Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ground 234: Estadio Profesor Alberto Suppici, Colonia del Sacramento

An hour across the River Plate from  Buenos Aires, the tiny port town of Colonia del Sacramento has sandy beaches, tile-and-stucco colonial architecture, Uruguay's oldest church, a cobblestoned centre and a lower-league football team founded by the brother of a World Cup winning coach. Put it this way, it didn't take much arm twisting to get me there. 

Just over a week until kick-off in Brazil and one day before the national squad plays its final pre-departure friendly, the domestic league resumes with the quarter finals of the second-tier promotion play-offs.  Plaza Colonia - tenth of fourteen clubs in the regular season but still chasing their first top-flight place since 2005 - host Deportivo Maldonado, who finished the 26-game league campaign seven places and six points better off.

Better off in other ways, too.  Since 2011 Maldonado - average crowd roughly 218 -  have earned over $14 million trading players to European clubs.  Willian José, winner of an U20 World Cup with Brazil and a Copa Sudamerica at Sao Paulo, moved from Maldonado to Real Madrid, his national teammate Alex Sandro to Porto and Paraguay's Marcelo Estigarribia to Juventus on a season long loan.  Although none of the three had ever turned out for the Uruguayan club, their status as Maldonado players meant the sales tax dropped by as much as 75% compared to trading directly out of Brazil or Argentina.  "Damaging tax avoidance," the Argentinian authorities call it.  Deportivo operates “in exactly the same way as any professionally run football club,” counters Malcolm Caine, a British businessman who bought out the previously member-owned organisation in 2010 together with Graham Shear, a London-based lawyer who represented Kia Joorabchian's MSI group during the inquiry into Carlos Tevez's move to West Ham. “Our investment includes infrastructure, managerial, technical know-how, medical and other facilities as well as player development, training and player transfers,” Caine told Bloomberg by email.   Uruguay's 'ghost deals' -  over $70 million in transfer fees were routed through nine clubs between 2000 and 2011 - have now attracted FIFA's attention, with four Argentinian sides fined in March for their part in trades with Montevideo's Atletica Sud America "that were not of a sporting nature", while the Uruguayan government raised the tax on player transfers from 4 to 12.5% last year in an attempt to curb the flow of registrations through its domestic league.

 Things are much lower key at the ground itself, with no more than a couple of hundred supporters and a two-man press team inside by the time the sides emerge on to the pitch.  The away side limber up by doing shuttle runs between their team coach and the river, a pair of riot policemen greeting acquintances with kisses as they don shields and helmets nearby.  The home fans drink mate and dress in wooly hats and hoods despite it being the kind of day which would see English supporters don shorts and t-shirts and go topless before half time.  The loudest handful group together behind the goal accompanied by two drums, four flags and a stray dog.

The opening half drones by in a hail of aerial balls and whistles, the fussy refereeing soon attracting the ire of everyone in the crowd.  Moldonado have a couple of set pieces and an offside header turned around a post; Plaza run a lot but get no closer to a goal than the corner flag.  Long before the interval the substitutes are lined up, swapping gossip and high kicking to the right of the bench.

The second forty-five starts with a firecracker and an elderly coach setting off at Fun Run pace to retrieve a lost ball.  He's only halfway back when Moldonado break quickly, 2013 Peruvian league title winner Miguel Ximenez enticing the keeper away from goal before smashing into the corner. "Gol!" comes the throaty roar from the visitors' section. "Get moving," a home fan screams at the substitutes.  Plaza make a double switch, the crowd swells by a dozen or so as a neighbouring school empties, but the linesman's flag denies them twice as Moldonado hold out for a comfortable win. Four days later, Plaza score twice in the away leg to progress to a semi-final with Rampla Juniors.  "An inexplicable defeat," the loser's website says.  It's a word which defines much about Deportivo Moldonado. 

Date: June 3rd 2014
Admission: 150 Uruguayan pesos (under £5)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Football Art: On the Streets of Sao Paulo

Every four years, from around a week before the World Cup gets underway, the people of Rua Fradique Coutinho begin to paint their street.

