Sunday, 3 April 2011

Ground 159: Grounsell Park, Heaton Stannington

Grounsell Park is one of Newcastle’s less well-known football grounds, tucked behind a chip shop, delicatessen and a Cantonese takeaway in a trendy student suburb of the city’s east end. It’s the quarter final of the George Dobbins League Cup, the visitors are Percy Main Amateurs, and after January’s rain aborted trip, it's my second attempt to see Heaton Stannington play at home.

On paper the two teams are about as evenly matched as it’s possible to get: seventh and eighth in the Northern Football Alliance Premier Division, with only two points and three goals keeping them apart. The visitors – formed in 1919 by Great War veterans – have the longer history, Heaton - founded around the same time Hitler was marching into Poland two decades later – the slight edge on the pitch, having returned from Percy Main with a 2-1 victory back at the start of the season. Encounters between the two sides haven’t always been friendly. Five years ago a twenty-one man brawl over a disputed throw-in led to the abandonment of a goalless league game with just a handful of the ninety minutes left to play.

Never the most successful club on the pitch, Heaton nevertheless managed seven seasons in the Northern League either side of the Second World War, disbanding after a 12th-placed finish in 1952. The club reformed in the late-1970s and played out five uneventful seasons in the Wearside League before joining the Northern Football Alliance in 1986. Along the way, they made it through fourteen FA Cup ties and as far as the third round of the 1974-5 FA Vase, losing 2-0 in a replay to Wallsend Town. Last promoted to the Northern Alliance Premier in 2004, their best effort in recent years was finishing fourth behind Team Northumbria two seasons later.

Except for the bobbles on the pitch, Heaton’s facilities are positively salubrious for this level of football, with a metal entrance gate, a two-storey clubhouse, and parking spaces and picnic benches facing on to the pitch. The dugouts are separated by the width of the halfway line, and a grassy bank slopes up towards wooden fences and back garden washing lines on the far side of the ground.

With the wind gusting at their backs, Percy Main have the better of the early play but lack composure in front of goal. Heaton have a header brilliantly tipped over the bar and another barely scrambled away for a corner. The visitors, with Pierre-luc Coiffait’s throw-ins inducing bouts of mild panic in the Heaton defence, have a goal disallowed for a push before the break, but it’s the home side who eventually put the ball in the net ten minutes into the second half, a long punt upfield hooked past Rob Rodgerson before he can scramble off his line. It’s two shortly afterwards – if I was a tabloid journalist I’d be shoehorning in a Stannington turn up the Heat reference right about now - the ball bobbling around the edge of the area before it’s dispatched low into the corner. When a third goal follows soon after the hour mark, the game’s as good as over. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my digestive process, which is still suffering as a result of the Kilimanjaro-sized portion of chips I’ve been working my way through ever since half-time.

Main pull a goal back from a late penalty but with ten more matches to play this month and a Northumberland Senior Benevolent Bowl final to come against Seaton Delaval Amateurs, their disappointment is tempered with relief at having one fewer game to schedule between now and the end of the season. Heaton march on to a last-four game meeting with Whitley Bay ‘A’, Blyth Town or Ashington Colliers awaiting the winners in the final.

Admission: Free
Date: 2nd April 2011

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