Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ground 160: Benson Park, Gosforth Bohemians

You wouldn’t have thought there’d much of a tradition of non-conformist behaviour in the Newcastle suburb which gave the world Alan Shearer, Greggs the Baker and Lord Justice Taylor. But in 1894, in the front room of a Georgian townhouse in the city’s Leazes Terrace, Gosforth Bohemians Football Club were officially formed by Messers Reid, Anderson, Hope, Frain and Hill. The meeting took place in the shadow of St James’ Park, where Newcastle United were taking part in only their second season in the Football League. Many of the street’s other residents were unhappy at the construction of a small stand on the site and had threatened legal action over the “intolerable nuisance” of having a football club on their doorstep.

In the half century which followed Newcastle United were four times English champions, FA Cup winners on three occasions and beaten finalists on another four. Bohemians moved around cricket pitches and public parks before finally securing a 99-year lease on a ground of their own, Polwarth Park, in 1951, the year their illustrious neighbours won the first of three FA Cups in just four years. A pavilion was erected ten years later and the ground renamed Benson Park in honour of their club secretary and benefactor.

Eighty years after Bohemians were born, Garnett FC were formed in another Leazes Terrace meeting. The Grade I-listed street, designed by Thomas Oliver in 1829, was by now given over to student accommodation and Garnett took their first steps in local football in Newcastle University’s Saturday Inter-Mural League. By the mid-1980s, the team had begun its ascent through the university divisions, winning successive promotions, changing their club colours and adopting the motto ‘'fortissimi pratinonigri' or ‘the mighty green and black’. Before the century was out Garnett had won the Corinthian League by a margin of eleven points and were one of the largest football clubs in north-east England with eight teams and eighty-one players. The only thing they lacked was a ground of their own.

By another of those coincidences that bind football teams together, Bohemians now found themselves in the opposite predicament, only three years after winning the Northern Alliance First Division title. Garnett provided the players, Gosforth the pitch and in 2002 the newly-formed Garnett Bohemian F.C started life with seven teams and the goal of promoting “the amateur sport of Association Football in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and community participation in the same.”

In their short joint history, Garnett Bohemian have consistently finished midtable in the Northern Alliance’s middle division. This season, with bad weather restricting them to just twelve matches, they’re in a more precarious league position, three points and nine games behind fourth from bottom North Shields Athletic. The visiting Newcastle East End side are comfortable in seventh, one place ahead of a Newcastle University team I’d seen them lose 1-0 to at the turn of the year.

After the quarter hour slog along the Great North Road from Regents Centre Metro Station, I make it through the entrance gate just as the game gets underway. East End are kicking into the sun, a chest-high metal fence encircles the pitch and there are two tennis courts and a clubhouse behind the goal the home side are attacking. Despite some early pressure from Garnett, it’s East End who score the game’s opening goal, a daisy cutter from the left touchline finding a forward completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, leaving him to redirect the ball past the helpless home goalkeeper. Bohemians respond with a few shots off the tennis club fence before smacking a dipping effort against the East End crossbar. But just before the half hour the visitors break upfield and add a second from much closer range. “This is too easy,” two different voices complain simultaneously. “We’ve gotta buck our ideas up here, man.” They don’t, and it’s three before the break when a crossfield ball drops Xavi-like out of the sky straight on to the number 10’s right boot. “Bit more, lads, bit more,” shouts a Gosforth midfielder with admirable optimism as the referee blows his whistle and the two teams regroup on the touchline.

“Absolutely shocking all over the park,” is the opening line of the Garnett half-time team talk. “You’re trying to play forty-yard passes when there’s a ten-yard pass on. We’re not out of it, lads. Step it up and we can score four or five easy.” But though Bohemians improve after the break the manager’s mood is little better when I leave, with darkness falling and the visitors’ goalnet unruffled to the end.

Admission: Free
Date: 4th April 2011

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