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The Land of The Prince Bishops

The Match (c. 1950)

The match was played in Albert Park

From half past four till after dark

By two opposing tribes of boys

Who specialised in mud and noise

The match was played till after dark

(Till gates were closed on Albert Park)

By shadowy boys whose shapes dissolved

Into the earth as it revolved

Under the rooftops slicked with rain

The match is being played again

By two opposing well scrubbed teams

Who race and holler in their dreams


by Allan Ahlberg



I was scheduled to do some cricket scoring for ESCA (English Schools Cricket Association) at The Bunbury U-15 Tournament, which this year was being held in Durham. The day before I journeyed thence, Graeme and I made a trip to Doncaster for a pre-season friendly at a ground neither of us had visited before!

Saturday 20th July 2013 Pre-Season Friendly k.o.:- 3.00pm

Armthorpe Welfare                       1                    Marske United                          4
Ben Muirhead 19                                                  Lewis Tidy 44, John Alexander 49, 64
                                                                                   Luke Nicholson 85
referee:- Dean Bradshaw                                                       attendance:- 68


The Markham Main Colliery Memorial Garden. 87 miners lost their lives there!

We enjoyed a chip lunch prior to the early kick-off at 2.00pm. The ground was pretty run-down, but, there was a perfectly adequate small stand and the news service was excellent. Even though there were no programmes for this friendly fixture, we had the teams, substitutes and officials all comfortably recorded before the match had hardly begun.


We did wonder what the connection was between Marske, a small seaside village on The North Yorkshire Moors and Armthorpe a former mining village near Doncaster. Next door to the ground was the memorial garden to the men (and women) who had served The Markham Main Colliery for the sixty or seventy years since its inception in 1927 to its demise in the early nineties.


Graeme “In vacant or in pensive mood ……..which is the bliss of solitude” (Wordsworth)

The team from the Northern League gave the North Counties (East) side a good thrashing. They were markedly superior, even before Ben Muirhead scored the opening goal for the home side. There was a sizeable contingent from Marske amongst the sparse crowd and they kept us up to speed with substitutes and goal-scorers.


On Sunday, I travelled up to stay for a week in Durham at Collingwood Hall of residence at The University. It was The Bunbury Cricket (U-15) Festival and I was one of the scorers.  The format was a match each day with T20 fixtures on the Wednesday at The Emirates ICG ground, home of Durham CCC and on the Friday. The evenings, I had to myself and I made the most of my opportunities.

Monday 22nd July 2013   Clayton Cup – Group Stage  k.o.:- 7.30pm

Ryton & Crawcrook Albion            2                              Wallington                 1

Kevin Westphal 10                                                                   Jordan Nellis  5

Paul Basey 60

referee:- Paul Brown                                                                 attendance:- 56


I have been a member of The Northern League Club for ten years, but I am embarrassed to say that I have still to visit most of the grounds in the league! Ryton & Crawcrook was one of the more eccentric, being on the outskirts of the village and surrounded by open countryside on the side of a hill. There was a small bar and on the far side, two covered areas and a seated stand behind one goal. Entrance for this Tynedale Cup match was free and there were no programmes, but the teams were set up on a whiteboard at the entrance.


Wallington were a couple of divisions below Ryton in The Northern Alliance Division 1, but they had a determined and hungry look about them, deservedly taking the lead in the fifth minute through their accomplished striker, Jordan Nellis. The home side equalised five minutes later and the game seesawed like a ‘dirty british coaster … butting up the channel in the mad March days’ (Masefield). Ryton eventually secured a hard won victory on the hour, but they had been made to fight all the way.


Midway through the second half, I bumped into Andy from Newcastle. We do seem to meet in the most out of the way places. The last time was when I went to Glenafton Athletic and he was going just down the road to Kello Rovers!


