Writers For Robson

Almost twelve months ago just short of 300 spectators, Birtley Town, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion and a motley assortment of Northern League supporters, bloggers, broadcasters and people who get paid to write about football came together by the Angel of the North to raise money for a non-league team in coastal Japan. The result was Northern Leagues United (what happened in the actual game doesn’t matter, if only because the writers lost 6-3 after the fans’ team snapped up a load of ringers and…deep breath, let it go). Last month Cobaltore Onagawa played their opening game of the 2012 Tohoku League season, winning 5-0 in front of a club record crowd of 520 people.

From north-east Japan back to north-east England. This year’s game is in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a charity which raises funds to help defeat cancer. On Sunday May 20th two teams – one of football bloggers, the other made up of newspaper journalists and sports broadcasters – will meet at Hebburn Town. Kick off is 1.30pm. Admission is £3 for adults and £1 for concessions with every penny raised from gate receipts and raffle tickets going to the SBR Foundation.

Over the next week or so we’ll be introducing the two squads of players who will be taking part in the game. Most, like The Mirror‘s Simon Bird and Chris Smith from the Newcastle United blog Leazes Terrace, are local. Others, such as last year’s goal hero Ryan Hubbard, are travelling from various parts of the country, with Ryan so desperate to improve on that result at Birtley he’s given up a day’s pay just to chase overhit passes from Jak Penny and Ian Cusack. As with England’s Euro 2012 squad we won’t be the most talented group ever assembled, but unlike the stars of the Premier League we can at least guarantee sweat, tears and several dozen mistimed kicks to the shins.

What can you do to help? If you’re a fan, turn out and watch (Hebburn Metro Station is a five-minute walk from the Hebburn Sports Complex (NE31 1UN) and there are bar facilities and parking at the ground). If you have a blog, website, Twitter or Facebook account, help spread the word. If you’re playing, bring friends and family along with you and fill in the details below (emails to northernleagueday@gmail.com) to help with the matchday programme.

Name:

Position:

Job:

Website/show/newspaper:

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?:

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)?

See you on May 20th!

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Writers for Robson Pen Pics

On Sunday May 20th twenty-odd players of varying skill levels (mainly low) and ages (mainly high) from all corners of north-east England and beyond will come together for ninety minutes at Hebburn Town FC to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. On one side a team of Football Bloggers, managed by Gateshead striker Jon Shaw. On the other, sports writers and broadcasters will be urged, cajoled and beaten into shape by Hebburn player Dean Nicholson. Thanks to Hebburn Town to hosting the day, Blyth Spartans goalkeeping coach Carl King for supplying the keepers’ gloves and everybody – players, coaches and spectators – for donating their time and cash to a very worthy cause.

Name:Kristan Scott Heneage

Position: Deep Lying Midfield (Fullback at School)

Job: Writer/Broadcaster/Ex-Newcastle United steward

Website/show/newspaper:
Freelance, but normally; ESPN, FourFourTwo, the Guardian and most recently the New York Times

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Hopefully raising money for a great cause. After that Touching the ball, meeting folk and actually talking to them about stuff.

What’s your memory of last year’s game?
Pras being lightning in a box. Simon Pryde being incredibly physically fit, and the fact Mark Douglas would easily have made Don Revie’s Leeds side.
(Side note: Any chance we can get Big JFK along to shout abuse at Simon Bird?)

Name: James Craggs

Position:
defender/midfielder

Job:
Sports Producer

Website: Sky Tyne and Wear

Looking forward to: Playing in a game that means something

Name:
Matthew Raisbeck

Position:
Winger/striker

Job:
Radio sports presenter

Website/show/newspaper:
Total Sport on BBC Newcastle, Saturdays, 5-6.30, online commentary of Gateshead FC matches.

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Hopefully recapturing the form that saw me make one start (one goal) for Blyth Town in the Northern Alliance in 2006/07!

