Archive for September, 2021

Redcar Town v Sunderland West End, Tuesday 14th September 2021, 7.30pm

September 28, 2021

Redcar is well represented in local football these days with Redcar Athletic in Division One of the Northern League, Redcar Town in the Division Two and Redcar Newmarket in the top division of the North Riding League. Jen and I had been there a few days earlier when we’d taken a walk along the coast from Redcar to Saltburn and back.

It’s an enjoyable walk that had been billed as four miles each way. I think that distance is based upon starting in central, or even the most southernly edge of town though as we’d walked for almost an hour before reaching a signpost confirming the four miles remaining to Saltburn.

We’d actually started in a car park that I recognized as somewhere that I’d driven a double-decker bus around in a Cleveland Transit open day that must have been getting on for forty years ago. I’d be happy to have another crack if they ever decide to do it again.

On the outward part of the walk we followed the Cleveland way which took us mainly along clifftops and dune paths. After a brief stop in Saltburn for an ice cream we walked back along the beach. The dog much preferred this due to the abundance of dead creatures for him to roll on. His favourite pastime is to writhe as close as he can to a well-decomposed corpse and on this occasion he was well served by three seals, a few birds and a couple of crabs.

A few days later we were all back in town at the Vitality Stadium in Mo Mowlem Park for the Redcar Town game with Sunderland West End. It was a fiver in, with another quid-fifty for a programme from which I learned that former Boro player Cameron Park had turned out for Redcar earlier in the season. He wasn’t in the squad for this one though.

The Vitality Stadium had a decent clubhouse with benches and tables outside. It was raining though and so we headed for the only covered area which was a small stand to the right of one of the goals with two rows of freshly painted benches. We took up residence in the back row which kept us dry but unfortunately meant that once the clubhouse emptied and the stand filled up with most of the eighty-nine people in attendance we had no view of the goal at our end.

I read in the programme that Town are planning to add another two hundred and fifty seats in different parts of the ground over the coming season. That should solve any viewing difficulties.

Visitors Sunderland West End were in fourth place in the table and had brought a few fans with them who encouraged their team to ‘Gan On’. The heavy rain created a slippery surface and led to a few fouls that may not have happened in drier conditions.

Sunderland opened the scoring after half an hour although we didn’t see the finish due to the crowding in the covered area and having to sit with the dog. We didn’t see the three goals in the second half either because we left at half-time. Sometimes there’s no point in dragging it out.

Ilkley Town v Penrith, Saturday 11th September 2021, 3pm

September 27, 2021

Jen and I had to go down to the Yorkshire Dales to collect a fireplace and having arranged to pick it up after lunch on a Saturday I was understandably keen to find a nearby game on the way back to Teesside. As luck would have it, Ilkley Town were at home to Penrith in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Vase. This is Ilkley’s first season in the tenth tier North West Counties Division One and therefore also the first time that they have been eligible for the competition.

Ilkley play at the Ben Rydding Sports Club. It looks like a new facility, although there are hockey pitches alongside the football one. It was six quid in and another two for a programme. There were a couple of food kiosks just inside the entrance, one of which was opening for the first time. I had a chip butty, although there wasn’t any butter on it. The chips were ok though having been freshly cooked to order in a fryer that held a maximum of two portions. If attendances or appetites ever start to rise then they might be in a bit of trouble.

There weren’t any seats, which is unusual at tier ten, although maybe the North West Counties League either doesn’t require them or allows a period of grace after promotion. I’m ok with that. The pitch was 4G, with the addition of some blue markings for smaller scale games across the pitch. I’m ok with that too. The crowd was announced at one hundred and twenty one which is respectable at this level.

Ilkley were in a Wimbledon style dark blue kit with ninth tier Northern League opponents Penrith in a kind of knock-off Arsenal strip. The home side were missing their management team who were all at an unfortunately scheduled September wedding and so their under 21 gaffers were occupying the dugout.

One of the Penrith centre-backs stood out as a consequence of being bigger, slower and swearier than everyone else on the pitch. However, he missed nothing in the air and his positional awareness was good enough that any lack of pace didn’t matter. Penrith missed a few early chances and he got more frustrated with every chance that went begging.

