Archive for March, 2022

England U19 v Armenia U19, Saturday 26th March 2022, 2pm

March 31, 2022

International weekends are often seen as a time to go and watch a non-league game. I see plenty of those anyway and so don’t really need the excuse of the Boro not playing to make a grass roots visit. Harry is quite keen on watching England and so instead I picked out an England U19 fixture at Rotherham. It worked for me as I’d not yet been to the New York Stadium and also because I needed to go to Rotherham anyway to pick up some old chimney pots that I’d bought.

The tickets were cheap enough at a fiver for me and half that for Harry. I needed to register with Rotherham which was a bit of an arse on, but if we end up playing them in the next two or three years it will give me a buying history that could come in useful.

Unfortunately, a late change of plans for Harry meant that he couldn’t go, but I was committed to picking up the chimney pots and it’s only an hour and a half or so down the road.

I parked up when I saw the floodlights. It turned out that they weren’t for the New York Stadium but for Rotherham’s former ground, Millmoor. I had a mooch around the outside of the old place, thirty-six years after seeing the Boro there. Oddly, despite Rotherham having moved out a decade or so ago, the posts are still up, and the grass is cut short. It looks as if someone has been playing there. I’ll have to try and find out what the story is and maybe pay it a visit next time I’ve got architectural salvage to lug up the A1.

The New York stadium is a decent venue. It holds twelve thousand in single tier stands. I was near enough on the half-way in the back row, N, so that’s fourteen rows from the pitch. Pretty much a perfect viewing point. Only the one stand was open and it was fairly full so I’d estimate the crowd as about two to three thousand. There were lots of family groups with small kids as well as a few old codgers like me.

England were by far the better side and were two up at half-time before doubling their advantage in the second half. The biggest drama was a scuffle that led to an Armenian player receiving a red and having to be dragged from the pitch by his keeper. England later ended up with ten men too but at least that fella went willingly. The standard was good, as you’d expect, and I look forward to stumbling across the programme sometime in the future and seeing how many of the names have become familiar.

Newcastle University v Sunderland West End, Thursday 24th March 2022, 7.30pm

March 30, 2022

This was a game in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup between two sides from the second division of the Northern League, Newcastle University and Sunderland West End. There’s not much between the sides in the table with both teams still in with a chance of promotion so I was expecting a fairly even cup-tie.

The game was at Kimberly Park, Prudhoe. There’s a sign outside that mentions Prudhoe Town so I asked the fella on the gate what happened to them. Apparently, they still run kids teams and a Sunday side but their senior Saturday team folded a couple of years ago when the manager resigned and took most of the players with him.

It was five quid admission. I asked the same bloke about programmes or team sheets and he directed me around the corner to where the teams were being written onto a large whiteboard. I have no idea if the clubs take this competition seriously but the general opinion amongst those stood watching the names go up was that the teams weren’t at full-strength.

I got myself a coffee and then moved along to the main stand. It’s pretty much the only stand, but with the crowd being no more than forty in total you don’t need a lot more. Newcastle were in red with Sunderland in a Brazil-style strip.

The students found it fairly easy in the first half, running at the visiting defence and passing the ball into the net seemingly at will. They went in at the break leading four-one.

Sunderland pulled one back not long after the restart but were never really in the game. When Newcastle scored their fifth, I started to wonder if the game would end up as the highest scoring fixture I’d seen all season. That record is currently held by an eight-nil score line at Newcastle Blue Star back in August.

It took until the closing moments to equal the record when a Sunderland defender arsed about inside his own six-yard box and a Newcastle striker nicked the ball off his toes and tucked it away for a six-two victory. A bloke nearby let rip with an almighty fart, presumably to celebrate the progression to the next round and signalling a cue to those of us nearby to head for the exit.

