The second of the season’s Northern League groundhops in celebration of that great competitions 125th anniversary took place in a three mile square radius in a corner of the great gateway city of Newcastle. It was a four game feast of football for visitors from all corners of the land and indeed beyond these waters. Here is a review of what happened in another fantastic day with our friends in the north.
Northern League Division 2 (26/10/2013 10.30am)
Heaton Stannington (2) 3 (Wright pen 20,89,Smith 32)
Birtley Town (0) 0
Attendance: 412 (at Grounsell Park)
Heaton Stannington can date their formation to 1910 when two local sides in the Stannington Grove area merged, given the new club their suffix. They played in those days at Newton Park in High Heaton and competed in the Tyneside and Northern Amateur Leagues. The pre-War years were good to the Stan, in 1934 they moved into Grounsell Park, their present home. This seemed to catalyse the club as they won the Northumberland Amateur Cup in 1937 and were runners up in the Tyneside League. They gained election to the Northern League for the 1939/40 season becoming the club allied to the Northumberland FA to participate in the league since 1906. After just once season the club found their ground requisitioned by the Army to aid the war effort. They retained their place in the Northern League having been elected as non playing members for a season. By 1952 the lack of success saw the club resign and join the Northern Alliance.
Grounsell Park lies on a former quarry and was left to the club and a board of trustees in the will of Lord Armstrong. This would be the pre-cursor to a lengthy legal battle over the ground which effectively lasted from 1968 to 1983. A move to another holding company allowing the sale of alcohol at the ground let to the club saddled with huge rental debts. The rent continued to climb and eventually a developer applied to build a supermarket on the site. This was overcome but debts mounted ever higher. In an act of desperation the club decided to challenge the legality of the holding company’s ownership. Little Heaton Stannington had their day in court and won. Ownership was rewritten and a covenant drawn up prohibiting anyone to profit from the redevelopment of the ground. Lord Armstrong would have been rightly proud.
The Stan have dominated the Northern Alliance in recent seasons winning the title for the last two seasons and the magnificent League trophy resides in their clubhouse. One does wonder if its unprotected state is prudent considering Carlisle City managed to lose the Northern Alliance League Cup trophy for three days in 1976 when it was stolen during their celebrations in the Hedgefield County Hotel. Heaton were promoted to the Northern League for the current campaign on the proviso they installed floodlights by the end of September. Once again, however, Grounsell Park provides the Stan with a headache. Having been built over a quarry there is nowhere for foundations for pylons to go and if a grant is not forthcoming the club will not be able to proceed with illumination. This would be a great shame as they currently lead Division 2 and cantered through this encounter with Birtley Town, playing some very attractive football. The game will forever be overshadowed by an incident in the 64th minute where a mindless act of violence saw a Stan played left with a suspected broken jaw. Suffice to say for a heinous and cowardly act I truly hope the assailant is banned from the game permanently. Let’s hope this go-ahead and friendly club can overcome their latest obstacle and get lit up very soon, for they certainly have form for overcoming adversity.
Northern League Division 2 (26/10/2013 13.15pm)
West Allotment Celtic (0) 0 North Shields (0) 0
Attendance: 429 (at Whitley Park)
Celtic were formed in 1928 again from a merger of two smaller clubs, West Allotment Primitive Methodists and West Allotment Juniors. The new club initially competed in the Tynemouth and District League. By 1938 Celtic were playing in the Northern Amateur League at ground known as the Farm Ground. It was so basic in fact, that the players would change in a disused cow shed. The club had a golden era in the 1950’s annexing the Northern Amateur League title four times in a row. The club left the soggy wasteland that was the Farm Ground for the Backworth Welfare ground in 1968 and the move seemed to galvanise the club after a period of decline.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw Celtic dominate the Northern Alliance a competition they had joined in 1983. After an incredible eight title wins between 1986 and 2004, they gained election to the Northern League. Off the field the club had been groundsharing at Whitley Bay’s Hillheads Park between 1995 and 2001, but then the progressive club gained the tenancy of Whitley Park, the Northumbrian FA Ground. The club now have a very smart facility which boasts a truly immaculate pitch. The raised banking affording a surprisingly clear view of the distant Penshaw Monument which features on the badge of Sunderland AFC.