Ilkley went a goal up after twenty-five minutes. It looked offside to me but as the Penrith defence didn’t complain too much I suspect that it might well have been the correct decision to allow it. The lead lasted until a few minutes before the interval when Penrith equalized from a disputed free-kick that was swept into the corner from the edge of the box.

In the second half we moved behind one of the goals which put us at the wrong end for the winner that was curled beyond the Ilkley keeper. There was some pressure at the end from Ilkley and a lot of added time after a Penrith defender picked up what looked like a serious injury but the Northern League side hung on for the victory and a place in the next round.

Sunderland RCA v Stockton Town, Saturday 4th September 2021, 3pm

September 16, 2021

After attending matches in the Extra Preliminary and Preliminary rounds of the FA Cup I thought I’d keep my streak going with a game in the First Qualifying Round. There were a few options but I took the opportunity to see Stockton Town for the first time this season in their tie with Sunderland RCA at the Meadow Lane ground in Ryhope.

The ground wasn’t the easiest to find. We could see it from all sides but it took a while to locate the entrance. Once parked up we headed into town for something to eat. The Guide Post pub looked promising but weren’t doing food and so in the end we had to settle for fish and chips from Ryhope Fisheries next door.

With rain in the air, we returned to the ground a good half an hour before kick off to try and get a seat under cover. It was six quid each admission with another pound for the programme. A decent attendance looked to be on the cards and the bar area was already busy as we made our way towards the main stand. There were flags from Stockton and plenty of Teesside accents.

We spent the first half in the main stand with the beagle tucked between my legs. He’s generally fine sitting quietly at a game but every now and then he perks up when he smells food. Bit like me really. Stockton took an early lead through a Kev Hayes free-kick and with Mikey Roberts adding a second mid-way through the half.

At that stage it looked as if Stockton, who are one division higher than RCA, were on for an easy win, but the hosts pulled one back on the half-hour and then equalized a few minutes later. They could even have taken the lead just before half-time but were denied by a decent save from the keeper. It was quite a turnaround.

With the prospect of rain diminishing we watched the second half from behind the goal. Stockton were getting on top again but struggled to make the extra possession count. Former Boro player Jonathan Franks was having a decent game. He’s someone that I’ve kept an eye on throughout his career, mainly because he went to school with my kids. I saw his Premier League appearance in the relegation game at West Ham and Jen and I saw him at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final victory over Celtic a few years ago. More recently I’ve watched out for his team’s results in Iceland and it’s good to see him back where he started.

With around twenty minutes to go Stockton regained the lead with another goal from Hayes. There were still chances going begging at the other end though and I wasn’t convinced that Stockton would see the game out. For one thing they had a few players carrying a bit of weight. It’s not unusual to see the odd player at this level with a bit of a belly on them but Stockton had at least three. Mind you, a few of the Sunderland lads looked as if they could do with a decent dinner so perhaps these things even out.

With play stopped for some reason we had a chat with the lady lino about dogs and football. She mentioned that in one game she had been reffing it had been a nightmare getting a stray dog off the pitch. There were at least six dogs at this game so it’s not surprising really that you get the odd one that gets up to mischief.

With time running out Stockton clinched the game with a fourth goal to see themselves through to the Second Qualifying Round and only three more wins from a potential tie against a League One or Two club.

Gateshead v Guiseley, Monday 30th August 2021, 3pm

September 15, 2021

I’d been to Gateshead International Stadium a couple of times previously but for athletics and rugby. I’m pretty sure my son Tom and I went to watch Linford Christie run there in the early nineties and I definitely remember us watching England A take on their All-Black equivalents around about the same time. I’ve never seen a football game there though and so thought I might as well tick it off by way of a sixth tier National League North game between Gateshead and Guiseley.

I’d bought the tickets about a week in advance and had splashed out twenty-five quid for hospitality seats. As regular admission was fifteen quid I reckoned that we wouldn’t need much in the way of extras to make it worthwhile.

