Sports administrators the world over generally get a bad press, and usually rightly so, don’t get me started on FIFA, but when they get things right nobody notices much. So let me give a word of praise for whichever bright spark it was that came up with the idea of running a lot of sport’s European Championships at the same time, in a kind of mini Olympics. Athletics, swimming, cycling, gymnastics, etc. Brilliant if you ask me. And to then split it between two cities, in this first attempt Glasgow and Berlin, to end up with just enough variety, but not so much as to kill the more minority interests, was the icing on the cake. In the way of all great ideas it seems dead obvious when it happens; a case of “Why didn’t we think of this before?” Well done that man or woman. Must find out who it is. Just don’t expect any thanks or recognition, except maybe as a pub quiz question in 20 years time.
View from the cemetery
So what is the most important equipment at a football club? Nets and balls? Mowers and markers? Well, let me put a word in for the defibrillator. Everybody will know of the emergency suffered by Lenny French last Saturday, a heart attack that could have had tragic consequences, but for the brilliant work of Rachel Davison our club physio, who did wonders in assessing Lenny’s condition and keeping him calm and under review until the emergency services could arrive; and the speedy and ultra professional response of the ambulance staff and the hospital who got him under treatment so quickly and effectively. Lenny was sitting up and talking post op before 6.30 last Saturday night, which is amazing in itself, and he is progressing well, and should be back with us very soon. Heartfelt thanks to all involved.
Always a good day is the first of the season proper, and excellent opponents today in the always tough and competitive Newcastle Benfield. Last year's game here was a cracker, with Benfield taking the lead and our boys fighting back for a hard worked for good win in the end. Be great if today is an equally entertaining game. And the start of an interesting season, as the FA’s structural changes to the non-league game start to take effect after long delays and prevarication. Marske and Morpeth have gone, upwards and maybe onwards, good luck to them both, will it work out for them? I hope so, but I’m not certain. If it was just about football I would be confident they would finish first and second this season in the Evostik North, and they may very well do so, but it isn’t just about football is it? It’s also about long journeys, time off work, early starts, late returns, and irate bosses, wives and children. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both back sometime in the next couple of years. Maybe not though. Anyway it will still be tough and competitive here, and probably made more competitive by the much reduced fixture list. Two gone up and one dropped out and all of a sudden it's six games fewer than last season. Which is a lot. Team North were always a funny set up, some very nice people but not really a football club as we know it, and their leaving of the league so late leaves a sour taste. As did the appalling corporate claptrap Northumbria University came out with to try and justify their decision. Free advice to the Vice Chancellor and his PR department: when you have been a prat, just say sorry. It works for me.
So, are we going for it? Are we up to it? Good summer I reckon, with most people staying, a couple of famous returns in Sparky and JJ, and a crop of interesting youngsters. So maybe we will be able to sustain a challenge close to the top. The bigger squad should certainly help. Injuries cost us dear mid season last term, but a lot of teams seem to be setting their stall out for a real bash at things, including at least one of the promoted sides. Should be good, let's get to it.
End of Season Review? What is this? The Ghostly Gadgie is being a bit premature I hear you cry, there are still four games to play. Yes I know, but only five days to play them in, hence the special end of season programme, and the need for my season long thoughts. Anyway, these are my feelings re the season, not a match by match review, so I don’t think it matters too much if it's a bit early, I’m not going to change my mind now. So, what do you reckon? More to the point, what do I reckon?
Great start in the summer sun, only one defeat in our first eleven matches, and that desperately unlucky down at Marske, where we bossed the game from start to finish and somehow came away losing 2-1. One of our best performances of the season I thought, in fact. And that eleven game start to the season included four FA Cup matches and eventual victory in three ties, meaning we were still in the Cup come mid-September; unheard of, and looking forward to a trip to Scarborough. Which was fun, but again a bit unlucky. Big crowd, club obviously on the up and good hosts; but I thought we should have won. We bossed the first half, and had plenty of chances to get in front then fell to a couple of sucker punches in the second half. Great day out though.
