You wouldn’t have thought there’d be any tradition of non-conformist behaviour in the Newcastle suburb which gave Alan Shearer, Greggs the Baker and Lord Justice Taylor to the world. But in 1894, in a Leazes Terrace front room, Gosforth Bohemians Football Club were officially formed by Messers Reid, Anderson, Hope, Frain and Hill. Just across the road, Newcastle United were taking part in their second Football League season, to the annoyance of some of the street’s other residents who had threatened legal action over the “intolerable nuisance” of having a football club on their doorstep.
In the half century which followed one club lifted four First Division titles and three FA Cups while the other moved around cricket pitches and public parks before finally securing a 99-year lease on a pitch of their own, just off Gosforth’s Great North Road. When a clubhouse was erected a decade later the ground was renamed Benson Park after the then club secretary and benefactor.
In the mid-1970s another group of Leazes Terrace residents formed Garnett FC. Starting out in Newcastle University’s Inter-Mural League, the student team developed into one of the region’s largest football clubs with eight teams and eighty-one players. About the only thing they lacked was a ground of their own. By a serendipitous turn of fate, Gosforth Bohemians found themselves in the opposite predicament – and in 2002 the newly-amalgamated Garnett Bohemian FC began life with seven teams and the goal of promoting “the amateur sport of Association Football in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and community participation in the same.”
In their short joint history, the club – now the biggest in north-east England with four senior Saturday teams and more than 100 players on their books – have consistently finished mid-table in the second of the three Northern Football Alliance divisions. Last season, though, was much more of a struggle, bad weather causing not just a fixture backlog but also considerable damage to the clubhouse boiler – damage which will take £15,000 to repair and could threaten the continued existence of the club at Benson Park.
Unlike some other clubs I could name, Bohs fully understand the importance of continuity. All but one member of the current first team squad came through the club’s junior teams, the majority of the committee members are ex-players and Chairman Patrick William-Powlett has been involved with Garnett since starting at Newcastle University back in 1982, the same year the Gallowgate sucked a shot from Kevin Keegan into the St James’ Park net. Shaun Kavanagh – who William-Powlett describes as “the best player and best lad to have been with the club in my time” – made 208 appearances for the green and blacks, winning player of the year every full season he played. The club’s longest serving player, Danny Sherwood, scored 381 goals in 411 games for Bohemians. His achievement is even more remarkable when you consider every single player pays £40 a season and £4 a game before pulling on a green and black shirt (in retrospect, exactly the contract Freddy Shepherd should have offered to Michael Owen and Mark Viduka). As well as their match fees, the players organise fundraising activities, helping to keep the club afloat with more than just their performances on the pitch.
Not that everyone is happy with paying to play football. After Sherwood retired at the end of last season, Harry Tulip, their leading scorer of the previous two years, left for Ponteland United and an Alliance Premier title, partly due to his unwillingness to continue paying match fees. Without a recognised first-team forward, Bohemians scored just 36 goals in their 30 league games, ending the season in 9th. Hopes are high that a 17-year-old (unnamed in case any Northern League scouts are reading) might provide a long-term answer, having been eased in to the first team on the wing. “We think there’ll always be players who will be willing to pay to play,” the chairman says. “We’re very optimistic about the future”. If he can only sort that boiler out and track down a 15-goal-a-season forward, the future will be indeed be rosy at Benson Park.
If you’re interested in helping, email Bohs1894@googlemail.com.
A version of this article appears in the summer edition of the Newcastle United fanzine True Faith, who will also be running a series of articles following Bohs throughout the 2011-12 season.