Non League Club

Northern Soul

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on May 8, 2016

Despite the fact we drowned our sorrows on a season to mostly forget last Saturday, there was still a fair amount of business to be decided in other leagues up and down the country.  Not only was there the small matter of deciding who would be moving up from the Ryman North and South but the National Leagues were also heading into their final games.  A sensible decision by the Conference meant that the final games in the Premier league would kick off at 5.30pm, meaning that if you picked the right games, you could see an earlier and a later game.

Never one to need an invitation to get involved in something like that I packed up the car and drove 252 miles north through rain, hail, sleet and snow to Harrogate to watch their final game of the season against Corby Town.  I could have lied to the Current Mrs Fuller and said this was a scouting trip; to some extent it was – a visit to a new ground means looking at their facilities, having a chat with officials and trying to get under the bonnet of the workings of their club – but this was purely down to having a rare opportunity to spread my wings and go for a wander, being a Football Tourist for the day.

Harrogate Town 5 Corby Town 0 – Wetherby Road – Saturday 30th April 2016
Harrogate Town had already sealed their Conference North Play-off spot and were hosting already relegated Corby Town.  The winter weather had passed over the Pennines and the sun was shining as crowds built up down Wetherby Road to get in.  An old chap behind me in the queue moaned that if this was what it would be like if they did go up to the Conference Premier, he wouldn’t be coming again.  He also said if they lost in the Play-offs he wouldn’t be coming again – you can’t please everyone!

26140376933_f671c8b014_kHarrogate have a decent ground with three of the four sides with good-sized structures.  There was also a hospitality area with a decked “porch” with nice tables and chairs set out.  There was a real family atmosphere feel around the ground, with kids having space to play their own games of football adjacent to the pitch.  Their 1919 hospitality area was doing a roaring trade before the game as well as the food van which was serving the staple in these parts, pie, peas and mint sauce plus a huge home-made sausage roll that would have made Katie Price blush.

26140279633_afa0f8ccfa_kThe difference between the two sides was evident within the first few minutes as Harrogate raced to a 3-0 before I’d finished said sausage roll.  Chatting to one of their officials it seems that to compete in this league you need a budget in the region of £5,000 per week, although Champions Solihull Moors have managed to win the league on a smaller budget.  Travel is a major issue for clubs with teams like Lowestoft Town, Gloucester City and Worcester City having to play against Barrow and Harrogate.  Whilst there isn’t one team who appears to have tried to buy their way to the league, next season the league will feature Darlington and Salford City, both of whom have significant resources behind them.

The club have a decent, vocal support though, who kept encouraging the team throughout the game.  In truth they could have scored double figures – whether that was simply the fact that the visitors had already given up for the season or that everything clicked over the 90 minutes.  One of the biggest cheers of the day was on the news that Leeds United had lost to doomed Charlton Athletic at Elland Road.  Whilst only being 20 miles down the road, the club didn’t seem to suffer in terms of attendances – in fact with the club still facing so much off-the-field turmoil, it has actually benefited Harrogate with a number of fans shunning the professional game for the beauty of the Non-League variety.

Could they cope with life at a higher level?  They certainly have the facilities in place and hopefully more locals, like today, would come and give the club a try.  After all, clubs of a similar size such as Boreham Wood, Welling United, Braintree Town and Guiseley had managed it for more than a season.  Good luck to Harrogate.

Guiseley AFC 4 Torquay United 3 – Nethermoor Park – Saturday 30th April 2016
My choice for the later game turned out to be inspired.  Just twenty minutes away on the other side of the runway of Leeds-Bradford Airport, is the small town of Guiseley, famed for being the birthplace of Harry Ramsden and Harry Corbett (he of Sooty and not of Steptoe fame).  They would be hosting Torquay United in a must-win final game of the season.  Even if they could gain a victory, results across the moors at Halifax could still see them relegated.

26138079974_c44c4ab0bd_kIt is fair to say that nearly 2,000 squeezed into the tiny Nethermoor Park ground on the edge of the town, making enough noise to be heard in Lancashire.  They raced into a 3-0 lead in the first half, with Torquay, already safe, mentally on the beach, but then just before half-time Halifax scored.  With Boreham Wood also winning, Guiseley occupied the final relegation spot.  The Torquay fans took to reminding the home fans of the fact that they would be relegated even if they won which pleased the locals no end.

