Mention Ashington to any football follower and the chances are they will have heard of the birthplace of World Cup winning brothers Bobby and Jackie Charlton. Jackie Milburn, a legend at Newcastle United, also played for the town’s team, known unsurprisingly as the Colliers.
Ashington AFC was formed in 1883 making it one of the oldest Clubs in Northumberland. Despite its minor status it entered the FA Cup as early as 1887. After joining the Northern Alliance in 1892, the club soon switched to the East Northumberland League where it remained until 1902 when it returned to the Northern Alliance. The Colliers played in this league until 1914, winning the League Title in 1913/14, as well as the Northumberland Challenge Bowl in 1913. They switched to the North Eastern League in 1914/15, finishing the season in ninth place. The outbreak of World War One brought an end to the League.
With the Great War over, Ashington returned to the North Eastern League. After finishing seventh in 1921, the Colliers were elected to join the Football League Third Division North with fellow North Eastern League sides Darlington, Durham City and Hartlepools United. In 1921 Portland Park was upgraded from a typical Non-League venue to a stadium designed for 20,000. It had a re-laid pitch, new pavilion, tearoom and large press box added, as well as new signing Knowles from Manchester United. Thompson was also signed from Leeds and Foster was brought in from Sunderland. Ashington’s players were now ready for their professional debuts. An opening day crowd of 10,000 saw Dickinson fire in the only goal of the game, as Ashington defeated Grimsby Town 1-0 at home. By the end of the season the Colliers finished in a respectable 10th place. finishing second bottom the season after, Ashington were successfully re-elected and finished the 1923/24 season in a superb eighth position, hosting Aston Villa at home in the FA Cup with a crowd of 11,837 packed into Portland Park to see the Colliers lose 5-1. The Colliers remained amongst the country’s elite until the 1928/29 season when a disastrous campaign saw them finish bottom and become one of the first clubs to miss out on re-election. A struggling team and the miners’ strike, hit the Colliers hard as crowds dropped dramatically to under 1,000 for the final few home games in the Football League.
After losing League status, the Colliers returned to the North Eastern League and reached the FA Cup first round again, going down 3-0 to former Football League opponents Rotherham. With the War ended, Ashington returned to the North Eastern League and again reached the FA Cup First Round in 1950, with Rochdale making the trip to Portland Park. A club record attendance of 13,199 saw Ashington narrowly lose 2-1. When the North Eastern League folded Ashington joined the Midland League for the 1958/59 season. Ashington were runners-up to Peterborough United in their first season and were third in their second season. Despite the success the amount of travelling became a big problem and Ashington joined the North Regional League. The club then joined the Northern Premier League for the 1968/69 season facing the likes of Macclesfield Town, Wigan Athletic, Boston United, Altrincham and Northwich Victioria but financial problems meant the Colliers couldn’t afford to play at that level for more than the one season and in 1970 Ashington FC joined the Northern League.
Ashington’s League form was hardly superb, but the Colliers did reach the FA Amateur Cup Semi-Final in 1974, before losing to eventual winners Bishops Stortford in a replay at Brentford. After finishing third in 1979, Ashington were relegated to the Northern League Second Division in 1984/85. The worst period in the Club’s history followed as Ashington struggled, the club hit rock bottom in 1994 when they were unable to raise a team against Crook Town resulting in the whole committee resigning. A public meeting saw a new committee formed and, to celebrate, a group of supporters launched the highly acclaimed fanzine ‘The Pit Pony Express’.
Success soon switched to the team as the Colliers won their first trophy in 19 years, defeating Evenwood Town 1-0 in the 1999 Craven Cup Final and winning the Second Division Championship in 2000/2001. Relegation followed, but Ashington fans were soon celebrating again after winning the Craven Cup in 2003 with another victory over Evenwood under new manager Tony Harrison. 2003/4 saw Ashington have one o f it’s most successful seasons in the past 25 years, an FA Cup run saw Ashington reach the Third Qualifying Round, another Craven Cup final appearance, as well as winning the Second Division Championship after a run of 18 straight wins in 2004. After the shock resignation of Tony Harrison in December 2004, ex-Shildon manager Ray Gowan was appointed manager taking Ashington away from the relegation scrap and into a top half finish by the end of the season as well as two cup semi-finals.
Unfortunately a difficult few seasons followed both on and off the pitch. A few close scrapes with relegation saw the club frequently changing managers and with increasing uncertainty surrounding the clubs Portland Park ground, Ashington FC made the worst start to a season in the club’s history in 2007/8, which saw only one point gained from the first ten matches. In came manager Andy Gowens, a former Ashington player, who worked wonders in keeping the Colliers in the Northern League First Division. On Friday 15th February 2008 Ashington played their final game at Portland Park against Seaham Red Star. A bumper crowd of 1,954 – the biggest attendance at a Northern League game in over 25 years – saw Seaham spoil the party with a 3-2 win.
In the summer of 2008 a new executive board took control of the club led by National Union of Mineworkers President Ian Lavery. In early August 2008 the new ground Woodhorn Lane was opened and on Saturday 30 th August 2008, Ashington played their first game at the new ground defeating UniBond League side Ossett Albion 2-1 in the FA Cup with a crowd of 341. Striker Gareth Bainbridge, scorer in the last match at Portland Park against Seaham Red Star had the honour of being the first goalscorer at Woodhorn Lane.
