Pete Sixmsith‘s love of football goes beyond the unrequited loyalty he bestows upon Sunderland AFC. He holds a wide-ranging view and, like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, he always gets his
manmatch. From Bishop to Blyth, Sherburn to Shildon, Crook to Coxhoe, he’s there when it matters.
And this week, as Sunderland aren’t playing (and how is that different from other weeks? you might ask) he’s here to give us the lowdown on what’s going on in the Northern League .
The FA Cup semi-final gives us a welcome rest after the rubbish that was dished up last weekend, the footballing equivalent of a school dinner at Bishop Auckland Grammar School c. 1962; undercooked, lumpy and hard to digest.
It gives the new head coach an opportunity to restore some confidence to what must be a battered set of players and to work out a cunning plan, one cunning enough to have been devised by a fox who was Professor of Cunning at Oxford University, to foil Stoke City, Southampton, Everton and Leicester City, and cement our Premier League place for next season before we act as cannon fodder for Arsenal and Chelsea in the final week of the season.
But no rest for this boy. Those who take an interest in the EBAC Northern League will be aware that Shildon, the club that Monsieur Salut and myself cut our teeth on over half a century ago, have a very good chance of winning the league for the first time since Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister and Raich Carter lifted the FA Cup at Wembley.
They have four games to play and the maths is fairly simple; win all four and the league title will be coming to Dean Street. Of the other protagonists, only North Shields can match the Railwayman and they have an inferior goal difference and a Wembley appearance to worry about.
The run in started on Wednesday night at Morpeth’s Craike Park ground. I had made my own way up there thanks to the Senior Bus Pass (thank you to that nice Mr Cameron for not taking it away; you can rely on my vote, Davey baby) via Newcastle.
I stopped off in the Toon but felt unable to gloat after last Saturday’s miserable performance. So, instead of walking out to the Sports Direct and hi-fiving everyone I met, I slunk into the Tyneside Film Theatre to watch Blade Runner – The Director’s Final Cut.
I enjoyed the film, set in a dystopian future and based on Teesside – incessant rain, incomprehensible locals and steam and smog rising. A young Harrison Ford was tracking down four androids and succeeded in killing them in what was basically a western set in the future. Made in 1983 and set in 2019, there was an absence of mobile phones, laptops and selfie sticks, so clearly the futurologists who Ridley Scott consulted had got it wrong. However, I did see a scrap of paper blowing about in one scene which said “Sunderland hoping to avoid relegation” so they got that correct.
Disembarking from the X18 in Morpeth, I was attracted to a small pub called The Office. Once a stonemasons, then an Undertakers, it is now the brewery tap for the Acton Brewery, based in Ashington. Excellent beer, good company and another mini pub to revisit; far better than the corporate hell that is Wetherspoons.
The game was a tense one between two good sides. Morpeth are in the top third of the league and have a Northumberland Senior Cup Final against Blyth Spartans coming up. They also have to play title outsiders Guisborough Town and North Shields and were determined to put on a show in front of a healthy crowd.
Craike Park could not be described as a pretty ground. It is miles from the town centre in a landscape populated by red squirrels and red kites. It had an athletics track running round it but that has gone and the viewing experience is much better.
It ended up as a decent 0-0 with both sides missing chances, Shildon spooning oneover the bar in the 92ndminute. Had that one gone in………… They now have four games left of which only one is at home.
On Saturday they travel to already relegated Celtic Nation, a Carlisle based team who lived the dream for a year before their American backer pulled out and who are now in freefall and may not survive the summer.
Tuesday night sees them at Sunderland Ryhope CA, a Sunderland team who were in relegation trouble for much of the season and who have pulled away well. Could it be an omen?
The final home game is against Durham City in a week’s time. They are mid table, owned by former Newcastle United player Oliver Bernard and clearly a team that should be beaten. Finally, the last game of the season in the league takes the Railwaymen to South East Northumberland to face the bark and bite of Bedlington Terriers, another team who dallied with an American and who got an electronic scoreboard out of it. Winnable.
It is expected that Marske United will beat their two opponents, Bishop Auckland and Celtic Nation, while North Shields have to play Dunston, Morpeth, Sunderland RCA and, yed, you’ve guessed, Celtic Nation. They will do well to take maximum points from those.
And where will I be on Saturday? Not at Celtic Nation. I cashed in my East Coast Main Line loyalty points and am off to Edinburgh to watch Hearts play Raith Rovers for free. I’ll call in to Coda Records between Waverley and Tynecastle as it is Record Shop Day and see what can be found.
One ear or eye will be kept on the news from Selhurst, Goodison and almost Filbert Street. Two home wins and an away for Swansea will cheer me up and gird up my loins for the next batch of fixtures – either Premier League or Northern.