Sunday, September 23, 2018

West Auckland Town 1-1 Bishop Auckland

It's 8:30pm on Sunday 16th September. A stressed-out and bad-tempered Sticky Palms is slumped in seat 15C, with his hands covering his ears, on a TUI 737 jet, on Malaga Airport's runway, in the Costa Del Sol. Not only has our 10-day sojourn in Espana come to an end, but there's further bad news to report. The Captain has announced over the tannoy that we ain't going anywhere soon and I'm (we are) surrounded by crying babies screaming the plane down.

Jesus wept, just get this big bird in the sky, son. I can't even seek solace by burying my head into the Non-League Paper, as the squealing and squawking arrives in stereo sound. The main perpetrator is a four-month-old baby girl on the seat next to me, who's from Dirty Leeds. I mention to Dad as to whether she knows that their 'Dirty Lot' grabbed a last-gasp equaliser at Millwall's New Den yesterday afternoon, hoping it would cheer up the little Tyke. Dad says she was as 'good as gold' on the journey out here - well she bloody would be mate! I ask him whether I can borrow her dummy as I feel a tantrum coming on.

We're in bed for just gone twelve bells - the holiday is a distant memory. I taught Ms Moon how to play the card game, cribbage, on sultry gin-swilling evenings on the hotel balcony - another bad move, as I lost the first game 2-0, which resulted in me taking the defeat quite badly, locking her out of the hotel room, leaving the good lady at the mercy of the blood-sucking Spanish mosquitos.

We stayed in the resort of Estepona, not far from Marbella and Puerto Banus. We tried to hunt down the Big GC from TOWIE; but she was still mopping up an all-inclusive full English breakfast. Estepona is where both the singer Cilla Black and Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore had unexpected deaths. Whilst we were out there a drug dealer from Leeds was mowed down by the Spanish plod, just a mile down the road from our hotel.

I managed to get a game in, up at the Estadio Municipal Francisco Munez Perez Stadio (that's easy for you to say) a lung-bursting 50-minute walk away from the H10 Estepona Palace. The first half was abysmal and, Surprise Surprise, Cilla, it's 0-0 at the break. It livens up in the second period with three goals, two sendings off and a penalty miss. I did another Facebook Live which was the usual omnishambles.

I plan my working week out meticulously on Monday morning, which ironically includes an overnight stay at the Manchester Airport Premier Inn. The thought of staying in the hotel room for the evening would have had me climbing the walls. I take a ride out into the Cheshire countryside, get completely lost with my hopeless Sat Nav, before picking up two Runcorn Linnets supporters wandering down a dusty road track. It's £8 in on the gate as the hosts take on Northern Premier League opponents Warrington Town in the League Cup. It's sheeting it down with rain as a healthy 228 supporters (not bad as Liverpool are playing PSG in the Champions League) witness a 1-1 draw. A penalty shootout sees the Linnets win 4-3 on penalties.

I've conjured up a hare-brained scheme that needs the Royal seal of approval from the Princess. 'She' mentions a 'Girly Night' on Friday evening with her best friend Jill. I immediately crank up the laptop and navigate to the Northern League website, which covers mainly County Durham and Northumberland. "Erm ... any objections if I stay over in the North East on Friday evening, Pet?"

Hell's teeth, the A1 is an absolute pig on Friday teatime. The Doncaster by-pass is a car park. I'm booked in at the Darlington town centre 'Purple Palace', but can't find it for love or money as Sat Nav disappoints again. I abandon the 'Rolls Royce' in the Feethams Car Park (is this near the old Quakers football ground?) I bolt some tea down me in the Thyme restaurant before jumping back into the car and heading up to Crook.

I get in a right old flap as I'm met with an abundance of 'road closed' signs - flipping heck Sat Nav is having a Dicky fit. Google maps get me out of the mire and into the Tom Cowie Millfield Ground in the nick of time.

Crook lies 9 miles south-west of the historic cathedral city of Durham and has a population just shy of 15,000. Former Crook Town player, Jack Greenwell, was born in the town. He served as Barcelona manager for over seven seasons, a record that can only be beaten by the Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. He made 88 appearances for the Catalan giants between 1912-1916 after guesting for West Auckland in the 'World Cup.' Former Nottingham Forest manager and European Cup winner, Frank Clark, began his career at Crook Town in 1961.