A sticker album provides the template for the adults to chalk outlines across the road.  The Brazil flag is in the centre, filling both lanes.  On one side is Fuleco, the colourful armadillo chosen as the competition mascot, and the badge of the Brazilian Football Federation.  To the other is the tournament emblem and flags of all 32 competing nations.  "It's the World Cup so it's only right to include everyone," one resident tells me.

The artwork is a community enterprise. "We let the kids paint when they're over 5," says a man in a Brazil shirt directing cars around the top of the national flag.  "It's how we all started.  Now the adults do the outlines and keep everything safe from traffic."  The murals are finished one side of the road at a time, two plastic chairs tied with string controlling movement on this busy Vila Madalena street. Drivers manoeuvre respectfully around the paintings, many blowing horns and shouting encouragement to the children working on the ground.  Other residents paint kerbstones and walls, string yellow and green bunting between trees or sit looking on from an open-front bar with a TV screen showing rolling football news and World Cup warm-up matches.  "You'll see these all over Sao Paulo's poorer neighbourhoods," says photographer and local fixer Caio Vilela. "When I was their age we used to paint on any communal wall we could find.  You really felt the World Cup was on its way."

On a neighbouring street we find Brazil flags strung across gates and car bonnets above a giant Fuleco image.  Families congregate outside, streetlights illuminating  the murals in what has become one of Sao Paulo's most fashionable locations.  "This is the only place in Brazil I've seen street signs warning cars to slow down because children are playing football," Vilela remarks.  "It's a remnant of the old Vila Madalena.  Nowadays you have the upper middle classes in high rise buildings, restaurants, film companies and art workshops.  That's why there's always so much paint around."

"This is what the tournament should be about," observes Spirit of Football's Andrew Aris as artists young and old break off work to pass around a ball that's travelled through 25 countries and over 17,000 hands on its way from Battersea Park, London, the cradle of modern football, to the streets of the country that, more than any other, is the beating heart of the game. "But the people who make football come far behind the chance to make money nowadays.  Money that could have been spent on them but that they'll never see."  On cracked tarmac, out of sight of FIFA's preferential lanes, unfinished stadia, exclusion zones and five-star hotels, the essence of the game endures where it began and always remained: on an open patch of ground, with shared endeavour and that simple, instinctive pleasure - irrspective of gender, nationality, class, caste, creed, colour, age, intellect or ability - that humans derive from moving a ball between feet.

Brazilian street football and neighbourhood art remains free in Sao Paulo and hundreds of other host cities throughout the FIFA World Cup.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Ground 233: Estadio Centenario, Montevideo

The streets of Montevideo were unusually quiet on the afternoon of July 30th 1930.  An official attendance of 93,000 was recorded inside the city's Estadio Centenario for the first World Cup final, although the stadium was already full two hours before kick off and thousands more travelling supporters either arrived late or missed the game altogether due to fog and congestion at the port.

The Centenario - the name a nod to the hundred years since Uruguay's first constitution - had been purpose built for the tournament in nine months, it's rain-delayed opening meaning eight of the competition's eighteen fixtures - and all of the opening three - were played at the nearby Parque Central, home of Nacional, and Penarol's Estadio Pocitos, which was demolished a decade later.   Built on old grazing land and designed by Juan Antonio Scasso, two of the Centenario's tribunes, Amsterdam and Columbes, were named after the cities where Uruguay's footballers had earned Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928.  Thirteen countries had agreed to take part in FIFA's new competition, three of the four European entrants - Belgium, Romania and France - travelling for a fortnight on the same ship, picking up the Brazil team on the way, and welcomed by 10,000 Uruguyans when they finally arrived.  In the absence of rivals England, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain,  Uruguay and neighbours Argentina - beaten finalists after a replay in the 1928 Olympics - were favourites to lift the Goddess of Victory trophy.