Name: Pras Murukesvan

Position:
Right midfield

Job: Marketing Manager

Website/show/newspaper: (or club)
Blackburn Rovers

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
A good turnout in support of a deserving charity, Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)?
Apart from the random shouts of Solano from the crowd, it’s got to be Ryan Hubbard’s goal. That goal would have easily made the shortlist for Goal of the week on Sky Sports News!

Name:
Michael Jeffares

Position: Striker

Job: Civil Servant

Website/show/newspaper: Angel2Islington and on Twitter here.

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
It has to be the prospect of lining up against my Sunday morning gaffer Ross Gregory. I’ve had my fair share of criticism over the years from him and he’s always preaching about how good he used to be, so I’m expecting a faultless performance.

Name: Dan Salisbury-Jones

Position: Midfield

Job: Video Journalist

Place: Sky Tyne and Wear

What are you most looking forward to? Walking out at Hebburn. It is a boyhood dream come true.

What do you remember about last year’s game?
Was in the wrong North last year, the North West.

Name:
Adam Taylor-Christensen

Position: Goalkeeper

What are you looking forward to this year?
Hopefully a good turnout for a great cause. Also, recreating the form that saw me keep a clean sheet (for 20 mins or so) against 2 Wembley heroes, Paul Chow and Paul Robinson.

What are your memories from last year? Last year, about four weeks before the game, I damaged my ankle ligaments. I remember feeling really gutted that I couldnt play. Four weeksl later, the game came around and I managed to get 20 minutes all because Paul Chow and Paul Robinson swapped teams after starting on my side. Had to play against them.

Name: Richard Bellis

Position: Striker. Please!

Job: Student

Website/show/newspaper: The Blue & White (Chester FC fanzine)

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Playing! I was recovering from an injury last year so played like dog excrement – it wouldn’t be a non-league game without some on the pitch, ha – so I should put a better performance in this year. Either that or I’ll have to come up with different excuses this time round.

What’s your memory of last year’s game?
Well the one my brother won’t let me forget is him scoring. He seems to think it was a glorious goal, worthy of the Nou Camp, that set a hundred old men staring into the middle distance wistfully. In fact, it fumbled off his boot and stumbled apologetically into the bottom corner like an early evening drunk. Right, with that off my chest, I really enjoyed the atmosphere, very light-hearted and relaxed.

Name: Joel Goldman

Position:
Deputy Editor, Metro Radio, TFM, CFM

Job:
Bringing top drawer news and sport to the North East and Cumbria

What are you most looking forward to?
Showing off my silky skills and pasty white legs

What’s your memory of last year’s game? Being gutted at having to pull out through injury!

Name: Jak Penny

Position:
Comfortable in either full back position.

Job: Freelance football writer

Website/show/newspaper: Currently writing for FootballFanCast,TEAMtalk and the Evening Chronicle on occasions. Usually find my work in the Grassroots section.

What are you looking forward to most from this years’ game?
It’ll be nice to put faces to twitter accounts once again and raise some money for a great cause.

What’s your memory of last years game (if applicable)?
Of course it’s Ryan Hubbard’s audacious lob and being gobsmacked (not literally) by Paul Fraser and his Shearer-esque running of the front line.

Name:
Craig Hope

Position: Midfield

Job: Chief sports writer

Website/show/newspaper:
Hartlepool Mail

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
The chance to play in front of 300 people, almost certainly a career high.

Name: Ross Gregory

Position: Striker

Job: Sports Editor

Website/show/newspaper:
Shields Gazette

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
The full-time whistle!

Name: Chris Conway

Position: Left sided midfielder/forward

Job: Video Journalist with the NewsGuardian/NewsPostLeader newspapers

Website/show/newspaper:
www.twitter.com/chris_conway

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Linking up with Gareth Johnson on one of the flanks, although I’m sure he’ll shout at me a few times for not tracking back. Other than that, just the banter and buzz of playing and raising money for a superb cause.

