Holker Old Boys v AFC Blackpool, Saturday 27th August 2022, 3pm

August 30, 2022

This was a day that started with a dawn-chorus of birds and snores in a tent at the Krankenhaus festival organized by Sea Power at Muncaster Castle. We’d rented a house less than a mile along the A595 from the venue but there wasn’t a path by the road and so the most direct accessible route meant an hour long walk through a golf course in the wrong direction and then up over the fells.

Harry and Isla were keen to camp and so we set the tent up at the festival. There was plenty for them to do in addition to watching bands and we toured the grounds and castle, watched a bird of prey display and walked into Ravensglass via a Roman bath house.

There was also a dog show with categories judged by Sea Power’s Neil, Abi and Scott, as well as Martin’s parents. Henry failed to win a rosette in categories such as ‘Dog most like a drummer’, ‘Best Trick’ and ‘Walking like a Cruft’s Dog’. In one category he was beaten by a soft toy.

The main reason I was at Muncaster though was the music, specifically Sea Power’s music. They opened the festival on the Friday afternoon by playing Open Season in its entirety. It’s a great album which I still like to listen to, but my main thought afterwards was how far they have progressed in the seventeen years since it was released.

Saturday night they played a ‘regular’ set. Or near enough. I’d been expecting a similar set-list to that of their recent tour, but they dipped into the back catalogue for some songs from ten years or so ago before finishing with the usual classics. Two Fingers was probably the highlight.

Sea Power closed the festival on Monday afternoon with what was trailed as a ‘gentle rarities’ selection. It lived up to its billing with some so rare that I’d forgotten they existed. I was hoping to hear ‘Lovely Day Tomorrow’ and I wasn’t disappointed.

Anyway, back to Saturday. After the dog show Harry and I headed south for a game in the tenth-tier North West Counties Division One North between Holker Old Boys and AFC Blackpool. I’m not sure if Holker is a place in its own right, but the Rakesmoor ground was on the outskirts of Barrow, up a narrow country lane.

We arrived around ten minutes before kick-off and with plenty of space in the car park. It was a fiver at the gate for me with Harry and the dog getting in for free. We took seats in the covered stand behind the goal at the top of the slope and had views of hills to our left, with Lakeland mountains behind them.

I reckon there were probably a hundred or so watching by the time everyone arrived. Holker were in green, with Blackpool in what I presume is a traditional orange kit for teams from that part of the world. The visitors had some early opportunities and came closest when hitting the bar, but it was Holker that struck first from a direct free-kick mid-way through the first half.

At half time I nipped into the clubhouse for a drink and noticed that the gents toilets were labelled the Jim Redfern Suite. Nice touch.

Blackpool started the second half well, equalizing after a striker latched on to a long ball and rounded the keeper for a tap in. They went ahead on the hour after the Holker keeper could only parry a shot to the feet of a fella who gratefully finished it off, before increasing their lead after a low cross from the left provided another easy tap in.

At three-one down with ten minutes remaining it didn’t look like Holker’s day. They pulled one back from a penalty though after the Blackpool keeper clattered someone and then equalized with five minutes to go from a close-range glancing header following a corner.

The drama wasn’t over at that point with Holker pushing for a winner. They missed a couple of good chances before nicking an injury time winner that sparked a mixture of celebration and argy-bargy as Blackpool tried to get hold of the ball to quickly restart. When they finally did get the opportunity the ref blew almost straight away to signal a victory for Holker that just ten minutes earlier did not look remotely on the cards.

Barrow v Lincoln City, Tuesday 23rd August 2022, 7.45pm

August 29, 2022

Jen and I were over in the Lake District for a couple of weeks, primarily to take in the Sea Power festival at Muncaster Castle. We’d spent a couple of hours earlier in the day walking the dog up on the fells and with him suitably tired out I thought I’d drive down to Barrow in the evening for their League Cup tie with Lincoln City.

I’d bought my ticket for a tenner online and when navigating my way around the ground I stopped at the fanzone for a burger. There were tributes to former players on the wall and one of them was for Kenny Lowe. I worked with Kenny for Capper Pipes at ICI about thirty-five years ago, although it’s his dad, Kenny Senior, that I’ve a better recollection of. Kenny Junior eventually went pro towards the end of his playing career and subsequently managed Barrow. It looks like he has been doing well managing in Australia in recent years.

