Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The Final Coundon

Last week's blog on the parlous state of Bolton Wanderers garnered little response; here's hoping this week's piece on the almost certain demise of Coundon and Leeholme gains more attention -:



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….

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Unhappy Wanderers

Another football club will die this weekend; Coundon & Leeholme of the Northern Alliance Division 2 have been swallowed by Brandon United of Northern League Division 2, to the utter indifference of many supposed lovers of the grassroots game. However, there are bigger clubs than Coundon in jeopardy; Bolton Wanderers for one. Here are my thoughts on their situation. Incidentally, this piece features in the next issue of STAND, which is out soon; please buy it, not just for this article.


History was always my favourite subject. The past and how it brought us to where we are now, has always fascinated me. It still does, even allowing for the fact I’m old enough to be part of history.  As proof of this, I take as my text the content of my son’s dissertation for his MA in Modern British Social History; a Situationist analysis of Factory Records’ importance to the cultural and economic life of Manchester between 1980 and 1992. Putting things in context, that span of time took me from doing my O Levels to getting married. It was very different in my schooldays. I was taught via a strict and inflexible adherence to the pedagogically discredited methodology of a minute focus on chronological lists of kings, battles and conquests. Take for instance the British History aspect of my A Level syllabus. It covered the period 1868 to 1951; from Gladstone’s first administration to the defeat of Attlee’s post-war Labour Government. We’ll draw a veil over the latter event, shall we?

Now William Ewart Gladstone was an appallingly pompous, small-minded, dull little man, who just happened to be a fairly progressive social reformer in the context of the times in which he lived. He took most of his ideological inspiration from the Good Book, but the rest of it came from his annual summer holidays, which were spent cruising the fjords of Norway. You see Gladstone, clearly eschewing the messages relayed by the plays of Henrik Ibsen, felt that Norway, whilst not being quite an earthly paradise, was pretty much the ideal version of the small nation state; economically prosperous, socially cohesive, politically stable and in state of peaceful co-existence with her neighbours. Gladstone viewed Norway as the country to model Ireland upon and sought to “pacify” the Home Rule movement by sharing his devotion to such ideas which, bearing in mind subsequent developments, probably explains why Gladstone is more fondly remembered for a style of holdall favoured by medics than his political ideals.

However, and you need to hear me out on this, the concept of Gladstone’s Norway seemed to have been revived in an unfashionable corner of Lancashire from the early to mid-1990s onwards. Bearing in mind the seemingly unending fiasco of failed takeover bids and flirtations with administration, it seems a scarcely credible thing to suggest, but Bolton Wanderers were held up as a shining example of a modest club punching well above their weight among the game’s behemoths. They were a club who drew praise across the whole spectrum of football analysts. In short, The Trotters were Gladstone’s Norway in Reeboks. Sadly, Bolton have declined from the romance of their vie en rose to the demotic drudgery of a second relegation to League 1 in 3 seasons. The last few years have seen their fortunes crumble into ashes in a way eerily reminiscent of the stalled careers of the town’s most famous sons. Stu Francis, Damon Gough, Amir Khan, Tony Knowles, Ralf Little and Paddy McGuinness, not forgetting Vernon and Peter Kay; that joke isn’t funny anymore…


The first time I visited Burnden Park was all the way back in August 1982; it was Kevin Keegan’s second game for Newcastle United, and we won 2-1. After that season, NUFC and Bolton’s fortunes diverged to the extent that I didn’t get back there until our next visit, in August 1995, when we won 3-1. The antiquated ground seemed almost unchanged, except for the construction of a supermarket that appeared to have been plonked in the middle of the away end for no other reason than to reduce the capacity. Of course, Bolton had taken steps to reduce their debt by selling off this piece of land as, having made the decision to appoint Phil Neal as manager in 1983, they’d spent 9 years kicking around the bottom 2 divisions in front of about 3,000 diehards.

Things began to change for the better in summer 1992 when Bruce Rioch, fresh from recent P45s at Middlesbrough and Millwall, emerged as something of an unlikely folk hero when he took on the manager’s job. Rioch is viewed now as something of an anachronism; a crew cut, Scottish sergeant major with a cut glass English accent and a reputation for an almost Calvinistic devotion to hard graft. However, he got the Trotters playing some sparkling football. The first green shoots were seen in a 2-0 FA Cup win at Anfield in January 1993, when they knocked out the holders in a replay. Inspired by this night of glory, the side went on a strong run of form and won promotion back to the second tier for the first time in a decade at the end of that season. After a year’s consolidation, Bolton won promotion to the top flight after an almost forgotten Wembley classic; their eye-catching side containing John McGinlay, Andy Walker, David Lee, Jason MacAteer and Alan Stubbs, came back from 2-0 to beat Reading 4-3 in the play-off final, making up for the disappointment of a League Cup final defeat to Liverpool two months earlier.

Sadly, their debut campaign in the Premier League ended in relegation. Rioch, still dripping in celebratory champers, went to manage Arsenal before May was out, while McAteer was sold to Liverpool and Stubbs to Everton. New boss Colin Todd tried his best and had them playing decent football, but the squad was out of their depth. There was some good news though; antiquated Burnden Park would be replaced by the state-of-the-art Reebok Stadium. By the time it opened in 1997, Todd had guided Bolton back to the Premier League, though they were again relegated in summer 1998. He took them to the play-off final in 1999 but resigned after losing 2-0 to Watford. Todd’s departure ushered in the era that defined the modern Bolton Wanderers in the eyes of most football supporters; the reign of Sam Allardyce.

While the popular opinion regarding the hippo headed, Bisto and Chardonnay snakebite quaffing, boor is one of contempt verging on revulsion, it has to be noted that having recently taken Notts County up from the bottom tier with a record points total, the chain-smoking, moustachioed pre-millennium edition Allardyce was genuinely seen as an innovative voice in the game. In his first season Bolton reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and FA Cup, as well as the play-offs, but came up short in all three. A year later, they defeated Preston in the play-off final and returned to the Premiership for the third time, where they would remain for 11 seasons.

The unfashionable Yonners, so scorned by their streetwise Mancunian cousins were effectively the second side in King Cotton country, with Massive Club Citeh, regularly enduring home defeats to the likes of Bury and Stockport, floundering in their wake. While Allardyce’s football was never a style to please the purist, the presence of such fading stars as Nicholas Anelka, Yuri Djorkaeff, Fredi Bobic, Fernando Hierro, Jay Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo made Bolton an intriguing, eccentric and valuable presence in the Premier League. They didn’t win any silverware, but they were runners-up in the League Cup in 2004 and recorded 4 consecutive top 8 finishes, a record of consistency bettered only by Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Allardyce, having led the Trotters to a UEFA Cup last 16 place, bailed out after 8 years at the helm in summer 2007, heading straight for a disastrous spell on Tyneside, but we’ll ignore that eh?

Post Big Sam, the smart money had been on Bolton dropping like a stone, but after a false start under Sammy Lee, the admittedly fractious and dislikeable Gary Megson came in to do a decent job, before he was replaced by Owen Coyle. If the Liverpool result in January 1993 had been the harbinger of positive things to come, this appointment saw the first tolling of the Trotters’ funeral bell in April 2011, when Stoke City annihilated Bolton 5-0 in an FA Cup semi-final. The following season, marred by Fabrice Muamba’s near death experience on the pitch at White Hart Lane, saw Bolton relegated on the final day. Since then, it’s been one train wreck of a season and one car crash of a manager after another. Coyle; bulleted. Dougie Freedman; shown the door after a torrid reign. Neil Lennon; even he couldn’t work his magic with a club £172.9 million in debt and a winding up petition from HMRC hanging over them. Summer 2016 Bolton were relegated to League 1, but immediately gained promotion under Phil Parkinson. However, it’s the off the pitch story that is really worrying.

The aforementioned £173m debt (so much for parachute payments eh?) was announced around the same time that news of owner Eddie Davies’s terminal illness broke. This was the bloke who, alongside Sam Allardyce, seemed to be a synthesis of the best bits of Richard Scudamore and Peter Ridsdale; seriously, he was praised as being one of the new breed of go-ahead, entrepreneurial tycoons who were taking their local teams on to greater and better things. His death in 2016 coincided with Lennon’s dismissal and a takeover of Bolton by former player Dean Holdsworth’s Sport Shield organisation. None of these events brought any good news to the club. After exiting the Premier League, Davies curtailed his investment into the club. This brought the club very close to being wound up, but as a gesture of his goodwill and as incentive to sell the club, Davies promised to wipe over £125m of debt owed to him when the club was sold, which wiped a significant proportion of debt the club owed.

Since the club’s acquisition by Sports Shield and subsequent sole ownership by Ken Anderson, intractable financial difficulties have dogged the club despite on-field success in League One following the 2016 relegation with player strikes, further winding up orders and financial disputes with other creditors. Despite the aforementioned promotion under Parkinson and a queasy, last day survival act in 2018, things were still lousy. Indeed Holdsworth’s disastrous involvement only ended in September 2018 after it was reported that unless the club settled unpaid loans of nearly £5 million that Holdsworth had taken out to buy the club, then Bolton would go into administration, losing 12 points and going into a two-year transfer embargo as a result. In the end, club president Davies loaned Ken Anderson £5 million to pay the debt, four days before his death, with the debt falling to Anderson after he bought Holdsworth out.

