Like a lot of other Wearside League and Northern Alliance grounds, Annfield Plain’s Derwent Park is deceptively easy to find until you’re 100 metres away. South of West Road (via a turning opposite some bungalows, a couple of twists and a dirt track), the ground is twelve miles from Newcastle in one direction and about the same distance from Durham City in the other.
The town’s had a football team of its own since 1890, when Annfield Celtic first came into being. Northern Football Alliance champions in 1920 and 1923 and runners-up, as Celtic, in 1904, Annfield Plain AFC later had a mostly unremarkable 40-year spell in the now-defunct North Eastern League before switching to the Wearside in 1964. The club have made it as far as the First Round Proper of the FA Cup three times – in 1926, 1928 and 1964 – and won the Wearside League title in 1985 and 1998.
The pitch, lovingly cared for, is bordered by grassy banks on three sides and a rusty corrugated fence, propped up with metal posts and bent inwards at the top. A crumbling stand provides rudimentary cover, with several steps of terracing and some plastic chairs along the back row. At half-time the players disappear down a whitewashed tunnel, vandalised by ‘John, Tom and Deano 2009’.
There’s a small gravel car park outside the single turnstile, which was once worked by Norman Wilkinson, an FA Cup semi-finalist and still York City’s record scorer with a total of 143 goals in his twelve seasons at the club. Andy Graver, who turned out for Plain while working as a coalminer, was another of the strikers connected to the club. After a spell at Newcastle United he went on to score 143 goals in three stints with Lincoln City, and also played for Leicester, Stoke and Boston United. Reg Keating made the same journey from Derwent Park to St James’, later scoring 35 goals in two and a half seasons with Cardiff City. In August 1993, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United side made the opposite trip for a pre-season friendly arranged to mark Plain’s centenary and to raise money towards the West Stanley Colliery Disaster Memorial Fund (on 16 February 1909 an explosion in a West Stanley pit shaft killed 168 men and boys. Among the survivors was Frank Keegan, grandfather of the future England captain and manager).
GoNorthEast bus number 44 runs between Newcastle’s Eldon Bus concourse and Durham Bus Station, stopping at Newcastle Central Station, the MetroCentre and Annfield Plain along the way. The X31 also starts at Eldon Square, calling at Gateshead Metro en route to Annfield Plain. The 78 links Sunderland to Annfield Plain and Consett.
Admission to games is £2. The postcode is DH9 7UY.