Wingate Howden v Easington Mechanics, Thursday 28th April 2022, 6.15pm

I’m not one for thinking too deeply, particularly about why I do the things that I do. I’ve never really had a career plan, for example, instead I just stumbled into a particular line of work and then kept on with it in various guises. It’s the same with the groundhopping. It’s not a hobby that I’d any interest in up until a few years ago and I think what probably triggered it was adding a total for grounds attended to my spreadsheet that records where I’ve been.

Perhaps it’s a collector’s mentality, but it’s a collection that can never be completed. Alternatively, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing it to try and impress people. But who would be impressed by someone rocking up at different football grounds, never to return? There are groundhoppers on the Futbology App that I use who have been to thousands of grounds and their ‘achievements’ just make me wonder why they would spend their lives doing that.

Sometimes I think I do things just because they have somehow become the things that I do and that’s about as deeply as I go into it. All that preamble is probably because if I ever were to think too much about what I get up to I would have no idea why I was in Wingate for a game in Division One of the Peterlee and District Sunday League.

Sunday football doesn’t fit into the national pyramid and if it did it would probably be down around the fifteenth tier. This fixture wasn’t even in the top division in their league with a Premier Division above it for the teams to aspire to.

There were still a few games to complete in the league, presumably due to postponements of Sunday fixtures during the winter. It hadn’t been the best of seasons for Wingate Howdon, with them starting the game second from bottom of their ten team league. With just two games remaining of their season they had the possibility of climbing to third from bottom, but as I’ve no idea how many teams get relegated to the second division that might mean very little.

Easington Mechanics, in fifth place in the table, should be ‘on the beach’ at this stage of the season, but as they had only played eleven of their eighteen games they still had a chance of reaching the top two or three, if that counts for anything.  By way of a form guide, Easington won the reverse fixture a couple of weeks ago by seven goals to one.

The Wingate Welfare ground is twenty minutes up the A19. It’s on the site of a long-closed colliery. There are two grass pitches and some changing rooms in the distance. Next to the ground is either a very well-developed set of allotments or a shanty town. There’s a fence around three sides of the pitch that was in use with the gate locked at one end meaning that someone had to climb over it whenever the ball was hoofed into the field next door.

A horse was tied up behind the section of the fence near to a corner flag. I went near for a photo of him with the game in the background and he assumed that I’d come to feed him. My horse coat that would usually have carrots in the pockets was at home and so he had to settle for having his snout rubbed. That’s not a euphemism for anything untoward.

Wingate Howden were in yellow and blue with visitors Easington in green. Both keepers wore the same colour shorts and socks as their team-mates but with a fleece rather than a goalie top. It made sense as the temperature had dropped a little. The first task for the away keeper was to flatten the fresh molehills in his goalmouth. That’s not something you see in the Champions League.

I’ve a groundhopping rule that requires games to have linesmen. This one stretched it to the limit as the flags were held be members of the coaching teams and were never even unfurled. The only use that one flag got was when a player went down and his manager used the flag to rap him on the injured knee and then jab him in the balls to encourage him to stand up.

There weren’t many spectators, maybe six for most of the game with a late peak of around ten as people arrived towards the end. One of the early six probably shouldn’t have counted as he spent the time repairing his bike and was maybe only there because that was the place where his chain came off.

The home goalie got plenty of encouragement from his manager who invariably shouted “what a fucking save, Trevor” whenever the keeper touched the ball and occasionally when he hadn’t. I was surprised by how little stick the ref got but he’d have had an easy response in that if he had been anywhere near competent, he wouldn’t have been officiating at this level.

The standard, as you might expect, wasn’t up to much. There was one fella at the back for Wingate who could play but everyone else seemed to spend the whole game misplacing their passes, safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t matter as the other side would then do the same. Easington were two up at half-time and added a third soon after the restart. A restart that took place after a two minute break for half-time. Howden pulled one back but it finished three-one.

The time watching gave me a chance to reflect further on why I go to these games, and I concluded that it’s because I enjoy watching live football. Simple really. This one had some moments where I genuinely laughed out loud, sometimes at something someone said, often at something they did. I also realised that I enjoy getting out and about, especially to places that I know nothing of. Maybe I don’t need to think too deeply after all.

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