From that point on, Bolton have been forced into an ever more insecure hand to mouth existence, to the extent it seems they are permanently on the verge of not just administration but oblivion.  In February 2019, they were again issued with a winding-up petition by HMRC which was subsequently adjourned, until the end of the season, to allow the impecunious Anderson’s search for a new owner continued.  The financial difficulties placed games against Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa in jeopardy, threatened with postponement or being played behind closed doors as the local council Safety Advisory Group prepared to revoke the stadium safety certificate. Meanwhile, the adjoining Bolton Whites Hotel, owned by Ken Anderson, was also issued with a winding-up petition in March 2019.

It was almost a blessed relief once the team were put out of their misery and relegated to League 1 in April, although there was far greater ignominy to come, when the home game with Brentford was called off by 16 hours before kick off after Bolton's players, supported by the Professional Footballers' Association, refused to play until they had received their unpaid wages. Two cheers to the PFA, although it should be pointed out that if Gordon Taylor flogged a couple of the watercolours hanging in his office, Bolton would be solvent again.  The game was subsequently awarded to Brentford 1-0, with the travelling Bees fans still waiting for their refunds on travel and tickets at the time of writing. A predictable farce.

2018/2019 was a truly rancid season for Bolton Wanderers, but at least they reached the end of it. FA Trophy winners in 2015 North Ferriby United had no such luck; faced with the prospect of a third successive relegation, club owner Jamie Waltham, in the manner of a medieval tyrant turfing peasants from their tied cottages at the end of a pitch fork, wound the club up over an unpaid debt of £7,645.25, which is about what Bolton are losing every hour. Thankfully, Ferriby have reformed and the Villagers will begin again in the Northern Counties East League for 2019/2020, at either Step 5 or Step 6. It’s a long way from the Conference, but at least there’s a clear progression pathway. No such silver lining appears forthcoming for Ferriby’s recent opponents Gateshead who, despite another top half finish in the National League, have been booted out of their (admittedly dreadful) International Stadium home, as current owner and chair Dr Ranjan Varghese pretends to try and sell the club who now have a single registered player and no other employees, while seeming to try and shift the club over the river to the Kingston Park home of rugby clubs Newcastle Falcons and Newcastle Thunder, where Newcastle Blue Star once had a single disastrous season in the National League North before falling off the perch in 2008. Quite why Varghese wants to go there is beyond comprehension. However while Gateshead continue to exist, there is no prospect of a phoenix club gaining admission to the Northern League, which is the same level as Ferriby will start from, as the club already exists. Gateshead Reserves have stated their intention to quit the Northern Alliance at Step 7, which may give any Tyneside rive gauche renaissance men a place to begin. Ironically, Dunston UTS, home of the Paul Gascoigne stand, won the Northern League and will be at Step 4 in the Northern Premier League East next season.

While the meritocratic principle of relegation suggests Bolton Wanderers will be plying their trade in League 1 next year, this may not be the end of the story. On May 8th 2019 the Bolton Wanderers were given 14 days to appoint an administrator to sort out their £1.2m tax bill. If this is the case and a takeover cannot be completed in time, Bolton will begin next season with a compulsory 12 point deduction before a ball has been kicked. Mind that could be preferable to having Laurence Bassini in charge, if his seemingly fictional takeover bid goes through.

Bassini, declared bankrupt in 2007, bought Watford in 2011, sold them a year later, refused to pay back £1.3m he’d taken in cash advances, before really raising the bar in 2013 by going bankrupt again (the judge described Bassini as ‘evasive' and ‘a maker of empty threats'), texting the Hertfordshire Observer to revel in Watford’s play-off defeat to Palace and getting  banned from being involved with any club for 3 years by the FA, who described him as "dishonest in his dealings with the league and with his fellow directors" and someone who "practised secrecy and deception." Just the kind of fit and proper owner Bolton need; if it’s enough to make William Gladstone weep, then how on earth must the likes of Nat Lofthouse feel looking down on this mess?







Thursday, 9 May 2019

TAL RIP

This Saturday, May 11th, Morpeth FC and Ponteland United Reserves will contest the last ever game in the entire history of the Tyneside Amateur League. The John Hampson Memorial Trophy kicks off at Benfield at 2.30pm; admission is £2 and £1 concessions. Children and dogs go free, but best behave themselves or else. From next season, we will be the Northern Alliance Development division. It's sad to say goodbye to 70 years of history, but it is the right decision. In recognition of this, here are my 3 sets of programme notes from this year's finals -:


Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for supporting the Tyneside Amateur League by coming down today. On what I hope is a gloriously sunny day, I’d like to welcome all players, supporters and officials of our two competing clubs, Haltwhistle Jubilee and Gosforth Bohemians Reserves, as well as all other spectators, whether you are connected to a Tyneside Amateur League club or not, to Sam Smith’s Park, home of my beloved Newcastle Benfield FC, for the 70th Tyneside Amateur Shield final. My first vote of thanks must go to Benfield’s Chairman Jimmy Rowe and all of the committee for allowing us the use of such an impressive ground. It really is appreciated.

This fine old competition was first won in 1949/1950 by Hazlerigg Welfare, who retained it the year after. Since then, 52 other clubs have hoisted the august trophy aloft, with Heddon Institute the most successful side, with 4 wins to their name.  We will see a 54th different name engraved on the trophy after this game which, sadly, will be the last Shield final played under the auspices of the Tyneside Amateur League as the constituent clubs have voted, with the full support of the League Management Committee, to merge with another storied local competition, The Northern Football Alliance, which has been in existence since 1890. It is not a decision any of us have taken lightly, but it represents, in the face of a constantly diminishing pool of actual clubs and potential players, the only realistic opportunity to provide organised, competitive, Saturday afternoon football at our grassroots level.

Putting thoughts of both the future and the past on hold for the moment, let’s concentrate on the present day and the game at hand. During my 5 seasons as League Chair, I have always held Gosforth Bohemians Reserves in the highest regard. Based at the scenic Benson Park ground in Brunton Park, just off the Great North Road, the team that can trace their club’s foundation all the way back to 1894, have always sought to play football the right way, upholding the amateur sporting code in every possible way. In the season just ending, they secured a commendable 5th place finish in the league, while their route to the final saw them benefit from a bye in round 1 and a concession by Newcastle Benfield Reserves in round 2, before they got the best of a five-goal-thriller in their semi-final at home to Wideopen A. I’m sure Bohs will do their best to uphold the traditions bound up in their long history in this afternoon’s game.

In contrast, Haltwhistle Jubilee have only been with us for 2 seasons, but during this time they have achieved a commendable degree of success on the pitch. Last year, their first in Saturday football, they reached the final of the Northumberland FA Minor Cup at Whitley Park, only to come up against the Northern Alliance’s version of Galacticos, in the shape of Killingworth Town. In the same competition, they reached the semi-final stage this year, but one piece of silverware is securely in their grasp. Again, in its 70th and final season, they have been crowned champions of the Tyneside Amateur League. Having lost only 1 game all year, they are fittingly the 50th different club to have achieved this accolade. Even if the league were to be continuing, Haltwhistle are precisely the kind of club for whom the Northern Alliance is the next logical step up the football pyramid, so we’d have been wishing them all the best for the future in any case.

Instead, I wish both teams and the officials of course, the best of luck today and all of our other clubs the very best of luck in the future. Please join us in the bar at full time for a bite to eat and the chance to raise a glass and don’t forget, we’ll be back here again next Saturday, May 4th for the second of our three finals, when Newcastle Chemfica Amateurs take on West Jesmond in the Neville Cowey Cup. Kick off is 2pm.

Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for supporting the Tyneside Amateur League by coming along today. On what I hope is a gloriously sunny day, I’d like to welcome all players, supporters and officials of our two competing clubs, Newcastle Chemfica Amateurs and West Jesmond, as well as all other spectators, whether you are connected to a Tyneside Amateur League club or not, to Sam Smith’s Park, home of my beloved Newcastle Benfield FC. My first vote of thanks must go to Benfield’s Chairman Jimmy Rowe and all of the committee for allowing us the use of such an impressive ground. It really is appreciated.

We are here today to see the for the 7th and last Neville Cowey Cup final. As is common knowledge amongst us all, this is the last time this trophy will be played for under the auspices of the Tyneside Amateur League as the constituent clubs have voted, with the full support of the League Management Committee, to merge with another storied local competition, The Northern Football Alliance, which has been in existence since 1890. It is not a decision any of us have taken lightly, but it represents, in the face of a constantly diminishing pool of actual clubs and potential players, the only realistic opportunity to provide organised, competitive, Saturday afternoon football at our grassroots level.

Putting thoughts of both the future and the past on hold for the moment, let’s concentrate on the present day and the game at hand. This Neville Cowey Cup, named after the gentleman who has given this league such sterling, dedicated service over many, many years, replaced the John Hampson Memorial Trophy as our league cup, for the 20012/2013 season. It was first won by one of today’s competing outfits, West Jesmond, who also captured it in 2015/2016, having also won the John Hampson the year previously as part of a cup double, when they also hoisted aloft the enigmatic Selcray Bowl after the only time it was contested. It could be said that West Jesmond are something of specialist cup side, but this should not make them rest on their laurels, nor intimidate their opponents, as we hope to show that this game, rather than the one kicking off at St James’ Park this evening, is the top contest on Tyneside today.   

