Malcolm Dawson writes……whilst Pete Sixsmith took a trip up to Ironworks Road to see Shildon record a 6-2 victory over Tow Law in the group stage of the Northern League Cup, I made the trip east to the place of my birth where SAFC U23s were taking on Boldon CA of the Wearside League in the County Challenge Cup.
This is the ground where I saw my first ever live football match around about 60 years ago. I don’t remember much about that game except the home side, the long defunct Eppleton Colliery Welfare, played in the same colours as West Ham United’s change strip – light blue with two maroon bands.
The ground was a lot different then too, as the football team shared it with the long defunct Eppleton Colliery Welfare Cricket Club. It has seen a few more changes in the past few months after the changing rooms and toilets were damaged by fire, meaning the teams and officials now have to change in Portakabins and a trip to the loo involved leaving the ground via a side gate to use those in the Hetton Centre. Hetton hasn’t changed an awful lot since I grew up there, although when in my teens there were at least 17 pubs and 5 working men’s clubs between the High Downs Hotel and the Four Lane Ends, I can only think of 5 pubs and 3 clubs that are still in business.
Still I wasn’t there to reminisce. As they say nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and there was a game of footy going on. No team sheets for my £1 admission but I recognised most of the home side. Goalkeeper Ahmed Abdelkader I had first seen at Bishop Auckland in a pre-season friendly, where despite being on the Sunderland bench he played the second half for Bishops who hadn’t got a sub keeper of their own. Of the others, skipper Jack Bainbridge will surely get some time for the senior XI in one of the cup competitions and Williams Kokolo, who always impresses me when I see him, must also have been in Jack Ross’s thoughts until a week ago. Bali Mumba and Ruban Sammut, another two who are on the fringes of the senior squad were on the bench while Benji Kimpioka was away with the Swedish U21 squad who have beaten Iceland and Luxembourg over the past few days.
I haven’t been to Boldon in years but it was home to my Uncle Cud who worked down the pit and grew grapes in a greenhouse on his allotment, where he also had a shed with a full size snooker table in and Aunty Elsie my dad’s sister, who always gave us tinned peaches with Carnation milk and bread and butter when we went for tea.
Boldon who had brought a good smattering of supporters and officials, emerged in their black and white striped shirts and lined up attacking the Bog Row end of the ground.
It was immediately obvious that what we were witnessing was a team of professionals (albeit young ones) who spend their days working on fitness and tactics, against part time opponents who spend their days at work and in the various licensed establishments north of the River Wear. The centre forward, Frankie Hucks was the archetypal non league footballer – a bit like Alf Tupper with love handles, whereas Lee Connelly who wore the number 9 shirt for the home side, makes Mark McNulty look like Giant Haystacks. Connelly though is nippy and makes up for his lack of height with his speed and enthusiasm and he had a great opportunity to put the Black Kittens ahead in only the second minute.
The home side, quicker in speed and thought, played several quick passes and showed good movement straight from the kick off and when winger Nathan Greenwood burst into the penalty area, the slightest of touches brought him down and the ref awarded the spot kick. It looked a bit soft from my seat, but was probably the correct decision but James Lone in the Boldon goal, threw himself to his left and got a strong hand on Connelly’s well struck penalty. There was nothing wrong with Connelly’s effort. He hit it hard and low, just inside the post but the visiting keeper made the first of several good saves.
At the other end Abdelkader made a couple of good stops of his own, rushing out to dive at the feet of Hucks, then turning a good shot from Levi Collins around the post. But Sunderland were clearly the superior side and with a quarter of the game gone, Connelly made up for the penalty miss when a Boldon defender attempted to pass the ball back, without looking and Connelly was put clean through in front of goal and he drove the ball home into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
But just like the senior squad on too many occasions, it began to look as if the young lads would fail to press home their advantage, whilst the young Algerian in the home goal had a couple of shaky moments, needing his defenders to prevent the visitors scoring, after fumbling the ball.
However, three quick goals just before the break made it comforfortable. First, Williams Kokolo who had been given a free role and was popping up anywhere along the front line, was on hand to power the ball home, after a shot from Greenwood had been blocked on the line and Connelly’s follow up also blocked. The French teenager made sure at the third attempt, five minutes before the break.
Connelly got his second minutes later when a quick through ball found him with time and space and he was able to pick his spot from around 16 yards. Although it looked as if his shot might have been cleared off the line by the outstretched leg of a sliding defender, the whistle went and the ref signalled the goal.
No VAR here.
There was still time for Kokolo to get his second before the half time oranges when the ball broke towards him in the box and he let it run past him before prodding it home with his left peg from close range. Elliot Dickman will have been relatively pleased at half time and with a four goal cushion introduced two subs for the second period.
One of these was Ruban Sammut, who sits just in front of the back four in the holding midfielder role. He is the fulcrum around which this side operates, constantly making himself available, looking around when in possession and mixing up the simple ball with the precision passing that can open up opposition defences. He certainly caught the eye again in this fixture and I expect to see him feature against Oxford or Leicester U21s in those upcoming cup ties, though he did blast one over the bar from relatively close range after being set up by the third sub Ryan Leonard.
No goals in the second half and the home team played well within themselves. At least the two Boldon followers sitting in front of me stayed until the end as at half time they were talking about going when it got to 7 or 8. It could have been but for me the Boldon player of the match was the keeper, James Lone who despite conceding four also made some outstanding saves and allowed the two in front of me to watch the full 90 minutes.
Although it is clearly early autumn, it stayed dry and was probably warmer than Tow Law.