50 Seats and Floodlights: A Wearside League Odyssey

Author, Scarborough Town fan, programme contributor and Wearside League enthusiast, Chris Daniel is one of a growing band of bloggers writing about non-league football in the north-east of England.

You mainly blog about the Wearside League. Is it something you’ve always been interested in?

I came to University in Durham in 2007 and began watching the Northern League, but then I became good friends with a couple of students who were Wearside League referees so I started heading to matches with them. I was also involved in Scarborough Town FC, and so when they were elected into the Wearside League in 2009 I was watching it every week and had an even bigger vested interest. Although Scarborough Town are no longer are in the league, and my friends have gone onto to bigger and better things in the referee worldm I just find Wearside League football the purest form of entertainment (and it matches my student budget quite well!).

Ryhope managed a clean sweep of trophies last season. With Easington gone, is there anyone to stop them doing the same?

Yes! Ryhope were unbelievable in the way they chased down Easington last year, but I think that was partly because they had little to lose around Christmas and January and they were able to build momentum from then on. This year I think it will be harder as they have a bigger reputation. Darlington CB, Redcar Athletic, Jarrow and Kirkbymoorside spring to mind as the four teams who can match them – especially in a one-off cup game.

Other than the Northern Echo local newspaper coverage of north-east non-league football tends to be sketchy at best, but there’s been a definite upturn in the number of blogs started recently. What inspired you to start yours?

I enjoy the league, and thought it might get it a little more exposure, which it deserves! Likewise, I have just had my first book published, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing and wanted to do something more ‘regular’. Everyone has an opinion and I just wanted to offer another viewpoint on things.

Your first Northern Alliance game was at Gosforth Bohemians. How did the facilities and standard of play compare?

Tough one, as obviously the Bohs are in Division 1, which is essentially the division below the Wearside. I think the standard of play in the Wearside is on the whole higher, though the opposition, Whitley Bay ‘A’, impressed me. Facilities wise, there wasn’t a huge difference – I’ve seen half better, half worse!

I know you’re a big fan of programmes. What are the best ones you’ve found in the Northern and Wearside Leagues?

This is where I am biased! I write for Newton Aycliffe’s programme, so I’m going to go for that in the Northern League. But Marske United and Brandon United are up there as well. In the Wearside, I couldn’t pick between those who issue programmes – Redcar, Kirkbymoorside, Coxhoe and Wolviston seem to make a real effort week in, week out, which I have huge respect for. It’s also great to see Annfield Plain becoming more regular. To be honest, any club that issues gets my thanks. I’m involved in writing for three different clubs, all in different leagues, so I know how time consuming it is and how dedicated the editors are.

And are there any grounds you particularly like visiting?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag – but in the Northern League I love Crook Town’s Millfield ground – you can just ‘feel’ the history in the place. Consett’s Belle Vue is the same. On the big cup days I’ve seen Shildon, Whitley Bay and Ashington’s grounds buzzing, something that’s also been pretty memorable. In the Wearside, on a nice day, Kirkbymoorside is a lovely place, but my favourite is Coxhoe without a doubt. It’s a club where you genuinely feel welcome and they’re pleased you’ve chosen to give them a few quid to watch their team. The quirkiness of the ground, like having lots of little seating areas and picnic benches, the great playing surface which means teams can attempt to play good football, and the stunning views over towards Durham mean that all in all it’s everything you could want as a spectator.

You wrote a book about the early days at Scarborough Town. Problems with the ground stopped them taking up a place in the NCEL. Do you think the club will ever be able to get back up to that level?

I’m afraid I cant see it at the moment. The team that won the Wearside League was the open-age extension team of the Scarborough Academy which ran under Scarborough FC, so they had been playing and learning the game together for many years and had a brilliant rapport. Essentially it was a conveyor-belt of talent. When Town were denied promotion, the players obviously moved on to bigger clubs and unfortunately the academy stucture fell apart as some of those behind the scenes who were integral to it also moved. Town have had to ‘start again’ using local players, but without the youth development background it will be much harder.

There’s still very occasional talk about the chances of Town getting together with Scarborough Athletic. Is that something you’d like to see happen?

Being perfectly honest, I’m unsure where we are with football in Scarborough. I think Athletic have underachieved since formation, but have the potential to be several leagues higher. Town meanwhile have lost all the momentum they gained from 2008-10, so with them ‘starting again’ they’re hard to judge at the moment. I think Scarborough is big enough to support two non league football clubs, but looking much longer term, I’m not sure being divided is good. Town offer a great link to the local football community as they aim to give opportunities to those who want to play at a higher standard than the district leagues, while Athletic perhaps still haven’t fully engaged with the community. On the flip side, Athletic offer a good standard of football for supporters to watch and players to turn out at and are realistically positioned for upward progression. They key thing is a stadium in Scarborough. If both team shared a decent ground then conversation would have to happen regulary, and hopefully people would see that both ideas have benefits and that could be used as a starting point for dialogue.

You can read more from Chris on his blog 50 Seats and Floodlights or by buying his Scarborough Town book The First Chapter.

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