We got to the stadium about forty minutes before kick-off. Parking was easy enough at that time and we were soon in the lounge allocated for us VIPs. There was a decent buffet, coffee and juice, a programme and seating at a table for six where the other two occupants were young lads getting stuck into a few pre-match cans of Fosters. At the risk of incurring the scorn of Roy Keane I had what I believe to be my first ever prawn sandwich at a game. When we made our way out into the cold our seats were central in the main covered stand and padded. On returning at half-time there was a well-stocked cheeseboard. Very nice.

One of the reasons for picking a Gateshead game had been their recent signing of former Boro player Luke Williams. He stood out as a kid under Strachan but a series of injuries have meant that he hasn’t played a lot since. Unfortunately he didn’t play in this one either as he was serving a suspension for being sent off in the previous game. Maybe I’ll fit in a Gateshead away game at Darlo or York and see how he is getting on then.

An announcement on the tannoy revealed that the attendance was eight hundred and sixty including forty-eight fans from Guiseley who were out of sight to our left. A few of the fans behind us were singing in support of ‘the heed’, mainly about how much they disliked Blyth Spartans or that they were ‘just a stop on the metro’.

Gateshead gave their fans plenty to sing about with a goal inside the first ten minutes from someone that they all just referred to as Macca. He cut inside from the right and finished well, across the keeper. A few minutes later he added a second and an easy victory looked on the cards. Gateshead had plenty of chances to kill the game off but with ten minutes remaining Guiseley pulled one back. That gave us a frantic ending to the match including a header that just went wide from the away keeper who was up for a last-minute corner. There were no more goals though and ‘the heed’ held on for the points.

I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed back into the hospitality after full-time but an announcement that “Dickson’s excellent pies will be available at a reduced rate of one pound on way out” was enough to send me on my way with the masses. I picked up a hot pork pie for a quid and had scoffed it before I’d hit the A19.

Middlesbrough U23 v Southampton B, Sunday 29th August 2021, 12 noon.

September 14, 2021

After staying overnight in Wylam after Paul’s party, Jen and I called in on a game on our way home. It was at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park and featured Boro’s under 23 team in a Premier League 2 fixture against Southampton’s B team. I’ve no idea about the age-related rules in that league but suffice to say that they could both be considered to be development teams.

It was three quid admission, although if I’d had Tom’s season card with me I could have got in for nothing. There were no programmes and initially no teamsheets, although some did turn up before kick-off. A bloke in a jacket wouldn’t let us into the stand. That must have been earmarked for club officials and so we got a coffee and sat at the benched tables further along the touchline for a while.

As the wind picked up we moved behind the goal to a covered stand that offered a little more protection. I’d estimate that there were around a hundred spectators and another fifty or so in the stands in some sort of official capacity. I had a brief look over to see if I could see Neil Warnock but if he was there, he was keeping a low profile.

From the Boro’s point of view I thought Hayden Hackney looked composed in midfield and one of the centre halves had a good game. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one. Perhaps both of them did ok. Martin Payero was playing but if I didn’t know he was our new South American superstar he wouldn’t have registered with me. I’ve a feeling that he might be more of a de Pena than a Marinelli.

I thought the Boro’s best player was Jeremy Sivi. He opened the scoring with good finish from a Ste Walker pull back and then nearly scored again after twisting and turning in the box to evade a few defenders only to see his shot well saved.

Boro kept the lead until about five minutes from the end when someone tapped a Southampton ankle for a pen. Brad James who had looked solid throughout was given no chance of repeating his Hartlepool play-off heroics but fortunately Boro went straight back up the other end and won a penalty of their own. There was a similar blam into the net to give us a 2-1 win.

Newcastle Blue Star v Cullercoats, Saturday 28th August 2021, 2.30pm

September 13, 2021

Jen and I were heading to a party not far from Newcastle so I had a look to see what games were going on nearby. The best option was a fixture in the Northern Alliance Premier Division between Newcastle Blue Star and Cullercoats. The Northern Alliance is a feeder league to the Northern League and with this being in their top division it meant that it was the eleventh tier of English football.

The game was at the Scotswood Sports Centre and we were able to park directly outside. It was three quid admission with a programme for a pound. If you were feeling flush there were tables for ten in a hospitality tent at two hundred and fifty quid a pop. That’s still less per head than getting into the Boro.