Having won the Second Division of the Northern League in 2004/5 the Celts enjoyed five seasons in the top division before slipping back down. Visitors can’t have failed to be impressed by the set up which extended to a top rate glossy programme as well as “Three Miles West” a monthly club magazine covering all aspects of Celtic life.
On the field it’s a match that pitches the fourth placed hosts against North Shields who reside in third. There follows 90 minutes of competitive football which ultimately fails to yield a goal for either side. Happily for this well organised club they gain the biggest crowd of the day to Whitley Park.
Northern League Division 1 (26/10/2013 16.00pm)
Team Northumbria (2) 3 (Luke 8, Riley 22, Watling 55)
Whitley Bay (3) 4 (Chow 16, pen 26, 54, 66)
Attendance: 396 (at Coach Lane)
The hosts were formed as recently as 1999 as Northumbria University gaining immediate election to the Northern Alliance. By 2003 they had risen to the Premier Division and celebrated with a change of name to Team Northumbria. The team is made up entirely of students although sports scholarships are offered to attract talented athletes to the University. The club were promoted as Northern Alliance champions to the Northern League Division Two for the 2006/07 season. They won Division Two in 2011/12, and the quality of their team was underlined in the same season when they took Newcastle United reserves to a penalty shoot out in the Northumberland Senior Cup final.
The club play at the Coach Lane campus adjacent to Newcastle United’s academy ground. It is new and functional however the club fell short of the minimum capacity when their inspection for promotion to Division One of the Northern League. Despite the presence of several of the Football Association sanctioned Arena Seating modular stands, the provision of seats were a dozen short of the covered capacity needed. So delightfully the club built a very small stand with raised steps to accommodate exactly twelve people. It’s either a wonderful testament to the famed belligerence so often attributed to northern folk or a ridiculous folly to the absurdity of ground grading.
The match itself is the game of the day, the well supported visitors, Whitley Bay triumph by the odd goal in seven. The Bay are very much Northern League mainstays, and having tried the higher level of the Northern Premier League between 1989 and 2001 seem content with the more local competition the Northern League has to offer. Any club that has a fan with a blue and white china bell rung vigorously at the appropriate time ticks all the boxes for me.
Whitley Bay have won the FA Vase three times, their most recent final appearance seeing Paul Chow open the scoring after just 21 seconds. It is Chow that epitomises what the Northern League really stands for. Clearly more than capable of playing at a higher level he would rather service a local club playing against local opposition.
Some have said the Northern League is an insular competition, but people who know better would say it looks after its own. Why overstretch yourself when keen competition lies on your doorstep? Chow scores all four Whitley Bay goals today, a master class of centre forward play and clinical finishing undoes the plucky students. They show enough though to suggest they will compete well at this exalted level.
Northern League Division 2 (26/10/2013 19.00pm)
Newcastle Benfield (2) 2 (Stephenson 30, Brayson 32)
Morpeth Town (1) 1 (Chilton 35)
Attendance: 328 (at Sam Smith’s Sports Ground)
Another relatively modern club Benfield can trace their lineage back to 1988 when they were called Brunswick Village. Subsequent name changes have seen them compete as Heaton Corner House and then as Benfield Park. The club have played at Sam Smith’s Sports Ground since 1990 having moved from Walker Park. The club had a relatively unsuccessful spell during that decade but in 2000 the club amalgamated with North Shields St. Columba’s becoming Newcastle Benfield Saints. The name changing continued with a sponsorship deal between 2005 and 2007 saw the club play as Newcastle Benfield Bay Plastics. The club won the Northern Alliance in 2002/03 and were promoted to Division Two of the Northern League. They were runners up in their first season and have been First Division stalwarts ever since, winning the League and Cup double in 2008/09. They gained major headlines in 2012 when Norberto Solano briefly joined the club as coach.
The Sam Smith’s Sports Ground is the best ground of the day, two sizeable stands with copious seating face each other and there is also an impressive stretch of covered standing. The game against combative visitors Morpeth Town is high quality, all three goals strangely coming within five minutes of each other during a first half. It’s the visitors who probably have the best of the second half but the hosts rearguard remain steadfast and secure all three points in a decent encounter.