Tuesday 23rd July 2013 Pre-Season Friendly    k.o.:- 7.30pm

Heaton Stannington                       1               Blyth Town                              3

Jonathan Wright 79                                             Danny Young 23, Connor Andrews 55

                                                                                David Atkinson 76

referee:-  Neil Wright                                            attendance:- 46


The following evening, I drove into Newcastle, to High Heaton to Grounsell Park, the home of newly promoted Heaton Stannington (the additional  soubriquet deriving from a street name in the area). Last season, they were Northern Alliance champions and winners of The Newcastle Evening Standard ‘Best Team’ award. They are very much looking forward to the challenge of life in The Northern League. Once again, there were no programmes, but the extremely helpful officials ensured that I had all the required match details before kick-off.


I spent quite some time conversing with Ian Cusack, the newly appointed programme editor for the club. He is locally born and raised but has been connected recently with Percy Main Amateurs of the Northern Alliance. Indeed, he wrote an excellent book on their 2009/10 exploits in gaining promotion to the premier division of The Northern Alliance. They missed out on the championship, that season, by one point. I was really staggered when I got back from Durham, to find that he had sent me a copy of his book, a quite magnificent gesture (and a good read). I will be going back in October for the second of the three Northern League ‘hop’ days this season. By then, floodlights will have been erected and other minor improvements made.


The impressive Northern Alliance Championship Trophy, presently held by Heaton Stannington

This evening, they were playing a hastily arranged friendly against their closest rivals during the previous season, Blyth Town, who were runners-up in The Northern Alliance Premier Division. There was no doubt about who were the better side on the evening. Blyth Town were not only the better team, they were the side with the more determined attitude. However, it was only a friendly and the following evening, Heaton Stannington were entertaining Team Northumbria and not all of their first tram squad was involved in this match.

Wednesday 24th July 2013   Pre-Season Friendly   k.o.:- 7.30pm

Norton & Stockton Ancients              0     Darlington 1883            2

                                                                        James Lupton 12 (pen)

                                                                        Tom Atkinson 39

referee:- Mr. Powles                                      attendance:- 84


Norton & Stockton Ancients play at the huge Norton (Teesside) Sports Complex beside the railway line in Norton. When I first arrived, there was a cricket match going on with both teams accoutred in black! I enjoyed a pint in the club bar and watched for a while before making my way round to the football ground.


Once again, there was no programme, but a £2.00 entrance charge (the same as the previous evening) and the teams were posted on a sheet behind one goal. The ground is open on two sides and behind one goal there is limited space because it abuts onto the player changing area and the tea hut. Down one side, however, there is a large stand  with seating for maybe 250 spectators and from here, I viewed the contest.


Darlington, who graced the Football League for so many years at their Feethams ground (with the cricket club directly adjacent), have fallen on hard times but have risen as a phoenix club: ‘Darlington 1883’. Last season, they took the Northern League championship with a huge haul of 122 points and a goal difference of 110.This season, they will compete in The Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 North.


This evening, they were just too strong for their Northern League opponents. The Northern League is very traditionalist. Not for them the over-hyped Premier and Supreme Divisions and nor do they go in for exotic kick-off times. They play at 3.00pm on Saturdays and at 7.30pm in midweek!


Thursday 25th July 2013 Pre-Season Friendly  k.o.:- 7.30pm

Crook Town                    5             Sunderland West End                  0

David Paul 53

Matty Wairs 63

Richard Hodgson 68

Alex Marshall 80

Craig Price 81 (pen)

referee:- Steve Burkitt               attendance:- 82


The Sir Tom Cowie Millfield Stadium on West Road in Crook, Co. Durham, was a truly impressive, old fashioned football stadium. It nestles in a natural cavity in the ground and had terracing on two sides (probably had terracing on four sides in former years). There was a large stand, seating maybe 500 spectators and a long covered and terraced area on the same side of the ground. In my youth, the name of Crook Town resonated with The FA Amateur Cup and north/south tussles with the likes of Enfield and Hendon.