Newcastle Benfield v Seaham Red Star, Wednesday 23rd March 2022, 7.30pm

March 26, 2022

I’ve been steadily working my way through the Northern League grounds and this game, at an hour’s drive away, was the nearest option this evening. I could have got to Benfield Park a little quicker if I’d used the Tyne Tunnel but now that they’ve taken away the option to do anything other than pay online I can’t be arsed with remembering and then making the payment once I’ve got back home.

The game was between Newcastle Benfield and Seaham Red Star in the Northern League Division 1 Cup. I’d never heard of the competition before, but there’s lots of things that I haven’t heard of so that’s no reflection on the prestige of the competition.

It was six pounds in and another two for a programme. Benfield Park is a decent ground. There were two covered stands that each seated about a hundred people, a couple of raised terrace areas, a hospitality suite, and a clubhouse. There was also a tea hut where I got a Bovril and almost killed myself with salt poisoning. Someone should invent a version that replaces the salt with pepper.

Bizarrely, there were also a couple of outdoor gym areas just in case anyone wanted to do some pedalling or pummel a punch bag.

Newcastle Benfield were in blue and white stripes with Seaham Red Star in red and white. Newcastle created the better chances in the first half but the away goalie was equal to them. There were a few tackles flying in, but I thought the ref controlled the game well despite the constant moaning at him from both sides. After one altercation he ordered the two miscreants to come to him and he gave them an enormous bollocking that all of the 131 people in the crowd were able to hear. A nice alternative to a couple of yellow cards.

I switched seats at half time and moved to the other side of the pitch. That stand is behind the dugouts, so I got the moaning by the management teams closer up. Seaham took the lead from a penalty early on in the second half, but Newcastle equalised with around twenty minutes to go and then nicked a winner close to the end. By this time the ref had started supplementing his bollockings with cards and the visitors finished a man down.

It was another enjoyable evening out, just sitting quietly waiting for a bit of skill beyond expectations and with the lack of tension that comes from not caring which team wins.

Middlesbrough v Chelsea, Saturday 19th March 2022, 5.15pm

March 24, 2022

I suppose the Boro’s cup run was always likely to come to an end against Chelsea. They are a step above the two Premier League sides that we’d put out in earlier rounds and if we were to have progressed then we would have needed to be at the top of our game and for Chelsea to have an off-day.

We played ok, but the gulf in class on the pitch was just too much and at two down in the first half hour I feared the worst. We didn’t crumble though and whilst they might have taken their foot off the pedal, we just needed a bit of luck to bring us back into the game. Even up until the final few moments I kept thinking that if we could just nick one…

Harry and I were in the front row of the West Stand Upper again. The atmosphere wasn’t as good as against Spurs, but early goals conceded tend to have that effect. The crowd picked up in the second half though and if we had scored it would have lifted the roof off. I though Tav was immense. If there are any haters still around then that performance should surely shut them up for good. Or at least until there’s a misplaced pass.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about the cup run is that we took it seriously. There was a strong side against Mansfield and then we were at full-strength for the three ties against Premier League opposition. That’s how it should be, so it’s another well-done to Chris Wilder.

Boro bowing out ended my personal cup run too. I’d started off in August at Ryhope in the Extra Preliminary Round and took in a match in each subsequent stage, ticking off eight new grounds. The Boro got involved after that and I was able to follow them to Mansfield and Man United before the home ties with Spurs and Chelsea. Twelve rounds in all. The only way that I could have continued the streak to Wembley would have been if we’d got there. And I suppose that’s how it should be as I wouldn’t really want to take the seat of a fan of the competing clubs at that stage. It won’t be long until August though and it will all start again.

Wolviston v Shildon Reserves, Saturday 19th March 2022, 1.30pm

March 23, 2022

With the Boro not kicking off until 5.15pm Harry and I had a chance to take in an early afternoon game. The most convenient was the Wearside League Division One fixture between Wolviston and Shildon Reserves at Metcalfe Park. It was three quid for me and a pound for the grandson. That‘s about right for the eleventh tier.

