We can take our hats off to Leicester City, fully deserving Premier champs. We can pray those of us with a God, that Sunderland somehow manage for the last three games what the Foxes did in nine a season ago. And, to lighten heavy spirits, we can share Pete Sixsmith (and Monsieur Salut)’s joy at a great achievement for a home town we both share by adoption …
Amid the feelings of doom that pervade the thoughts of Sunderland supporters, a ray, nay beam, nay blast of sunshine hits some Red and Whites. For those like Monsieur Salut and me who cut our footballing teeth at Dean Street, Shildon there is a title win to celebrate.
Shildon AFC: Northern League Champions 2015-16.
The last time they won it in a full season was 1936-37. Twenty four miles away, the greats of Roker Park – Bobby Gurney, Johnny Mapson and the peerless Raich Carter were winning the FA Cup, a year after winning the Football League Championship.
As a County Durham club, there may well have been men from Shildon, using their NER priv tickets to travel via Bishop Auckland, Durham, Fencehouses and Pallion to watch the Red and Whites but the majority of Shildon football people would assemble at the Shildon Football and Athletic Grounds to watch the Railwaymen vanquish Cockfield, Trimdon Grange and Evenwood Town on their way to a fourth successive League title.
They won a truncated league in 1940 (Hitler messed the whole season up) and never really came anywhere near it again for 60+ years. There was a second place, miles behind Spennymoor Town in 2010 and then the terrible disappointment of last year, when failure to beat Bedlington Terriers in the final game led to Marske United nipping in to take their first title.
This year, the season started satisfactorily with far more wins than defeats, but the defeats came against potential rivals like Morpeth Town and Consett. After a dispiriting home defeat to Newton Aycliffe at the end of November, they went on a stunning run of 50 points from 54 to place them firmly in the metaphorical box seat.
A 4-0 win at Morpeth Town followed by a 5-0 thrashing of Marske United, both assiduously trailing the Railwaymen, brought Shildon to the verge of the title and then came a couple of potential derailments. Points were lost at Marske and at Newton Aycliffe and with Marske, showing the persistence of the posse that pursues Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, continuing to win their games in hand, there were some Shildon supporters “getting a wobble on”.
That wobble disappeared on Bank Holiday Monday as Bishop Auckland, rivals since the days of Queen Victoria, were routed 4-0 at Heritage Park, while Marske were being beaten 2-0 at home by their local rivals, Guisborough Town.
Kicking off an hour later and two goals to the good at half time, the second half was a jolly canter to the finishing line as Shildon fans of whatever Premier League or Championship persuasion rejoiced in a deserved title and the culmination of a lot of hard work and a decent amount of finance.
The Northern League is a good league. Two recent champions, Darlington and Spennymoor Town took the promotion route to the Northern Premier League and have moved through that, with the Quakers (managed by former Sunderland player Martin Gray) starting next season in National League North and the Moors taking their place in the NPL Premier Division.
Shildon are happy to stay in the Northern League, which has been their home for the last 84 years. The prospect of a Tuesday night fixture at Burscough or an Easter date at Colwyn Bay does not really appeal to a club who, like many North-eastern clubs, like to be home for their teas on a Saturday night. After the recent marathon trek back from Norwich, I know how they feel.
It was a busy day. Congratulations to Leicester City for winning their first ever Championship, a victory they deserve for persevering with the players who dragged them away from the bottom three last season. From a Sunderland point of view it was important that the race for the title went to the last game as Tottenham go to the Sports Direct that day, but I am sure that there are many out there who are pleased to see a different name on that ugly lump of kitsch that is the Premier League Winners Trophy.
Burnley gained promotion to the untold wealth of the Premier League and look better equipped for staying up than on their previous two sojourns. My pal Duncan Sutcliffe replied to my congratulations to him by imploring us to stay up so that he can win the Who Are You award next season. I fear we will be searching for a Brewer rather than a Claret.
Fifty odd years ago, M Salut allowed me to tag along with him in order to sell programmes on the corner of Dean Street and Primitive Street, so named after the imposing (and long gone) Primitive Methodist Chapel that stood there.
A brief flirtation with Darlington followed before he let me join him on the train to Roker Park and I was hooked. But I have always retained links with my adopted town team and over the last 20 years or so have become quite involved with them. Their league title is something I am immensely proud of and it would be nice to think that it is an omen for the unravelling of the relegation plot; two successes are better than one.
One win did it for the Railwaymen. Two wins will do it for Sunderland [maybe – I fear we need seven points – M Salut].
** A personal note from M Salut: this time last year I offered my old paper, The Northern Echo, a piece (unpaid) ahead of Shildon’s final game. A win at Bedlington Terriers would have brought forward by a year the excellent achievement described above by Pete. As he notes, it was not to be.
The Echo declined, offering room instead for a bite-sized reflective piece once the outcome was known. I had neither time nor inclination for that. As the son of a Cockney who made his life in Shildon and worked tirelessly for Shildon AFC as he did for Old Shildon Workingmen’s Club, I knew what kind of article I had in mind and it was not a quick recap after the event.
You can read it here if you wish: http://www.francesalut.com/2015/04/take-the-lad-out-of-shildon-by-all-means-.html#more