On Our Way To Wembley.
In 1909 and then again in 1911, an amateur football team team, comprised mainly of miners from County Durham won what has become known as football’s inaugural World Cup competition. The Thomas Lipton trophy was donated by the said philanthropist and took place in Turin Italy. Displaying an attitude typical of the FA, the official governing body of the sport in England refused to recognise the competition and to nominate a team who would represent the nation. And so, the story goes, the benefactor asked an employee of his to find a side that would travel to Italy and play against some of Europe’s top sides. Being a referee in the Northern League, the employee turned to West Auckland who accepted the invitation, the players, somehow finding enough to pay their own way there. They went on to beat Stuttgart and then, in the final, Switzerland’s FC Winterhour to win the trophy.
Two years later they returned to defend their title and again triumphed, firstly against the Swiss team Red Star and then by beating the mighty Italians of Juventus 6-1 won the trophy outright. The subject of a TV play “The World Cup – A Captain’s Tale” starring that archetypal Durham lad Dennis Waterman and a play, “Sir Alf Ramsay Knew My Grandfather”, soon to be revived at the Civic Theatre Darlington, the winning of the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy remains West Auckland’s proudest moment to date.
True they made the final of the FA Amateur Cup in 1961, losing 2-1 to Walthamstow Avenue but it is the story of the first World Cup which dominates any research into the club’s history.
But now, they have a chance to add a new chapter to that. Currently riding high in the top division of the Northern League, West finally made it back to Wembley by defeating Herne Bay 2-1 on Saturday. That they will meet Dunston UTS, also of the Northern League and defeated holders Whitley Bay (winners of The Vase for three successive years between 2009 and 2011) in the quarter finals, shows the strength of North Eastern football at Level 5 of the non league pyramid. It promises to be a tight game, and a first nationwide trophy for the triumphant team.
Last year I was living in the East Midlands, seven minutes drive away from the home ground of Coalville Town and was there to see them defeat Kings Lynn in the first leg of the semi final of the competition. I made the trip to London to see them again as they lost 3-2 to Whitley Bay.
This year, having given up work and sold my house, I have returned to my home county and now live seven minutes drive away from Darlington Road, home of West Auckland. I had seen them several times this season already and forsook the pleasure and expense of travelling to the Etihad to cheer on one of my local teams.
Having achieved a 2-2 draw down in Kent, there was an air of confidence that West would make it, though for most of the season, they had performed better away from home than on their own turf. On my previous visits to West I have left home a quarter of an hour before kick off but this time I had been beaten to the ground by at least 700 others some 60 minutes before the game was due to start. The club had done an excellent job of preparing for the event with stewarded car parking, extra catering and toilets and eventually over 1,800 people were there for the pre match handshakes.
The game started with the visitors in the ascendancy, and Herne Bay made several promising attacks whilst the home side looked decidedly nervous. It was therefore no surprise when The Bay (looking much like their northern namesakes in blue and white stripes) took the lead. The two centre forwards were the classic big man, short man combo, with good control and pace who troubled the West Auckland defence and when they failed to clear a free kick, defender Tommy Bryant deservedly put the Kent team ahead.
This was the kick in the pants the home side needed as West got a grip on the game and took control. In the 32nd minute Michael Rae scored in a manner which reminded me of myself in my younger days. Bay failed to clear properly and after a brief midfield tussle the ball was played in front of Rae, who seized onto the pass and as the keeper advanced to the edge of his area, the West Auckland man dipped his left shoulder and calmly side footed the ball past him into the bottom right corner of the goal. I must have got half my modest tally in much the same way back in the seventies!
West weren’t finished though and Rae put them ahead five minutes later when a delightful one two with skipper Matthew Moffat resulted in a hard low drive to send the home supporters into a frenzy. With the last touch of the half Rae missed his hat trick by a whisker with a great header which hit the post full on and rebounded into play just as the ref was blowing for time.
The game was by no means one sided and Herne Bay had their chances, but West did themselves no favours when full back Andrew Green, took a free kick which flew weakly into the defensive wall and then in his frustration and whilst attempting to win the ball back, raised his elbow and received a straight red card only two minutes into the 2nd half. Despite this the home side continued to attack and although they had one or two further scares, could also have had another goal or two themselves.
As the 90th minute approached, the referee ensured another nervy six minutes would ensue for time added on. The feeling was that if Herne Bay equalised then the ten men of West Auckland would tire and it would be difficult to hold on for the penalty shoot out. But that proved hypothetical as they stood firm to ensure their appearance at Wembley on May 13th.
Unlike Mr Sixsmith, who will have to miss the final to ensure he sees every SAFC game this season I shall be inclined to forgo the Man Ure game and include the FA Vase Final in a week or two’s holidaying in the South East, maybe taking in Surrey v Durham at The Oval the following weekend. Come on West.
Follow the title chase in the Northern League by going to www.northernleague.org
PS West won 2-1 tonight against Sunderland RCA to keep their title hopes alive.