Cracking game on Saturday, on a tricky surface, although to be fair Dave and Graham had done great work to get the pitch fit at all, it was virtually flooded earlier in the week. And they will have had their work cut out to get it back into some kind of shape for tonight. But as I say, a cracking game, which we won well. Benfield will have been disappointed, given the great form they are in, but could have few complaints, and must have considered themselves fortunate to be in front at half time, with virtually their only attempt on goal of the first forty five minutes. It looked like it might be one of those days, but Nathan O’Neill’s super second half hat trick sorted that out. Nath started the season on fire, then had a fallow spell, so it is good to see him firing again and among the goals in recent weeks. His overall contribution was excellent as well, leading the line and putting himself about. To be fair, all of the lads played well, the passing and movement was excellent, although a couple of special mentions from me for Reece Noble, who joined in up the line continuously and didn’t waste a ball from full back, and young Dylan Elliott who was tireless and inventive in centre midfield. The battle of the golden oldies up front was interesting as well. Paul Brayson for Benfield and our own Colin Larkin have about a million goals between them, and long and distinguished playing records, but for once Brayson rarely got a look in after putting over a super cross in the first few minutes for the visitors' goal, while Colin continued his great form of late with great positional play and running off the ball, as well as his on field encouragement and guidance for his team mates. When you score a hat trick you are usually in contention for Man of the Match and Nath O’Neill was a deserved winner, but there were a lot of other candidates as well. Top six now, could get a place or two higher, let's keep it going!
The battle at the top of the First Division is hotting up nicely as Marske make an attempt on mission impossible, will we be giving them a hand on Thursday night when we go up to Morpeth? I hope so. Not because I have a preference, just because I want to see us win the game. While tonight’s match for our opponents is about the other end of the table, can the Roofers stay up? Personally I hope so, always find them good opponents, although you couldn’t say that about their changing rooms, as good as Marske’s I hear, which ain’t that good.
The view from the cemetery at the moment is usually of low clouds and rain, apparently never ending rain. But we did get a game on last week down in South Durham, and a cracking result against a good West Auckland team. Well deserved and I hear it could have been more, with the evergreen Mr Larkin in super form at present and often denied by the keeper making some great saves. We seem to be ending the season in fine form, and with most people available most of the time, that spell in mid season when we could hardly raise a side seems long gone, but where would we be if that hadn’t happened? Probably too high up the table given all the FA shenanigans, so maybe it's all worked out for the best. Big game against Benfield, with their own everlasting striker in young Brayson, and more tough ones after that, but top six looks like a realistic target, and maybe top four, who knows? One game at a time as the pro's say, and no doubt there will be some funny results over these last weeks as clubs try to fit a mass of fixtures in, and injuries and pre arranged holidays take their toll. A lively end to the season anyway, and a few home games to look forward to on nice Spring evenings.
And higher up than us, is it Morpeth or Marske for the title? Just on weight of fixtures and the likely problems of fielding a side I guess you have to fancy Morpeth, but given the funny results to be expected and mentioned earlier you never know. And it will be interesting at the other end, where RCA might have a say in who goes down. Synners and Washy are all but doomed but it's a tight fight between Bishops and Jarrow Roofing to escape the drop, with Penrith and Guisborough looking on anxiously. We have Bishops to play twice and the Roofers and Guisborough once each yet, with Guisborough and Bishops likely to be our last two games and both at Meadow Park. Might boost the gates.
Elsewhere Mr Coleman’s endless struggles continue, looks like he has a half decent side going forward now, much too late of course, but still absolutely calamitous at the back. Can’t defend crosses to save their lives and every time he signs a keeper they are worse than the one before. Unbelievable. Will they be able to stay in League One, that's what I wonder. Not without another round of team building, and to be fair his signings to date don’t fill you with confidence in his ability to spot a player. I’m afraid we will see.
It's always nice to be back in your own plot I think. Travel is fine but home is comfy. And a chance to catch up on local sporting matters. Our boys firing well at present and storming up the league, a top six finish would be nice. Sunderland virtually dead and buried and it's looking like the new manager is not producing any magic. Certainly his signings, mostly loans I know, and with little money to spend, have largely been poor so far. It's a tough business is football management, but an old head of my acquaintance was of the view that it didn’t matter what kind of manager you were, tracksuit or best suit, hard case or soft touch, whisperer or shouter, all that mattered was your ability to spot a player. I think this is true at every level from Sunday morning to the Premier League. Certainly in the Northern League the cry of 'Where did you find him?' is often heard. David Beckham was recounting recently the tale of an England coach who when Beckham was twelve had failed to notice the will to win or the sweet right foot, but had noticed he wasn’t that big so dismissed his prospects out of hand. Even more entertaining the other week was the hapless Peter Grant, Assistant Manager of Scotland, saying that he hadn’t heard of Scott McTominay until he made his debut for Man Utd and hadn’t realised he was qualified for Scotland at all, but hoped he was. Obviously I don’t know the names of every potential young Scottish International playing for Premier League clubs, but I’m not Assistant Manager of Scotland am I? To be fair it's not like they are overloaded with talent. So, give Coleman a chance I say, but picking players is what it is all about.
Anyway after the last month or so it's good to be back and talking football. Three home games off the belt, chances for points and maybe Spring is finally here, what is not to like?