And now here they both were in the final itself, the Argentineans departing Buenos Aires to cries of 'Victory or Death!'  Pablo Dorado put the hosts ahead, Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stabile reversing the advantage before half time.  Uruguay, thought a local newspaper, "suffered a thousand deaths" before Pedro Cea's 57th minute equaliser. Santos Iriarte smashed in from 25 yards nine minutes later, and Hector Castro - left with only one hand after a childhood accident with an electric saw - headed a fourth from Dorado's cross.  Back in Buenos Aires women carrying Uruguayan flags were stoned and the country's consulate was attacked, mounted police discharging revolvers as they fought to drive the protesters back.

Tonight's game promised to be a more sedate affair, Northern Ireland the visitors in a friendly arranged as one of two World Cup warm-up matches before La Celeste sets off for Brazil.  The Centenario's elliptical stands are almost full, its famous 98-metre Art Deco tower glittering under floodlights.  Despite showing signs of its age - open to the elements, the bucket seats are dirt-spattered, cracked or ripped out entirely leaving many in the crowd sitting on stone steps while the executive boxes are more reminiscent of Kenilworth Road than Wembley - the stadium oozes character and scale, the view from the back of the Tribuna Amsterdam soliciting a genuine "Wow" as I make it to the top of the steps. From the back wall - so low you can bend at the waist and hang over the top of the stadium - thousands are still snaking across the dirt ground waiting to get inside.

Drums rat-a-tat, trumpets flourish and a dance band sambas in a corner, the colours reflected in a moat separating the supporters from the pitch.  The crowd respectfully claps the end of God Save the Queen, playfully whistles the scoreboard display of the visiting side then roars expectantly as Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani get proceedings underway.  The pitch, slicked by a few hours' drizzle, suits Uruguay's fast interplay but the Irish dig in and press the halfway line, restricting space and heralding the first attempts at a Mexican wave a mere 15 minutes into the game.  The only noise - abuse for the referee excepted - comes from vendors touting churros, crisps and Coca Cola.

Uruguay - unofficial world champions since defeating old rivals Argentina in October - 
finally rouse the crowd on half an hour, Cavani and then Forlan drawing a stunning double stop from Roy Carroll, who ends up clattering a post while turning the second shot away for a corner. Forlan's replaced at the end of an underwhelming forty-five minutes, Espanyol's Christian Stuani the replacement as Oscar Tabarez tries out alternatives to the injured Luis Suarez.  It's the substitute who finally breaks the deadlock, Cristian Rodriguez's slaloming run opening up space for Cavani, whose dinked pass finds Stuani in front of goal.  "Uruguay, Uruguay," the Amsterdam belts out.  It's a sound, form, luck and Luis Suarez's fitness permitting, which might yet rumble all the way across Brazil.

Anticipation is bubbling on the streets of Montevideo, with national flags replacing election posters in shop windows on the Avenida 18 de Julio.  "People are massively excited," UK ambassador Ben Lyster-Binns tells me.  "There's a huge amount of affection for English football here, especially with Suarez doing so well at Liverpool.  The dream scenario is that we both go through, though if England win nobody will want to speak to me for at least a week."  "There are many obstacles in our way," captain Diego Lugano had told a pre-match press conference, "but nothing can take away our dreams."

Date:  Friday 30th May 2014
Admission:  150UYU (about £4.60)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Football and Odessa

"In 1888, great events began to take place in my life: I was sent off to Odessa" (Leon Trotsky)

“There is magic even in the name,” Jonathan Wilson wrote in Behind the Iron Curtain.  “Nowhere in the world has air like Odessa,” Sergei Shmatovalenko – a seven-time league champion with Dynamo Kiev – recalled of his childhood in the Black Sea port city.  Shmatovalenko, like  1986 Ballon d’Or winner Igor Belanov, Ukraine and Russia international  Ilya Tsymbalar, the USSR midfielder Leonid Buryak and 74-time capped former Leverkusen and Liverpool striker Andriy Voronin, progressed from the city’s youth academies to acclaim around the world.   Viktor Propopenko - who took Shakhtar Donetsk into the Champions League and became the first coach of the Ukrainian national team – Euro ’88 runner-up Viktor Pasulko, Nikolai Morozov and the legendary Valeriy Lobanovskiy each has their own Odessa connections, passing through the blue-and-black shirted ranks of Chernomorets, the city’s dominant club side and winners of two Ukrainian and one USSR Federation Cups.  “Not only the pearl of the Black Sea but also the footballing centre of Ukraine,” the mayor’s office boldly states.

