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Published: July 16th 2019
It was scheduled to be a big sporting weekend in England. The British Grand Prix was taking place at Silverstone. Lewis Hamilton would be the hot favourite, given his Mercedes car seems just about unbeatable these days. Tennis was the order of the day at Wimbledon. The distraction of Andy Murray, the doubles player, was over but the usual pecking order looked likely the Mens and Womens Singles Finals. The buzz was probably all about cricket. England had coped with the pressure of being hosts and dismantled Australia in the semifinals, leaving the unlikely New Zealand team as potential party poopers in the Lords Final on Sunday. Sky TV had even relented and allowed Channel 4 to simultaneously show the game on a free to air channel. Football was back though. Albeit, mainly in the form of pre-season friendlies - but football nevertheless. I had managed 9 weeks without attending a game, which is my equivalent of cold turkey. I was therefore on track for the big sporting event nobody was talking about - the big cross border friendly clash between Ryton and Crawcrook Albion FC and Edinburgh United. We will return to the "big" match later.
The weather had
been quite kind the previous day - at least by north eastern standards. I awoke to thick fog and drizzle, leaving a wardrobe dilemma. The forecast was generally good for later, but with possible heavy showers. I covered all bases and set off for the train. The early trippers for a drinking day in York were present. It is clearly never too early for a small refreshment. York Races added to the interest. Two of the more unusual passengers also boarded at Redcar. They were touring the country doing different Park Run events with a side interest in visiting the least visited railway stations in the country. They were on the right route. Britain's least used platforms are at British Steel Redcar. A mere 40 passengers used the station in all of 2018. It doesn't help that only a few trains a day stop there or that the steel plant is now sadly defunct, making reasons to visit somewhat scarce. They persuaded the guard to hold train long enough to nip off so that they could take a few photographs of their visit, thus saving a 3 hour wait for the only other train to stop there today. Mission accomplished,
they alighted at South Bank to return to Redcar for a 9am Park Run. They had Teesside Airport - the 3rd least used station - in their sights for later. My reasons to travel often puzzle people, but the above encounter makes my choices look positively normal. It standing room only from Seaham and Sunderland onwards up to Newcastle, as County Durham set off for their Saturday trips. The majority left the train in the big city and I was expecting the carriage largely to myself for the final leg of the journey up the Tyne Valley. How wrong can be! A combination of the lure of the Metro Centre, Hexham and general pub crawls by train contributed to healthy passenger numbers. We passed through Blaydon..... once the epicentre of Tyneside horse racing in the famous song ... and on along the south bank of River Tyne.
I arrived at my destination of Wylam. Where? Exactly! A small village, that doesn't give many immediate clues how it changed the development of transport throughout the world.The sleepy commuting village was once a centre of early coal mining and is famous the being the birthplace of George Stephenson. George started work
at the mine, developed his engineering skills and would later go on to build the first locomotive to be used to passengers on the Stockton - Darlington line. The small village, not content with one famous son, was also the birthplace of Tomothy Hackworth. Hackworth, based in Shildon, would go on to be the first superintendent of the Stockton - Darlington railway. My blog from Shildon covers their endeavours in Do The Locomotion
William Hedley was born just down the road, but went to school in Wylam. He became the resident engineer at the local colliery and went on to design and build the world's oldest surviving locomotive Puffing Billy. 1813 was a turning point in transport and as you can see, Wylam was at the forefront of the innovations. The motivation was the local coal industry and move to replace the horsepower that pulled the carts to the staithes on the old Wylam Wagonway. After checking the War Memorial on the village green, I wandered up to the Library that houses the Wylam Railway Museum. It details the acheivements of the 3 famous sons and railways in the area. I think small and interesting is a fair description, although I
was the only visitor. The Museum is only open at the same time as the Library - Saturday is 9 am to Noon only - so check before you visit or risk disappointment. I set off down the tracks of the old railroad towards the birthplace of Stephenson. The rails have long gone and it is now part of a recreational path following the Tyne. Dog walkers and cyclists competed for space. The birthplace cottage is onwed by the National Trust, but for some reason considered not worthy of opening. I settled for a few photographs and walked back to the village. A heavy rain shower halted my progress. I discovered a plaque celebrating the achievements of both Hackworth and Hedley. They were modest, given their effect on the world in the intervening years. The church was closed up, as was the local CIU club. I recognised the large Meeting House on Woodcroft Road, as one of the oldest buildings still standing in the village and rejoined the route of the old wagonway. I was heading back to the River Tyne to see another iconic local structure.
The Wylam Bridge that I had walked across into the village is
a routine structure of support pillars. The old railway village at the west end is a more iconic structure. The Hagg Bank (Points Bridge as it is known locally) was ahead of its time. A single span arch suspension bridge, it was opened in 1876 and cost a whopping £16,000. The wrought iron structure covers the 240 feet across the river with no support pillars in the water. Look familiar? It is a mini version of what we now see at the high level Tyne Bridge (1928) and Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932). I walked back to the railway station and straight into the Boathouse. The certificates on the bar gave testament to CAMRA Northumberland Pub of the Year awards. A proper pub, where the stars were the people and the hand pulled beers (except maybe the one which was advertised as tasting of bubblegum). The locals gave it a firm thubs down. the next bloke to walk in promptly ordered a pint. The rest of the bar sniggered. There was a mix of punters, including a hen do, who ignored the beer and hit the gin. A French bull dog minding its own business with the owners looked puzzled at
the sight of a blow up male doll wandering in.