A number of ex-Ashington players have gone on to make a name for themselves, not only nationally but internationally. Patrick O’Connell, an Irish international centre-half signed from Dumbarton during Ashington’s Football League days, went on to manage Real Betis, Sevilla and FC Barcelona! More recently, in 1981 Tony Lowery was sold to West Bromwich Albion. Another player, Dave Walton, joined Sheffield United before joining Crewe, Shrewsbury and Derby County. An England international also emerged from the clubs ranks – at cricket. Steve Harmison, ranked as the world’s best fast bowler after demolishing the West Indies as he took 7 wickets for only 12 runs at Sabina Park, played central defence for Ashington until 1996 before giving up to concentrate on cricket.
Previously of Bedlington Terriers, Karl is fast becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the Northern League. A brilliant shotstopper with good handling and a good command of the box. Plenty more to come from this young goalkeeper over the coming seasons. Supporters’ Player of the Year last term.
New signing from West Allotment Celtic. Powerful, ball playing centre half who can also mix it. God in the air and dangerous from set pieces.
Joined Ashington at the start of last season after being released from Newcastle United. A former captain of the Toon reserves, Darren was last season’s Players’ Player and Manager’s Player of the Year. A marauding left fullback who can fill in anywhere and chips in with the odd goal or two.
After stepping up from the reserves centre half Rees has looked more assured as every game goes by. Strong in the tackle with a cultured right foot. Previous Northern League experience with Morpeth Town when in the first division.
Another second generation Collier who started off at the club as a youngster before moving on to Bedlington Terriers during their heyday. Moved on from the Terriers to Newcastle Blue Star and then back again before joining Ashington. A strong, no nonsense centre half who is now hopefully back to full fitness after a couple of injury plagued years.
Another ex-Magpie who joined his hometown club after release. Right sided defender who is comfortable at right full back, wing back or at centre half.
Ex-Magpie who joined his hometown club following release and a trial at Leyton Orient. 6’’3’ Grieve is dominant in the air and comfortable on the ground. Much sought after during the close season and a welcome addition to the Ashington side.
Began life at Newcastle United before playing for Bedlington Terriers, Dunston Fed and Morpeth Town. Joined his home town team Ashington under Andy Gowens following in the footsteps of his dad John who played for the club in the late 70’s and early 80’s. A strong, tough tackling, commanding player who is comfortable in defence or midfield.
Defensive midfielder who brings a wealth of Northern League experience to a young Ashington side. Tough in the tackle and comfortable on the ball, Dugdale won the Northern League most recently with Benfield. Also formerly of Whitley Bay and Bedlington Terriers.
Stepped up from Ashington Colliers to the first team before being transferred to West Allotment under Andy Gowens. Re-joined Ashington when Gary Middleton took over the reigns at Woodhorn Lane. Popular attacking midfielder who delivers from either flank or down the middle and adds goals from midfield.
Wide player who rejoined the Colliers from Whitley Bay. Originally signed for the Colliers as a 17 year old from New Hartley before joining Newcastle Blue Star and then spending successful seasons at Whitley Bay where he featured in their Vase runs of the last three years. A class act comfortable on the ball with pinpoint crosses.
Tough tackling midfielder who started came through Sunderland’s Academy. Joined Kenny Lindoe’s Consett before a brief spell at home town club Hebburn prior to joining the Colliers. Much sought after in pre-season Ashington were delighted to secure Scott for the campaign. Set piece specialist who chips in with the odd goal.
Left sided player who joined the Colliers last term from Newcastle Benfield. A free kick specialist, Damen has scored some spectacular goals in his first season with the Colliers. Had a spell out with injury last term but hopefully back to full fitness for the coming season.
Skilful attacker with bags of pace. Another of the ex-Magpies who joined the Colliers at the start of last term. Godsmark terrified Northern League defences last season from the right hand side or when played up top.
Cultured central midfielder who joined the club from Brandon United two seasons ago. Excellent at breaking down the play and laying in defence splitting passes for alert attackers. Previous clubs include Brandon United and Arnold Town.
Adaptable player who usually plays in the midfield but is equally comfortable at right full back. Formerly of Shildon, West Allotment, Newcastle Benfield and Gateshead the midfielder adds an assured touch to the side.
Striker who has been hampered by injury over the past few campaigns. A natural goalscorer who has been on fire in pre season and hopefully continues in the same vein. Finished as Ashington’s top goalscorer in the first season at Woodhorn Lane having scored the first goal at the new ground. Also scored the last Ashington goal at Portland Park.
Powerful striker who was also hampered by injury last term. If he can stay fit will be a huge threat to Northern League defences.
Powerful striker who is good in the air and good at holding up the ball. Has a Rory Delap style long throw which can be employed when required. Signed from South Shields last term and previously of Chester le Street.
Former Benfield and Morpeth striker who was Ashington’s top goalscorer last term. A true fox in the box.
Gary took over as Ashington manager in the summer of 2009, making the move from West Allotment Celtic, and took Ashington to two Cup Finals and a top 6 League position in his first season at Woodhorn Lane. ‘Middler’ has years and years of experience in local football and had a very successful playing career, captaining Whitley Bay to FA Vase glory in 2002, playing at Wembley with Bedlington Terriers and playing in the UniBond League with Blyth Spartans. Also played for Ashington towards the end of his playing days.
Currently manages the Hirst Welfare Football Centre, as well as working with Newcastle United.
UEFA ‘A’ qualifed coach and assistant manager to Gary, Neil also made the move from West Allotment Celtic in 2009. A former Northern League player with Whickham and Newcastle Blue Star. An innovative and forward thinking coach, Neil is now helping to train new coaches within his role at the Northumberland FA.
Coach who made the move to Woodhorn Lane last season, switching from West Allotment Celtic. ‘Bondie’ had a long successful playing career at a number of different levels. Former clubs as a player include Blyth Spartans, Bedlington Terriers, Carlisle United, Blackpool, Alnwick Town, Gretna, Bishop Auckland and Morpeth Town.
More information at the club’s website.