There was a hut just inside the ground selling food and drink and a picnic area with tables and benches next to it. We started off over in the three-row covered stand on the far side but didn’t stay there for long as it was shaded and about ten degrees cooler than standing on the rail in the sun.

Harry soon found a kid to kick a ball about with and spent most of the game doing that rather than watching.

It was a standard late season encounter with nothing at stake as Wolviston, in blue, were twelfth in the table and Shildon, in red, just the one place above. Neither is going to be involved in the promotion or relegation battles other than as a third party. The home side had the better chances early on, but the visitors came more into the game as the first half went on. It was goalless at the break.

Shildon took the lead soon after the restart following a ball into the box that the defence should really have dealt with. There was a quick equaliser from Wolviston though that I missed as I was watching Harry but everyone reckoned that it resulted from a good turn from someone. There were no more goals and a meaningless mid-table fixture finished in a draw.

Craghead New Punchbowl v West Kyo Earl Grey, Friday 18th March 2022, 7.15pm

March 22, 2022

We are getting into the time of season for cup finals, yet it doesn’t seem so long ago that the season was starting. Time moves quickly for me these days. This final was for the North-West Durham Charity Cup. Who would have thought that Durham was big enough for its North-West to have a competition of its own?

The Charity Cup is for Sunday League teams, both of these from Division One of the Consett District Sunday League. Hence, I suppose the choice of Consett’s Belle View Stadium for the final tie. It was a good venue, three quid in, programmes for free, a cabin for chip butties and coffee and a popular bar with the Wolves-Leeds game on the telly.

Craghead New Punchbowl and West Kyo Earl Grey had both battled through four previous rounds to reach the final and were incredibly well supported. I’d estimate around four hundred people attended, some of whom, as the evening went on, were stood on the tables outside of the bar chanting in support of their team.

I started off in a covered seated stand on the opposite side to the clubhouse before watching the second half from different vantage points on the rail.

Craghead New Punchbowl were in a Milan style kit with West Kyo in dark blue shirts and black shorts. The latter was close enough to the all-black kit of the ref to cause him to first put on an orange bib and then to change to a light green ref shirt.

I didn’t have to wait long for the first goal as an early corner from ‘The Punch’ was palmed into his own net by the West Kyo keeper. He complained furiously about being dazzled by the floodlight, something that I imagine he rarely has to contend with on a Sunday morning. Craghead doubled their lead just before half-time after a break down the right led to an easy tap in.

West Kyo had their names on the backs of their shirts, which seemed a bit over the top for a Sunday side, although I suppose it was a cup final. I wonder if they had thought about commemorative embroidery on the front? They also had a striker with number 1 on his back, something that I hadn’t heard of happening since Holland and Argentina did it in World Cups when I was a kid.

Both sides had their chances in the second-half but the score remained at two-nil and Craghead lifted the trophy. I doubt that they sell much champagne in the Consett clubhouse but two bottles were found for spraying around in celebration after the players had collected their medals and the cup had been raised.

Millwall v Middlesbrough, Saturday 12th March 2022, 3pm

March 16, 2022

At the start of this season, I still had four of the current Championship grounds to tick off with a first visit. One of them was Millwall’s New Den, or as it is now getting on for thirty years old, just The Den again.  Harry was busy with a rugby tournament, so I only needed the one ticket which I was able to get fairly easily.

I booked a seat on the supporter’s club coach. I’d looked at travelling by train but that was a hundred quid more expensive and I’d have had to travel for about an hour and a half on various underground trains once there. I also thought about driving but the lack of parking and the cost and chew on of paying both a congestion charge and an emissions fee put me off. In the end the coach was the easiest option for a day trip. It was a long day though with a 7.30am departure from the Riverside and a midnight return.

The journey itself wasn’t too bad. I was fortunate that, unlike the last game, nobody was singing Boro songs at top volume. I took a book and bought a newspaper which was the first printed copy I’d read for a long time. There’s something more enjoyable about reading a real paper. Maybe I might have to start doing it more.