                                    Isaac Babel, born in Odessa in 1894, executed 1940.

As with almost everything of substance in Odessa, football emerged from the port.  British sailors started playing the game in the dockyards of the Russian Empire – “Football is an English sport with a big ball.  Usually it is played by people with solid muscles and strong legs – a weak one would only be an onlooker in such a mess,” a St Petersburg-based periodical had observed in the late 1860s - long before a group of traders and workers from the Indo-European Telegraph Company founded the Odessa British Athletic Club in 1878.  As the first team in the whole of Tsarist Russia – St Petersburg Football Club wasn’t formally established until the following year - Odessa’s footballing pioneers were initially restricted to games against visiting British crews or fellow  telegraph workers based across the border in Romania.  In 1884, the year Ukraine’s first officially recorded football match took place in Austrian-ruled Lviv, Odessa’s expatriate players laid out the country’s only permanent pitch off the fashionable Frantsuz'kyi Bulvar (French Boulevard).  By the turn of the century local players such as the remarkable Sergei Utochkin – a multi-talented sportsman and aviator - were being invited to participate, though it wasn’t until 1910 that a city-wide championship was arranged.  The all-conquering British were joined by the recently-formed Ukrainian sides Odessa United Sport Club, Sporting Club and Sheremetievskiy Sport Club.  Sheremetievskiy opened the tournament on March 5th 1911 with a 3-0 win over Odessa United, the foreigners seeing off Sporting 3-1 in the second game.   Two years later a combined Odessa side featuring “five Englishmen, four Russians and two Jewish members” lifted the All-Russian Championship by defeating St Petersburg 4-2 in front of 4,000 spectators at the French Boulevard ground only to be – dubiously in the eyes of  those from the host city - stripped of their title for breaching competition rules on the permitted number of foreign players.

Names such as Carr, Perkins, Jones and Jacobs featured prominently in the early years of Odessan football – Ernest Jacobs scoring twice in the victory over St Petersburg - but the expatriates’ hegemony would soon wane.  City champions in the competition’s first two seasons, OBAC were beaten by Sheremetievskiy in 1913 and could thereafter manage no better than third place before disbanding four years later.   Capped once for Russia, Grigoriy Bogemskiy had played and scored in the 1913 Odessa side and assisted Sporting Club to the first of two city titles the following year.  “He had rather a flabby appearance,” the writer Yuri Olesha recalled, “but the sight of Bogemskiy dribbling upfield was one of the most spectacular sights of my childhood.”  

Sergei Utochkin, one of Odessa's footballing pioneers.
Revolution, civil war and the Soviet Union’s early international isolation forced Bogemskiy abroad – he would play in Bulgaria and win a Czechoslovak title with Viktoria Žižkov – and saw football begin to serve an explicitly political purpose.  The local secret police founded Sparta Odessa in 1923, while the city representative side were second only to Kharkov – the national capital while Kiev remained tainted by association with the fleeting Ukrainian People’s Republic – in three of the first four Ukrainian SSR championships.  Sparta became Dynamo in 1926, were the first recorded opponents of Dynamo Kiev (a 2-2 draw on June 17th 1928) and lifted their first city championship in 1933 as burgeoning crowds led to the construction of two new areas.  The Pischevik, named after the food workers’ union, held its first game in 1927; the following year a 10,000-capacity stadium was completed in time to mark the tenth anniversary of the founding of Komsomol, the Communist Party’s youth wing.   The Pischevik was renamed when it became the home ground of SKA Odessa, the club side of the Red Army’s Odessa Military District, who were founded shortly after the city’s liberation from Romanian occupation in 1944.   The Komsomol underwent a name change of its own, the three-sided Spartak Stadium nowadays hosting rugby, lower-league football and, for almost three years prior to November 2011, the city’s Ukrainian Premier League side, Chernomorets Odessa.  

