A trip to Durham kicked off a series of four visits to the North East of England I’ve got planned over the next couple of months, all made possible by some great rail ticket offers from East Coast.
My original first choice fixture for the day at Brandon United was washed out, but a few other games survived the heavy rain. In the end it came down to a toss up between Willington v Tow Law in the Northern League or dipping my toe back into the Wearside League at Coxhoe.
The earlier 2pm kick off at Coxhoe swung it, my thought being that the Willington game might succumb to the downpour, which showed little sign on abating as I pondered my options in Durham city centre.
Coxhoe is a small village a few miles south east of Durham city, the journey being uphill virtually all the way.
By the time the bus dropped me off in Coxhoe the rain was utterly torrential, giving rise to concern that my twenty minute journey would end in the abject disappointment of a last minute postponement.
I was attempting to find my bearings in the main road through the village when a car pulled up, occupied by a couple of lads who, like me, were on the look out for Coxhoe Athletic’s ground, Beechfield Park.
They offered me the chance to jump in and we found the ground fairly painlessly, though the new Barrett housing estate which is being built around the ground put some doubt in my mind that we were headed in the right direction.
Clocking my thick Scottish accent, the lads sussed out that I was ‘the David Stoker’ that had tweeted about the game earlier; as it turned out, I was heading to the game with a couple of Horden supporters, one of whom updates their official Twitter account!
I was paid into the ground by the two lads “seeing that I had come all this way”, a gesture which typifies the friendliness that I’ve encountered at all the games I’ve seen in the North East over the last few years.
The admission price was £2 just as it was when I last tasted Wearside League football at Easington Colliery before Christmas.
For a club at the eleventh level of English football, or Step 7 of the non-league pyramid, Coxhoe have a very decent set-up. Altogether there are three small covers, the biggest of which is the seated Jon Purves Stand, which straddles the half way line on the side opposite from the entrance.
Behind this, the dressing rooms, bar and pie hut occupy a series of portacabins and containers. Mince pies and chips were amongst the fayre on sale.
The rain was pelting down as we walked round the pitch to this area. Kick off was around ten minutes away by this time and although there was no standing water on the park, I still half expected the ref to put the game off.
I’ve seen better pitches called off in my time, but fortunately a postponement never seemed to be on the officials’ agenda and the two sides trooped onto a surface which was heavy to start with and very quickly became very muddy.
Considering the state of the pitch and the fact that neither side is exactly setting the heather alight in the League, they managed to serve up a very entertaining game.
For me, Horden were clearly the better side – a fact borne out by the league table – and they quickly found themselves a couple of goals up. The first came from a penalty which was well saved by the Coxhoe keeper but put away at the second attempt by Nobby Atkinson.
A second goal came along midway through the half, though not before a couple of bad misses. The Coxhoe keeper did well to save an initial shot but the ball fell kindly for Horden’s Chris Tarn for a tap-in.
Horden were cruising at this stage, playing decent football on the rapidly deteriorating pitch. Indeed, they were much more effective when they tried to pass it short, in comparison to the occasions when they hit it long.
Coxhoe got themselves back into the game almost immediately after the second Horden goal though, and that put a new complexion on the game.
The home side were rarely seen as an attacking force prior to their goal, but they seemed to take heart and had a good chance to go level when the referee penalised what he thought was a pass back from a Horden defender and gave an indirect free kick inside the penalty area.
I thought the referee had a decent afternoon overall, but it was a poor call. As the Horden manager pointed out, “it was a shit touch not a fucking pass back man!” Luckily for him – and Horden – Coxhoe’s free kick was charged down.
The biblical pre-match rain cleared during the first half and the second half began under brighter skies and drizzle. There was no way back for the pitch, however; it was very badly cut up, especially through the middle.
The conditions didn’t impede the enthusiasm of the players who put in a tremendous physical effort and tackled ferociously at times.
I love to see a well executed slide challenge – something that is sadly becoming an endangered species in modern football. The referee applied common sense to a few of the meatier tackles, letting a couple go that I am convinced would have seen players taking an early bath at higher levels of the game.
With one goal in it, Coxhoe were very much still in the game and they looked to have set up a grandstand finish with a well taken headed equaliser by Ryan Kiteley.
But sadly for the side sitting second bottom of the Wearside League, Horden put to bed any hopes of a comeback within a minute, a Tarn shot spinning fortuituously into the net after a goalmouth scramble.
From then on in, Horden looked unlikely to concede their lead again and they took advantage of some poor defending to notch two goals in the closing stages to seal a 5-2 win.
Had I paid my £2, I would have been happy with the value for money provided. Like the Northern League and junior football north of the border, the Wearside League serves up a decent product at a bargain price.
I can certainly see myself taking in a few more games at this level, though my chat with the Horden lads suggested that ground facilities can vary considerably.
Coxhoe are probably a set of floodlights away from meeting the standards for the Northern League’s second tier which sits at the level above, but league leaders Stockton Town apparently play in little more than an open field.
Horden’s Welfare Park is reckoned to be one of the biggest and best venues. Already on my ‘to do’ list, I’m going to make an effort to get there later this season, if only to repay the friendliness shown by two of their supporters at Coxhoe.
And to be fair, their team can play a bit too.
Coxhoe Athletic: Lowerson, Hamblin, Best, Watson, S Parnaby, Hornsby, Turton, Kiteley, Cane, Charlton, Strong. Not used: J Parnaby, Wilson, Ord
Horden Colliery Welfare: Hubery, Brymer, Moss, Flounders, Broom (Payne), Atkinson, Cockburn, Lonsdale (Wilkie), Pace, D Wilson (Fowler), Tarn. Not used: Cain, Kettell
Ref: Derek Wade
Scoring: 0-1 Atkinson, 0-2 Tarn, 1-2 Strong, 2-2 Kiteley, 2-3 Tarn, 2-4 Lonsdale, 2-5 Wilkie
Attendance: 30 est
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