Why the Northern League Matters to Me #8

The Northern League is a great thing, for all North East football fans. Me being the Founder and Editor of SAFC site The Roker Report you’d be forgiven for thinking that I look down from my Premier League Ivory Tower on the Northern League; however, you’d think wrong.

I find myself in a fairly unique position here to have a great connection with the Northern League, and in particular, Jarrow Roofing. That’s right, Roofing. The Roofers are one of the last remaining teams in the upper echelons of Non-League football to carry the name of their long-term sponsors, and a team who have enjoyed a great deal of success in recent times.

My personal kinship with the club started through family. My grandfather, Brian Marshall is the president of the club, and whilst we look at the likes of Niall Quinn & Ellis Short and say what good blokes they are, Brian is one of the few former chairman who you can have a cup of tea with on the sidelines, or you’d even see him helping to build stands at the Welfare Ground, and building dugouts with old bricks found in his garage.

Jarrow Roofing aren’t just a family club, however, they appeal to the Sunderland fan in me too. Not only are there parallels in performance, with moderate success, mid-table mediocrity and the occasional flirtation with relegation, but there are also many a former SAFC player stopping by.

Most recent of this was one Saturday afternoon with SAFC playing away, I headed off to Roofing with my Dad & Grandad. “Who’s that left-back? He looks like a podgy Craig Russell!”… How we laughed until a stroll round the other half of the ground revealed it was indeed a podgy Craig Russell, one time Sunderland hero. He’s now much trimmer and employed as a masseur for SAFC.

He’s not the only one to have stopped by. Kevin Arnott, part of the golden generation with Gary Rowell & Shaun Elliott also notched up the games for Roofing in his twilight years, as well as signing an old SAFC programme for me.

Various other names have also stopped by Roofing who are non-SAFC. Andy Morrell, once of Blackpool was at Jarrow Roofing for a bit whilst studying at Northumbria University, as well as former Lower League ‘goal machine’ Efion Williams, once of Torquay and Hartlepool. All this at just one Northern League club, having so many crossovers with my beloved SAFC, as well as other blasts from the past.

Elsewhere around the Northern League you might have spotted once prolific SAFC Youth Paul Beavers, scorer of the last goal at Roker Park playing centre back for Bedlington, I think it was. Or perhaps you once saw Ben Christensen, John Toft, Steven Pickering or even Lee Howey (he with the questionable brother). Or even way back when, you may have spotted the great Cec Irwin turning out for Ashington.

So I’d say to all football fans, and in particular SAFC fans, head on down to your local Northern League team on Saturday April 9th. Yes, we’re at home to West Brom, but this is proper football, with standing, banter with the players, fairly unsafe looking stands, muddy pitches and dodgy looking cups of tea. It’s a disillusioned football fans dream. It’s proper football.

I implore you, check out your local Northern League team this weekend, you never know who you might see.

As if being the grandson of a football club president wasn’t enough, Sunderland fan Simon Walsh is also the founder and editor of The Roker Report, one of the best club blogs anywhere on the net.

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