Rutherford AFC, “the famous football club from Newcastle” (or, more accurately nowadays, Lobley Hill). Formed, as Science and Art FC, in 1878 by schoolmasters from the Rutherford College of Technology (now the University of Northumbria), founder members of the Northumberland FA and first club of the legendary Colin Veitch, England international, FA Cup and League title winner, devisor of an offside trap that became so successful it necessitated a change in the law, the first man to use the humble chalkboard for pre-match tactical planning and, as a result, the most decorated Newcastle United captain of all-time. Playwright, musician, socialist and friend of George Bernard Shaw, “Veitch’s name,” began his obituary in The Guardian, “was synonymous with honesty and good fellowship.”
It’s 115 years since Rutherford took on Newcastle United ‘A’ in the Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final which would turn out to be their 17-year-old captain’s last appearance in red and black stripes, but they remain one of the largest senior football clubs in the north east of England, with different men’s teams, two women’s sides and line-ups at ten different ages playing in the Gateshead Youth League. Each player contributes an annual membership fee which, along with cash with sponsors, helps keep the club afloat.
The Farnacres Ground is in dip just a few short metres from the A1 road and the Team Valley Trading Estate, hidden by trees, a dodgy postcode and the continuing inadequacies of the Orange mobile phone signal. When we arrive, five minutes after the 11 o’clock kick-off, a man, the dog from the Dulux Paint commercial and two children are exiting through an open gate, reducing the crowd to nine. The game begins as a war of attrition fought over and above the middle of the pitch, “Howay lads, get it doon and play,” shouts a Rutherford player as he watches a high ball disappear down the wing. The home side, with one of Ryton’s Northern League Day goalscorers Robbie Frame playing on the left of midfield, are the first to threaten, striking the base of the post midway through the half. “It’s coming, lads. Just a bit of luck,” shouts manager Danny Hall, an ex-FA Youth Cup winner with Manchester United and the man who led the Swifts to last year’s First Division title. But it’s Ashington Colliers, the reserve eleven of Northern League side Ashington AFC, who take the lead, Craig Knox turning away a shot only to see the rebound planted firmly between defenders as they scramble to cover the line. “They’ve only had one chance,” Knox complains.
They've barely had another one when Rutherford deservedly pull level just before the break, midfielder Chris Douglas spinning on the edge of the area and clipping the ball inside the keeper’s right hand post. “Cracking goal that, Dougie,” a dozen voices shout all at once. Ashington are on the back foot and when a midfielder accidentally runs the ball out for a throw-in he prods it away while he recovers his position. “Get on with it, man,” the referee says, jeeringly. “What’s the matter with you?”
The second half starts just as niggly, though the referee keeps the game flowing by shouting “Get on with it!” whenever a player appeals for a foul. “You just play football and shut it,” he tells a Colliers midfielder who’s disputing a throw-in. Gradually, though, with James Harmison, ex-Bedlington Terrier and brother of England cricketer Steve, an imposing presence at the centre of defence, the away team begin to press forward, their number nine blazing wide with a first-time volley, scuffing a shot over and steering the ball the wrong side of the post before he finally scores with a glancing header direct from a corner. “About time, Davy,” the goalkeeper shouts up the pitch. “How slow are we today?” a Rutherford defender asks. “It’s the exact same ball everytime.” We’re into the dying minutes before Rutherford finally exert some pressure of their own, Frame hitting the keeper square in the face before Douglas shoots low into the corner of the net. With third-bottom Murton beating Percy Main, it's a vital point for the home side. Nec Sorte Nec Fato (Neither By Chance Nor Fate), as the Rutherford motto puts it.
The two teams climb the steep bank to the clubhouse bar and we set off to see Jarrow Roofing at home to Whitley Bay.
Date: 25th April 2011