Despite already having a ticket it took a while to get into the Holker Street ground. I joined a queue for the main stand twenty minutes before kick-off and still managed to miss the first ninety seconds. A fella behind me was furious, complaining to a steward that “It’s the same every week”. You’d think that if he knew about the difficulties getting in then he’d turn up that little bit earlier.

I spent the first half in my seat at the back of the main stand. The fella next to me was able to give me some info about the Barrow team and when he found out that I was a Middlesbrough supporter we traded memories of Boro players from the seventies and of various pubs in the Teesside area.

Lincoln went a goal up after a few minutes, but Barrow equalized soon after and the teams went in level at the break.

At half-time I went for a drink and discovered that I could walk around the perimeter and watch the second half from the stand opposite. I felt guilty about not returning to continue my discussions with the fella from the first half, just in case he was left wondering if he had offended or bored me, but switching sides gave me the opportunity for more varied photos.

Not a great deal happened in the second half. I watched John Rooney, the younger brother of Wayne, for a while. He had a lot of the same mannerisms as his brother, including that jump and twist reaction when something doesn’t quite come off. I’d been told that he was lacking fitness and that showed, but he put the effort in until being subbed and looks a decent player at this level.

As it was getting late, and I had no real interest in which team won I left on eighty-six minutes. I was less than ten yards outside of the ground when a roar went up that was too loud to be anything other than a home goal, almost certainly the winner. I drove past the ground five minutes later and heard another, more muted, celebration that I took to be the final whistle.

I was wrong though and as I listened to the round-up on the radio, FiveLive reported that the final score was two each and that the tie would be going to penalties. I was a few miles up the A595 by the time Lincoln prevailed to take their place in the third round.

Ponteland United v Wallington, Saturday 20th August 2022, 2.30pm

August 28, 2022

Jen and I were up north for a party. It was an excellent evening and whilst I enjoyed meeting new people, the best part was catching up with friends that I hadn’t seen for, in some cases, as little as a fortnight, and others ranging from anything from a few months to thirty-odd years. Even for those that I’d not seen for a long time the conversations fell easily into place as if we’d just picked up the chatting from the last occasion that we spoke.

As good as the party was, I didn’t want to start the drinking at two in the afternoon and so Jen and I headed for Ponteland first and a game in the eleventh tier Northern Alliance Premier Division. Ponteland looks to be a fairly posh commuter village, a place where geordies move to when they’ve ‘made it’. Alan Shearer once lived there, and I imagine that if Ant and Dec didn’t have to work down south they would probably be lunching in the Blackbird pub as we did.

There’s a Pele tower too. Nothing to do with the Brazilian, by all accounts, but a place where the vicar would hide from marauders by cunningly ‘going upstairs’. I’m not sure you get many marauders these days or how much protection the tower would provide in its current state, but I’m glad it hasn’t been turned into a florist or a nail salon.

The game took place at Ponteland Primary School. It’s a big pitch if it is usually used by the under elevens. Ponteland United have recently moved to a nearby leisure centre but that pitch wasn’t quite ready. It means that I got the opportunity to tick off the school pitch and I’ll no doubt return to see them at their new place before long.

The sign on the gate stated that it was two quid to get in, but nobody was taking any money. We were an official short too, with just the one lino accompanying the ref on their long trek from the changies. Each of the teams provided a replacement for one half and both did a good job at enthusiastically flagging the opposition offside.

Ponteland were in Newcastle colours with visitors Wallington in green and black. The home side took the lead ten minutes in and held on to it until half-time.

The second half was marred by rain. Normally I wouldn’t have been too bothered by light drizzle, but I only had the one coat with me and didn’t want to have to turn up at the party soaked through. I’d spotted a gap in the fence behind one of the goals and I drove around from the school car park and positioned the car so that I could see the far goal. Whenever the rain stopped I got out and watched from the rail and when it started up again I followed the progress from the more comfortable and drier front seat.

I got lucky in that all four goals in the second half were scored by Ponteland at the end that I could see. They ran out five-nil winners and I was perfectly placed to drive off to the party the moment the ref blew the final whistle.