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)?
Scoring a tap in from about a yard out. I’m not going to lie, it was magical, although my celebration was a bit poor really. Other than that, my memories are one of sweat and being knackered, although I do remember taking a really dodgy throw in and then being heckled by Gareth Johnson for dashing off when I should’ve been tracking back and helping him out. So all in all, a great success!

Name: Chris Smith

Position: Wannabe midfielder – realistic full-back.

Job: 3D Modeller and Building Surveyor

Website/show/newspaper:
Leazesterrace.com

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Mainly just to have a good kick-about (hopefully) in the sun. People have done much more demanding things in the name of charity!

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)?
Seeing the bright lights and deciding to shoot from a short corner and being (rightly) abused! Under strict self-imposed orders to avoid that this time…

Name:
Richard Mason

Position: Goalkeeper/Left-winger/Striker

Job:
Sports Writer/Sub-Editor

Website/show/newspaper: The Northern Echo

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Renewing acquaintances with all those who played last year, this time in my favoured position of goalkeeper. (A nasty finger injury ruled me out of keeping goal last year, doctor’s orders and everything).

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)?
Showing my full range of skills in an outfield position including: a mazy run (including a classic feint past Gareth Johnson) which resulted in a shot that flew just wide of the train line at Birtley; and receiving a slide rule pass from Whitley Bay’s Paul Robinson and shanking it wide.

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Writers for Robson Pen Pics

Leicester fan, football artist, Polish football enthusiast and Northern Leagues United goalscoring hero, Ryan Hubbard is back to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition writers’ team. Joining him in the bloggers’ line up is James Williams, semi-dynamic midfield presence and author of a forthcoming book detailing his travels to every Northern League ground in the course of the 2011-12 season.

Name: Ryan Hubbard

Position: Attacking Midfielder/Striker

Job: Polish Football writer, and occasional football artist.

Website/show/newspaper:
EKSTRAKLASAreview.co.uk

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game?
Meeting up with some excellent bloggers and writers, helping to raise money for a great cause, bagging one in the top left corner, and hopefully trading some Panini Euro 2012 doubles.

What’s your memory of last year’s game (if applicable)? Someone has already gone for Iain Macintosh’s arse, and I’m too modest to bang on about my fantastic chip ;-). One residing memory though is getting changed in the wrong dressing room and missing the whole pre-match preparations!

Name: James Williams

Position: Anywhere but defence.

Job: Saving the homeless folk of Newcastle

Website: Footy Ramblings

What are you most looking forward to from this year’s game?
As well as having the opportunity to catch up with the good folk from Northern Leagues United, it will be grand to pull on a footy shirt and stretch the legs once again.

What is your memory of last year’s game? The motivational drills arranged by Gavin Fell in sharp contrast to the Northern League Fans starting line up being selected by who was wearing the shirts 1-11. Last year was good fun from start to finish, meeting a diverse mix of football enthusiasts. Oh, and playing a killer ball for Paul Fraser’s goal.

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Writers for Robson: Player Pen Pics

Reporter for the title-winning ladies at Newcastle United Women’s FC, Stuart Dick describes himself as a defensive midfielder / goalkeeper, which probably means you should expect him to turn up wearing gloves and not do any running.

Name: Stuart Dick

Position: Central Midfielder (the Northumberland Fumaca)

Job: Trainee Sports Journalist/Club Reporter at Newcastle United Women’s FC

Website/show/newspaper: Have appeared on NUFCFans.co.uk, The Mag, Morpeth Herald, Evening Chronicle and many other websites.

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game? Just getting the boots on and playing a game of football for the first time in a while for a good cause with fellow bloggers and some superb journalists.

When he’s not taking photos, Gareth Johnson dreams of outshining Richard Mason, who shimmied past Gareth’s challenge in last year’s game before shanking the ball hopelessly wide of goal. In Richard’s defence, he was suffering from the career threatening Marcelino Finger at the time and he’s also a goalkeeper.