Last week we saw the epitome of a game of two halves in the Tyneside Amateur Shield final. The simple facts are the game went to form and Haltwhistle Jubilee beat Gosforth Bohemians Reserves 2-1, but it could have been 10-0 to Halty at the break and 10-10 at full time, as chance after chance went begging. In the end, the best team won and completed the double, having won the league title. However, in many ways I am glad it was a season ending game for both clubs, as it means in our final year, 6 clubs get to play in our 3 finals, as we meet here again next Saturday at the same time for the John Hampson Memorial Trophy, which will see Morpeth Town Seniors and Ponteland United Reserves engage.

During my 5 seasons as League Chair, I have always held both West Jesmond and Newcastle Chemfica Amateurs in the highest regard. Both sides epitomise the ethos of the Tyneside Amateur League; aspire to be the best you can but keep a sense of proportion as this is social football at the end of the day. In the season just ending, West Jesmond finished 6th and Chemfica Amateurs 8th, so this final is a welcome bonus for both of them.  To reach this stage, West Jesmond won away 4-3 to Red House Farm Seniors in the first round and 4-1at the Medicals in the quarter final, before seeing off Gosforth Bohemians Reserves 4-2 at home in the semi. In contrast Chemfica amateurs had an easier time of it; a bye in the first round and a walkover against Ellington Reserves in the quarter finals, before they shaded Swalwell 3-2 at home in the other semi-final. However the two teams got here; I wish them all the best for today. I also wish the officials the best of luck today and all of our other clubs the very best of luck in the future. Please join us in the bar at full time for a bite to eat and something to drink.

Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for supporting the Tyneside Amateur League by coming along today for what will be the last ever game under our auspices, when Morpeth FC and Ponteland United Reserves contest the John Hampson Memorial Trophy. On what I hope is a gloriously sunny day, I’d like to welcome all players, supporters and officials of both competing sides, as well as all other spectators, whether you are connected to a Tyneside Amateur League club or not, to Sam Smith’s Park, home of my beloved Newcastle Benfield FC. My first vote of thanks must go to Benfield’s Chairman Jimmy Rowe and all of the committee for allowing us the use of such an impressive ground. It really is appreciated.

We are here today to see the 13th and last John Hampson Memorial Trophy final. As is common knowledge amongst us all, this is the last time this trophy will be played for under the auspices of the Tyneside Amateur League as the constituent clubs have voted, with the full support of the League Management Committee, to merge with another storied local competition, The Northern Football Alliance, which has been in existence since 1890. It is not a decision any of us have taken lightly, but it represents, in the face of a constantly diminishing pool of actual clubs and potential players, the only realistic opportunity to provide organised, competitive, Saturday afternoon football at our grassroots level.

One insight into why we all feel compelled to wind up this glorious old league after 70 years of honest toil and endeavour, is the fact we were required to bring this competition out of retirement, having not been contested since Hazlerigg Victory claimed it in 2014 at Percy Main’s Purvis Park ground, as there were so few teams left in our league, we were in danger of the season ending long before the clocks came forward. Consequently, the 8 teams who expressed a desire to enter the competition played in 2 mini-leagues of 4, with the two group winners progressing to the final.

Morpeth topped Group A with three victories that saw them triumphant away to Chemfica Amateurs and Red House Farm, and at home to West Jesmond. In Group B, Ponteland won their two away games against Wideopen A and and Gosforth Bohemians Reserves, though they were held at home by Swalwell. In the last ever league table for the season just ending, Morpeth finished second to double winners Haltwhistle Jubilee, with Ponteland three points further back in third, so this promises to be a high quality encounter between two of the best footballing sides we’ve had in the league.

Last week, we saw West Jesmond claim a 7-6 win on penalties over Chemfica Amateurs in the Neville Cowey Cup, where the gallant losers picked themselves up from the canvass, being 3-0 down before the half hour mark and drawing level in the second period. It was a great game to watch, as was Haltwhistle’s triumph in the Tyneside Amateur Shield a fortnight ago, when they saw off Gosforth Bohemians 2-1. One small source of joy for me is that in our final year, 6 clubs qualified to play in our 3 finals, to spread the experience of a final and silverware around as many of the players as possible.

During my 5 seasons as League Chair, I have always held Ponteland, who were champions in 2016/2017 in the highest regard. Morpeth, since their arrival in the league in 2016/20127, when they were debutant winners of the Tyneside amateur Shield are a club that I similarly admire. Both sides epitomise the ethos of the Tyneside Amateur League; aspire to be the best you can but keep a sense of proportion. I wish the two teams all the best for today; let’s hope this game is the fitting send-off the Tyneside Amateur League deserves.

I also the officials the best of luck today and all of our other clubs the very best of luck in the future. Please join us in the bar at full time for a bite to eat and something to drink, remembering the words of the great traditional Scottish folk singer Sheila Stewart, who so eloquently put it -:

Kind friends and companions once more let us join,
Come raise up your glasses in a chorus with mine.
Come fill up your glasses, all griefs to refrain
For we may or might never all meet here again.

Regards,

ian cusack
Chair, Tyneside Amateur League


Thursday, 2 May 2019

Kurious Oranjeism



One of the things I like most about the end of each season is the way that all the issues regarding promotion and relegation are decided in such an unpredictable and seemingly haphazard way, rather than blandly occurring on the final day. I’m not just talking about the hysterical hyperbole surrounding the Liverpool and Manchester City power struggle at the top of the Premier League, but battles for supremacy further down the pyramid as well; specifically the promotion race in League One. Who on earth could have seen such a dramatic and climactic denouement occurring before kick off on Tuesday 30th April? Portsmouth, apparently revitalised after their Checkatrade Trophy success, with a seeming home banker against a Peterborough side who’d started well, but appeared to have lost momentum long before their failure to reach the play-offs became an established fact; the 3-2 away win with a brace from NUFC legend Ivan Toney came right out of left field. Kenny Jackett will be left scratching his Easter Island head about his failure to get Pompey up. Titter ye not!


Meanwhile, on the Lancashire coast, a team I’d once seen dump this season’s Northern League Champions UTS Dunston out of the preliminary round FA Cup back in September 2000, Fleetwood Town were hosting the world’s biggest club, with the stakes only marginally raised by pre match theatrics by Fleetwood boss Joey Barton’s comment that he like to send the 25,000 visiting fans home “with tears in their eyes.” Don’t get me wrong; I dislike Barton intensely and could easily file 5,000 words on why the paranoid, arrogant little twerp’s main personality problem is vanity not insanity, but the way his superb judged bon mots riled the globe’s best supporters had me giggling. Not as much as the home side’s 95th minute winner I’ll admit, but more than a gentle smirk. Possibly the only player with less moral integrity who has played for Newcastle in recent times is the appalling Lee Bowyer. He is now boss of Charlton Athletic. For some reason I’d quite like the Addicks to take the last remaining slot available through the play-offs.

Of course, the real and absolute impact of the mirthsome wins for Fleetwood and Peterborough was to confirm promotion for both Barnsley and Luton Town, without either of them being required to kick a ball. There are those who suggest gaining elevation in such circumstances is somehow a hollow, debased achievement, but having been in a similar situation in 2010 when Nottingham Forest’s inability to see off Cardiff City assured Newcastle of a top 2 finish, I can confirm that the joy is no less unconfined. At the end of the season, you finish exactly where you deserve to be, as the table can’t lie; the fruits of your labours are rewarded by and reflected in the points you accrue. Some other chasing team stumbling, face first in the dirt, in your wake is their problem, not yours.


Anyone who knows me even slightly will be familiar with my family ties to Barnsley, the home town of my son’s mother and her whole family who I’m still delighted to be on good terms with. This means I’ve more than a soft spot for the Tykes. Having first seen Newcastle play at Oakwell back in 1983 and subsequently found myself in the home end on numerous occasions between a 2-0 victory over Bristol City on New Year’s Day 1991 and a 1-0 loss to Crawley Town in August 2014, I think it’s fair to say I look upon Barnsley as my second English league side. Therefore, for many reasons, I am elated for The Tykes that they’ve gone up. However, and this may surprise you, Luton Town are the club I’m indirectly writing about here.


I’m guessing the last time I saw Luton play was March 26th 1994; they lost 1-0 at Oakwell to a 75th minute Andy Payton goal in a pretty uneventful game. The time before that was a couple of months previously when they held Newcastle to a 1-1 draw at SJP as a prelude to dumping us out the FA Cup in a replay at Kenilworth Road. My terminal estrangement from Newcastle United means I had no intention of taking in the last FA Cup meeting between the sides on Tyneside; a 3-1 home win in January 2018, when the loathsome fascist slug Stephen Yaxley Lennon got his grid all over a series of sick selfies with a load of the big-coated, small-brained, cesspool-dwelling element of our support.



