. We’d also sneakily use the fruit machine and if we were caught and thrown out we’d amuse ourselves by creeping through the back gardens of the houses overlooking the cricket field.

That's where you go in.

That’s where you go in.

I paid my fiver entrance money and bought a programme for a quid. The pitch itself was also familiar to me as it’s where I used to play Sunday League as a fourteen year old goalie for Barmoor Boys. My recollection is that we weren’t very good, more a bunch of friends playing for fun in contrast to some of the much more organised teams in the league. I remember letting fourteen in one week, which seems a lot, but the following week my replacement let in twenty one. I found an old diary recently in which despite conceding another eleven goals that day the entry recorded that “I played excellent”. I’m sure I did.

I turned out a few times on the same pitch a dozen or so years later for the George and Dragon. It was around the time that the Boro got to Wembley for the Zenith Data Systems final. I didn’t stick at it though. I was fine going back to the pub afterwards for a couple of pints, some cheese cubes on sticks and the chance to lose my cash on a blind card, but was less enthusiastic about the football post-mortem. I struggled to think about the game whilst it was actually going on, I certainly didn’t want to have to listen to someone moaning about everyone’s mistakes once it was over.

The stand.

The stand.

There’s a cafe behind one goal and a covered stand to one side. Neither of those were there in my day. I was chatting to a fella who watches Norton regularly and he pointed out former Boro keeper David Knight in the home goal. I remember him from the FA Youth Cup winning team of 2004 and I think he had a couple of spells at league clubs after leaving the Riverside. His best quality these days, I was told, is his willingness to stand up and spread himself rather than commit early when faced with striker in a one on one. I suppose it’s all those years of coaching.

Lookng up the touchline.

Lookng up the touchline.

There was a further Middlesbrough link in the Norton manager Andy Campbell. He got the biggest cheer of the morning for slipping over when returning the ball to the pitch.  I’m not sure that anything he ever did at the Boro was appreciated to the same extent.

Norton are in yellow.

Norton are in yellow.

My friend Paul turned up midway through the second half with the best excuse for a late arrival yet. He’d had to go and have his sparkly nail varnish removed prior to us going to the Boro v Forest game that afternoon. We’ll leave it at that.

His emergency manicure meant that he missed the only goal of the game, a lofted ball into the box early in the second half that just seemed to scrappily ricochet off someone into the Billingham net. A couple of wild tackles aside, that was about the sum of the entertainment. It was a decent morning out, but I’m glad that Big Jack turned up at the Boro at just the right time to draw me in.



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