Ashington v Sunderland RCA, Tuesday 16th August 2022, 7.30pm

August 27, 2022

The Northern League season is well underway now and with Ashington having won their opening four games to top the table I thought I’d head through the Tyne Tunnel to take in their fixture with Sunderland RCA. It was eight quid admission to the Woodhorn Lane ground with another pound-fifty for a programme.

There’s a large covered seated stand down one side, with a smaller one opposite. A burger van was parked behind one of the goals and as I hadn’t eaten before I set off, I paid it a visit. Chips were still fifteen minutes from being ready, so I settled for a cheeseburger. I was a little surprised to be charged fifty pence extra for adding onions to it, but I suppose it means that those who don’t like onions don’t have to subsidise those of us that do. Maybe they should apply the same logic to ketchup. Or sugar in tea.

Ashington were in a white shirt with a black V, whilst mid-table RCA were in blue. The visitors took the lead early on with a finish that I missed as I was making my way up the steps into the main stand. Ashington had most of the play in the remainder of the first half, but lacked patience in the final third and often just pumped the ball aimlessly into the box.

I went into the clubhouse at half-time, to get a coke and a warm. The temperature outside was colder than I’d expected, and I should have worn an additional layer or two. I stayed there for the remainder of the game, watching through the windows and by careful positioning also keeping an eye on the Rangers v PSV match on the television via the reflection in the glass that appeared to float above the real game.

Ashington pressed forward throughout the second half and with around ten minutes remaining the body language of some of the home players suggested that they felt it wasn’t to be their day. However, a cutback cross from the right was swept home to level and then in the third minute of added time a ball in from the left was met with a downward header that gave the keeper no chance and clinched three points that had looked well out of reach.

Five wins from five for Ashington strengthened their position at the top of the table.

Middlesbrough v Sheffield United, Sunday 14th August 2022, 2pm

August 26, 2022

Harry and Alistair were both away on holiday, so I went along to this game by myself. It was a hot day and there was plenty of drinking going on at the bar outside the main gates. It didn’t seem as busy as the season opener a fortnight ago, but I suppose it’s a bit more difficult for a lot of people to travel on a Sunday.

I should have arrived earlier as the food and drink kiosks inside were sold out of diet coke and water. If I’d wanted a non-sugary drink, then coffee or tea were the only options left. Surely, it’s not too much to ask for to have sufficient stocks of drinks that would have sell-by dates well into next year. I think part of the problem is the free drink scheme where mainly old folks seemed determined to take up their entitlement regardless of whether they wanted to drink it or not. Maybe I’ll have to start bringing my own supplies.

The game was decent. We started slowly but scored an excellent equalizer after some good one touch passing to open them up. We conceded another in the second half but drew level in the last few minutes. A draw always feels better when you come from behind.

I’d have liked to see Fry and Steffan lumping it forward on fewer occasions, but in the absence of Crooks and with a few new signings still to come, I was happy enough with the performance.

A downside was the constant aggro between the home and away supporters where they were segregated by stewards. I’d have just removed anyone who took a step into the empty seats between themselves and the opposition fans. It won’t be long before there are fences between blocks at this rate. Another pitch invader increased the likelihood of fences between us and the pitch too. It’s as if Hillsborough and Valley Parade never happened.

Horseracing at Ripon, Saturday 13th August 2022

August 25, 2022

Ironopolis had the second run of his career in a one mile restricted novice race at Ripon. Isla was away on holiday and so it was just Jen and I that went along to see how he got on. We were able to leave the car in the shade under a tree in the Owners Car Park and got in just in time for the first race.

There was a good turnout with the Club Enclosure sold out and plenty of people taking advantage of being able to take their own beer into the Course Enclosure. A brass band was knocking out the tunes in the bandstand. It made me wish that it was a drinking day.

We watched the first race from the Club Stand. When it was time for Ironopolis to run we could have gone into a a small section reserved for Owners and Trainers, but we had a good enough view from the seats immediately behind that section. There was a dedicated bar for us too, where we caught up with some of the other syndicate members, before heading out to the parade ring for a chat with the trainer and jockey.

The pre-race chat between the syndicate mainly dealt with the horse being backed into 6-4. He drifted to 9-4, but still went off as 2-1 favourite in a nine horse field. There was a consensus that the price was too short, although I could see why he would attract support after a strong finish on his first run and an assessment in the race card that he was likely to improve.

