Why I won’t be at Northern League Day.

I like the Hudson Brothers; they watch amateur football and they drink Real Ale. They are my kind of fellas and I take my hat off to them in respect of what they’ve done for Ryton FC and many other shoestring operations in the local area with their Northern League Day project on April 9th. Whilst I will be in the company of the Hudson Brothers (who appear to be named after the kind of posse that would have gone searching for Billy The Kid) on the evening of Northern League Day, drinking fine hand pulled beers in a number of establishments in the Ouseburn Valley, I will not be present at either of the football matches they’ve identified as places to call in on during that day. Despite the appearance of some arcane phenomenon entitled the Socrates Bloggers, neither Whickham v Washington at 11.30, nor Ryton v Billingham Synthonia at 3pm, nor even the chance to quality test brews at The Boathouse in Wylam (named Northumberland’s best pub by CAMRA in 2010) will keep me from my preferred destination; Purvis Park, home of Percy Main Amateurs FC, where a Pin Point Recruitment Northern Alliance Premier Division game versus Carlisle City kicks off at 2.30pm.

Several times in my life, I’ve found myself as close to nirvana as a man could hope to be. Suffice to say, if I could watch Teenage Fanclub playing a greatest hits set, supported by The Wedding Present and Trembling Bells, while imbibing the Bass they sell in The Tynemouth Lodge or a 2008 Yellowtail Pinot Grigio, with Laura’s Thai Green Curry to follow up, I’d die a happy man. If those events could take place at Purvis Park after a comprehensive home win by Percy Main, I’d go to my grave in a state of ecstatic peace.

To say I love football is underplaying my hand a little. At approaching 47, I play in goal 3 times a week, still watch a minimum of 2 live games (of course I don’t have Sky or ESPN) and spend huge swathes of my waking time writing, talking and thinking about football. Only classic indie and folk music, ultra left wing politics and my loved ones get anywhere near as much head space as football does. Yet, for many years, I hated football. Or rather, I hated what Newcastle United’s version of being a football fan did to me, as I had allowed the all encompassing, grasping, and indifferent social behemoth from St James Park to render me anonymous. Thank you so much to Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Mike Ashley for relegating the club in 2009 and freeing me from its clutches. Last Saturday they nailed Wolves 4-1; the only way it impacted on my consciousness was irritation at the number of barcodes getting off the 306 and 308 on the Coast Road as I cycled back from a 3-1 reverse at Heaton Stannington. Emotional progress; yes?

Obviously, I’ve been in love with the amateur game in the local area for nigh on two decades, with Benfield my chosen Northern League side. Yet to me, the Northern League is not the chance for a bit of rough away from the Premiership pretty boys, it is a whiff of almost unimaginable glamour; £6 in, floodlights, proper seats and replica shirts. We don’t get any of those things in the Alliance. Instead there are 48 clubs in three divisions, from Alnwick to Murton and Cullercoats to Hexham, with every player, committee member and fan grafting like hell to keep teams going in the face of mounting costs, minimal receipts (other than ourselves, most sides don’t even bother to charge entry) and rapacious clubs from higher in the pyramid poaching promising players.

On a typical Saturday, I’ll arrive at Purvis Park around 1pm after playing in Over 40s league in the morning. Most of the rest of the committee have been there since noon. During the course of a match day I’ll collect gate money, serve in the canteen, take down the posts at full time, sweep the dressing rooms, help prepare the post match buffet and various other tasks, before heading home around 6pm to write up the match report. For this privilege, it costs me about £10 a week in various weekly draws and lottery schemes the club runs, so why do I do it? Because I love Percy Main Amateurs. Here is a football club that appreciates what I do for it and gives me back a million times more than I put in.

I hate Niall Quinn, but I understand what he means when he says the Mackems got under his skin, despite no obvious connection with the place. I joined Percy Main as an outsider in 2009, having watched them for a couple of years, because I was honoured to be asked. I will never leave. Why not come and visit us to see what life is like below the glitz and paparazzi of Ryton against Synners? Even better, why don’t you follow the trail blazed by the Hudson Brothers and help organise a Northern Alliance Day? I’ll assist….

Author, long-time WSC writer and contributor to every Newcastle United fanzine ever produced, Ian Cusack recently published the excellent Village Voice, an account of Percy Main’s 2009-10 promotion season all proceeds of which go towards the repair of Percy Main’s clubhouse roof. You can follow Percy Main on twitter here and read about previous visits to their Purvis Park home here, here and here

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