IT was a match 125 years in the making, a Northern League side taking on an FA XI to mark the anniversary of the regional competition being formed. Duncan Leatherdale joined the crowd at Heritage Park.
AFTER numerous exhibitions, celebratory dinners and memorial services, tonight’s (March 25) event was back to the basics of what the Northern League does best – football.
To mark 125 years to the day since the league was formed in Brown’s Hotel (now the Three Tuns) in Durham City, a team comprised of the competition’s current crop of players took on an XI made up of FA footballers.
About 300 fans flocked to Bishop Auckland FC’s home Heritage Park, one of the newest stadiums in the North East, to see the Northern League side beat their FA counterparts 2-0 on a chilly March evening.
It was a far cry from the Northern League’s heyday which saw thousands pack out the stands, but those league officials and fans who did turn out were treated to a busy 90 minutes of football.
League founder Charles Craven would surely have been pleased with the spirit of the game, hefty challenges being quickly followed by hearty handshakes.
The FA XI, playing in England’s red away strip, had the ball in the back of the net first but Lee Mason was deemed to be offside when he poked the ball home.
Their number nine Dan Maguire sent a shot skywards soon afterwards, the first of five Mitre balls specially commissioned for the game last seen heading towards Sainsbury’s fuel station.
Stephen Capper, sporting a Northern League white shirt with green shorts and socks, finally broke the deadlock in the 61st minute volleying home with Andrew Johnson doubling the lead seven minutes later after an impromptu game of pinball with the FA’s crossbar.
Despite some muttering customary at all matches, including accusations of the FA XI “trying to walk the ball in to the net”, the 305 fans were largely cheerful and pleased with the performance.
The Northern League kicked off in September, 1889, with 10 clubs competing, the first champions being Darlington St Augustine’s, a Roman Catholic church team.
Today there are 45 clubs playing across two divisions of the Ebac-sponsored league from Alnwick in the north to Northallerton in the south, the North Sea coast in the east to Whitehaven in the west.
Northern League clubs won 24 FA Amateur Cup finals between 1893 and 1974 and have lifted the FA Vase at Wembley for the past five seasons.
League chairman Mike Amos said: “Much has changed of course, the days when several thousand folk might turn up to watch games are gone, but our clubs remain key players in their communities and attendances have risen year on year since 2005.”
As tonight’s blood and thunder battle showed, the Northern League is still alive and kicking 125 years after its birth.
NORTHERN LEAGUE SQUAD: Andrew Grainger (Newcastle Benfield), Liam Connell (Dunston UTS), Callum Griffiths (Spennymoor Town), Darren Craddock (Shildon), Daniel Madden (Durham City), Ben Cattenach (Dunston UTS), Stephen Capper (Spennymoor Town), Gary Rowntree (Celtic Nation), Willie Gibson (Celtic Nation), Andrew Johnson (Ashington), Craig Gott (Marske United), Keith Graydon (Spennymoor Town), Mark Hudson (Shildon), Ben Sayers (Team Northumbria), Glen Taylor (Ashington), Luke Sullivan (Consett), Paul Chow (Whitley Bay). Managed by Jason Ainsley (Spennymoor Town).
FA SQUAD: Craig MacGillvray (Harrogate Town), Shane Bland (Whitby Town), Jake Picton (Frickley Ath), Steve Gardner (Frickley Ath), Nathan Buddell (Blyth Spartans), Jordan Robinson (Darlington 1883), Leigh Franks (Harrogate Town), Terry Galbraith (Darlington 1883), Lewis Horner (Blyth Spartans), Jonny Davies (Darlington 1883), Tom Portas (Whitby Town), Shane Henry (Whitby Town), Matthew Wade (Blyth Spartans), Dan Maguire (Blyth Spartans), Ashley Worsfold (Harrogate Town), Lee Mason (Whitby Town). Managed by Paul Fairclough (England C).