Chernomorets were founded as Dynamo Odessa on March 26th 1936, the year the first all-Soviet league competition took place.  The original Dynamo had already folded, the local authorities instead drawing the city’s best footballers together at a new stadium which had recently been constructed on land initially set aside for a boating lake in Shevchenko Park.  Named after Stanislav Kosior, general secretary of the Ukrainian SSR until he was purged in 1939, it held 22,000 spectators and was constructed in the classic Soviet elliptical roofless-bowl-with-running-track design.  “You cannot imagine a more wonderful spectacle,” Yury Olesha eulogised.  “Above the sea, the stadium is so much like a dream.”  With the team promoted to Group A of the Soviet League in 1938, the ground was soon hosting the likes of Spartak Moscow and the Dynamos of Kiev and Tblisi, although a disastrous second season in which Odessa were trounced 8-0 by champions Spartak and lost 6-0 at home to Dynamo Moscow, meant Chernomorets finished bottom of the fourteen-team top league and were relegated back to the second-tier.   The playing staff was subsequently transferred to another club, the merged sides  christened Spartak Odessa, and the team placed straight back in the top-flight only for the whole league to be suspended ten games into the season on June 24th 1941. 

Post-war Odessa was a markedly different place.  Under Romanian occupation for 907 days from October 1941 to April 1944, only 200,000 people - roughly a third of its pre-war population – remained in the city. The 1926 Soviet census had counted 158,000 Jews resident in Odessa.  In November 1944, military officials calculated the figure was a mere 48. In his memoirs, the film director Sergei Eisenstein reflected on the possible fate of the baby whose bouncing pram had featured in the most famous scene of his Battleship Potemkin.  “What is he doing?  Did he defend Odessa as a young man?  Or was he driven abroad into slavery?  Does he now rejoice that Odessa is a liberated and resurrected town? Or is he lying in a mass grave, somewhere far away?”  Like everything else the city's football teams took time to recover, SKA’s run to the Soviet Cup semi-finals in 1959-60 heralding the start of a decade in which both they and Chernomorets (semi-finalists themselves in 1965-66) took part in the Soviet Top League. The 1970s saw SKA relocated to Tiraspol in the Moldovan SSR and Chernomorets take third place in the Soviet-wide league table, behind only Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow – an event which is still widely ranked  as the high point of Odessa’s footballing history.   

 Playing table football during the city's April 1st celebrations

Last ever holders of the USSR Federation Cup (a post-season tournament roughly comparable  to England’s League Cup) in 1990,  Chernomorets were placed alongside SKA in the newly-organised Ukrainian Premier League two seasons later. Chernomorets – coached by Viktor Propopenko and with CIS, Ukraine and Russia-capped Yuriy Nikiforov marshalling their defence - lifted the first Ukrainian Cup through an extra-time Ilya Tsymbalar goal against Metalist Kharkiv, twice finished league runners-up and won the Cup again in 1994, defeating Tavriya Simferopol on penalties in the final.  SKA folded in 1999, their name briefly resurrected in the 2012-13 Second Division; Chernomorets, three times relegated, had recovered to finish fifth in the UPL, lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian Cup Final and thereby qualified for this season’s Europa League, where they navigated a group including PSV Eindhoven and Dinamo Zagreb before falling 1-0 on aggregate to Lyon in the round of 32.  