Name: Gareth Johnson

Position: Hugging the right hand touchline

Job: Star photographer

Website/show/newspaper: Michael Marriner Photography

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game? Another victory! Also, hopefully facing up to Rich Mason. Rich has claimed on Twitter he skinned me last year, which is clearly rubbish! I will be showing him a clean pair of heals this time round. If I happen to be on this team, he ain’t getting a pass from me!

What’s your memory of last year’s game? Iain MacIntosh’s arse! The wonderful atmosphere. All throughout the day it was a carnival atmosphere that swept you along, especially towards the end of the game when we all realised we weren’t fit enough to play 11-a-side football for 90 minutes! It was also great to raise money for a fantastic cause and I will forward to doing something similar this year. I am also aiming to keep out of the way of Simon Bird, who just kicks you whenever you go past him!

The third of our players is Ian Cusack. Second-choice goalkeeper for Heaton Winstons Over-40s, Ian kept a clean sheet against non-semi professionals in last year’s game and has previously written articles for When Saturday Comes and every Newcastle United fanzine ever published.

Name: Ian Cusack

Position: Goalkeeper

Job: Lecturer in English Literature

Websites/Magazines:
Payaso del Mierda, Toon Talk and the Percy Main website.

What are you looking forward to most from this year’s game? Not having to play against forwards whose previous game was at Wembley.

What’s your memory of last year’s game?
The sheer joy on Paul Chow’s face when he’d eclipsed his FA Vase heroics by scoring past me.

It’s not just the players who are donating their time on May 20th. Lindsey Robinson, newly-promoted Level Four referee, will be officiating the game while Hebburn Town and former West Bromwich Albion player Dean Nicholson has agreed to manage the Journalists. In the bloggers’ dugout is Jon Shaw, scorer of 35 goals and Gateshead’s Player of the Year this season. Last but definitely not least, Blyth Spartans goalkeeping coach Carl King has kindly donated three pairs of gloves to our keepers for the day. Thanks to everyone!

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West Allotment Celtic: Keeping Local Football Alive

Last season was a disaster for West Allotment Celtic: three managers in nine months and a first ever relegation for a club that was founded in 1928. This season – Allotment’s eighth in the Northern League – has been one of consolidation, Paul Stoneman’s side currently eighth in Division Two with seven games to play. “A canny first season,” chairman Roland Mather recently told the The Sunday Sun. Mather should know: he’s been involved with the club for over half a century and followed his father into the chairman’s role.

Despite the semi-exotic name, West are firmly rooted in the east end of Newcastle, the club itself the product of a merger between two local sides, the Primitive Methodists and West Allotment Juniors in the wake of the financial hardship which followed the 1920s General Strike. The club badge still features a pit wheel; in the 1930s, the players’ changing facilities were provided by a converted cowshed, brought in pieces from Heaton and reassembled at their old Farm Ground. There were four Northern Amateur titles in a row in the late-1950s, 400 goals in 412 games from the legendary Benny Williams, a run to the last-32 of the FA Vase, eight Northern Football Alliance titles, a Challenge Cup win at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park, and a Nothern League Division Two championship, won at the very first attempt in 2004-05. Since 2001 the club have played their home games at Whitley Park (Blue Flames Sports Ground), which they share with the Northumberland FA and, occasionally, Newcastle United Reserves.

Manager Paul Stoneman made over two hundred appearances for Blackpool, Colchester United and Halifax Town, winning the 1991-92 Division Four play-offs with the Tangerines, while coach Paul Hogg also works on soccer schools and skills courses run by the Newcastle United Foundation. Even with such strong foundations, financial concerns are never far away in grassroots football, particularly in the kind of economic climate that harks back to the club’s foundation. Only one of the current committee members is under 60 years old and Allotment – a part of the community for more than eighty years – are actively looking for local backing. There are still four home games remaining for Stoneman’s young team, the next against Ryton and Crawcrook Albion at 3pm on March 31st (regular admission is just £4 for adults and £2 for under-16s). For other offers of support, commercial manager Jonny Thompson can be contacted through the club’s website. “There’s a lady in her 80s who raises £8 every week around her sheltered accommodation for the letter draw,” says Mather, “but we need more help, of any kind, so we appeal to anyone interested to get in touch.”