Sadly, it was fading badly. There were signs of wear and tear everywhere. At the back of the covered terrace, came the solution. There was a large information area devoted to new ground proposals. A supermarket chain wanted to buy the ground for development and outlined (with drawings and maps) three proposals for re-siting the ground elsewhere in the town. Chatting to a member of the board, I found out that nothing was as yet done and dusted. The club was still involved in negotiations with the local council over the site of choice (The council deemed that the new ground would be technically outside the borough boundary, but it would be nearer to the town centre than the recently erected Fire Station which was also supposed to be within the town boundaries). I got the distinct impression that there was scant support for the move. It was being made for pragmatic reasons. The old stadium was a magnificent edifice but it drained finances for its upkeep, especially for Health & Safety! I suspect that a donation of a million pounds would have led to the instant dismissal of all talk of moving to a new ground and the existing stadium would have been brought up to date. Sadly, I also suspect that sugar daddies in Co. Durham are as rare as hen’s teeth, which is a great pity!


The entrance fee this evening had doubled to £4 and there was very little in the way of team information. Even the referee had no idea who was actually playing, but he did disclose the names of his officiating team! The rest I gleaned from both sets of supporters and there was plenty of support for each side on the terraces! Sunderland West End ply their craft in the top division of The Wearside League, with automatic promotion to the Northern League subject to ground grading.


This evening, whilst they held out gamely in the first half, they were over-run in the second period and the one-way traffic should have produced more goals! Crook Town are the reigning Division 2 Champions of The Northern League and will stage Division 1 football again next season.


That was it for “The Land of The Prince Bishops” (which is the motto which greets you on the signpost proclaiming Co. Durham). The following morning, I was scoring cricket at The Racecourse Ground where Durham played when they attained first class status around twenty years ago. I had seen Ian Botham playing there then and perhaps today I was watching a new generation of county and international cricketers making their first faltering steps on a larger stage!


Saturday 27th July 2013 Pre-Season Friendly  k.o.:- 3.00pm

Barry Town United             2                                           Cardiff City                 3

Michael Hartley 35                                                               Kadseem Harris 31

Lewis Cosslett 41                                                                  Rhys Healey 82

                                                                                               Etien Velikonja 85

referee:- Teifion Cook                                                          attendance:- 1,500 (?)


On Saturday, I had a ticket for the friendly match at Barry Town United’s Jenner Park. I drove down to Cheltenham and caught the 12.11 train to Cardiff and the 13.33 to Cadoxton. On the way to Cadoxton, Grangetown Station proclaimed to the world that to alight there was to gain easiest access to The City of Cardiff Stadium, home of Cardiff City, newly promoted to The Barclays Premiership.


As the train decanted me at Cadoxton, rain began to fall which became increasingly more heavy and persistent as the afternoon drew on. It was a half hour walk to the stadium and I got a thorough soaking even before I got to the ground.

I was truly impressed with the stadium. There were two stands on opposite sides of the ground and an athletics track around the pitch with the hammer and discus throwing area wreathed in fine green mesh behind a corner flag at the far end.


Women officials are becoming less of a rare sight at football games. This is Ceri Williams at Barry Town United 

Barry Town, a famous old name in Welsh football have been scandalously treated, not only by their former owner (who still, apparently, has an interest in the bar area which overlooks the goal at one end of the ground), but also by the FAW who, apparently, have offered NO support for the club in its hour of crisis, instead, it appears, choosing to look out for their own narrow and selfish ends.

Today, however,. was a fun day. A day for the family and a day for the visiting fans to sport their new RED football shirts. The new owners of Cardiff City, (nickname ‘The Bluebirds”) arbitrarily changed the clubs colours from blue to red from last season! I’m surprised that they have any supporters left!

The two teams from opposite ends of the football spectrum were fairly evenly matched in the first half and after Cardiff took the lead on the half hour mark, the home side edged in front by half-time.


In the second half, with the rain still falling incessantly, the home side were perhaps a tad unlucky to concede two goals and lose, rather than taking the draw they so richly deserved!

It was a dreary journey back to Cheltenham on the train and then a hundred miles by car back to Northamptonshire, but it had been an exhilarating day out at the end of an entrancing week of both cricket and football.


Bunbury Festival Cricket at Maiden Castle, Durham. There were also matches at The Racecourse, Durham City CC and The Emirates ICG in Chester-le-Street

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