The word from the trainer was that he still doesn’t do much when working at the stables. He didn’t do a lot in this race either and was never in contention, jogging home in sixth place. The jockey reckoned that he didn’t like running around a bend. Others thought that he likely needs softer ground and a less undulating track. Perhaps he needs to be told that lower grade horses usually get their balls chopped off.

We watched the third race from the grandstand, for a different perspective. As we were looking after the dog we called it a day after that one and headed home. Hopefully Ironopolis will be back on a track that suits him before long.

Richmond Town Reserves v Northallerton Town Reserves, Wednesday 10th August 2022, 6.30pm

August 24, 2022

I’d been hoping to watch a game at Earls Orchard for a while. It’s the pitch that’s alongside Richmond Castle and occasionally pops up in groundhopper threads about picturesque venues. Richmond Town played their games there until joining the Wearside League and then moved to the Dave Clark Arena, which sounds grand, but in reality is a school pitch.

Richmond Town Reserves play in the less demanding Wensleydale League and when I noticed that they had a pre-season friendly against Northallerton Town Reserves at Earls Orchard, I thought I’d go along.

Richmond is an ideal location to go for a walk and so Jen and I turned up a couple of hours prior to kick-off and took Henry for a stroll along the River Swale. The Coast to Coast National Trail runs alongside the river for a while and as we thought we’d be unlikely to get lost if we kept the river in sight this seemed like a simple option.

The path took us through some fields of sheep and kept returning to the river, which allowed Henry some drinking opportunities. Wildlife sighting were rare, with rabbits in a field being the highlight. There were lots of people around though with some family barbecues being held on the river banks and groups of teenagers dipping in and out of the water.

We were back at Earls Orchard in time for kick-off and, as suspected, the castle did provide a spectacular backdrop. Richmond were in blue with Northallerton dressed up as Newcastle. There weren’t many people watching, maybe twenty or so most of the time, and I suspect some of the lads in the crowd were either first teamers or squad members who hadn’t been selected.

Not a lot happened in the first half but the game came to life in the second half with Richmond scoring two penalties in quick succession. They added a third on the hour before Northallerton pulled one back from a spot kick of their own.

Richmond had the game well under control though and rattled home another three goals before the end for a comprehensive victory. If I lived in Richmond I’d probably pop along every week, set up a camping chair, and watch the football in front of a special backdrop.

Chester-le-Street Town v Redcar Town, Tuesday 9th August 2022, 7.30pm

August 23, 2022

Chester-le-Street Town have played at their Chester Moor ground for the past forty-two years. Initially in the Wearside League and then in the Northern League since 1983. It’s an easy drive from Norton, so I’m a little unsure as to why it’s taken me so long to get to a game.

Anyway, better late than never, Jen and I took the dog up the A1 for their Division Two fixture with Redcar Town.

It was five quid in and another two for the best programme at this level that I’ve seen for a while. I speculated another quid on the raffle which, as usual, came to nothing, before sitting on the concrete steps behind the far goal. If we’d wanted, we could have had proper seats in the main covered stand, but it was fairly crowded and I thought it would be better if the beagle had a bit more space.

There was another clash of colours on the pitch with both sides in blue and white. It’s something that seems more prevalent lately.

I learned from the programme that Chester-le-Street were on a losing streak of nine home games. Their chances of ending that streak were reduced midway through the first half when a long through-ball drew the keeper way out from his goal. The Redcar striker got there first, nicked it past him and tapped home into an empty net.

At half-time I went into the clubhouse and got a pasty and some chips. The friendly lady behind the counter told me that they had been cooked in a Ninja. It was wasted on me as I’ve no idea what a Ninja is, or whether it is likely to improve the taste of what were clearly bought-in oven chips. The tray came in handy though for giving the dog some water from a tap behind the goal.

Redcar had most of the territory in the second half and in hindsight we’d have been better off switching ends sooner than we did. The game was over as a contest when Redcar added a second goal fifteen minutes from time and they notched two more in the last ten minutes for a win that extended the home losing streak to ten games.