Torquay finally realised they were here to play football in the second half and pulled two goals back, with veteran centre-half Exodus Geohaghon’s long throw-ins causing no end of issues for Guiseley.  The nerves of the home fans were eased when Macclesfield equalised at Halifax but with Torquay always looking dangerous, Guiseley simply had to try to score.  They did but back came Torquay to make it 4-3.  Every time a Guiseley player went to take a throw he’d ask someone in the crowd what the score was at Halifax..”1-1” came the reply. The final whistle blew and the fans invaded the pitch, but there was no cheering just yet.  It was a good two minutes before the cheer hit the stands.  Halifax had drawn, Guiseley had escaped.

26650810632_83abfd584a_kEven as a neutral it was hard not to be caught up in the celebrations.  Having been in this position myself I know the relief it brings, as well as those promises of “never again”.  The fans, the players and the whole club can celebrate for a day or two before the planning has to start on making sure the same thing doesn’t happen again next year.

I’m sure the footballing authorities would much rather have more “traditional” clubs in the Conference Premier such as Kidderminster Harriers, with their nice Football League ground, but it is clubs like Guiseley and Braintree Town who demonstrate you can upset the odds on modest budgets and give every club in the leagues below that you can have the dream.

Onwards towards Whitehaven

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 14, 2012

We are not shy about extolling the virtues and pleasures about Non League football, and our merry band of writers are plucked from like minded people.  One such star is Andy Hudson, the editor of ganninaway and a champion of the Northern League.  Andy approached me a couple of weeks ago with an idea.  “Stu….what about I ask to travel to an away game on a team coach…will that make a good read?”  We, of course, said yes and below is the story of a day on the road with Hebburn Town.  Over to you Andy.

The bus pulls into the Hebburn Sports and Social Ground to be met by the committee team of chairman Billy Laffy; secretary Tom Derrick; treasurer John Bolam, who is off to the Sunderland game later but helping to sort the kits out first; Paul Hill; and “kit man, press officer, floodlight operator and rubbish picker-upper” Alan Armstrong. There are no players in sight as the clock ticks past the scheduled departure time, only for John Toomey, Liam McBryde and Calum Charlton to hurry on board offering apologies for the delay: “I’ve had to work with me da this morning,” pants Charlton, “and I’ve had me tracksuit on since half six!” A large bag of Haribo mix emerges from Toomey’s pocket as McBryde, scorer of 35 goals in 33 appearances already this season talks about “how bloody lucky Newcastle were you to get a point against us last week”. With three quarters of the Sunderland based contingent on board, Lee Harrison is still at work and having to follow the team bus over once he finishes his post round, the bus heads off through the Tyne Tunnel for the next pick-up spot.

A shout comes from the front of the bus telling the lads that “there’s nee solids allowed in the toilet; pissing only!” and we swing into a hotel car park where a few players clamber on board. We sit waiting for the Killingworth lads who are running late. The players on board wander off in search of a shop, returning ten minutes later to find Dean Nicholson complaining of having “had no sleep at all last night, man; I’m fuckin’ knackered,” while ‘keeper Dan Regan, who had finished his shift in one of the pubs popular with the Geordie Shore wannabes only a few short hours earlier, looks confused when he’s given a new polo shirt in XXL size: “Are you sure this is mine? It’s massive, man,” he asks, receiving the reply: “Aye, well I think so. Bolam just told me to give it to Dan…does he mean Kirkup?”

Bennett, left, and Nicholson, right, watch their team

“I’m 37-years-old and I’ve been sitting at a bus stop for over half-an-hour,” manager Paul Bennett jokes as he falls back in a seat when we eventually arrive for him. “Benno, have ye seen this picture of Calum when he was five?””Hey, it’s Harry Potter there!” Having dragged ironing boards to Alnwick Town and plants to Gateshead, today every player has to have a childhood photo with them to avoid a £5 fine towards the players’ pool. (more…)

Double dipping for charity

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on July 10, 2011

“Never go back” they say.  Who exactly are they?  Well let me tell you they are wise people.  Age creeps us on us all and for all you young scamps out there scoffing at us “oldies” just remember in football the good do not die young.  In fact Edwin Van Der Sar is only marginally younger than me and he has just won his millionth league title with Manchester United.  So there is nothing wrong with us putting our bodies on the line as our age.

