Northern League Day Fixture: Whickham vs Washington
Although it had one of the largest coalmines in Europe at the start of the 14th century, Whickham is much better known nowadays as an elevated, genteel suburb of Gateshead, a two-time Britain in Bloom winner which “commands a beautiful prospect of the vale of the Tyne from Newburn to Newcastle” as the History, Topography and Directory of Durham eloquently put things in 1894.
The Victorians had their scenic view, but it would take another fifty years before there was a football club for anyone to watch. Set up towards the end of WWII, and initially named Axwell Park Colliery Welfare after the village’s last working mine, Whickham have had an up and down existence since joining the Northern League in 1988. Promoted at the first attempt, they were relegated in both 1992 and 1997 and have been stuck in Division Two ever since.
Whickham’s best years undoubtedly came as a Wearside League team when, in the five years between 1979 and 1984, they reached the semi-final of the FA Vase no fewer than three times, losing to Almondsbury Green in ’79 and, controversially, to eventual winners Stansted five years later. In 1981, after squeezing past Windsor & Eton in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people, they took part in Wembley’s first all-seated final against Willenhall Town of the West Midlands Regional League. Watched by 12,000 fans (included an estimated 5,000 who’d travelled down from Tyneside), it was Willenhall who made the better start, scoring two goals in the first ten minutes of the game. Full-back Alan Scott, a fireman from Consett, scored a quick reply, before Willenhall’s goalkeeper collided with Billy Cawthra’s bulky frame and had to be stretchered off. With the opposition centre forward forced to play in goal the momentum was now almost entirely one-sided. Ronnie Williamson levelled the score midway through the second half; in extra time a Cawthra shot was blocked, hit a defender and ricocheted into the net. George Cook collected the winners’ trophy from Sir Matt Busby, and thousands of people turned out to greet the returning team at Glebe Park the next day. “All that standing around on cold football grounds, all the knockbacks, were worth it for that one moment of leading your side out at Wembley,” manager Colin Richardson told The Northern Echo.
The pitch slopes down towards the distant River Tyne from the open cricket club boundary; there’s a single covered stand behind the near goal with numbered wooden bench seats and ‘Made in Britain’ embossed on its roof support posts. To the right of the stand is the Glebe social club and bar. The food, all homemade, is among the best in the Northern League. There are plenty of pubs and restaurants on Front Street, Whickham’s main thoroughfare and just a 2-3 minute walk from the ground. The closest is Lang Jack’s, named after a 19th century local character who would leap so high in pubs he’d make holes in the ceiling with his head. Fortunately, none remain today.
Club website: Whickham FC.
Getting there: Directions on the website (parking at ground) or one of the frequent buses from Newcastle’s Eldon Square Station or Gateshead Metro Station which stop outside the Gateshead Council Offices on Front Street (£3.10 day return from Gateshead Metro).
Match day entrance: £4 adults, £2 concessions.
With thanks to Michael Hudson