Shildon v Billingham Synthonia, Saturday 23rd December 2017, 3pm

Jen and I were in the UK for Christmas and with the Boro away at Sheff Wed I thought I’d take in a Northern League game. We were staying at Sedgefield and so it was only a twenty-five minute drive to Shildon for their Division One clash with Billingham Synthonia.

As I often do, I assumed that I’d be visiting a one-horse town and that it would be impossible to miss the football ground. I was wrong again and somehow managed to drive the full length of Shildon twice before admitting defeat and checking the location on my phone.

It was six pounds to get in and then another couple of quid for a programme. A bucket collection on the other side of the turnstile hoovered up the remaining change from my tenner.

I’m told that the Dean Court Ground dates back to 1903 and that the big five hundred seater stand was built in 1923. The stand might not see its centenary though as on my visit all you could do was loiter in front of it. The seated area had been taped off, presumably as some sort of safety measure.

On the opposite side of the ground was a much newer stand that had only been open for a few weeks. It holds two hundred and has replaced a longer covered terracing section. I’m not sure that’s progress at all. The crowd of 190 could have all fitted in the new stand, but most chose to stand at various points around the perimeter.

I positioned myself behind the home dugout for a while and listened to the softly spoken Shildon manager advising his players on his requirements for flatness and narrowness. I wasn’t really paying enough attention to remember whether they were too flat and too narrow or not flat and narrow enough. Possibly it varied according to the state of play. Regardless, I liked the calm way he got his point across to his players one at a time.

I had hoped that one of the players would be former Boro Youth Cup winner Anthony Peacock. Remember him, the little midfielder? After spells at Darlo and Spennymoor, he turns out for Shildon these days. Unfortunately he had been out injured for a while.

Despite Shildon being up at the top end of the table and Synthonia rock bottom, current form for the two teams was very similar. Whilst the home side had the better chances throughout and pressed hard towards the end, the result went true to current form and the game finished goalless.

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