In many ways, it’s no surprise that Yaxley Lennon comes from Luton which, as a place, is a microcosm of all that is wrong with England today: inadequate schools, hospitals and housing, a dearth of secure, meaningful, well-paid jobs, rocketing violent crime levels, widespread substance abuse and a lack of community cohesion that has seen pronounced tensions escalate along religious and ethnic lines over the past decade. The reason for this shameful state of affairs is obvious; Tory misrule, pure and simple, but not just following the pernicious and evil dogma of austerity, introduced after the  calamitous election of 2010, instead going back to the establishment of Thatcher’s police state in 1979. Luton has, by any measure of social deprivation, been a complete hell hole for the last 40 years or so. However, ask any football fan of a certain age what they think of Luton and they’ll express dislike bordering on revulsion that has nothing to do with plastic pitches. The reason is one man and one man only; David Evans.

From November 1984 to June 1989, Evans was the chairman of Luton Town and during his tenure, which included Millwall’s famous impromptu redecoration of much of the ground, he presided over a controversial membership-only scheme for fans under which only members were allowed to attend matches at Kenilworth Road, resulting in a de facto complete blanket ban on away supporters. This restrictive, draconian and ultimately unworkable measure inspired Thatcher and the weasel Colin Moynihan, her Minister of Sport, to try and impose it on all football fans after the Heysel Disaster. Thankfully, this foolhardy enterprise was abandoned, but only after the deaths of 96 innocent people at Hillsborough brought some of the Tories, if not Thatcher, to their senses.

Additionally, to heap further ordure on his corpse, Evans represented Welwyn Hatfield as the Conservative Member of Parliament from 1987, until he lost at the 1997 general election to Melanie Johnson. Shortly before his delightful unseating, in early March of that year, he attracted controversy over offensive remarks made during an interview with sixth-formers at Stanborough School, in which he referred to his opponent as a "single girl" (she was 42 years old at the time) with "bastard children", topping this by claiming the Birmingham Six were guilty and had "killed hundreds" before being caught, as well as vile, racist comments, such as asking how the sixth-formers would feel if their daughter was raped by "some black bastard". Obviously, the Tories did nothing to censure Evans for these sickening outbursts, but at least The Six won substantial damages from Evans in July 1998, who thereafter apologised for what he had said and promised never to repeat it; even if he still thought it.

Looking back at this situation dispassionately, it seems unthinkable for any rational person to have a soft spot for Luton Town, but I did for a couple of years from around 1973 onwards. About that time, I regarded Eric Morecambe as a real influence and a bit of a hero; a big, daft, funny bloke who was just the sort of uncle you wished you’d had, instead of the moaning shower of humourless wankers the old fella had for brothers and brothers in law. All that Bring Me Sunshine and spec wobbling carry on used to have me in fits and when I learned the Bartholomew fella was a director with The Hatters, it sealed the deal for me. Not that I remember seeing all that much of them playing football; they didn’t feature on Match of the Day and it was only when ITV decided to show The Big Match instead of our own local highlights programme Shoot that you got to see games from other regions. One of those was a fifth round FA Cup tie in February 1974; Newcastle won 3-0 at West Brom, but that was on MotD and the Mackems were already out, so we got Brian Moore on the mic from Kenilworth Road for a rare treat. Luton were banjoed 4-0 by Leicester and Uncle Eric didn’t get interviewed afterwards. However, the glorious, bright orange of the home shirts stood out amid the Keith Weller inspired carnage on the pitch. Impressive or what?

Lighter than the dull, aoristic hues of the old gold worn by Wolves and Southport and brighter than the queasy vivacity of tangerine tops worn by Blackpool and Dundee United, this orange was as sparkly and 70s as Spangles and Opal Fruits. From then on, I furtively roared The Hatters on to promotion, courtesy of following their progress in the paper and on Sports Report, rather than the more geographically adjacent Middlesbrough or Carlisle, who were the first and third sides in the second division success sandwich with runners-up Luton. As a sensitive 9 year old, I must state this didn’t make up for Newcastle having their arses handed to them at Wembley in the FA Cup final when Liverpool twatted us 3-0 and I spent hours afterwards sobbing on the back step.

Replica shirts may no longer have the degree of ubiquity afforded them in the late 90s, but they still remain a gaudy and regrettable fashion statement among countless millions of football fans, both of the match going and barstool varieties. The birth of this phenomenon may probably be traced back to the seething foment unleashed on the domestic game post Italia 90 and pre Premier League; certainly it was unheard of in my youth to see any adults, other than players, wearing a football top. Kids were different of course. There were always bairns’ sizes available.

I got my first Newcastle United kit, comprising shirt, shorts and socks, for Christmas 1972 when I was 8 years old. The socks were nylon, but the shirt and shorts were heavy duty serge cotton of the kind that absorbed water and dirt like the world’s most efficient kitchen roll. I wore it to play football and nothing else, generally returning from timeless Saturday morning 20-a-side pick-up games with mud up to my eyebrows, to get a clout and a bath in that order, while the black and white shirt steeped in a bucket of ACDO by the back door until the dirt had loosened enough for a gentle hand wash on the Wednesday, before getting it all clarty again the next weekend.

Despite the shirt fading and stretching below my knees like a 1920s flapper dress, as opposed to the poor sods whose mams had boil washed their kits down to Action Man size in their new fangled frontloading washing machines, it never crossed my mind to get another team’s shirt. Indeed, the only person I knew with one was a lad called Colin who was a year ahead of me at Falla Park Juniors. He had a Crystal Palace top; the white one with the 3 vertical thin stripes in the middle. He always wore it to play in our mass games on Heatherwell Green, but I don’t recall asking him why he liked it or how he came by it.


Then things changed rapidly in the late summer of 1974. For a start, I turned 10 and went in to top class at school, which meant I got to play for the school team; a privilege only ever afforded to final year lads. We had a new kit to strut around in as well; out in the skip had gone the old, heavy duty cotton yellow and red quarters that are the colours of Northumberland county and in came an exact replica of Birmingham City and Carlisle United’s penguin kits, provided by the dad of Deborah St Croix. Interestingly, she was the youngest person in our year, being born the day after me.  The school team looked the biz, storming past High Felling 6-3 and Low Board 7-1, though a 6-0 loss at Lingey House put us back on our heels for a bit. Still, we were proud to play for the (brand new) shirt. Mind, lovely though it was, it wasn’t the most beautiful piece of kit on show that season.

At some point in late August, I saw a photo of Luton Town’s squad; all beaming smiles beneath copper taches and bubble perms. I could have fainted when I saw their shirt; dazzlingly bright orange with a thin white stripe on the left hand side, with even thinner navy blue stripes either side of it. Orange, courtesy of Holland’s dazzling heroics at the 74 World Cup, was enjoying a renaissance and I simply fell in love with this garment. Having missed seeing this garment on sale or even in public before my August 11th birthday, I begged my parents for this shirt for Christmas, even if the schools had just gone back. They didn’t comprehend; I supported Newcastle, not Luton. Why did I want this kit? All I could say was I liked the design. Remember, in those days buying a replica kit wasn’t as easy a task as it is now. No internet. No discount football clothing outlets. Just Colin Todd Sports (I think he opened it after Derby won the title in 72, cashing in on his moderate fame, while coming from Pelton Fell just down the road, and then never darkening the doors again) in Gateshead High Street. By October half term I’d railroaded my mam into ordering it for me from the manufacturers, Admiral. All I had to do was wait until Santa had been.

Christmas Day 1974 saw me the proud recipient of my first ever Rothman’s Football Yearbook, damaging my eyesight by reading the print off the page,  Roxy Music’s Country Life LP, which I played incessantly while ruining my eyesight with the cover and, best of all, a Luton Town shirt. Every Christmas morning since I could walk unaided, we’d had a game of football on Heatherwell Green, getting ourselves hacky from head to toe in time for Christmas Dinner. This year was different; it lashed it down all day. That wouldn’t normally have prevented me going out, but it was excuse enough for the parents to keep me indoors. Naturally I sulked, but at least it meant I got to wear the Luton shirt all day.

Up close it was even more magical than in a photo; it boasted an Admiral logo on the right hand side, same as the England shirt of the period, though as an Ireland fan this didn’t impress me unduly. The differing stripes on the left hand side had been individually sewn in; in fact, they seemed welded together. In all the time I had the shirt; the seams never loosened or gave, much less unravelled. And you know what? I started to wear the shirt when I wasn’t playing football. Indeed, when it was suggested to me that Luton’s 1-0 win over Newcastle in February 1975 may have pleased me, I vigorously denied such as accusation. Love the shirt; remain indifferent to the team was my motto.


I must have worn that Luton shirt for about 2 years straight; not every day of course, but on a pretty regular basis. It never stretched, shrank, faded or ripped. The only thing that stopped me wearing it was a growth spurt that saw me going from 4 ft 11” to 5 ft 10” in about 8 months. When stopping dead aged 13, the shirt just about fitted over my head, but I wasn’t keen on wearing it like a prototype boob tube, so off it went to the rag man. In the days before charity shops, people gave away their used and unwanted clothes to an old fella with a horse and cart, who toured the estates and terraces shouting out for “rags and woollens,” generally in return for a few shovelfuls of equine shite for the roses. Daft really; I could have got a ton for it on Ebay around the turn of the century. The shirt; not the shite.