It took us almost seven hours to get to the Den. We passed through Greenwich towards the end of the journey, and it looks a lot smarter and more tourist-friendly than it did when I lived nearby in the mid-eighties.

The Boro had the upper tier of one of the stands behind a goal. The lower tier was kept empty except for those in wheelchairs. I spotted Paddy below me and had a half-time chat with him. He’d done it properly and driven down the day before. Maybe I should have done the same and had a mooch around Greenwich.

A benefit of having a whole stand with only the upper tier full was that the concourse area was big enough not to be crowded. I was able to watch the end of the televised lunchtime game without being jostled or having beer thrown over me. Stuff you think that you’d be able to take for granted.

I thought we performed ok. Djiksteel was a big miss going forward and we never really looked like scoring. However, we were solid at the back and on the basis that Millwall would have overtaken us if we’d lost, I was happy with a point and a clean sheet.

Brandon United v Chester-le-Street Town, Wednesday 9th March 2022, 7.45pm

March 11, 2022

I had a couple of options for games this evening and if I’d gone to Washington instead, I’d have witnessed a world record penalty shootout that finally ended up with a 25-24 winner after 54 kicks. I imagine that the shoot-out will probably have taken around three-quarters of an hour to complete though and so at times people would have been wishing that it had just gone to a replay.

Instead, I went to Welfare Park for the Northern League game between Brandon United and Chester-le-Street Town.

It was a fiver in and I picked up a programme for a quid. I’m always impressed when clubs of this size produce programmes. With average crowds around the sixty mark I suspect the sales might be in single figures, which is a shame as it was exceptionally well done. I learned from it that Brandon started out as a Sunday League side in the sixties and have the FA Sunday Cup on their list of trophies. They have won the Northern League too, although they are currently struggling in the bottom half of the second division.

Welfare Park looks as if it’s as old as the club. There are some benches behind one goal that are rotting away and the covered seated stand has areas in front of it that have been fenced off, presumably for safety reasons. With perimeter fencing that looks to date from the sixties as well it’s a bit like being in a time-warp. If they do get around to upgrading anything, I suspect that Beamish might be interested in the old stuff. It’s a pity that this was a night game as there looked to be a great view across the pitch to what might have been Durham. In the dark though, it was just a cluster of distant lights.

Brandon were in all red with visitors Chester-le-Street in yellow and blue. Imagine it as Wales v Sweden. Both sides appeared to struggle with the cold and the wind and a lot of first touches seemed to go straight to an opposition player. Brandon broke the deadlock not long before half-time with a header after some penalty box pinball and that was enough to take the points and move them a little further towards mid-table.

Middlesbrough v Sheffield United, Tuesday 8th March 2022, 7.45pm

March 11, 2022

With Harry getting more enthusiastic by the week about going to the Boro games I thought I’d take him down to Bramall Lane for the Sheff United match. The easiest way was to go on the official supporters coach, and I booked two seats online when I ordered the match tickets. It’s a long time since I’ve been on the bus to a game, official or otherwise and I’d forgotten just how noisy it all is. There were two lads sat directly behind us who sang Boro songs throughout most of the journey. Harry enjoyed that part of it, as you do when you’re eleven, but to me, it was just unwanted racket. I rarely even listen to the radio in the car these days in order to avoid other people’s noise.

The journey took longer than it should have done due to the difficulty in parking the coach. Cars had been abandoned on double yellows on each side of the road to the parking area and it meant a lot of manoeuvring for the drivers. I’d have deliberately knocked their wing mirrors off if I were driving.

We were greeted by a sniffer dog whilst queuing for the turnstiles. He reminded me of the ones that they had in Korea at Incheon Airport. I would regularly arrive with a cold bag in my suitcase packed full of frozen sausages, bacon and lamb burgers from Blackwell’s and the sniffer dogs would ignore it as they were trained for Class A’s only. That’s some discipline. I doubt the beagle could manage it.

