With my plans to see Boldon Villa scuppered by the overnight theft of 185 metres of copper floodlight cables from under the side of their pitch, it's back to the Northern Football Alliance and the east end of Newcastle, where Heaton Stannington are hosting Carlisle's Harraby Catholic Club in what's meant to be a two o'clock kick-off at Grounsell Park.
Newcastle are at home to Spurs and the metro's crowded with Saturday afternoon shoppers, Chinese students dragging suitcases to the railway station, and middle-aged men in blue jeans, knitted hats and black and white scarves. Disconnected sentences rise above the intermingled talk. "Try and relax, forget about work," "It starts at three o'clock," "Don't let me forget we need to go to Fenwick's," "What price is Bale to score the first goal?" "They've got some lovely stuff in Next," "Where are we getting off? Haymarket?" By Ilford Road, where there are cars parked on both sides of the road, allotments, bay-windowed houses and a yellow sign pointing 'To Local Shops', the carriage is almost empty.
I cut across the top of Jesmond Dene, past a real tennis club and what's left of a public school, coming out by the brown brick and pebbledash buildings at the Freeman Hospital. A left turn at a roundabout, by an empty duck pond and a public toilet, takes me on to Newton Road, where I'm passed by a jogger, panting up the hill. There's a church and a building site before the ground itself, tucked behind a garage, a chip shop and a Cantonese takeaway. Two elderly men stand just inside the entrance gate, bare-headed and wearing the kind of clothing you see advertised towards the back of a tabloid TV listings magazine. "Is it on, like?" one asks. "There's no cars here, mind." "Not a peep from the dressing room," says the other. "Ah divvent kna," says a third, slightly younger, coming out of the clubhouse door, "I've just been deein' some work inside but I would've thought they would've been here by now." "Last night's Chronicle said it was on," says the first man, trailing off into thought. "I'll have to gan and watch the Toon now, I suppose." "You know what it's like at this level," I say, "a little bit of rain..." "Aye, to be honest with yer, mate," he says, getting into his car, "this pitch is bloody knackered."
I make it back to the station in a quarter of an hour, edge on to the train, and am home in time to see Gareth Bale go off injured and Fabrizio Coloccini score the game's first goal, chesting the ball down and slamming it in off the fingers of Cudicini's left hand. You'd have got a decent price on that happening at half past one.