After the Luton top went the way of all the flesh, the only football strips I had were for teams I played for; royal blue Scotland style at school, garish green and red at University, then plain red for the pub team. For a decade and a half I don’t recall hanging a proper football kit in my wardrobe, until December 1992 that is. The in-laws celebrated Barnsley’s 1-0 win over Newcastle, on my (ex)wife’s birthday, by getting me a Hayselden-sponsored Barnsley shirt for Christmas and I loved it from first sight. But the adventures of that strip may yet be another story…





Thursday, 25 April 2019

Lionhearted



What’s the worst way to lose a game of football; farcical own goal? Last second keeper error? Clear foul in the build up? Outrageous, unpunished handball? Cruel deflection? All of them have their merits in the end of term report at the school of hard luck stories, but for me, the penalty shoot-out is the absolute epitome of sporting tragedy, providing the winners glory without a sheen of honour and the losers naught but futile, bilious anguish. To have come so far and then lose in a manner that makes the apportioning of blame so simple and yet so unnecessary a task, truly does macerate the most indomitable of spirits. There is no possibility of a response or even a riposte after the ignominy of failed kicks from the penalty mark. This is the end, beautiful friends, the end.

When that cursed shoot-out concludes a Cup final in the last game of the season, with the added spectacle of ungracious, shirtless victors cavorting across the turf, spraying lager over each other, the sense of loss is as profound as the death of a loved one. Having seen Richie Slaughter and then Dean Holmes denied from 12 yards by Shane Bland on Easter Monday 2019 at Seaham Red Star’s ground, to hand the Brookes Mileson Northern League Cup to West Auckland Town, I felt considerably more miserable than when my mother died. I was almost physically sick; such was the anguish and despair. This, after all, was my beloved Benfield on the losing side.

Here’s a quick bit of background; Newcastle Benfield FC, formed 1988 as Heaton Corner House, home ground at Walker Park, merged with Brunswick Village in 1989, won Northern Alliance Division 2 in 1990, then moved to Sam Smith’s Park for the next season, changing their name to Benfield Park, merging with North Shields St Columba’s in 1995, to become Benfield Saints, joining the Northern League in 2003, changing to Benfield Bay Plastics in 2005 and, finally, in 2007 adopting Newcastle Benfield as our name. 

My first visit to Sam Smith’s Park was for a Northumberland Senior Cup quarter final against Newcastle United back in February 1995. It was a dank, foggy February evening with exhaled breath and cigarette smoke climbing in spirals through the floodlit gloaming, when the crowd attending must have been a ground record for the time; especially considering our current record was the 926 who showed up, not including me, for the visit of York City in the FA Cup in October 2006. York won that one 1-0 and Newcastle United won my first game 3-0 and I recall little, if any of proceedings, other than the cold and the lack of a clear view of the pitch, which isn’t something that often disturbs me these days, as our crowds remain resolutely around the 150-200 mark.

I’ll admit back then, only a couple of years into my non-league odyssey, I knew nothing about Benfield, other than you get off the Metro at Walkergate, and only fractionally more about the Northern Alliance. Even worse, I presume I was supporting NUFC rather than the Lions. In my defence, that night was more than 3 years before the great Cusackian migration to High Heaton and almost 8 and a half seasons until Benfield Saints (as was) ascended from the Alliance to the Northern League.  Coincidentally, unintentionally and passionately, within a month of the Lions entering the Northern League and one whole week after I’d moved into my current abode, I fell madly and completely head over heels in love with Benfield, which is a state of affairs I can’t imagine will alter at any point during the rest of my life.


That first game in daylight was an FA Vase preliminary round tie on Saturday 27th September 2003; Newcastle had played the night before, losing 3-2 at Arsenal and consequently I was at a loose end. My game of choice just had to be the one closest to home. The walk from mine to Benfield takes about 15 minutes; enough time for anticipation to build. I wasn’t exactly excited, but I was more than a little intrigued by the thought of having my own Northern League club of choice, almost on the doorstep. I sat in the back row of the same stand whose front row I sit in today and thoroughly enjoyed a warm, late Summer afternoon, made all the better as Benfield, then as now with Andy Grainger in goal, beat Thornaby 4-1. From that day on, my affection for Benfield grew, especially as my lad Ben, in those days a handy keeper for East End Under 9s, loved to station himself behind Andy Grainger and learn from the finest and most consistent non-league keeper I’ve ever seen, while munching on an enormous hot dog from Snack Attack; Ben that is, not Andy. The bairn and I became regulars and saw some memorable games that first year, such as Shildon thrashed 6-0 and Thornaby clouted 7-0 in a League game; it was a great deal of fun being there, which wasn’t something I was feeling about Newcastle United. Indeed, I fell out of love with NUFC completely when Bobby Robson was sacked in 2004, but it took until 2009 before I finally divested myself of the indefensible habit of lining Mike Ashley’s pockets.

At the end of that first season, Benfield finished runners-up to Ashington and achieved promotion to Northern League Division 1. That’s where we’ve been ever since, though only a final day win away to Consett in the last league game ever played at their old Belle Vue ground, maintained top flight status after a particularly exacting 2010/2011 campaign. Over the past 15 years we’ve seen some brilliant players in blue and white at Sam Smith’s Park: the magnificent centre half pairing of Phil Lumsden and Kev Leighton, combining elegant interceptions and teak-tough tackling, the midfield artistry of Paul Antony, enthusiasm of Steve Bowey and tenacity of Alu Bangura, wing wizardry by Adam Scope and Ian Graham, as well as the legendary goal machines: Michael Chilton, Stephen Young, John Campbell, who scored the best goal I’ve seen in my entire life in a 1-1 draw with Billingham Synthonia in February 2010, Dan Taylor and, best of all, Paul Brayson; 42 in September and the scorer of 200 goals in the last 5 seasons.

We won the League Cup for the first time in 2006; an Alu Bangura 30 yarder crashed into the bottom corner against Washington Nissan at Dunston’s ground. We won it again in 2009 on a Friday night at West Allotment’s Blue Flames; Andy Grainger played like Gordon Banks against Pele as we saw off Penrith 2-0 with the clincher by Ian Graham still one of the finest finishes I’ve ever seen. This came only 10 days after we’d won the title; 1-0 away to Penrith after the last game at their old Southend Road ground. We’d never been top all season, until Steven Young’s delicate, curling 86th minute effort made the dream come true, taking us from 4th to 1st. Mind I wouldn’t go for a celebratory pint afterwards as they were using the local Tory club for post match refreshments. There was a third League Cup win in 2011, when Spennymoor were seen off at Dunston, with Andy Grainger again the hero. We were runners up in 2013 against Spenny at Consett and, sadly, in this season just gone, when our newcomers Dennis Knight, Dale Pearson, Joe Robson, Jake Thompson and Reece Noble have distinguished themselves alongside experienced campaigners like Mark Turnbull, Richie Slaughter, Jake Orrell, James Martin and Rhys Evans, not to mention the legendary Brassy and Andy Grainger, the raven at our Tower of Benfield.

There have been disappointments over the years; not all managers have worked out (no names, no pack drill) and our record in the Northumberland Senior Cup is woeful. One final in all that time, which we lost to Whitley Bay, the only year it wasn’t played at St James’ Park. The FA Vase remains elusive; three defeats in the quarter finals and the same number in the last 16. League form is patchy, always; we finish top 10 consistently, but we should be top 5, especially going forward with the FA’s plans for league reorganisation at Step 4 finally emerging in considerable detail. You see, after 16 years in the Northern League, it seems to me as if the time for change is just around the corner; if all goes well in 2019/2020, we may be looking to take a step upward as part of the FA’s reorganisation of Step 4, the level above where we currently operate.

The top 4 Northern League Division 1 sides, along with the same number from the Northern Counties East, will be promoted into the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 East in May 2020. Further boundary work will see marginal clubs, presumably such as Stamford, Wisbech and Spalding, laterally moved to create a Northern Premier League Division 1 South (or Midland?), parallel to the existing East and West divisions. For those heading upwards from the Northern League in 2020 and later, the bugbear of significantly increased travel has been largely addressed by this move, as has fixture overload with all Step 4, 5 and 6 divisions being limited to 20 clubs and Step 3 expanded to 24.

Such modifications, as well as the judicious use of Bank Holidays for games that kick off at 3pm and not noon, like it’s a pub league where the game is incidental to us all getting hammered as soon as the final whistle blows. The rules are crystal clear; the league table will be the single ultimate, meritocratic arbiter. It has to be; anything else risks the nebulous and contentious spectre of unscientific subjectivity muddying the waters. That aside, I think this is the greatest opportunity for ambitious clubs to progress and crash through the glass ceiling that has been bearing down on the Northern League for two generations or more.

Basically, when the FA introduced the concept of the non-league pyramid, the fiercely parochial Northern League blue blazers and brass hats insisted on remaining in complete isolation, with then chair Arthur Clark and secretary Gordon Nicholson making the mind-boggling decision not to accept a role as one of 3 direct feeder leagues into the Conference. Once Nicholson had finally been removed from office, the league belatedly came to their senses and went, if not quite cap in hand then with an air of studied contrition, to the FA and were glad to be situated 3 rungs lower than the initial offer. Meanwhile, the Northern League had seen the more ambitious clubs such as Blyth Spartans, Bishop Auckland, North Shields and Whitley Bay quit in search of pastures new. Of course, only Spartans managed to make a go of it and the other 3 returned, slightly chastened, whence they came, with considerable subsequent success over the years in the case of both Shields and Whitley it has to be said.

