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Published: March 23rd 2017
In Memory of
Tegwani Crystal Ball
aka Crystal the Norfolk Terrier
Non League Dog
The train pulled out of the North East Premier Seaside Resort towards Middlesbrough. I wasn't meant to be aboard. My plans for quality time with my four legged friend were in tatters. Alas, the beautiful Crystal the Norfolk Terrier passed away earlier this week. The cancer that had been hanging over her for the last few months finally took her from us. She never made her 7th birthday. If she had been with me, we would have been in the car heading to Shildon. A far more interesting way for her to spend an afternoon than a dog show .... even her appearance at Crufts. She was born and started the first few years of her life as a posh dog. However, she was always going to love football with a Kennel Club name featuring Crystal Ball. My mood is not lightened as we pass the floodlights of Mo Mowlem Park - the ground where Crystal made her debut at a football match. Sadly, she never got to wear her Non League Dogs badge on a Saturday
afternoon. The Tuesday fixture next week at Billie Town, where she planned to surprise Heaton Stan Harry, would have be a step too far for me. I watched North Shields invade Marske instead. The image of Crystal will live on in my other entries on this website. At least, I hope they will. The trademark photos on the Non League Dogs website were always anonymous .... her face always glued to the action. She knew the merits of "Proper Football". She came to watch, except when someone was rustling a crisp packet!
The train is surprisingly busy. The passion for a drinking day out in York seems to have seriously caught on. The numbers grew at each station. There is a train from Middlesbrough direct through to Manchester Airport, although it should possibly have extra carriages for the first part of the journey to York. There were probably 200+ gathered at Middlesbrough and a similar number at Thornaby. Guys and girls. All ages. All set for a day inside a pub. No jacket required. The innocent observer might have thought it was an impromptu celebration in honour of the return of attacking football to Awesome Park now
that Aitor has been dispatched. A booze ban is now in place on Saturday morning Trans Pennine Express trains to cut alcohol intake pre-arrival. York apparently has seen nothing like it, since the Vikings paid a visit. The clever minority were avoiding the booze ban on the above train and making the journey via Darlo. I noted a few serious cameras lined up near Teesside Airport. They were waiting a steam train heading towards the North Yorkshire Moors Railway at Grosmont. I felt sorry for the guy waiting at Dinsdale, who had his view obscured by my train as it pulled alongside the platform at the same time as the old rolling stock passed in the opposite direction.
The journey quietened down after Darlo. I had never been on this section of the Bishop Auckland line. The buildings looked familiar from a journey I made last year to a game at Darlington Railway Athletic. I learned something - I never knew Darlington had a second station - North Road. Hitachi are now using the engineering heritage of the area to build high speed trains at Newton Aycliffe. The huge complex and test track running into the plant
could be seen on the left of the train. The centre of Newton Aycliffe looked devoid of life. A few minutes later, I arrived in Shildon. The Cradle of the Railways. The Stockton & Darlington Railway gets the headlines, but the first trains ran from Shildon in 1825. The town of Old Shildon transformed with the arrival of the railway and became a centre of railway engineering. Locomotives were originally built here, until production transferred to the works on the north side of Darlington. The Shildon plant then concentrated on wagons. At a peak in the 1920s, it employed 2,800. The last wagons rolled out in 1984. Today, there is nothing left! As one old guy who was wandering the concourse near the Museum put it, the Grocers Daughter finished us. Of course he referred to her by name and in less than complementary terms. "She finished this town, son".
The National Railway Museum is 60 miles further south in York. However, the little known branch - Locomotion - is a few paces from Shildon Railway Station. A trickle of railway enthusiasts and family alighted too. A huge purpose built shed houses the collection on what were
Locomotion Museum ... the last wagon
at one time the largest marshalling yards in the world. The outdoor part is limited, but features the last wagon to be produced in 1984. Home again, as a testament to the skill of the workforce and the 1000s that went before! Entry is free. A donation of £3 is recommended, although no one was hand to pester for it and there are collection points liberally scattered around the building. A giant train set is laid out around the exhibits. I went to the Deutsche Bahn Museum in Nuremberg last year and they had a serious Hornby creation. However, this was in a different league. Model trains big enough for a fully grown man to ride on. The budding engine drivers were tinkering with their machines near the entrance, eagerly waiting their opportunity to have a trip around the permanent steam locomotive exhibits. There were some even dressed in the part. Stewards were on hand to control the level crossings. The collection itself ranged from old steam locos to early high speed trains from the early 1970s. There were carriages from Victorian royals, various goods wagons as you would expect and military tank transporters used in the First World War.