I had 2 sneaky halves and left the cosy bar of the Boathouse. It would have been easy to work my way through the other hand pulled real ales for the rest of the afternoon, but there was a match to go to and I was on foot. I left the boundary of Wylam behind and crossed from Northumberland into the metropolitan area of Gateshead even though it was still open countryside. Rabbits browsed in the field next to me unfazed by the nearby road. I was heading to Kingsley Park, which the first thing on the very edge of the next village - Crawcrook. I climbed away from the River Tyne, so my uphill stroll took a good 25 minutes. There was a footpath for the first part of the walk and I cut up through a wooded area after it ran out, arriving in the middle of an old farm being removated.
Fortunately, it stayed dry. Ryton & Crawcrook Albion are not one of the historic names of Northern League football and were only founded in 1970 as Ryton FC. Kingsley Park
has only been home since 1998 and they changed names to try and appeal to the wider local community. There are many iconic small grounds at this level of football on the Northern League circuit, though most date from the developments undertaken when coal not dole ruled and the proceeds of the Colliery Welfare were channelled into sport. What Ryton don't have in history, they have made up for in ingenuity. Where else can you see 7 bus shelters grouped together as a covered terrace? The fact that they are not of the same height or design adds to the charm. Thornaby FC have a lonely bus shelter plonked on the half way line and Billingham Town's is randomly to one side behind the goal. OK, so I know Teversal in Notts have a collection of trolley shelters. However, this collection is in a totally different league and it was available on home delivery from Tesco. As a connoisseur from the Ministry of Bus Stops, I was instantly drawn this almost unique pieces of football architecture. I read that they originate from downtown Gsteshead, although unlike the Billingham Town model the timetable cases don't remain in situ. However, the broken
perspex panelling on a few of them is good provenance of their origin.Two further bus shelters are used for the dugouts. The subs won't bang their heads leaping up to celebrate a goal at this ground.
The main bank of seats in the club colours of blue and black were behind the goal by the road to Wylam. The earlier rain made the decking at their base positively lethal underfoot. The small covered terrace on the far side was largely unpopulated, but contains another quirk of football architecture. Where else has a dart board tucked away near the half way line? There was no sign of any darts, but given that the maximum spectator count in the section was 7, a game was unlikely to have caused crowd injuries. The majority of the 70 ish crowd stayed on the elevated section just outside the clubhouse and bar. Whatever one makes of the ground, it was the royal seal of approval. HRH Prince Andrew popped to cut the official ribbon in on his way to a more pressing engagement. The inaugural match against a Newcastle United X1 drew a bumper crowd of 1,100. He possibly accepted the gig
thinking he was opening another venue along the lines of the Stadium of Light, which had been his previous experience in these parts.
The visiting team had travelled a fair way for the pre-season runaround, although whether it was the football or the night out on the Toon that had motivated them wasn't clear. Edinburgh United are not the amalgamation of the Jambos and the Hibees, but the former Scottish "Junior" team who now play their trade in the expanded East of Scotland League. I believe that the name was originally pencilled in as that to be used for love child of the old Hearts supremo, Wallace Mercer, when he was busy plotting to form an Edinburgh super club to tackle the dominance of the Old Firm. It was ironic then that 2 Hearts fans sporting their club colours were in attendance today. The attendance was probably up on a normal RACA crowd helped along by the free admittance. I bought a programme for £1 in return for their generosity. The game itself was a bit one way traffic. Northern League 2 proved too strong for the cross border challengers and RACA ran out 3-1 winners. The slick surface
after the earlier rain and a defence standing off attacking players proved too much for the visiting keeper, as a 20 yarder zipped off the turf into the bottom corner of the net. The keeper put his cap on - not to keep the sun out of his eyes, but to stop the rain obscuring his vision. He was substituted at half time. In the Wallace Mercer fantasy football club, Edinburgh United were known as the "Diamond". Alas, United had no playing diamonds on show today. The goals all came in the 1st half in the midst of a torrential downpour. The bus shelters had came into their own as the heavens opened.
It was a wet walk back to Wylam which wasn't helped by the goretex in my boots having ceased to do the advertised job. The proximity of the football to the railway station in theory makes the Ryton & Crawcrook Albion experience look a tempting proposition. I would make sure that you time the visit to have daylight for the walk back. The Boathouse was doing a decent trade on my return, but there was no time for another sample. I used the wifi
and checked my Whatapp. The Man in the Middle was keeping me up to speed with his mission in Athens, where the Trees were savouring the moment of the nearest they're likely to get to a European away game in the forseeable future. A stag do dressed in Hawaiian shirts followed me across the tracks on to the Newcastle bound platform. I felt overdressed. It would be a nosy journey back down the Tyne Valley.
Appendix 1 Pre-Season Friendly
Ryton & Crawcock Albion FC 3 Edinburgh United 1 Date
: Saturday 13th July 2019 @ 1500 Hours Venue
: Kingsley Park, Stannerford Road, Crawcrook, Ryton, Tyne & Wear. NE40 3SN Attendance
: Est 70 Scorers
: 1-0 Cooper (RACA) 2-0 Jasper (RACA), 2-1 McKinlay (Edinburgh) 3-1 Shepherd (RACA) Ryton & Crawcock Albion FC:
Hansen, Graham, Screawn, shepherd, Bonner, Stephenson, Thompson, Ord, Jasper, Cooper, Norris Subs: Graham, Collins, Belon, Hodges, Dobson, Davis, Slee, Butterside, Blewitt Edinburgh United:
Hanratty, McKenzie, brocki, Murray, Guiney, Kerr, McKinley, Meikle, Scott, Trialist, Swanson, Subs: Hay, Robertson, Henderson
Tot: 0.746s; Tpl: 0.119s; cc: 12; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0281s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.5mb