Wallington v Alnwick Town, Friday 8th April 2022, 7pm

I’d been intending to take in a game at Whitley Park for a while as it’s the home of the Newcastle U23 side and their fixtures keep appearing on my futbology app. I’d spotted this game on Twitter though as a consequence of following any number of obscure sources and with a free evening I headed north to watch the final of the Northumberland FA Football Safety Officers Association Benevolent Bowl.

Whitley Park isn’t far beyond the Tyne Tunnel. It’s a route that I’m a lot happier using now that I’ve discovered that you can pre-pay for up to ten tickets in advance. Having to get home and remember to pay online had been pissing me off, but now I can just drive through without any thought other than a mental calculation of how many of my ten trips I’ve used.

What I invariably do wonder though, is what it would be like if water started gushing in? I’m sure it will have been covered in some disaster movie and each time I travel through the tunnel I imagine having to out-pace a wave of water gushing in from behind. It’s not a scary prospect like, for example, those recurring dreams I have where I fall out of a cargo plane with an open ramp at the back, more of a curiosity as to whether I’d be able to make the end of the tunnel. Probably not and, I suppose, one reason why pre-paying too far ahead may not be prudent.

It was three quid in with team sheets available and a digital programme that I downloaded with one of those Q-Codes. Wallington were taking on Alnwick Town, both teams being in the top division of the Northern Alliance, so that’s tier eleven of the pyramid.

I’d not heard much about Wallington, but Alnwick Town were in the Northern League until around four years ago and as their ground dates back to the arse end of the nineteen century I’ve long had plans to head up there for a game. Wallington were in green and black with Alnwick in black and white

There was a full clubhouse with a bar and with a buffet laid out on some tables at one end. I presumed that it was intended for committee members or safety officers as it certainly wouldn’t have been enough to have fed a crowd of over three hundred. I settled for a cheeseburger from the tea hut and then took a seat in one of the two covered stands that ran along one side of the well-maintained pitch.

A dozen or so Alnwick fans had taken over the terrace behind the goal to my left. They chanted about the Wallington support being “fuckin’ shite” and pondered loudly whether Whitley Park might be the kind of establishment where books could be borrowed. One threw a used air horn on to the net defended by the Wallington goalie. It all seemed a little too earnest for this level.

I recognised the ref. Mainly because he had officiated at a game I’d attended last week and because he has such a startling likeness to one of my former brothers-in-law that for a while I’d thought it was him.

It was only when I realised that Mick is a good thirty years older than the ref that I concluded that it wasn’t him. That and the different names. I find I often see people out and about that I think I know only to realise that the person I’ve noticed looks like someone did long ago. If I were to chance upon the person that I thought I’d spotted the reality is that by now they will be bald or grey and wear Sketchers to accommodate their bunions.

Alnwick had a elderly striker who was getting for that stage in life and he spent the game berating the ref and getting into scraps with the opposing defence. It seemed that he thrived by having a strop on with the world and everything in it. A bit like my Mam when I take her shopping. The odds on the angry bloke’s side taking the trophy dropped when they opened the scoring with a quarter of an hour to go but Wallington equalised within a couple of minutes and then deservedly clinched the Bowl with a second goal towards the end.

I stayed for the presentation and obligatory jumping up and down, then headed back through the tunnel, putting my foot down in case of leaks.

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