They took all the trees

And put them in a tree museum

And they charged all the people

A dollar-and-a-half just to see ‘em

Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

Via email, as they say, the meeting with Mike Floate is arranged for Friday teatime in the Pillar Box, a newish micropub in Saltburn.

Since we’ve not met, he describes himself as tall, bald and a contented 64, though identification’s made easier because there’s just one other person in the place.

The Pillar Box – excellent ales – is coincidentally almost appropriate. The latest of Mike’s 20-odd books embracing images of football grounds is simply called Posted. It’s a sort of photographic tree museum.

“My wife thinks I’m mad,” he says but, then again, don’t they all.

They moved two years ago from Kent to Hinderwell, on the coast road between Saltburn and Whitby, having spent several happy holidays around Staithes. “The family almost ambushed us, dragged us here,” says Mike.

It was on another North-East visit, the last of the Northern League’s quinquennium of ground hoppers’ weekends between 1992-96, that he realised the potential for producing and publishing books about the homes of football, mostly those perhaps best described as on the danger list or already vanished.

Joni Mitchell –quoted in the introduction to another of his books – was right, after all. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone….

The 1996 ground hop embraced 11 matches in four days, from South Shields to Stockton, Whitby to Willington and, best remembered of all, Easter Sunday morning at Stanley United and the Little House on the Prairie.

Mike’s 1997 book Grounds Frenzy – sub-titled “Volume one of a new concept in football photography” – described the hilltop ground above Crook as a gem, thought the changing rooms and refreshment area, the Little House, “way out on their own.”

His great regret, he says, is that he never went inside. “I was too busy talking to people.”

He and two companions also managed to visit the remains of the old Murray Park stadium at West Stanley – 20 miles to the north – by then so greatly resembling a heap of rubble that one of the trio refused even to get out of the car.

“It’s a dump what do you want to photograph that for?” he said, perfidiously.

Grounds Frenzy, reproduced in colour to mark its 20th anniversary in 2017, also included images of Crook Town (“superb grandstand”), of Bishop Auckland’s affectionately remembered Kingsway ground and of the remains of Ferryhill Athletic – “never one of the best, but didn’t deserve to end up, like this.”

Mostly his photographs are centred on stands, many made of wood, or wood and corrugated iron, or wood and corrugated iron and rust. An early, vividly imagined book majored on floodlight pylons. “Dugouts help, too,” he says.

In a digital age, the books – save the printing – are pretty much do-it-yourself. “The motivation for researching, editing and publishing this book,” he wrote in the introduction to another, “is that I wanted to read it myself.”

He taught design technology, 24 years at a “stroppy” south London comprehensive. “I taught several murderers – well, one at least – and the guy who became London’s most wanted man. “He was an unsuccessful kidnapper, his victim escaped twice.

“I still hear from students, some of them quite successful, thanking me for what I did to help them.”

Other than friends, he says, all that he misses are the little railway in Kent on which he volunteered – he now helps out on the North Yorkshire Moors line – and the curry flamed in sambuca that was a favourite down there. “We’ve found a place in Whitley Bay which does it.”

He watched his first football match, Crystal Palace, at nine, got his first real camera when he was 14, enthusiastically married the two. When he had images accepted for the Non League Directory they listed him as a staff photographer – no money, he says, but it sounded good.

“I had to ask myself whether it was just self-indulgence or I wanted to be a serious photographer. At first a roll of film might last a fortnight, one or two frames for each location. Now I don’t carry a camera, I carry a phone – it’s amazing what you can do with a phone – and think nothing of maybe 40 or 50 shots of a subject.”

He also taught himself editing, talks of the rule of thirds, of something-or-other of quarters and of the need to fill the frame. Point and shoot is for club-footed centre forwards.

The move to Hinderwell also reawakened his love for watching football. He discovered Whitby Town. “I’d rather fallen out of love with the game. It’s a lovely club, lovely people. I’m really enjoying my football again.

“Ground hops have become tediously organised. It’s a long trip for me if I get beyond Middlesbrough these days.”

Even closer to home, he’ll sometimes watch local sides like Lealholm United in the North Riding League. “There’s nothing really to photograph there,” says Mike, “it’s just god to be back with football.”

There are books on Scottish “junior” – non-league – grounds and on Welsh and Belgian grounds, too. Another majors on programme covers which depict grounds, another’s simply called Pitch Roof Sunset.

Though meticulously and informatively researched – operations now switched from public library to back bedroom – it’s every picture that tells a story. Probably it goes without saying that he thinks little of many modern developments – “so-called improvements,” he says.

Posted’s 144 pages are of picture postcards of grounds, mostly from the early 20th century. There’s a shot of Stockton’s old Victoria Ground, hemmed in by housing, another of Ashington in its dog days, a 1906 picture of St James’ Park when it had nowt, or less, and the Leazes Terrace folk got wet.

“The most expensive was £250 on eBay. “I found something very similar a few weeks later for £6.50.”

He’s also found a card of Loftus Albion at their Whitby Road ground in 1921, the season that as Cleveland League club they reached the FA Amateur Cup semi-final before losing 1-0 to eventual winners Bishop Auckland.

Though it puts his days in, it doesn’t make his fortune. “The books make enough to pay the accountant and that’s about it.

“My wife’s just glad I’m upstairs out of the way. She knows the sort of football people I deal with, some of them are even welcome home now.”

Though it may be hard to visualise, he does indeed suggest an air of contentment – save for the fact that he’s driving and must limit himself to one pint. Next time, we’re agreed, he’s Pillar Boxing by bus.

*Details of all Mike Floate’s books at or on eBay and Amazon.