When I set up the 100 Football Grounds Club blog in the summer of 2006, it was originally intended as an online source for fellow groundhoppers to share their ground lists. However, I soon realised the need to add more input to the blog, as in pictures and reports from my own ground visits, so this was when I started to take the whole groundhopping business more seriously.
At the time trying to finish the 92 was a long way off, so I thought why not collect the set of the next best thing, instead of the oldest league in the world I’d complete the second oldest – our very own Northern League. Over the next two seasons while still having a season ticket at St James Park and watching Gateshead struggling in the Unibond League, I squeezed in the 31 grounds required to complete the Northern League 44, finishing at Esh Winning’s picturesque West Terrace.
Looking back I have fond memories of travelling up and down the A19 (although I hate that viaduct at Boro) driving north and south on the A1 into Northumberland or Durham, around the doors to the clubs on Tyneside and venturing down into Wearside. There were many highlights but overall the main things that stand out are a decent game of football, a pleasant welcome from the host clubs, the good crack and camaraderie amongst supporters, value for money and of course (and to some the most important) you’re usually guaranteed a decent half time ‘scrabby eye’ (that’s a pie…Eddy).
My favourite club in the league is Dunston UTS, but throughout my travels I’ve developed a soft spot for the likes of Marske United, Ryton and Hebburn, and on the opposite end of the scale there’s a few clubs based in one particular county which I’m not too chewed on, but the Northern League’s greatest trait is rivalries are brushed aside and the league becomes united in support of its members competing in the FA competitions.
So why does the Northern League matter to me? It matters because I’ve got so much out of it – a love of grassroots football, an appreciation of the heritage of its clubs and most rewarding of all, I’ve made new acquaintances and some very good friends. This could only happen in the greatest part of the country, the north-east of England, the hotbed of football passion and the friendliest and most hospitable part of our diminutive footy mad island.
You can read about Shaun’s trips around the football grounds of Britain and beyond on the fascinating 100 Football Grounds blog. If you’ve seen a game of football in more than one hundred different places, you can also apply for membership of the 100 grounds club yourself.