I've been tipped the ground by northern groundhopper, Paul Brockett; it doesn't fail to disappoint with its two old rickety stands, steep grass bank and concrete steps on the terrace. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for the programme. The floodlights are enormous but not all are functioning. Holey Moley, all this way and the ref might call the game off. The Crook chairman is dashing around desperately trying to get the two remaining lights on - you've got to feel sorry for the poor fellow.

The game is a belter which I witness at the top of the grass bank with an elderly diehard Crook fan called Bob. The home side are 3-0 down in the first 14 minutes courtesy of some slapstick comedy defending. Poor old Bob isn't too chuffed, despite Crook pulling a goal back on the stroke of half time. They are unlucky not to win the game in the second half after fluffing two late chances having pulled the score back to 3-3 in a pulsating finish. Bob bids me a fond farewell and safe travels - what a lovely chap.

Crikey Moses, I've had more full English breakfasts than Gemma Collins in the last two weeks, as I polish off some bacon, hash browns and poached eggs in Darlington, before heading off to the village of Hurworth-on-Tees. I turn right into the grounds of Rockcliffe Hall with its spa and golf club. It's Middlesborough chairman/owner Steve Gibson's manor and is where 'Boro under 18s will play their Sunderland counterparts at 11am.

The game is tasty and played at a fast pace. I get chatting to a football agent who is full of bullshit. The scorer of the first ever goal in the Premier League, Brian Deane, is stood next to us wearing a flat cap. The Mackems take the lead against the run of play with a brilliant counterattack, before 'Boro deservedly equalise. I tick off the Bay Horse in the village where I quaff a pint of  Black Bull bitter from the Theakston Brewery before driving up to West Auckland.

West Auckland is a village with a population of 8,500.  It's steeped in coal-mining history, with the Colliery opening in 1838 and closing in 1967. The village team is famous as the 'Home of the First World Cup' - winning the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy (the Tea man) in 1909 and 1911. The coal miners pitted their wits against the football associations of Italy, Germany and Switzerland in the city of Turin. They retained the trophy in 1911 beating Italian giants Juventus 6-1 in the final. They were to meet Juventus 100 years later for a rematch  I remember seeing the film The World Cup: A Captain's Tale, starring Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy. A replica of the trophy sits in a cabinet in the West Auckland Working Men's Club.

The Club was founded in 1893 and play at the Wanted Metal Stadium, which is tucked away to the rear of a new housing estate. I take a stroll into the village, admiring the beautiful, long village green and War Memorial. I take some snaps of the 'World Cup' statue, before wandering past the derelict Queens Head and up to the Spar shop. A cheese and onion sandwich is a ridiculous £3; sod it I'll spend some dollar at the Club snack bar.

It's £6 on the turnstile and £1 each for a raffle ticket and golden goal ticket. I snaffle up a hot pork pie for £1.50. It's another ground to die for, with its old wooden stand and panoramic views. A plethora of signage is a photographer's dream. I sit in the back of the stand as Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake crackles out of the PA system - there certainly will be a river of tears from me if this ends up 0-0.

A 0-0 is off the cards after 9 minutes. West Auckland take the lead; quite how the visitors aren't 3-0 up after 6 minutes remains a mystery to the 474 supporters who have turned out in their droves. The first half is as good as it gets. Parity is restored by Chris Winn, who bulldozes his way through a flaky defence before firing home the equaliser. God, I love the Northern League.

We draw breath at half-time to reflect and ponder. Four old guys behind me are getting excited that Manchester United under 23s are travelling up to Bishop Auckland tomorrow for a lunchtime kick-off against Middlesborough. I was expecting some Cheryl Cole (Tweedy or Hernandez) on the decks at the break, instead it's Love Me For a Reason by The Osmonds - get me back on that 737.

The second half is a non-event. Bishop Auckland can't get on the ball, and when they do they are on the receiving end of many late, crunching tackles. They are indebted to their 'keeper Nick Liversedge who pulls off some fine saves and commands his area in general with some impressive punches.

Man of the Match: Bob at Crook and the friendly secretary at West Auckland who gave me a free team sheet.

Credit and thanks to Katie and Lee for the photo from Crook.

Attendance: 474

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