Blue Star were in Newcastle strips sporting, as you may imagine, a blue star. Cullercoats had a weird combination of red and black oblongs on their strip.  We settled into a covered seated stand on the opposite side to the hospitality area. The attendance was later announced as 226 with a fairly even split between those at the beer tent tables and those dotted around the remainder of the ground.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the ages of the linos. One of them looked about fifteen which isn’t uncommon these days as people get into refereeing at a younger age and progress quickly. The fella on our side must have been well into his sixties, maybe older and therefore around fifty years older than his counterpart. He didn’t miss much though and got little in the way of whinging from the players. I dare say he has seen it all before.

The standard of play understandably seemed lower than that of the higher ranked Northern league and I got the impression that there were fewer former academy prospects looking for a way back into full-time football. It struck me more as being local lads playing at their level.

Blue Star took the lead within the first ten minutes from a free-kick after the Cullercoats keeper had handled a back pass. It was a harsh consequence, but the young lad redeemed himself with some good stops soon afterwards.

By half time the score had increased to four-nil and all the players remained on the pitch. Perhaps there wasn’t room for them in the changies or maybe there weren’t any. It meant that if they could watch the competition where small kids tried to hit the crossbar with shots from age-appropriate distances. Better than a post-mortem from the management any day.

In the second half we were treated to a Cullercoats sub who came on with black socks rather than the red ones that his teammates were wearing. To be fair, he had made a token effort of applying a couple of rings of red tape to them. Then with five minutes to go the home goalie was replaced. He clearly had somewhere else to be as he dashed straight out of the ground. At that stage his team were 8-0 up and that’s the way it finished.

Guisborough Town v West Allotment Celtic, Wednesday 24th August 2021, 7.45pm

September 11, 2021

Despite living less than half an hour away for a lot of my life I’ve never been to Guisborough forest. I didn’t even know they had a forest. It’s rarely too late to put something right though and as we’d planned to be in the area for a game later that evening we parked up at the visitor centre and had a look around.

We might have timed our arrival better as we parked up at a quarter to six, fifteen minutes before the need to pay for parking ended. Still, these things tend to balance out.

We walked along a disused railway line, first in a direction that brought us out in a housing estate and then by reversing our steps and heading back to the visitor centre to an area less inhabited. First impressions were very favourable. There are plenty of benches, sculptures and structures for kids to climb on. We only covered a small fraction of the paths so I suspect that we will be heading back at some point with the dog and grandkids.

The match was at Guisborough’s George V ground in Division One of the Northern League and it was seven quid to get in for their tier nine game against West Allotment Celtic. There wasn’t a programme but team sheets were being handed out. A slight drizzle was in the air which I always thought was great for playing in. It’s refreshing when running and it gives the ball that extra bit of pace across the wet grass. As a spectator it’s a pain in the arse and so we nabbed seats in the small covered stand just along from the dugouts.

Our wandering in the woods meant that we’d missed our tea and so I got pie and chips from the kiosk.  I had the choice between pork and mince. I asked which was best and whilst one lady wouldn’t commit, the other silently mouthed mince from behind her colleagues back. Once I had committed to mince the other commented that she wasn’t too sure about hot pork pies. The mince pie was ok but I should have got gravy on the chips. In the twin interests of research and gluttony I later got a pork pie and it was very good, despite being warm.

The game was well attended with 241 turning out. Some were in a covered standing area on the opposite side to us, whilst a few braved the light rain and leaned on the perimeter fence. There were lots of kids making the most of the remaining school holidays with many of them being looked after by dads who were enjoying the rare combination of having a pint and watching football whilst carrying out childcare duties.

Guisborough were in Sunderland strips with West Allotment Celtic (as you might imagine) in green hoops. The home side started well and scored in the third minute. I wondered at that point if a rout was on the cards. The Celtic right back was one to watch. He had a very good touch and wasn’t afraid to take a man or two on. One run saw him dispossessed over on the left wing meaning he had a fair bit of ground to make up to get back to his regular position on the field.

The visitors got more into the game as the half went on before Guisborough added a second goal just before half time. Despite the lead it wasn’t all one-way after that and the home keeper made some very good saves to keep Celtic at bay. It took a deflected shot five minutes from time to make it three-nil and clinch the points for Guisborough.