Northern League Double – 9/10th December 2016 (752 & 753)

With Englan's current malaise on the cricketing tour of India, many experts feel this man could do a job .... and Steve Harmison (left) might be useful, too.....

Considering England’s current malaise on the cricketing tour of India, many experts feel this man could do a job …. and Steve Harmison (left) might be useful, too…..

Although I do enjoy the way I earn my living, I must also confess to occasionally wishing my life away by yearning for the Utopia of retirement from the Rat Race. Whether I could actually afford to maintain my current spendthrift lifestyle on what is likely to be just a pitiful pension pot is another thing of course, but whenever that time does comes – assuming the Reaper doesn’t get to me first – I expect it will invariably be a life-changing scenario.

That’s because so far this year my occupation has funded six overseas trips in addition to underwriting numerous weekends away, either of the romantic type in the company of my good lady wife, or of the footballing type in the company of Aussie Jack, the two not to be confused of course!

As it happens, the future prospects for many more of the latter remain uncertain as said Antipodean has embraced a new relationship where different interpretations of the phrase ‘moderate groundhopping’ look likely to apply: his edging more towards the 200-games-a-season he has consistently racked up, whereas his new beau favours the very much lower end of the scale. Needless to say, football is not her native language.

Today, however, that’s of little concern as we head north on the M1 in the direction of Ant & Dec land, and a potential Northern League Premier double-header. Safely ensconced in our base for the trip, a slightly down-at-heal chain motel near the A1(M) at Washington, we head out for the first match of the weekend, on the north east coast at Seaham, to see local side Red Star take on promotion-hunting neighbours, South Shields.

First, of course, we must follow the ritual that is the visit to the local Wetherspoons, in order that my travelling companion can add it to his list. I am reliably informed that every ‘Spoons’ has its own individual carpet. I am also confident that the true Spoons ticker would have clippings from each of those he has stepped on! No?

Off to the game, and happy to have found a space in the compact car park (more of that later) we join the slowly growing crowd of arrivals at Town Park and inevitably – this being the only Friday night fixture in the area – bump into a fellow hopper, Spud, who I last recall seeing at Guernsey last season. Town Park is fully enclosed, and boasts an impressive pavilion straddling the half way line, with a substantial covered stand adjacent. Opposite is some covered terracing with the added attraction of barely a dozen seats at the back. The Aussie and I are canny enough to bag two of them, not that we get to sit down an awful lot.

That’s because the game fizzes into life in just the first minute, when a defensive howler hands the home side, languishing in mid-table, the opening goal against second place Shields. They hold onto that lead in a bruising encounter until just after the break when parity is restored, and the visitors then go in front with a stunning free kick on 70, prompting Red Star to apply an onslaught which fails to bear fruit.

Match over, but that’s not the last time I see the players as I am forced to invade the after-match food and drink party to seek the owner of a silver Peugeot, the moving of which being our only means of salvation after Aussie Jack gets his car stuck in the mud. I told him not to park there…..

Another day means another game, but after a short drive north, and Brunch at the local Wetherspoons, I set off on foot to the Woodhorn Lane ground of Ashington A.F.C., while my chauffeur heads to nearby Blyth Spartans, opting to add that higher echelon tick to his hopping CV. Ashington moved to this new stadium around 8 years ago, after almost a century at Portland Park, which once saw service as a Football League ground. This new ground boasts an impressive main stand with panoramic views from the clubhouse bar over the pitch. With no decent beer available I hit the J20s and decide to pay a quid for a ‘go’ on the football card, for no other reason than I get to scribble out the ‘s’ at the end of Nott (and before the word ‘Forest’) to correct the crass error printed thereon!

There’s covered seating and terracing opposite the main stand, and I install myself there, sheltered from a  wind that is strong enough to ensure that the match ball sails over the stand on a number of occasions during the first half, much to the chagrin of the member of the coaching staff designated to retrieve it. It is readily apparent he is failing to see the funny side.

Unlike Friday’s game, today’s visitors Chester-le-Street sit rock bottom of the table, but also confound the odds by taking an early lead which, after much huffing and puffing from the home side, is overturned before CLT then peg them back with the first of two dodgy pennos, the second of which goes the way of the home side and results in much protestation, leading to the dismissal of one of the visiting subs. Despite a frantic finale where Ashington are reduced to ten men, and the bottom side hit the bar before having a goal disallowed, the home side run out 3-2 winners.

Incidentally, the Ashington manager is none other than former England fast bowler, Steve Harmison, one of the heroes of the legendary Ashes winning side of 2005. He’s also had the honour of beating me into retirement of course, although football has proven to be his salvation. Some say that also looks likely to be my fate…..

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