Two years ago I was tempted out of retirement.  I was seduced by the glamour. Young (himself having seen his 40th year last year) Adam Lloyd won an auction prize to play football against the Chelsea Veterans team down at the Cobham training ground.  Would I like to play?  Too bloody right I would.  So who cares we lost 8-0 in the end.  Who cares that 53 year old Clive Walker bossed the game and who cares that John Terry himself came to watch for all of ten minutes.  Well I bloody did that is for sure.  I had to put up with the whingeing and whining of Richard Keys for ninety minutes.  Yes I fouled him, yes I pulled him back by his (excessive) arm hair, and yes I did give him a little nudge as he chased a ball out of play.  But I did my job – I stopped him scoring, even if it meant I put the ball through my own net rather than him scoring from a tap in.  (more details can be found here). I rolled into bed that night vowing never to pull my Puma Kings on again.

However, like all the greats – Ali, Tyson, Best, Ronnie Jepson, Take That and Victoria Principal in Dallas, I agreed to come back for one more gig.  It had to be big and it had to be special.  Once you have nutmeged Colin Pates there is only so far you can go.  The call came out of the blue and normally I would have said no, but three factors swayed my conscience.

1. It was for charity;
2. It was being played at a ground I had never been to nor was I likely to ever go to again;
3. We were going to Glitterball afterwards;

Truth be told they could have just offered me a night out at Glitterball, South Shields “premier party venue” (as if there are many others) and I would have said yes. This is the place that created the word “Cougar”.

So Saturday morning dawned and I was heading a long long way up north.  A quick stop at the in-laws to drop the Little Fullers off and I was heading to the Angel of the North who would point me in the direction of Birtley, and more specifically Northern League Division Two side Birtley Town.  Here I would be making my long-anticipated return to the game.

This was no ordinary match.  This was in aid of the Cobaltore Onagawa team from Japan whose facilities were devastated in the Tsunami last year.  The chaps behind this game, Grassroots International can explain it ten times better than me here. The banter amongst the Football Writers team had been raging for weeks.  Who was starting, who wanted the number 7 shirt and then who was going to be wearing the most ridiculous boots.

That last one certainly wasn’t me.  I was going to be wearing  my new Nike Tiempo Premier boots, kindly provided to me by Sports Direct.  These were proper footballers boots.  Soft black leather, one of those tongues that you can pull down over the laces for that extra special volley and of course molded studs for the hard July pitch.  The boots summed up my style of play.  Professional, no-nonsense but a hint of mercurial magic.  I was sure to be the only play on the park with such traditional footwear.

So who was lining up for the Football Writers alongside me?  Over there is Andy “Huddo” Hudson from Gannin’ Away.  Next to him is “our kid” aka his brother for us southerners, Michael Hudson from the Accidental Groundhoppers blog. Our old mate Andrew Gibney, Yorkshire’s best known Scottish expert on French Football, last seen hiding beneath the tarpaulin at Wakefield FC along with In Bed With Maradona’s David Hartrick and Jeff Livingstone who was to be our wise coach for the afternoon. And who is that coming over the hill?  Is it a monster?  No it is Iain Macintosh and Simon Bird, skipping gayly around the pitch in some sort of bizarre warm up exercise.

Just to prove it wasn’t all about the “oldies”, we also had the outstanding talent of Tomasz Mortimer in goal, the UK’s finest and foremost expert on Hungarian football, Ian Rand, a man who isn’t bitter at all over Carlos Tevez.  Scotland had sent their best man, but he got lost in the Bigg Market so Scott Johnston stepped in instead. Our midfield was also boosted with the Swedish magic of Blackburn Rovers own Pras Murukesvan and Ryan Hubbard, the thinking woman’s Justin Bieber.

Throw us lot together and it would normally be chaos.  But we had a secret weapon in the form of Gavin Fell.  Gavin, currently assistant manager at Blue Square Bet North Blyth Spartans had won the FA Vase with Whitley Bay so knew his onions.  Unfortunately he made that age old mistake of assuming that tide and time wait for no man, and so despite not putting in 90 minutes in over two years I was put straight into the starting XI.