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The Demon Drink and the Northern League

Life throws up some glorious combinations: Lennon and McCartney, bacon and eggs, Xavi and Iniesta, Paul Chow and the FA Vase, Derek and Clive, Watson and Crick, Bunk and McNulty, and, not least, beer and football.

Unless, in the latter case, you have the misfortune to be a football fan in modern-day Britain, where the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 restricts the sale and consumption of alcohol in designated sports grounds on the following basis:

Glasses, Glass bottles or cans containing alcohol are not permitted outside of the Clubhouse and MUST NOT be brought into the grounds. NO ALCOHOL is to be consumed in the ground or premises during the period of any match, except as may be governed by the terms of the club licence with regard to its own members, but, not withstanding such, NO ALCOHOL is to be taken or consumed outside the licensed clubhouse or any other authorised area during such match period or brought into the ground.

Which, translated from the legalese, means supporters have absolutely no chance of enjoying an open-air beer. Or does it? As this makes clear, the rules only strictly apply to grounds at Conference level and above. In practice, any club in the Blue Square North and South can make an application to the FA for permission to serve (and allow their fans to drink) alcohol in view of the pitch (below that, aside from FA-organised cup competitions, it really shouldn’t be an issue for anyone but the clubs themselves). A seemingly radical step, perhaps, but one which, as Stuart Fuller, a director at Isthmian Premier League side Lewes, points out, comes with several major benefits to non-league football clubs:

“For an average home game the equivalent of 400 pints will be served to a crowd of around 600. We are very lucky to have Harvey’s Brewery as a club sponsor so we get our beer at a very good price. They also give us a 36 pint polypin to give away to every away club we visit this season. There hasn’t been an arrest inside the ground for over five years so I understand. We are currently looking at options as to how we can serve beer on the open terrace without fans having to walk all the way around the pitch to get a pint.”

Ryton and Crawcrook sponsored by Wylam Brewery? Whitehaven by Jennings? Fuller, an author and football blogger, has already highlighted the hypocrisy of the current rules, drawing comparisons between the game in Britain and abroad:

Germany has the highest average top-level crowds in Europe. The Bundesliga has better stadiums, cheaper tickets and a more relaxed policy on stewarding. As a result crowds flock into games each and every week. And guess what, you can buy beer to your heart’s content.

The same is true in countries as diverse as Denmark, Japan, Holland, Austria, Poland, South Korea, Belgium and Latvia. Even in Britain, you can freely buy and consume alcoholic drinks at rugby or cricket grounds despite the fact that, as Fuller suggests, “75% of people who go to cricket also go to football when in season too”. Andy Hudson, a fan who’s watched games at over one hundred grounds in the past two years, concurs: “I’ve been to several Northern League grounds where just before kick-off the curtains are drawn or shutters pulled down, leaving people to finish their pints in semi-darkness. Compare that to places like Werder Bremen, where fans are free to drink where and when they want. There was a great atmosphere, absolutely no trouble, and if you tried to tell people there they couldn’t drink while watching the game they’d look at you as if you were mad.”