The winter break saw five foreign players depart the redeveloped Chernomorets Stadium. “Given the extremely difficult socio-political situation in Ukraine and Odessa….we were forced to meet the persistent requests of foreign players and their families who are extremely concerned for their safety,” the club’s website reported.  With owner Leonid Klimov – a fireman turned banking and real estate magnate – a parliamentary deputy and prominent supporter of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, the future funding of the club remains uncertain, leaving manager Roman Grigorchuk reported to be looking for a new job.  The recent unrest in the city - Chernomorets and Metalist Kharkiv ultras implicated in the running street battles with pro-Russian demonstators which culminated in 48 deaths after Molotov cocktails set a building ablaze -  saw the scheduled home fixture with Karpaty Lviv played instead at the Obolon Stadium in Kyiv, 3,200 fans witnessing the goalless draw which left Chernomorets - among the early season pacesetters - having to settle for another fifth-placed finish.  For the city’s football fans setbacks are nothing new.  “Odessa,” thought the US academic Charles King, ”disappoints as much as it inspires.”

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Roof are Going Up: Willington AFC 0 Jarrow Roofing 3 (McBryde (2) and Myers)

 Danny Carson facing Willington walls.

 Home spectators on the touchline

 Team news and the tea hut hatch

 Assistant manager Ian Davison ponders a Roofing substitution

 Waiting for the whistle.

 Goalmouth scramble aftermath.

Where there's a will: Richie McLoughlin on the pitch

And the promotion celebrations begin...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Jarrow Roofing: The Handmade Football Club

This is the club that Richie McLoughlin built, the ground he assembled, the players he trained.   Offered an overgrown field and old, tarmacked car park on condition they wouldn't cost the owners a penny to develop,  McLoughlin used spare time and materials to create a handmade, homespun venue fit for Northern League football and beyond.  Just 18 years after the team he founded first entered the South Tyne Senior League,  1,100 spectators crammed into the Boldon CA Sports Ground for a game that could have taken Jarrow Roofing all the way to Wembley.

"I went and got some machinery, cadged wagons and diggers and made a start," he recollected to the Northern League magazine. "Wherever I went, I'd collect some more gear. The floodlight pylons were a bit of a problem but Brian Marshall (the club president) worked at the pit, so we were all right when it closed. We've just pieced everything together."  The Observer, visiting for an FA Cup preliminary round tie in September 2007, found him working as "coach, chairman, owner, scout, secretary, treasurer, groundsman and chief sponsor", their headline lauding "Jarrow's mini-dynamo."  The intervening years have seen him slow down a bit - these days he's no longer secretary.

He's still got his eye for a player, David Carson going from a Roofer last May to a Blackburn Rovers contract in March.   The 18 year old is just one of many professional footballers to pull on the blue-and-yellow shirt.  Ex-Sunderland first-teamers Kevin Arnott, Tony Cullen and Craig Russell - a £1 million signing for Manchester City - have all later played for or alongside McLoughlin.  So too Wes Saunders - brought up in neighbouring East Boldon, promoted together with Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle at Newcastle United and later Paul Gascoigne's agent and manager of Torquay - and Paul Robinson, the striker Ruud Gullit preferred to Shearer and Duncan Ferguson in his valedictory gesture as manager at St James' Park.  Three-time FA Vase winner Paul Chow was a youthful member of the forward line when Roofing made the semi-final of the same competition in 2005, while McLoughlin himself - manager since the club was founded in 1987 - has a claim to be the oldest man to play an FA Cup tie, lasting the full 90 - in his late, late 40s - during a preliminary round game against Bootle in 1999.

"I'm here first thing in the morning, go to work and then land back at the ground," Richie said in an interview to mark the club's 25th anniversary in 2011-12. "I can't tell you how much time I spend here, and I'd better not tell you how much money."

Jarrow Roofing's dynamo just keeps powering on. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Ground 232: Teesdale Park, Thornaby FC

Ruled by Vikings, razed by Normans, Thornaby's been namechecked by Tennyson and home to aviators, the actor Richard Griffiths - later Harry Potter's priggish and Withnail's lovelorn, predatory uncle - and an industrial behemoth that shipped bridges and blast furnaces all over the world.  It was here in 1987 that Margaret Thatcher strolled in heels for the cameras across concrete, dead weeds and the detritus of industry.  "The walk in the wildnerness," they called it, the prime minister recoiling from the litter-strewn, foul-smelling riverbank and later accosted by an unemployed man with 1,000 failed job applications who she blithely told to "retrain."

