It must be almost 30 years since my one and only previous visit to Coundon, which was during my deeply inglorious playing days, when I seem to recall a 7-0 (or thereabouts) hammering for Brinkburn CA in a Wearside League game versus Coundon TT. The same day, and it seems scarcely credible to type this, Bishop Auckland beat Tow Law 2-0 in the FA Cup First Round Proper at Kingsway, which was held as the reason why there was a smaller than usual crowd for our game. Memories fade, but I still reckon there was over a hundred watching the slaughter. There would be almost double the amount of goals during this visit, though they were distributed move evenly at least.
Having ponced a lift down with my mate Stu, I noticed through the persistent drizzle that while the adjoining villages seem unchanged, the local Rec, shared with Coundon CC, is blessed with a new set of changers and a good car park, where cars are screened from much chance of damage by the cricket nets. One particularly encouraging sign was an accessible toilet; ideal for those of us with disabilities that are not visible. Still the same set of rusting, electrician’s tape festooned, wonky goal posts though.
One of the curses of a mild winter is that football finishes way too soon, which becomes even more galling when the weather stops play at the cricket. This game was the only one in the North East, bar the Berwick funeral, and I was surprised at the paltry turn out, given the fact that Coundon and Leeholme may well pack up as the management, players and most crucially committee, are decamping en masse to Brandon in Northern League Division 2, or La Liga as it is often known, proving that predatory big boys exist as step 6. Strangely there has been less than zero declamatory handwringing about this hostile takeover from any ostentatiously Corinthian social media gauleiters. Ironically, my final English game of last season also involved Wideopen, and their magnificently named Hertfordshire born player manager Leeroy Odd, who lost at home to Spittal Rovers on that occasion. The presence of the latter outfit in Tweedmouth hints at one reason why Coundon and Leeholme may prefer to switch to The Wearside League Division 2 if they continue.
Because of having to work around cricket fixtures (Coundon CC were away to the aptly named East Rainton on a day when play clearly wasn’t possible), this game had to be played on a Saturday. In the past, many Alliance sides have simply conceded meaningless kickabouts like this, but I’m glad the two sides resolved to keep their side of the bargain. Despite both teams being unable to move up or down the league, regardless of the final score, they somehow fashioned a blood and thunder classic where 13 goals were scored and possibly half a dozen others ruled out for specious offsides by the ever more partisan club linesmen, whose tit for tat tetchy semaphore in the second period suggested that catenaccio had made a comeback in rural West Durham.
Coundon and Leeholme were young, fast and able to play to feet. Wideopen were older, stronger and able to boot it further down the pitch in moments of great distress. The game exploded into life from the start, to the extent it was 4-2 after 21 minutes, with some quality moves and skilful finishes adding to the enjoyment. After the shortest half time I’ve ever come across, literally a minute, the two sides were at it again, trading goals and insults. Contentious offsides were met with barrages of daft insults, but the only nasty foul of the day saw the Wideopen victim get straight to his feet and hobble away smiling. He had to stay on as they’d fetched only the bare 11.
The home side had some subs, who were the fringiest of fringe players to be generous. One came on for the star striker, who was apparently a current Tow Law player (many Northern League lads drop into the Alliance at season’s end to help out their mates; witness Paul Brayson playing for Killingworth after Benfield ceased hostilities). He was so disgusted, he didn’t just hit the changers, he got his stuff together and zoomed away, with 2 slabs of Stella that were promised to his team mates to oil the end of season celebrations on his parcel shelf, much to the chagrin of his pals still on the pitch.
Eventually, the whistle blew; smiles and handshakes all round. Another season done and I was back in the house for the second half of Queen of the South versus Raith Rovers. Preparatory work for my pilgrimage to Kilsyth v Girvan next week….