As someone who is reasonably well travelled throughout Great Britain, I naturally have places I like to visit as often as I can, so ‘ground hopping’ can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance, as it might necessitate me going somewhere I won’t particularly enjoy. New grounds within striking range of Brighton, however, are always high on my agenda, in the hope that I can disappear into the Lord Nelson for a pint or two of Harvey’s Best; and anywhere within range of the Great Western in Wolverhampton, or the nearby Beacon Hotel in Sedgeley – home of the legendary Sarah Hughes – is always well up on my list.
I also have quite a liking for Newcastle upon Tyne, although I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s the candy floss of scantily-clad hen parties tottering around the town, or the cracking pubs, like the Crown Posada – a personal favourite. And then there’s the Back Page, probably the best football bookshop in the world! Or maybe it’s simply because the footy being played in the Step 5 Northern League is often a cut or two above its status.
I’ve banged on a few times in previous blog entries about the dominance that Northern League teams seem to show in the FA Vase – a club from the League has appeared in each of the last 6 finals – and their reluctance to apply for promotion up the “so-called Pyramid” (the recent words of Northern League supremo Mike Amos in his blog). It was highlighted again this week when Shildon knocked a team from Conference North – three levels higher – out of the FA Cup. Yes, there’s some decent sides in the Northern League, and that’s why I’m happy to go ground hunting up there when cheap rail deals allow.
Hey presto, East Coast Trains come up trumps and I can get a return from Grantham for £17.50. Now Grantham is one of my least favourite places, and not just because of its most (in)famous daughter. Call me unlucky but I’ve only walked a couple of hundred yards from the rail station in the direction of Wetherspoons when I stumble upon a group of youths, one of whom is screaming at a wall, while another goes out of his way to make some kind of gesture to an Asian guy just in front of me. As it’s only 9.00am I’m guessing that it’s not alcohol they are under the influence of. As they disappear up the road I look back just in time to see one of them pick up a cat by the scruff of its neck and hurl it skywards. I’m neither near enough, young enough or brave enough to intervene. The cat lands and makes a sharp exit, its faith in human-kind doubtless shattered, to the detriment of its owners.
My crowded train arrives in Newcastle on time and I head off to the Back Door bookshop for a quick peruse before making my way to the Monument metro stop, and purchasing the most expensive ticket (£5.60) which will take me as far as North Shields. A 20-minute journey transports me towards the coast and out to this former mining and ship-building community on the banks of the Tyne. I’ve only time for a quick pint today, and I choose to have this in the Ambrosia Bank, a large free house just off the main road. There’s several cask beers on tap, a mix of local and national, and I plump for Ring of Fire brewed by the local Three Kings Brewery, just a couple of hundred yards up the road. It’s golden and citrussy, like so many others these days, and although drinkable, I wouldn’t want to order another. Personal taste, you understand.
From here it’s about a fifteen minute walk under the railway bridge and up to what is currently known as the Daren Persson Stadium, which is situated on the edge of a large housing estate. By Step 5 standards North Shields is a well-supported club, although facilities at the ground are limited. There’s no bar as such, just a small tea-room which would be rammed with a dozen or so in it. What little food there is isn’t veggie-friendly. Around the pitch it’s flat standing on three sides, with some cover along one of them, and only on the fourth side is there some elevation, coming in the shape of a small seated stand, and several steps cut into a grass bank, which forms the ‘Curva Nord’ – more about that below.
The home team are currently a top four side, and are too good for visiting mid-table Consett. Much of the play is even-steven, but when Shields want to turn on the style they do so with clinical effect, their busy strikers getting the better of the visitor’s defence on numerous occasions, although only notching three goals in the process. Consett have no response.
And so for the cherry on the day’s cake, one of my all-too-rare visits to the Crown Posada in Newcastle, set as it is nowadays amongst a glut of style bars into which the stag and hen parties are wobbling. The Posada is a long narrow bar with bags of character, and a healthy mix of clientele – the chap next to me is wearing his grandfather’s Great War medals and will discuss them with anybody who cares to enquire. My chosen pint is Black Gate, a dark bitter brewed (I think) by Hadrian-Border Brewery but it’s gone all too soon and I have to de-camp to Newcastle station and wend my way back down south.
Needless to say, with most of the Northern League grounds yet to visit, I will find my way back up here before too long. And with a bit of luck, I won’t have to use Grantham as a staging post.
Programme: £1 on the turnstile. Reasonable value for money. A lot of info on Consett – some of it duplicated – and more than a passing interest in the fate of the incumbent Newcastle manager.
Birdlife: Too hard a life up here for them soft Southern parakeets!
Club Shop: Yes, backs on to the turnstile block.
Toilets: In the clubhouse.
Music the players run out to: None
Kop Choir: Yes, the celebrated Curva Nord. Not a choir as such, more a collection of forthright, forty-something men you wouldn’t want to cross swords with. No place for kids, this!
Away fans: Conspicuously absent on Curva Nord.