Northern League chairman Mike Amos, while promising to revisit the 2005 management committee edict which reaffirmed the ban on alcohol being consumed anywhere outside a clubhouse, has questioned whether fans actually need to drink during a game, stating “My own view is not just that the prohibition is sensible but that if someone can’t last 45 minutes without a drink it’s not a football match he should be seeing, but a doctor.” I’d argue that it’s less a matter of need than of providing people with choice. At a recent game in Penrith, writer James Williams and I were able to watch the opening fifteen minutes of the second half through the window of the bar. We weren’t absolutely sure whether alcohol was allowed in sight of the pitch; we decided, in the Northern League, there probably wasn’t much risk of hooliganism. It could be argued that there are already plenty of opportunities for drinking pre- and post-match but, as was the case with us at Frenchfield Park, not every supporter turns up in advance or hangs around after the full-time whistle, while at busier grounds much of half-time is taken up by having to queue to use the facilities. In a day and age where people can watch football from almost any country in the world on a Saturday afternoon without ever having to leave the pub or their armchair, stopping fans from enjoying a drink while taking in a game could have an adverse effect on crowds. A pint or two with your mates can enhance the day-out, providing an accompaniment to the game in the same way that other people use wine with their food. In the straitened economic climate, why not allow fans the choice of putting a few more quid into their club’s coffers?

Will we see people enjoying a drink on Northern League terraces anytime soon? Maybe not, though anecdotal evidence suggests some clubs are already interpreting the rules more flexibly than others. If it’s any consolation, anyone travelling to Brazil in 2014 will be able to enjoy a beer after pressure from the world governing body forced the Brazilian authorities to relax their ban on drinking. “Alcoholic drinks are part of the World Cup, so we’re going to have them,” said FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcker.

Freedom of choice, a little common sense and a decent pint of beer. That really is all we’re asking for.

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Blank Saturday? Not in the Northern League

Although the 146th Tyne-Wear derby has been put back to noon on Sunday, there’s still plenty of local football taking place at 3pm tomorrow afteroon. The game of the day, undoubtedly, is the Northern League El Clasico, two-time defending champions Spennymoor Town making the trip to Whitley Bay, three-time Wembley winners in the FA Vase. Bay have lost their last two games at Hillheads by a single goal but moved back into third place with a 1-0 midweek win at Tow Law Town. Spennymoor reached their first Durham Challenge Cup final in over a decade on Tuesday night, are undefeated in five games since January’s 4-1 defeat by Ashington, and can potentially move to within three points of the leaders by repeating October’s 2-0 win at the Brewery Field. Expect a 500+ crowd and a cracking atmosphere. Adult entry at Hillheads is £6.

With Dunston UTS and West Auckland otherwise engaged in the FA Vase, the other two teams in the top six face off at Meadow Park, leaders Sunderland RCA – who play Whitley Bay next week – hosting a Newton Aycliffe who are unbeaten in their last ten games. It’s £4 to get in – and around a pound extra for non-league football’s best corned beef slice.

In Division Two, there’s an even better offer at bottom of the table Easington’s home game against an improving Whitehaven side, the first ten people through the gate getting a free pint in the clubhouse bar. Entrance for Newcastle United, Sunderland or Middlesbrough season ticket holders is half the usual price at £2 for adults and a quid for concessions. Bovril – laced with white pepper – and chips are under a pound and the North Sea views come free.

At the top end of the Division Two table, only six points now separate Darlington RA in second from Crook Town in tenth. Fourth-placed Birtley Town travel to North Shields, who are three points back in eighth, while West Allotment Celtic and Hebburn Town – currently seventh and sixth – will be looking for home wins over Chester-le-Street Town and Brandon.

Elsewhere, Division One strugglers Jarrow Roofing – winners at home to South Shields last weekend with a goal from Paul Robinson of 1999 Tyne-Wear derby fame – host Ashington, whose squad includes a whole plethora of ex-Newcastle United players including Jonny Godsmark, Matty Grieve, Liam Atkin, Tommy English and Darren Lough. Teesside has its own derby as Billingham Synthonia travel to Marske United, while Newcastle Benfield – coached by Nolberto Solano, whose goal defeated Sunderland in April 2003 – play Shildon at Sam Smith’s Park (a two-minute walk from Walkergate Metro).

Finally, if you prefer your football free of charge, Northern Alliance leaders Heaton Stannington take on in-form Hebburn Reyrolle in a 2.30pm kick off at Newcastle’s Grounsell Park.

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