Dean Street Ground
The revenue source other than the cafe was the shop. A serious stock of Hornby models, track, spare parts and everything else required to build the scenery for your imaginary railway world was laid out for purchase. In a glass cabinet by the offices at the far end was Northern League trophy, currently in the custody of Shildon AFC. The railway enthusiasts walked straight past it, unaware of the significance of the silverware. Overall, I was quite impressed with the offer. A much underestimated free entertainment source that locals and visitors could enjoy.
The Museum is part of a railway heritage path linking the railway station to town. The most obvious sight and arguably the most impressive were the coal drops. A series of old wagons is parked in front of them. I won't actually pretend to know exactly what coal drops were for, nevertheless less I enjoyed looking at them. A small group of old industrial buildings lies beyond. The Good Halls, Postmasters Office and Soho. Soho was the name of the original rail works, owned and developed by a Timothy Hackworth. The stone house adjacent was his house and subsequently that of other Managers of
the works. It is fair to say he could walk to work. Across on Soho Street, two old Victoria buildings formed the centre piece of the community - the Wesleylian Chapel and a building that was once the Sunday School. Rows of neat terraced houses extended towards a closed down pub and the Salvation Army Hall. The changing times and fortunes were reflected in the sign on the noticeboard for a Food Bank. There was nobody around at all apart a small group of kids throwing stones and some Polish guys devouring cans of Lech on the doorstep.
I walked past the boarded up Masonic Hall and across the wide open expanses of Hackworth Park. The Saturday dog walkers were exercising their hounds. I climbed across the grass towards town - Old Shildon. The Civic Hall was advertising a tribute act for Little Mix. The Town Council Building was shut up for the weekend. The Old Shildon Working Mens Club was surprisingly closed on a Saturday lunchtime. It advertised an Elvis tribute act ...... only a few remaining tickets. I deduced that Elvis was more popular than Little Mix. A series of old photographs gave an insight
into the past of the street I now headed. The impressive looking building before me had been the York City and County Savings Bank. I studied the names on the adjacent War Memorial. The church next door was closed, as was the library opposite. A glass panel in the bus shelter was hanging by a thread - a victim of a Friday night. The Ministry of Bus Stops never sleeps. The Police van parked opposite seemed disinterested in the plight of a mere bus stop, but was successfully irritating the locals. "What is he doing there, man?" A statue of Timothy Hackworth holding an old loco gazed towards B & M Bargains. The First Stop Barber Shop was no longer the first stop. A victim of competition from the other two further up the street? Ladbroke was quiet. "They've all gone to the Sunderland match". A number of the shops were closed, but it was difficult to tell whether this was a permanent fixture or just lunchtime closing on a Saturday. In amongst a street that had seen many better days was a Costa Coffee franchise, which shows the caffeine treat as a little luxury can thrive anywhere. Estate Agents
advertised a house for £25,000. A property on John Street was £50,000. A sign in a shop window threatened action against those who did not pick up after their hound. The "Bus Station" was devoid of people and the prime location had not saved the New King William pub from closure. An old coal wagon was mounted on a stand opposite. I retraced my steps back down the street. The same customers were still enjoying their little luxury in Costa. A small group of smokers stood outside the Red Lion. An A board outside advertised a free hot dog with onions available with your first pint. The offer had proved more tempting than a goaless draw with Burnley for one I spied in the window attired in his Red and white stripes. Or perhaps he had missed the bus? The lottery machine was out of order in the card shop, so I was pointed towards the Original Factory Shop. I waited whilst an important transaction was concluded. The colour of an E cigarette was the subject of debate. "I don’t really want a red one". The shop assistant advised that the good folk of Shildon bought them in all colours......
....Youth prospect. Buddy. Non League Dog
"even these pink ones here". "They are all the same really" she helpfully added. It turned out not to be the case - the black ones were £3 more expensive! The Police was still in situ opposite, should a dispute break out over the pricing differential.
