Northern League Day fixture: Whitley Bay vs Ashington
Situated on the north east coast of England just north of the Tyne, Whitley Bay (pop: 36,500) is a small seaside town with something of an identity crisis. Once the destination of choice for summer holiday makers in the north east of England, and Scotland, affordable package holidays abroad in the 1960s catalysed Whitley Bay’s decline. The beautiful beaches and brilliant white lighthouse stand as a monument to the days of yore, although Whitley Bay’s best days are now mostly resigned to the “Remember When?” columns in the local press. Whilst town planning committees strive to revive the town, Whitley Bay has gained notoriety as a unsavoury drinking resort. A popular destination for stag & hen parties, the South Parade area of Whitley Bay is either the place to be or the place to avoid, depending on your idea of a ‘good night out’.
That said, the town has always been proud of its football club. Plying their trade in the skilltrainingltd Northern League Division 1 in the 9th tier of English football and nicknamed the Seahorses, Whitley Bay FC have enjoyed a wealth of cup success of late. In 1989/90 Bay beat league opposition on their way to an unlikely appearance in the FA Cup 3rd round proper, eventually bowing out to Rochdale at Spotland by a single goal to nil. But it’s the FA Vase that Bay fans like to call their own – three FA Vase triumphs in the last eight years has not only raised the profile and spirits of the club but raised vital funds for the club too.
A safe distance from the cauldron of iniquity on South Parade, Hillheads Park is situated about a mile from the town centre; hemmed in by allotments, a car dealership and the ice rink. With a capacity of 4,500, Hillheads is a tidy ground which generates a good atmosphere amongst the friendly supporters, and at the time of writing, Bay’s home attendances this season have averaged around 450. Entering through the turnstiles off Hillheads Road, the initial approach to the terraces leads you to the rear of the main stand, past a refreshment hut on the left and past the ‘half time entrance’ to the club bar, The Seahorse. The main stand has uncovered terraced areas to each side which reach around behind both goals to provide ample standing room. On the opposite side of the ground, a similar covered, terraced area opened last month, providing shelter to spectators who favour the south side of the ground.
Pre & post match, there are two bars close to the ground aside from the adjoining Seahorse pub. About three hundred yards down Hillheads Road towards the town centre, Last Orders, is a popular watering hole for Bay fans pre and post match, meanwhile, a ten minute walk in the other direction, The Foxhunters is a child friendly pub which also serves food. In the town centre, and within 10-15 minutes of the ground on foot, there are a plethora of pubs on Whitley Road. The Townhouse (on the corner of Park Avenue and Whitley Road) and The Fax Ox come particularly recommended for those looking for a more dignified pre-match pint, meanwhile, The Firestation – a Wetherspoons pub – and the Victoria pub provide the visiting supporter with further pre-match choices. For the benefit of those who wish to make a weekend of it, a night out in nearby Tynemouth provides a welcome change of scene and Newcastle city centre is only a 25 minute journey on the Metro.
Whilst Whitley Bay the town may be considered a poor man’s Blackpool, for the visiting football fan an away day at Hillheads is definitely one to mark in the diary. So much so, in fact, The Ball is Round named it among the top five non-league days out in the whole country.
Match day entrance: £5 adults, £2.50 concessions.
Website: Whitley Bay FC
Nearest Metro: Whitley Bay.
With thanks to David Jameson