Wheatley Hill W.M.C v Ryhope Colliery Welfare U23, Saturday 5th February 2022, 1.30pm

Harry and I got back from the Boro’s game at Old Trafford earlyish on the Saturday morning and after dropping him off I should really have got on with some outstanding jobs. I had a quick look on the Wearside League website though and saw that there was a game with a 1.30pm kick-off just a twenty-minute drive up the road. The jobs could wait.

The fixture that I’d spotted was in the First Round of the Clem Smith Bowl. I’d never heard of the competition or of Clem Smith. It featured two sides from the twelfth-tier Second Division of the Wearside League, Wheatley Hill Working Men’s Club and Ryhope Colliery Welfare Under Twenty-Threes. Wheatley Hill play at the Old Fire Station, a ground that took some finding.

I’ve never been to Wheatley Hill before and to be honest its unlikely that I’ll have a reason to return unless it’s part of some witness protection programme. I reckon you could hide someone there indefinitely as long as they could resist the urge to nip back to civilization every now and then.

My sat nav initially took me down a farm track which in hindsight wasn’t too far from where I wanted to be, but with fences between my car and the pitch it might as well have been miles away. Wheatley Hill isn’t a big place though and I eventually stumbled across the game. There wasn’t an old fire station anywhere within sight, so maybe The Field Near To The Allotments Ground might have been a better name.

The game was a few minutes old by the time I’d parked up and made my way in via a gate at one corner of the field. Wheatley Hill were in yellow and black with Ryhope in red and white. I hadn’t missed any goals. A quick count up of the crowd suggested that I was the seventh spectator.

As so often happens at this level the linos were drawn from the ranks of the subs or coaching staff. Neither of the press-ganged fellas on this occasion were keen to be involved and one kept the flag in his coat pocket whilst the other left the flag on the floor and picked it up only when absolutely necessary.

Wheatley Hill took the lead a few minutes after I arrived with a poorly struck shot that bounced in off a post whilst the keeper, who had chosen not to dive, watched on in horror. The standard was as bad as I’ve seen for a while, but the uneven pitch and terrible weather didn’t help at all. I wouldn’t have fancied turning out in the wind and rain. Actually I didn’t fancy watching either, it was just too cold and wet. I called it a day long before half-time and checked on the result later. It had finished as a two-all draw with the home side taking the tie on pens.

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