Once inside the concourse area was packed. We struggled to get something to eat as young lads bounced about going ‘fuckin’ mental’. As so often at away games it looked as if they were extending their drinking capacity by topping up with coke, presumably before they reached the sniffer dog, although the extent of the queues for the toilet cubicles suggested that some had been successful in bringing extra supplies into the ground.

Our seats were in the back row of the lower tier, bang in the middle. The overhang meant that I couldn’t see much of Bramall Lane but it’s a ground that I’ve been to plenty of times in the past. Mind you, the Sheffield trip I remember the most is one where I didn’t see any of the game as a consequence of my son Tom getting hit by a car on the way to the game. I spent that afternoon and night at a Sheffield Hospital as they operated on his broken collar bone.

The evening got worse as the game went on. We didn’t really compete and relied too much on lumping the ball forward. It was as if Warnock was back in charge and Sheff Utd were well worth their four-one victory. In a final act of fuckwittery someone threw a brick at our bus on the way out breaking the outer pane of a double-glazed window. If it had smashed the inner pane, we’d have had to wait for a replacement bus which is not what you want when you are already scheduled to get back at around midnight. Still, I suppose I should be grateful that neither of us were ran over.

Burradon and New Fordley v Mayfair, Sunday 6th March 2022, 2pm

March 10, 2022

I’d had my eye on the FA Sunday Cup for a while. It’s a competition that I was vaguely aware of due to Hardwick Social of the Stockton Sunday League winning it a couple of times in recent years. It’s a national competition for Sunday League teams that is ran on a regional basis in the early rounds.

From what I could see, games are usually staged at grounds of bigger clubs to allow a more prestigious venue than school playing fields or a council pitch.

Burradon and New Fordley of the Cramlington Sunday League had made it through to the quarter-finals and their tie with Mayfair was taking place at Morpeth Town’s Craik Park. I drove up from Teesside, parked in the overflow car park and paid my £2 admission. If I’d been inclined I could have got in for 50p as the bloke on the turnstile clearly  had no idea if I was a pensioner or not. He gave both prices, leaving it to me to choose my age category. I suppose it won’t be too long before I may quite enjoy any uncertainty about my age.

Burradon were in yellow and blue stripes with Mayfair in a grey kit. I’d hoped that they were from ‘Monopoly’ Mayfair and might be kitted out in top hats and tails. Sadly, they weren’t from round that way although they did wear grey shirts that would have fitted well with morning suits. I never really see grey as being a football colour unless you’re Dino Zoff, of course. Can you believe that he’s eighty? Me neither. I doubt he ever gets quoted pensioner prices at games like these.

Mayfair were from Liverpool, which according to the programme has one of the strongest Sunday Leagues in the country. I remember that when Hardwick won this cup they had a few Stockton Town players in their side and maybe the strength of a Sunday side depends on how successful you are at persuading players to turn out twice over a weekend.

I liked the Craik Park ground. There was a raised seated stand on the far side with tall conifers behind it. On the side of the pitch where I came in there was another covered seated stand and a raised viewing area that was a sort of balcony to a bar tent. A covered standing area behind one of the goals provided an alternative to seating down or leaning against the perimeter railing.

The initial play was quite cautious with both sides keen to play a short passing game on the artificial turf. Some of the tackles were outrageous and I wondered if there was a Sunday set of rules where you could still wipe someone out with a lunge from three yards away providing you got a slight touch on the ball mid-air.

Mayfair opened the scoring with a direct free-kick, but ‘The Ford’ levelled just before half-time following up from a shot that came back off a post.

Some of the second half tackles were just as ferocious and there were numerous scuffles that rarely received a card. Mayfair got the winner with a shot through a crowd of players that left the home keeper unsighted and flat-footed. Dormans are one of the teams joining Mayfair in the last four of the competition and so I might yet get the opportunity to take in another Sunday Cup game this season.