My Saturday lunchtime journey was relatively short in geographical terms but spanned one end of the footballing world to the other.
I left the multi-million pound state-of-the-art Academy of Light and thanks to a bus-metro-train-bus public transport odyssey arrived in Crook, a small town at the opposite side of County Durham.
The journey might sound horrendous, and compared with jumping in a car it probably is, but I’m used to combining different modes of transport to get to where I need to be. It’s all part of the fun.
I actually enjoyed the final leg, a trip on the 46 bus for the full duration of it’s route from Durham Bus Station to the main street in Crook. Dotted with small mining villages, County Durham is relatively picturesque in my opinion, and in some ways reminscent of the area where I live.
One of the calling points was Willington, just a few miles east of Crook, and one of the options I considered for my 3pm match. The local side was at home to Stokesley and their ground is another on my ‘to see’ list.
A bit further on from Crook, Tow Law is another place I’d like to get to sooner rather than later, but time was against me on this occasion, with fewer buses making it as far as one of the real outposts of the Northern League.
So Crook it was, with Team Northumbria providing the opposition for Crook Town in the Northern League Division 1 – Step 5 of the English non-league pyramid, or eight promotions away from the Premier League.
Crook play close to the centre of town at the Sir Tom Cowie Millfield, a ground which housed huge crowds when Crook Town were amongst the most successful amateur clubs in England, winning the now-discontinued FA Amateur Cup four times in the Fifties and early Sixties.
These days the numbers turning up for Crook Town home games are much more modest, probably just making it into three figures. Yet the ground reflects the club’s better supported past in its generous proportions, just as many junior grounds do back in Scotland.
Relieved of £6 for admission at the single turnstile, I was too late to get my hands on the programme for the game. Programmes are mandatory for Northern League matches by FA edict, but many clubs print only a tiny number of copies.
When fellow fan went looking for a programme later in the afternoon, I overheard a committee member say that there were only TEN copies made. Having failed to secure 10% of the available print run, Crook Town v Team Northumbria is destined to join one or two similar games on my programme wants list for perpetuity.
One person unlike to object is my long suffering wife, who is forever grumbling about my burgeoning programme collection and the space it takes up at home, but that’s another story.
Not getting a programme as a momento of my trip was a mild irritation, but it was soothed when I got into the ground, which is an absolute gem. They really don’t make football grounds like this any more.
One side and one end are steep rough grass bankings where supporters are requested not to stand, reminiscent of City Park in Edinburgh, with the other end consisting of a good sized terrace, complete with big sturdy crush barriers.
The fourth side is where most of the architecture is located – a big covered terrace with an unusual roof, and by its side a good sized seated stand.
With wet and windy weather closing in, I opted for the seats, an unorthodox choice for me given that I usually stand if the option is there.
The stand is similar to others I’ve sat in north of the border – sharing some characteristics with those found at Ashfield and Irvine Meadow. Green gloss painted bench seating is the order of the day with the elevated view of the pitch impended slightly by characterful pillars and a floodlight pylon that pokes through the pitched roof. All-in there’s maybe 300 spaces to be had.
Before taking my seat, I visited the club ‘canteen’ which sits between the enclosure and stand. To be honest, I found the cheeseburger disappointing for the £2.50 price tag, the poor quality burger salvaged only very slightly by the availability of fried onions.
The burger was polished off quickly, just as the teams emerged onto a heavy, but definitely playable pitch through seperate gates, which struck me as being unusual. Crook were in their traditional amber and black, Team North in all red.
I didn’t realise it at the time but I saw these sides face each other back on the August Bank Holiday Monday, when Team North, representing the University of Northumbria, won 2-1 at Coach Lane in Newcastle.
For a very long time in this game, the student side looked likely to match that win.
They scored twice early in the second half, hitting Crook with a real suckerpunch after the two sides contested an even first half in which both sides probably tried to play too much football on a surface that made passing tricky.
Mark Fenwick and Louis Storey got those Team North goals and they were denied a third by the woodwork. Although Crook increased the pressure as the second half wore on, they never really looked like breaching the visitors’ defence.
All of which made the ending improbable, Crook scoring twice in stoppage time to salvage a draw. Craig Hughes notched the first and with panic setting in to the Team North ranks his goal was followed up by Mark Ellison’s whose shot squirmed over the line after the keeper failed to hold it at the first attempt.
For Crook, the draw must have felt like a win; for Team North like a defeat. For me, the home side’s grandstand finish provided further justification for my belief that you should never ever leave a football match early!
Scoring: 0-1 Fenwick, 0-2 Storey, 1-2 Hughes, 2-2 Ellison
Attendance: 100 (approx)
Programme: sold out
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