Boro Rangers v Prudhoe Youth Club Seniors, Saturday 6th August 2022, 3pm

August 22, 2022

This game took place on the weekend of the Stone Valley North Festival and as it was only twenty minute’s drive from the Ushaw Moor festival site I was happy to nip out for a couple of hours despite it resulting in me missing Sleeper and Stone Foundation.

I did see plenty of decent bands though, including From The Jam, with the highlights probably being the headline sets from The Stranglers and The Boomtown Rats.

As you may have deduced from that glimpse of the line-up, it’s a festival for old people. A few people had brought their grandkids, which lowered the average age, but I’d say that even at fifty-seven, I was below the median.

At 2.30 I left Jen, Paul and Strach to get on with their drinking and drove to the New Ferens ground in Durham. It’s the temporary home of Boro Rangers who were promoted to Northern League Division Two this summer from the North Riding League and had to relocate as their previous ground was below the required standard.

The visitors were Prudhoe Youth Club Seniors who were also in their first Northern League season having been promoted from the Northern Alliance League.

It was only three quid in, which is cheaper than usual for the Northern League, although in hindsight I wonder if I was charged the pensioner rate. I asked the bloke on the gate if there were many in already and he went to the trouble of adding up his tally sheet. I was the thirty-fourth person through the turnstile although a few more came in after me including three WAGs who were clearly unimpressed at the distance that they had to travel from the Boro for a home game.

The visitors were in blue with Rangers turning out in Boro kits. Usually that would be enough to ensure my allegiance, but Boro Rangers weren’t a likeable team. They were very aggressive with tackles flying in from the start. That’s legitimate, but they combined their over-physical approach with excessive appealing for every decision and then furiously berated the officials from the pitch, dugout and stands when it didn’t go their way. And often when it did.

The first half passed without much goalmouth action and as the game went on, I found myself hoping for a Prudhoe goal, ideally a contentious one that would reduce the entire Boro Rangers contingent to apoplexy.

A goal did eventually come when a direct free kick was curled with pace into the top corner of the Prudhoe net. It was enough to deservedly take the three points for Boro Rangers and I was able to get back to Stone Valley in time for the closing songs of Peter Hook’s set and to join in with the evening’s drinking.

FC Hartlepool v Durham City, Wednesday 3rd August 2022, 6.45pm

August 21, 2022

August is a time when there are plenty of games going on in the lower leagues as fixtures can be played mid-week without floodlights and with little chance of the weather intervening.

With that in mind, Jen, Isla, Henry and I went along to FC Hartlepool for their eleventh tier Wearside League Division One match against Durham City. We found the ground easily enough but, as I’ve often done in the past, I’d got the date wrong and we were twenty-four hours too early.

This is usually the point where I bring up standing outside of Freddy Natt aged seven trying to get into a padlocked school one day before it actually re-opened after Christmas, but I dare say you’ve heard that one. As we were already out and about, we drove to Seaton Carew for a walk along the seafront and some fish and chips.

Jen and I returned to the Grayfields Enclosure the next evening with the dog and paid our three quid admission. If we’d been a bit sharper, we could have nabbed the bench seat near to one of the corner flags, but instead ended up having to lean on the railings around the pitch. There was a decent turnout, with people watching from all four sides of the pitch and a few kids having kickabouts of their own.

I’d seen Durham a couple of times last season in their relegation from the Northern League. They’d been really hammered on a few occasions and didn’t win a game until the final day of the campaign. I was hoping that the drop down a level would make them more competitive, but a seven-nil defeat on the opening day of the season suggested that they may struggle this season too.

Hartlepool were in red and blue, with Durham in red and black. Theoretically there wasn’t a clash of colours, but in real life it was often difficult to tell the teams apart. How hard is it to make sure that the teams play in non-clashing kits?

Hartlepool took the lead in the first few minutes with a shot from outside the box that appeared to have left the keeper unsighted. The added another ten minutes later and a third from a penalty on the half-hour. The home goalie didn’t have a save to make in the first half and whilst it was still only three-nil at the break, Hartlepool genuinely could have been ten goals to the good with better finishing.

Durham kept their hosts at bay for the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, but two goals in quick succession around the hour mark opened the floodgates and Hartlepool added another six in the remaining half-hour to run out eleven-nil winners.

It’s hard to gauge how good unbeaten Hartlepool are two games into the season, but it looks like another tough year for Durham.