A ten minute warm up did me in, leaving me gasping for air.  I wasn’t alone.  Hartch and Macca were also puffing after the second set of groin stretches, and I pretended to do the next two.  After all, I’ve never had a weak groin, fnar fnar.

Our opponents, The Northern League Fans looked impressive in the warm up.  Our at least two of their number did.  I asked Andy about them and was told they were Paul Robinson and Paul Chow.  “Of course” I said, as if I was expected to know who they were.

Northern Writers United 4 Northern League Fans 6 – Birtley Road – Saturday 10th July 2011
“Whitley Bay centre forward.  Three times FA Vase winner.  The stuff of Stuart Fuller’s nightmares.” So I should have bothered to read the programme prior to the game then.  That was the description of Paul Chow.  For the first five minutes I had him in my pocket.  I even nicked a ball off his toes.  This was easy.  And then I overstretched for a ball and heard a “pop”, and pain shot up my groin.  Worse still, Chow was clean through and fortunately managed to slip to give me enough time to hop back on the line, but he took it too wide anyway.

I was determined not to be the first man off.  Fortunately Iain Macintosh had that honour but I was not far behind him, by which time NLF were one nil up.  I did what any good Sunday League player would do in the circumstance – I went behind the dugout and threw up.  Just as I composed myself Andrew Gibney stuck a microphone in my face.  That will be one hell of an interview.

The rest of the half ebbed and flowed.  Ryan Hubbard scored a fantastic goal, reminiscent of Kenny Dalglish for Liverpool v Club Brugge in the 1978 European Cup final at Wembley.  However, Chow and Robinson were the difference in the first half, so much so that in a bizarre deal that saw the Northern League Fans get a free ticket to a Blyth Spartans game this season in return for Chow and Robinson to swap sides the scores were evened up as we entered the final ten minutes.

As the NLF took the lead with just six minutes left I put on my best brave face and jogged back on.  Actually, it wasn’t a substitution as nobody appeared to come off but hey, football was the winner in the end.  With barely a minute to go we got a corner.  Tomasz Mortimer was urged forward from his goal and found himself unmarked as the ball sailed over the defenders on the line.  It was Jimmy Glass and Gordon Smith rolled into one.  And he headed it wide.  Sixty seconds later it was 6-4 and game over.  We didn’t blame Tomasz at all…well, not after an hour after the game.

Handshakes all round, showers and then beers.  A magic metal container door swung open and inside was a fine display off Geordie magic.  I ordered up a Newcastle Brown Ale, trying to look at home.  But these are cosmopolitan times in Tyneside and I was the odd one out amongst the Kopparberg Pear Cider over ice drinkers.  What next chaps – little umbrellas in their drink.  And Cornish Pies?  Please Jeff.  You may be the editor of one of the finest football websites in the world but you need to realise that a Cornish Man’s pride is in his pasty, not a pie.

We watched the second half of the Birtley Town versus Ryton & Crawcrook Albion game, made more entertaining by an excellent, and very impressive (in all ways) female referee Linzi Robinson who kept the game flowing without any fuss.  After the final whistle with the home team sneaking a 2-1 win it was time to head off to the bright lights and the big city.

Newcastle hadn’t changed.  Lots of groups of Stag and Hen parties.  Quite why they need to dress up and draw more attention to their ridiculous behaviour I will never know.  We leisurely moved from bar to bar, avoiding the hideous sites.  I have to say that by this point the groin was stiff, and not in the way that I would have liked in the situation.  Talk came around to Glitterball out in South Shields.  Talk of daughters, mothers and grandmothers all vying for the same man’s attentions and that was enough to have me failing a late fitness test.  Glitterball would have to wait.  Instead I had a night on the floor of Hartch’s hotel room to look forward to, and all the Jaffa Cakes I could eat.  Who said the life of a Non League pretend footballer was all glamour.

Hats off to the Hudson brothers for arranging such a fantastic day even if the chance of ever having a third Little Fuller has gone forever.

For a much better report on the game head on over to Roker Report.

More photos from the fantastic day can be found here.

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