The abandoned factory land included a sports ground used by a Northern League football team which was repeatedly laid waste in the decades that followed Thatcher's latter-day harrying of the north. Vandals smashed, graffitied and torched buildings,  used the pitch as a dumping ground, stole metal touchline barriers and  drove over every single inch of the playing surface. "When I first came here the ground was like a bombsite," team manager and acting club secretary Ray Morton told Northern Ventures Northern Gains in March 2011.  Two months later he received a Northern League award for his work towards saving a team that had been first demoted and then threatened with expulsion due to the constant attacks on their ground.  "The great survivors of the Northern League," one visitor called them.

Recent years have seen Thornaby lose a cup final but win accolades off the pitch, using grants, lottery cash, donations and thousands of volunteer labour hours  to impressively spruce upTeesdale Park. Tucked between golf and cricket clubs, a cemetery, and a retail park where Stockton Racecourse once stood,  there are now fitness and nature trails, a clubhouse,  picnic area, teen shelter, junior football academy and even plans for a forest school. "There was a definite need to identify with the local community in a more effective way," the club's matchday programme history modestly explains. The local McDonald's sponsors the ground, while Crimestoppers and Teesside's evening paper supply perimeter hoardings.  A smart new covered seating block remembers Peter Morris, the long-serving secretary who collapsed after refereeing a five-a-side game in 2010, the ground completed by a combination of hard standing, grass banking, a pair of bus shelters, a terrace with corrugated roof and tarpaulin back, and open-air seats, in blue and red, next to an entrance that once needed a full-time guard to keep it secure.

I drive down the A19 with Jarrow Roofing boss Richie McLoughlin, media manager Andy Hudson and Justin Perry, once of Sunderland, Cardiff City, Barry Town and Rhyl.   The 41-year-old striker has played in the Champions League and UEFA Cup and was a mainstay of Roofing's run to the Vase semi-final in 2004-05, but is nowadays more often among the substitutes. "Full game today?"  McLoughlin teases. "I hope not," he laughs.   Pre-season promotion favourites,  the Roofers have stuttered of late with successive defeats to Washington and West Allotment Celtic before a win over South Shields which left McLoughlin's side two points short of Seaham Red Star wth two games in hand and four left to play. "Three more wins does it," assistant-manager Ian Davison says.

An impeccably observed minute's silence for the 96 victims of Hillsborough precedes a 3.07 kick-off,  spectators bowing heads and players shivering in semi-circles as a cold wind whips across the pitch. Every ball and bit of space is contested, the home side edging the early stages but Roofing's Stuart Nicholson - a former England Under-19 and West Bromwich Albion player in his final game for the club before emigrating to Australia - lofts over after a three-man move also involving skipper Dan Kirkup and Corey Barnes, a 16-year-old debutant for Darlington when they were still in the Football League.  Thornaby's Curtis Edwards loses control off his knee with only Andy Hunter to beat, Barnes clearing off the Roofing goal-line moments later as the Teessiders surge forward. "We only need one goal," a Thornaby fan says as the teams clatter off at half-time.

Davison goes off for forward Stephen Young,  Shaun Heads switching to left-back as McLoughlin tries to counter a strong Thornaby opening to the half.  "We're winning nowt, man.  We've got to start winning something," screams Andy Hunter.  The home side tire, Michael Duff clinging on with Roofing's 27-goal striker Andy Appelby poised for the rebound; a Nicholson cross is deflected into Duff's arms and then Danny Carson clears upfield, Appleby draws the goalkeeper and lifts the ball high into the net.  Roofing keep pushing, Young missing a glorious chance to kill the game before an Anth Myers pass is cut out, Thornaby break through tackles and Ged Livingston levels the scores.  In a frantic last few minutes, the reinvigorated home side have a penalty appeal turned away, the referee exiting to shouts of "Absolute rubbish" as a disconsolate Roofing walk silently off.  "It's still there for us," McLoughlin says, but with Seaham beating Ryton those three wins seem just a bit further away.

Admission:  £5
Date: Saturday April 12th 2014