The fable of these prodigals, plus the plummeting vapour trails of the Icarus Airline tours of Step 4 by the seemingly cursed Durham City and now defunct Newcastle Blue Star, not to mention the murky dealings that allowed Spennymoor to assume Evenwood Town’s registration in the league after the original Moors flatlined, were used as scary bedtime stories, delivered in the manner of a pouting, theatrical martinet, by the Northern League management, especially former chair Mike Amos, to frighten clubs into staying close to their own hearth. Other than Whitby in 1997, no Northern League champions accepted promotion to the Northern Premier League until the reformed Darlington did so in 2013. Since then Spennymoor in 2014, South Shields in 2017, Marske United accompanied by runners-up Morpeth Town in 2018 and now Dunston UTS in 2019 have all ascended the ladder of ambition.  This is in spite of the atonal Northern League choir evangelically proselytising their doctrine of footballing pre-determinism by endlessly bellowing

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

from their single hymn sheet, while proclaiming that all things remain bright and beautiful, as long as the status quo isn’t disturbed. Such flat earth, apocalyptic doom mongering has been utterly disproved by the sight of South Shields, Marske United and Morpeth Town’s taillights fading as they disappear over the horizon. The supposed geographical isolation of the north east may not have been eradicated, but the worst aspects and anomalies (South Shields away to Colwyn Bay anyone?) have been ameliorated by the new West, East and Midland Evo-Stik divisional structure. The very real possibility of Knaresborough Town (and what a day out that’ll be eh?)being moved from the Northern Counties East to the Northern League shows that the parameters and boundaries of the world’s second oldest league are not just in a state of flux, but radically changing for good, if not the universal good…

It is fair to say Morpeth Town didn’t face the prospect of forced promotion positively a year ago; indeed, Chairman Ken Beattie even mooted legal action against the FA to try and remain in the Northern League. It’s amazing what hindsight shows you; Morpeth, despite still enduring trips to Wisbech and Spalding, have been crowned Champions of Evo Stik Northern Premier league Division 1 East by a dozen points and I’m delighted for what Nicky Gray and his lads have achieved.  Certainly, there’s not a hint that they wish they had local derbies with Ashington rather than Darlington to look forward to.

Of course, this restructuring exercise won’t work for every club. While I could see, in no particular order, Bishop Auckland, Consett, Hebburn, Stockton and Benfield immediately hoping to benefit from the opportunities provided, I would also imagine the likes of Ashington, Billingham Town, Penrith and hopefully Whitley Bay also wishing to better themselves. Some outfits will be more than happy to continue where they are, for a multiplicity of reasons; financial, historical and locational being the most likely. Pragmatic realism is often a more sensible driving force when one is cutting cloth according to circumstance.

For the Northern League, the challenge will be to maintain 2 divisions of 20 clubs, especially in the face of seeing only promotions upwards and no demotions inward, probably denuding the top division of at least 4 clubs. As a result, the standard of the top division will inevitably be diluted, but that is the cyclical nature of football. The reason the Northern League Division 1 has never been stronger may just have to do with the lack of upward mobility over the years. The real question is about the second division; when the likes of Brandon United can only keep going by accepting an offer from Northern Alliance third tier outfit Coundon and Leeholme to take over the playing side, lock, stock and barrel, because their current Welfare Park facilities extend as far as being a pitch with a rail round it, it begs the question whether ground grading rules should be relaxed to allow an influx of teams of higher playing standards but without facilities to match? I feel it is a question the FA will be answering soon, as their soon to be published plans for Step 7 leagues to be run by county associations may have some bearing on this.

Good luck to all clubs at steps 4,5, 6 and 7, with especial good luck to my beloved Benfield. I sincerely hope restructuring works for us, but even if it didn’t, I’d still be there supporting us if we were back in the Northern Alliance, playing at Walker Park and calling ourselves the Corner House again. I’m Benfield ‘til I die.



Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Vivat Rex

Alex Rex, Lavinia Blackwell & The Mekons didn't play Newcastle on their April tours; it's a good job I don't hold grudges...



MUSIC:

You know what’s astonishing? I’ve not been to a gig yet this year and I don’t imagine I’ll get to one until the BMX Bandits play the Head of Steam on Saturday 18th May. This is partly down to the fact that I’m predominantly working 2.00pm to 10.30pm shifts these days, but it’s also as a result of few, if any, acts on in town appealing to me. There is a sad aspect to this situation as well, in the sense that some of my very favourite bands have been on tour, but didn’t play Newcastle, or anywhere accessible at the weekend.

Almost exactly a year ago, Ben and I headed to Brudenell Social Club to see The Mekons 77 turn in an absolutely blinding set. This year The Mekons themselves returned to the self-same venue for their closest date to me, but on a Wednesday night and so I had to miss out. Thankfully, I have purchased a copy of their brand-new album, Deserted.

My last couple of encounters with The Mekons, live as Mini Mekons in 2015 and the sparkling Mekons 77 stuff last year, has been incredibly positive. Allied to that, reviews I’d seen of Deserted were on the warm side of ecstatic. Thankfully, this is with good reason as Deserted is possibly their strongest and most experimental release since the gloriously eclectic F*U*N*9*0. The cover and provenance of this album from the desert by the Joshua Tree had prepared me for a revisit to the C&W tinged tones of The Edge of the World, but nothing could be further from the truth. Alright, so lyrically there’s a reference to aridity and barren plains in just about every song, but musically we’re closer to The Royal Park than The Grand Ol’ Opry. In fact, we could be next door to The Royal Park as Deserted is the soundtrack for the best night I’ve never had in The Brudenell Social Club, which is where thumping opener Lawrence of California would rightly bring the house down, with its more than glancing nod to Rock and Roll era Mekons. As yet In the Sun / The Galaxy Explodes isn’t doing it for me; it seems too meandering, though it suffers by being in the shade of the first solid gold classic of the 9 cuts available here.


How Many Stars? first appeared on the Mekonville 12” in 2017 and, at the time, I felt it was a pale, timid effort compared to the Mekons 77 cut Still Waiting that was on the other side. Lo and behold, my copy has a badly cut, woozy, off centre version, whereas the proper version on the album is another in the litany of superb Tom Greenhalgh crooners, harking back to English Dancing Master in tone and with a guitar solo that is the cousin of Corporal Chalkie. I’m actually rather irritated I’ve been robbed of knowing what a brilliant track we have here for the past 2 years. Remember how I mentioned the crazy, off-kilter art punk of F*U*N*9*0?  The wiggly, wriggly, trippy trance tones of In the Desert could be un homage to that immense release. This is real lighters in the air, throwing shapes, out on the doors at Midsummer madness; choral singing and the violin weeping with the sheer enormity of it all. Fucking dynamite stuff.

Things don’t let up either. Mirage starts off like a tribute to At Home He Feels Like A Tourist and just gets better. Tom and Sally screaming “This is as good as it’s gonna get,” because the message is more than medium cool important and we need to listen; the band prowling, ready to explode. The Mekons are the real swinging sixties, chronologically speaking y’know… And then it just gets weird; Weimar Vending Machine with its tempo changes (they couldn’t do that 40-odd years ago!!) and lyrical tribute to Brecht and Weill, with trashy glam breaks that could come straight from Another Green World. The Caucasian Corporal Chalkies squaring the circle, if you like. Two tracks left and it’s time to calm things down; Andromeda is one of the most affecting, gentle numbers the band have ever done, its fragility thrown into even sharper relief by the uplifting final maelstrom of After The Rain, bringing down the curtain on one of the band’s top 5 releases of all time. In normal circumstances, we’d be declaring an end to 2019’s album of the year contest, but we are not living in ordinary times.

I have to admit, the dissolution of Trembling Bells last September hit me hard indeed. As you’ll no doubt remember, the late Summer and early Autumn weren’t a good time for me on any level, so the band I’d fallen deeply, desperately and enduringly in love with on first listen in May 2010, calling it a day knocked me right back on my heels, even more so than news of Gerry Love’s departure from Teenage Fanclub. Unlike the TFC situation, there was no fanfare, no traumatic falling out and no time to prepare. The end came out of nowhere, seemingly. The first inkling any of us had was when Lavinia made a post on Facebook saying the late September gigs would be the last she’d be doing with the band. It seemed such an unnecessarily definitive move; for the whole time the band had existed, each and every other member had more extracurricular projects to keep themselves busy than you could shake a stick at. After all, Lavinia herself had started gigging with fiancé Marco and his pal Stu from The Wellgreen under the moniker of Stilton. The only reason I can offer for breaking up the band was a desire to have complete artistic control over the production of their own songs. Perhaps that’s why we’ve got Alex Rex, Stilton, Lavinia solo and Simon’s Youth of America project to consider already, not to mention the 20,000 other things Alex has been up to this last fortnight or so.