The rest of my afternoon would be devoted to football. I walked down the curiously named Primitive Street. The joys of Non League football. I am sure a Premier League club would have had that renamed! Dean Street is a real town centre ground. One street removed to be precise. I could see the fantastic and almost unique 1920s main stand over the red brick wall. "Welcome to Shildon AFC. A member of the 2nd oldest League in the World." An old fashioned single turnstile awaited. £6 please. Cheaper than an E cigarette in black or pink. Shildon were playing Seaham Red Star. As regular readers will know, I have been a semi regular follower of the foreign incarnation of the Crvena Zvezda. However today, I had come to check out the most recent signing of the Awesome Park gang. Lewis Wing. Attacking 31 goal midfield player. The star last season
in the Shildon Northern League winning team. In midweek when most were keeping an eye out for the new Manager announcement, Middlesbrough FC announced the "capture" of this midfield protégé who has signed a pre-contract deal to take effect on the expiry of his Shildon deal in the summer. Boro haven't paid a fee, but in an act of unrivalled generosity in their own mind agreed to play a pre-season friendly at Dean Street.
The main stand sits perched up over the rest of Dean Street. A small covered terrace provides protection against the elements on the opposite side. Today, it wasn't required. One local must have been studying an improving weather forecast and rolled up in his shorts. The end to my right was dominated by a high scaffold structure covered with netting to prevent wayward shooting rearranging the front windows of the terrace directly behind. It will surely not be needed when the shot shy Middlesbrough team roll up for that friendly! A small selection of flags were tied to the netting including the Shildon AFC South Uist Branch on a St Andrews cross. I descended into the bar in the bowel of the stand.
A brisk business in alcohol was ongoing underneath signed photos of Bobby Kerr lifting the 1973 F A Cup for Sunderland and Bobby Moncur lifting the old Fairs Cup for Newcastle United. The Middlesbrough contribution was a signed Colin Cooper shirt, which does really compare.
I found a perch on the small terrace below the Main Stand next to the away dugout. Crystal would have enjoyed this vantage point, although I would have had to cover her ears from the choice language coming from the coaching staff after Red Star missed 3 early chances. "How many chances do we need?" More than 3 apparently! I met Buddy. 19 weeks and already on his 4th visit to Dean Street. He was more interested in playing than watching the football. I suggested he became a Non League Dog, although given his "Dad" is the aforementioned answer to the Awesome Park goal drought his visits to this level of football could be limited in the future. The match itself was a stroll for Shildon, after Red Star missed the early opportunities. Two Shildon goals midway through the first half knocked the stuffing out of the opposition. Mr Wing had slotted
the second with a precision free kick and then proceeded to demonstrate his class by running the game. I struggle to comprehend how he would fit into a Premier League or Championship team, but at least he knows where the goal is. In this respect, he has an advantage over the rest of the Middlesbrough set up. Good luck to him. A few other professional teams could do a lot worse than take a look at this level. If nothing else, you get 100%!e(MISSING)ffort!
I walked an alternative route back to locate my train. I discovered some executive houses with fine views over Hackworth Park. A fountain and a bandstand had been returned to their former glory. Mr Hackworth had another statue nearby to keep watch on proceedings. A wide array of CCTV cameras were doing likewise..... just in case. I arrived back at the railway station in loads of time and got talking to 2 visitors from Scotland. One had grown up in Shildon at a time when the wagon works provided jobs and opportunities not necessarily available north of the border. He was a regular visitor - 6 or 7 games a
season - and a sponsor of players in the programme. A free programme was duly handed to me from his bag. The Other Half will be forever grateful. "We don't need anymore programmes in the house". In Edinburgh my new friend had to make do with the Heart of Midlothian, but his first love was Shildon AFC. "I even have a commissioned painting of the ground over my mantlepiece". There were just 5 passengers who boarded the 1810. In 1911 Shildon railway station ticket office sold 136,879 tickets. How times change. I wished my Scottish friends well at Darlo and waited for the onslaught of any drinkers who hadn't stayed the pace in York. There were plenty - all still drinking cans - as we trundled towards Teesside.
Appendix 1 Northern League (Division One) Shildon AFC 2 Seaham Red Star FC 0 Date: 18 March 2017 @ 1500 Hours Venue: Dean Street, Shildon, County Durham
Attendance: 155 (+ 2 Non League Dogs)
Goals: 1-0 A Purewal (28'), 2-0 L Wing (39')
Tot: 2.386s; Tpl: 0.112s; cc: 15; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0617s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb