Malcolm Dawson writes: it seemed highly appropriate that Kate Rusby’s version of The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society came on the radio, just as I was beginning the edit of Pete Sixsmith‘s latest offering. Immediately before dropping off to sleep the night before, I had re-read a chapter of Harry Pearson’s excellent book on North East football “The Far Corner” in which he described how, as a boy, he had seen a picture captioned ‘An Everyday English Village Scene’ in an encyclopaedia and thought it must be a mistake, as it was nothing like the villages he knew since it contained ‘cottages festooned with hanging baskets, burgeoning gardens, white picket fences, a village green, a duck pond, a cricket match, a district nurse on a bicycle and, doubtless, a future Prime Minister sitting outside a thatched pub drinking warm beer’. And then even as I was writing this introduction my 2012/13 Season Card popped through the letter box together with my Bridge magazine. Who says there’s no such thing as serendipity? Read on to discover how our ace reporter found kinship in the South coast non league scene and a feeling of isolation amongst the chattering classes …
For those of you expecting a detailed account of our trip to the Republic of South Korea, prepare to be disappointed. You will have to do with Newton Aycliffe instead.
I thought about the trip to Seoul for all of five seconds before rejecting it, knowing that if I did make the visit to the Korean peninsula, the lure of crossing the 38th Parallel into the Peoples’ Republic and the delights of Pyonyang would be too great for an old leftie like me.
I could have spent hours listening to The Song and Dance Ensemble of the Korean Peoples Air Force or to the principles of The Sea of Blood Opera Company as they gave us such stirring ditties as “We Shall Hold Our Bayonets More Firmly” or “The Joy of Bumper Harvest Overflows Amidst the Joys of Mechanisation”. So I decided to visit Arundel instead – of which more later.
I did take in the Friday night game at Moore Lane, Newton Aycliffe between the local Ebac Northern League Division One side and a Sunderland X1. With the majority of the development squad out in Korea, the X1 was made up of youngsters who were hoping to become regular members of that Squad in the coming season.
The role of DS manager has been taken on by Kevin Ball now that Keith Bertschin and Steven Clemence have joined Mrs Doubtfire at Hull City. The first sighting of him in his new role caused Sobs and me to reel back in shock as Bally was now wearing glasses. How one’s heroes are shown up as they get older. I await his appearance with a walking cane and then expect to see him cavorting up and down the line at Hetton in a mobility scooter!!
The game was a decent one, which we won 6-1, scoring the final three goals as Aycliffe tired towards the end. Jordan Laidler scored twice, Adam Mitchell, Mickael Mandron, Liam Agnew and an o.g. accounted for the rest. The home team had levelled just before half time when Joel Dixon made a hash of a cross and Fred Woodhouse (a name resonant of players from the 40s and 50s) bundled it over the line.
A number of players stood out for Bally’s Boys. James Armstrong, son of Gordon, had an excellent first half, running the game from the centre of midfield and spraying the ball about really well. One of the recipients was Adam Mitchell, a pacey right winger, who was mentioned in despatches after a cracking performance against Bishop Auckland earlier in the year. Connor Oliver caught the eye at the back and George Honeyman showed excellent vision in the centre of the park. All four will be looking for Reserve team football in the coming season. The gate was over 500, a decent turn out on a Friday night and a welcome boost to the home team’s coffers.
I had returned from the depths of West Sussex in the afternoon after a couple of days in a beautiful part of England, but a part of the country in which I felt uncomfortable. The attraction was some County Cricket at Arundel Castle, one of the few surviving out grounds still in regular use. Time was when counties would take their games away from HQ and go to places like Middlesbrough, Buxton, Folkestone and Abergavenny. Now, it’s all corporate hospitality at Headingley or The Riverside and if you can’t make it to the County Ground, tough luck.
I managed to get in 1 hour and 45 minutes of cricket on the Wednesday before the rain came. The setting was timeless; trees and a castle as the backdrop and a stunning view of the rolling South Downs through a gap in the aforementioned trees. There were plenty of tents and folding chairs, the obligatory schoolboys playing “Kwik Kricket” and beer straight from the barrel; a quintessentially English scene.
I had taken in a game on the Tuesday night at Worthing, where The Rebels, the home team, had demolished Worthing United 7-0 in a game where they fielded two complete teams. I had a most enjoyable chinwag with the guys in the Supporters Club tea hut, one of whom had been at Roker Park with Brentford in 1967 for a cup tie. We won 5-2 and he was impressed with Jim Baxter.
The area is a wealthy one. The town of Arundel is dominated by the 19th.C. pepper pot towers of the heavily restored castle, home of the Howards (the Dukes of Norfolk – although I don’t see how the Duke of Norfolk lives in Sussex) and by the startlingly ugly Roman Catholic Cathedral. It is a town where every other house is the old something – The Old Bakery, The Old Granary, The Old Post Office, The Old House Where Proper Working People Lived Until Some Posh Git Bought It, that kind of thing. Accents were clipped and precise and The Telegraph and The Mail seemed to be the favoured reading; not much call for The Guardian or The Morning Star.
In the absence of any football on the Wednesday and the Thursday, I went to the theatre at Chichester. If there was a prize for the most twee town in England, Chichester would be in the medal positions. It is a town full of tea shops, smart boutiques and Antique Emporiums. It also has an excellent theatre, which often sends productions to the West End. I had pre booked for Kiss Me Kate on the Thursday (I am a sucker for the wonderful lyrics of Cole Porter) and managed to obtain the last ticket for Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui on the Wednesday. It’s a witty and perceptive parable about the rise of Hitler, written by a communist who fled the Nazis and who spent his final years in the GDR. It’s polemical, propagandist and precise, in that it blames the wealthy business classes for the rise of Hitler, who Brecht saw as a loser who seized opportunities. Strong stuff with a very pro Socialist/ Union message running through it, so naturally I loved it. But what the good citizens of West Sussex really made of it, I shudder to think.
I sat near a lady with a Cowdray Park Polo Club gillet keeping her warm, sat next to an elderly lady who played bridge and loved the theatre, but who had not enjoyed The Pitman Painters “because of the rough accents”. As I walked back to the trusty Mazda, I was passed by two Baby Bentley’s and more Range Rovers, Audis and Mercs than you could shake a stick at – and believe me, there were lots of those in the audience.
On the surface, little evidence of austerity in Arundel – but the library has had its opening hours halved, local buses have all but disappeared after 5.00p.m. and I dread to think what has happened to the education budget. I couldn’t wait to get away. As the good old politics of envy kicked in, I was pleased to return to County Durham and to take in my first SAFC game of what will be my 50th season as a supporter. A 6-1 away win on August 18th would be as good a way as any to start.