The recent resignations of both Wark and Newcastle East End from the Northern Football Alliance Division One have left the league’s middle division with only eleven clubs, South Shields United, Stobswood Welfare and Berwick Ultras all having folded just before or during this summer’s close season. Wark, runners up in the Premier Division two seasons ago and an Alliance club since 1988, called it a day in late-September. Newcastle East End, who took their name from one of the two clubs which eventually became Newcastle United, joined them on Saturday, their results so far expunged from the records.
With free entry to most Alliance games, travel costs (Division Two clubs have away fixtures at Northbank Carlisle and Alston in Cumbria, Harton and Westoe in South Tyneside and Alnwick Town Reserves in north Northumberland), expenses (£25 each for a referee and two assistants in the Premier Division) and the problems of attracting sponsorship in the present economic climate, more and more clubs are finding it difficult to make ends meet. First Division Heddon were forced to leave their Bullocksteads ground when their pitch fees went up by £1,600 a year and South Tyneside United withdrew when two sponsors pulled out, leaving a £3,000 hole the club was unable to fill. Some teams, notably Gosforth Bohemians, survive on fundraising and match subscriptions (every player on Bohs’ books pays £40 a season and £4 a game to play). All rely on the hard work and generosity of what are usually no more than a few individuals. To lose just a couple of committee members can prove terminal to a club – as the former players of Chopwell Officials could no doubt confirm.
What can be done? Some suggest moving kick-offs forward to 11am to attract more fans ahead of games higher up the pyramid, but if clubs don’t charge admission and have nothing for visitors to buy it’s difficult to see how any financial benefit would be derived. The formation of a new step six or seven league in Cumbria would cut down on some of the travelling involved (as would also be the case with the Wearside League and North Yorkshire), though that would also have the effect of weakening the league, with Carlisle City and neighbours Harraby Catholic Club both in the top six of the Premier Division. A Northern Alliance Day was mooted after last season’s Northern League equivalent, to be run along the lines of the fundraiser at Gosforth Bohemians which made over £350 towards their new clubhouse boiler. At a time when Premier League teams are squabbling over the distribution of £3.2 billion in TV revenue, a few thousand pounds is still enough to put a grassroots football club out of existence.