Clearly once the departure of the most passionate, strident and swooping female vocalist since (and you just know I’m going to say this) Sandy Denny had been announced, it meant Trembling Bells would be no more and so it came to pass with barely a whisper of dissent or discord. After a Sunday night performance at Leicester Musician, the party was over after a decade during which they’d released very finest quality body of work I can recall from any band, bar Teenage Fanclub, The Wedding Present or The Mekons. September truly was the month of death. Only a couple of months earlier, they’d dropped in to play The Cumberland on a boiling July evening, ending the set with a new one; I Am the King. The band that just got better with every subsequent release, have moved on from the pastoral 1967 era folk rock of Carbeth to the psychedelic cusp of the 70s vibe of Just as the Rainbow to 1972 Sabbath stylings on The Prophet Distances Himself from his Prophecy showed that there was no way in which their parting of the ways could have been because of creative bankruptcy. With this new cut, which appears as the lead track on the 2019 Record Store Day split 10” they share with Alex Rex, that acts as both epitaph and manifesto for The Bells and their future plans, the band show themselves to have evolved into a version of  1973 Roxy Music, or Rexy Music perhaps? Glorious though I Am the King is, it is eclipsed by the beguiling avant garde mixture of surrealism and nursery rhymes that is Medusas. We’re talking Henry Cow meeting Slapp Happy for the purposes of genre hopping germination. Breathtaking stuff and, tragically, another one I never got to hear live.

But what we do have, and I want to say this in the strongest terms possible, is a potential series of artistic journeys that will eclipse almost everything they’ve done before. Not just what we heard across 7 albums by Trembling Bells, but the output by Blackflower, Crying Lion, Death Shanties and everything else the members have involved themselves with. As yet, Alastair C Mitchell has not been spotted, which is somewhat difficult to believe if you’ve seen him. Musically, he is yet to surface, while Mike and Solveig seem set for another summer of rolling out their semi-stoned folksy gems from the back of a VW campervan. Let’s hope for tangible releases in the not too distant future, learning from the example of Simon Shaw’s Youth of America, whose YOA Rising album came out on January 1st 2019, which put them ahead of everyone else.

Having dropped a teaser with the Night of the Comet 7” a couple of years back, the album is a glorious melange of bubblegum West Coast surf glam, with cutesy hooks and harmonies, not to mention a seam of consciously late 70s powerpop running through it like a location stamp through a stick of seaside rock. It’s properly lovely, completely summery and it has as much in common with pastoral English baroque formality as diamond has with carbon. This is heading to the beach fun, not tramping the North York Moors or lighting a modest fire in a bothy out past Carbeth.

Now, like any good pretend grandparent, I would never seek to rank the bairns in terms of quality, but those freshly solo artistes who I have come to regard with the kind of protective pride only an aged paterfamilias could know, have very different qualities to recommend them. My prediction for the future would be that Lavinia will achieve commercial success as well as artistic approval, while Alex will come to be regarded as the finest musical polymath we’ve known in decades. The Ginger Genius combines the finest and worst moments of Peter Bellamy, John Cale, Cornelius Cardew, Bob Dylan and just about every esoteric and arcane marginal figure in every genre of music there is.


So far, I’ve only heard small snippets of Stilton on-line and I really like what they’re doing. There’s still the folk sensibility of early Trembling Bells, but little of the more dramatic, swooping sturm und drang epics that came more to the fore as time passed. Stilton appear to be a happy, upbeat folk rock band with a great ear for a tune and I look forward so much to seeing them at The Cumberland on June 30th, if Lavinia’s plans come to pass. Until then, I will continue to play her sumptuous Waiting for Tomorrow 7”, both on record and on-line, so I can get another glimpse of  the gloriously kooky video to accompany it. The b-side All Seems Better is a treasure too; less overtly jolly than Waiting for Tomorrow, it is a highly promising slice of what Lavinia’s solo songwriting, or tunes crafted in partnership with her significant other,  will offer in the future. This is naturally commercial, bespoke folk pop of the finest vintage. And that voice; I know I will never tire of it.


And now, I must write about Alex Neilson’s latest work. As I said earlier in this piece, we do not live in ordinary times, not when there is an album such as Otterburn to consider. It is a record that leaves the listener profoundly changed and chastened. The stunning, unimaginably tragic inspiration for this record was the sudden, tragic death of Alex’s younger brother Alastair who passed in his sleep just under 2 years ago. In every possible way, the world would be a happier place if Otterburn, named after the houseboat Alastair called home rather than the Northumbrian village, did not exist. However, and I am still not sure I have the right to say this, as a tribute it is perhaps the most moving and loving epitaph his brother could have been given. There are words by Alex on this record that are the equal of Ben Jonson’s On My First Son as a way of articulating grief in a way that induces uncontrollable weeping. Musically, the only comparable experience I have would be memories of listening to Joy Division’s Atmosphere for the first time, so profound and so total is the quality of sentiment and sound.

Otterburn is, of course, an album and so the music, as well as the words and the cause for it to exist, must also be addressed.  If we accept that Trembling Bells encapsulated the entire gamut of English underground music from 1967 to 1974, then here we have Alex as the Glaswegian Dylan placing his own blood on these tracks, or even feeding his desire to keep heaping ginger on ginger, as the wickedly ramshackle ensemble pieces veer from ersatz klezmer bier Keller bawling on Amy May I? to the introspective, melodious Always Already,  the good time spleen venting of The Cruel Rule and the grief streaked acapella of the closing Smoke & Memory. I dare you to listen and not sob.

I am more than proud, I am honoured to know Alex and it will be a source of lasting regret that I didn’t get to see the Alex Rex Showband on his recent tour. The only viable night was the Todmorden date, but it sold out so quickly I couldn’t make it happen.  However, I have Vermilion, Otterburn and, of course, his tracks on the I Am the King 10”to give satiating solace. They’re both covers;  You Know More Than I Know is a John Cale number, hitherto unknown to me. Alex’s mam likes it, so he’s done a version for her, which is lovely. However, and I hope I don’t offend; it pales into insignificance when compared to his jaw-dropping, heartbreaking take on Luke Kelly’s Night Visiting Song.

Luke’s last ever performance was a version of Night Visiting Song on RTE’s Late Late Show, a matter of weeks before his death in 1986. Alex’s version is better. Without question. Alex had a dream after Alastair’s passing that the two of them sang this song together as a way of saying goodbye. This version starts like All Tomorrow’s Parties and dwarfs even that magnum opus. Every single second of the 4 minutes 45 is drenched in love and commemoration, with a band suitably chosen and playing at the top of their game.

And yet there is more… The third Neilson brother, Oliver, has made a video for Night Visiting Song, which includes a central, repeated image of Alex walking along the High-Level Bridge from Newcastle to Gateshead in the hours of darkness. The last building on the Newcastle side is The Bridge Hotel. It was there, at the folk club formed by Johnny Handle and Louisa Killen in the late 50s, where Luke Kelly, who spent two years working on the sites around Tyneside and lodged in the less than handsome bit of Bensham between Coatsworth and Whitehall Roads, first sang in public. Not only that, one of Luke’s regular partners, duetting on traditional songs from the 32 counties, telling of love, drinking, freedom and rebellion, was my old fella; the late Eddy Cusack. Synchronicity makes you think and Alex makes me weep, but every time I listen to his music, I feel thankful his genius exists and is out there. Make sure you share this experience sometime soon.

As well as I Am the King, I made several other purchases on Record Store Day. Unlike previous years, I did my research properly and made a hit list to take with me. I had an early night, slept well in the afterglow of Newcastle’s win at Leicester, set the alarm and struck out for town. First stop was Reflex, which is my normal go to shop in town. I’m not sure why, as RPM is far more friendly. Anyway, I didn’t get within half a mile of the door of Reflex as the queue extended all the way to the corner where The Pineapple used to be. Inspiration struck and I decided to head for Windows; the venerable music shop in the Central Arcade that has been resolutely indie since it was established 111 years ago. The queue was minimal and the reception cordial. Within five minutes I’d been in and out, leaving with the aforementioned Alex Rex & Trembling Bells 10” under my arm, together with 12” singles by Jacques Brel and Suicide.

With the bairn being unavoidable detained in his pit during the hours of daylight at the weekend, I had a list for him as well; the Average White Band’s Pick up the Pieces 12” proved unobtainable anywhere in town, but RPM, gloriously chaotic and boasting Lou and Rob on the decks, came up with the goods as I snaffled the only copy of Bardo Pond’s Big Laughing Jym. I’d decided against getting the Dylan remix of Blood on the Tracks, as paying just shy of £30 for an album I already own is indefensible. That said, if I’d realised the Suicide 12” was north of £20 I’d not have bothered.


What about the music? The keynote purchase we’ve already discussed, while the other two are just lovely bits of nostalgia that fill gaps in my collection. Brel’s charmingly mannered torch song histrionics, recorded live at Maison de la Radio in Paris in June 1965, are as beguiling as the day Bowie, Scott Walker, Marc Almond and a dozen other camp, firebrand artistes fell for them 50 years ago. The highlight track is Amsterdam, of course; delivered en francais like the others as well, hammed up like a Gallic Kenneth Williams. The three other cuts, especially the imploring Ne Me Quitte Pas make this is a superb purchase.

Suicide were incredible, weren’t they? Cheree Cheree backed with Frankie Teardrop on a battered second hand 12” I picked up at Tynemouth Market for a couple of quid perhaps a decade back, needed to be complemented by Dream Baby Dream and now it is. That sleazy, claustrophobic minimalism harks back to the days when using a synthesiser was a genuinely revolutionary musical act, rather than a shortcut to mainstream success. The short version is brash and succinct; the long take bewitching and hypnotic. A solid gold, all time classic that should have a place in every serious collector’s haul. Too bloody pricey mind.


Despite the usual prohibitive and indefensible expense, at least the purchases I made on this year’s RSD were all by artists I already knew and loved, though I do admit I am a sucker for buying stuff I’ve not heard before, simply because reviews make it sound interesting. Hence an idle chat at work about House if Pain led me, via the wonders of the internet, to investigate if there was an Irish Grime or Drill scene. As ever with such organic street phenomena, YouTube is the prime source for a plethora of shakily shot, largely inaudible camera phone footage of Hardy Bucks throwing shapes outside several branches of Abrakebabra and Centra in Edgeworthstown, Limerick and Portarlington. However, I also came across the far more aesthetically pleasing Soft Boy Records, who have released several slices of Irish hip hop in physical form. I bought the two releases currently available; Wastefellow’s Post Human Potential 12” and Kojaque’s Deli Dreams album. I’ll say straight off that Wastefellow isn’t for me; I need to give it a second hearing, but my initial dislike of the dull trippy beats and quasi Italian house piano fills was profound. I may be missing something, but there’s nothing remotely intriguing on first listening.


In contrast, the Kojaque album is brilliant. At one memorable moment, label founder and lyricist Kevin Smith in his MC persona as the eponymous Kojaque, announces that what we are listening to is “the Emerald Isle’s answer to The Chronic.” A pretty bold claim, but one I’d imagine has been made by this cocky, talented visual arts graduate from Cabra with his tongue firmly in his cheek. However, what we actually have here is the Mike Skinner of Da Nort Soide, in terms of Smith’s ability to create a plausible narrative, involving a rounded, central character. In this instance a young bored worker, slaving away making paninis, burgers and chicken nugget snackboxes in one of ubiquitous fast food sections of Irish newsagents and small convenience stores, urban and rural. Lyrically impressive, verbally dextrous and blessed with the gift of perfect delivery in an uncompromising DNS brogue, Deli Dreams is truly the sound of urban decay and social dislocation from Parnell Square, Dorset Street and all points north and west to Phoenix Park, the Royal Canal, Glasnevin and Fairview. A truly astonishing record and one that appears to be giving Kojaque the leg up his work deserves. Who loves ya baby? I do.

BOOKS:

As I mentioned in http://payaso-de-mierda.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-year-of-reading-vocariously.html it was a stated aim this year to read more books. Unfortunately, not all of them have been great works of literature. Paul Morley manages to outdo Tony Parsons in terms of being a smug, arrogant, pseudo-intellectual, ex music journalist in love with the sound of his own prose. He even breasts the tape ahead of Stuart Maconie in the supplementary category of professional Northern twat. However, bearing all this in mind, I still wasn’t prepared for the sheer pretension found within the 450 pages of shallow piffle dressed up as scholarly hagiography that his deeply irritating The Ages of Bowie conspires to be. There will be a book that describes how it felt to be a bit different growing up in Stockport or some other woe begotten wool enclave in the early 70s and kicking against the pricks by modelling your look and your attitude on Bowie, Ferry and their ilk; this isn’t that book. While beginning as a self-justifying paean to the importance of Bowie to his own dull youth, The Ages of Bowie then veers wildly off course, turning into a sketchy, second-hand, unsatisfactory, distant biography.



Like everyone else, Morley actually stopped listening to Bowie when the 80s turned up; however, for the purpose of this wearisome tome, he’s done his copy and paste research by giving a tiresome year by year rundown of albums he won’t have listened to and films he hasn’t seen, judging by the glowing review he gives Labyrinth.  There isn’t a single sentence of analysis or appreciation of Bowie’s work post Scary Monsters, while the desperately sluggish tempo of the writing and unwieldy structure of the book mean that Bowie’s final releases, The Next Day and Lazarus, are discussed in the same shambling, leaden-footed way as everything else in the book, meaning one’s reaction to Bowie’s untimely death is reduced to the level of disappointment to be felt when your local branch of Office World closes its doors for the last time. I will never read another line of Morley’s work in my life.

David Pownall is one of those versatile, jobbing writers who has been churning out 300,000 words a year for half a century now. God Pekins is a short novel set in a failing provincial theatre, around the battle of wills between the artistic director and the writer in residence. Unfortunately, the sheer number of characters and the utterly indistinguishable nature of their speaking voices, mean this is a baffling list of names rather than a satisfying story. It ends with the louche layabout dramatist slowly rowing away from the burning embers of the theatre, in the company of his dea ex machina to the utter indifference of readers everywhere. I found this book in the lost property bin at work and I’m glad I didn’t buy it.

I’m really glad I did buy Mike Carter’s All Together Now though. In November 1981, Carter’s late father Pete, former union full time official and Communist Party veteran, organised the People’s March for Jobs, when thousands of unemployed workers marched from Liverpool to London, to highlight the conditions endured by those without work. Almost thirty-five years on, just before the Brexit referendum, Mike undertook the same journey, partly as a research project and partly as a way of slaying familial demons. He’d long been estranged from his late father and hadn’t been on the original march as he was a student. His father’s death had provided him with a treasure trove of memorabilia from the original march and this spurred him to do the hard yards and explore how society had changed in the intervening period. This book is an engaging blend of walking and talking, acting as a record of the journey he made over four weeks and 330 miles.

With his flat in Brighton and job in London, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw: the food banks, payday loan shops, bookies, pawnbrokers and sleeping bags in doorways. In common with the original marchers, he had done no training, but there were half-days and rest days, and plenty of people to talk to, many of them veterans of the original march, along the way. One of the first of them was Kim; an unemployed single parent back in the day, who the organisers initially blocked from taking part, saying it would be too hard on her three-year-old. She argued her corner and within a few days, she was the human face of the march; the Ellen Wilkinson of late 1981. Most of those Carter meets have fond memories of the march: of the spirit of togetherness it engendered, including a punk band from Birmingham called The Quads, who marched the whole route. When Carter speaks on the phone to their lead singer, Josh Jones, he discovers he’s now a priest in New Zealand.

The book includes a lot of conversations, not just those Carter has with others but those he has with himself, and us, as he analyses what he is seeing and expounds his ideas. As for the walking, he is increasingly keen on what he calls “desire paths;” shortcuts or long ways round, so as to avoid official paths or roads with heavy traffic. Desire paths are about people going where they please, regardless of others, much as his father had done, when he walked out to start a new life, with a new family, who were affluent and middle-class, four years before the march. Carter senior claimed his abandoning of his parental responsibilities was a rejection of bourgeois ideals, though to his kids it seemed then, as now, to be crass selfishness dressed up as revolutionary activity, which is why Mike wouldn’t forgive Pete, even less so when his mum died of cancer soon afterwards, as if killed by grief.

Over the years, there were attempts at reconciliation, but his dad always pushed him away. By the end Pete was living alone, on a canal barge, an alcoholic, suffering from lung cancer and virtually destitute, but still bull-headed, so much so that Carter lost it with him, reeling off the grievances he’d long held back. It was the last exchange they had, and it weighs heavily on Carter’s mind as he walks. Rather than berate his dad for wasting his life, he’s angry on his behalf at what England has become.

Almost everyone he talks to is a Brexiter, even young people, immigrants and those from cities that have benefited from EU funding. They should be angry with Westminster, not Brussels, but he understands their vicious need to blame the wrong targets.  It’s a depressing picture, backed up by extensive reading and research. But the rhythm of walking is therapeutic, and at the end, Carter is tentatively hopeful that the blight of neoliberalism will pass. No less important, he has made a fragile peace with his dad, which is something I applaud him for, because 35 years on, I can’t forgive Militant for what they did to my family. They ruined my former cousin John Hird’s life by indoctrinating him into what they call “The Organisation,” but is really a quasi-religious cult, built on power and focussed entirely on exploiting the weak and inadequate followers that are laughably known as Comrades.


The best analytical take down of the evil cult of Militant is Michael Crick’s wonderful book of the same name. Released initially in 1986, when the destruction of the remaining working class infrastructure of Liverpool by Taaffe, Hatton, Mulhearn, Fields and their muscle-headed pals, was at its peak, it forensically examines and destroys the credibility of every single aspect, both organisational and ideological, of the homophobic, institutionally racist, misogynist, workerist RSL cabal. The 2016 release with a dubiously argued codicil about Corbyn’s followers, who drew more ire from Militant than any other left grouping back in the day, seems an unnecessary rewrite of a document that is perfect from start to finish. I just wish a mentally ill failure of a person, currently residing in Vitoria Gasteiz, could bring himself to read this and realise he may have lost 40 years of his life to “The Organisation,” but he doesn’t need to waste the rest of it.