Spennymoor United’s Icarian existence in the Northern Premier League ended ignominiously in April 2005, their wings clipped by a discarded cigarette. The fire which broke out at the Brewery Field ground’s uninsured social club in the early hours of Christmas Day 2003 precipitated a series of events which saw owner Benny Mottram depart, crowds dwindle, players go unpaid and the club’s expulsion from the League amid a controversy which saw three different sides claiming first place. Ten league titles, more than twice as many cups, FA Trophy semi-finalists, 2-1 winners at Ipswich Town in the second round of the FA Cup: so ended the 101-year history of Spennymoor United FC.
Enter Evenwood Town. Formed in 1931, twenty-seven years after the Moors first took to the pitch, the three-time Northern League champions had finished the season a lowly 16th place in Division Two. By far the smallest community still supporting a Northern League team, Evenwood’s committee, frustrated in their attempts to set up a community sports trust and with the problem of a dilapidated ground, announced their decision to fold the club. The Spennymoor Supporters’ Trust - in the process of forming a side of their own to compete in the Wearside League, a feeder to the Northern League – amalgamated with a group representing their defunct near-neighbours and, to the consternation of those who felt relegated Easington Colliery should have been given reprieved instead, took Evenwood’s place in Division Two under the new name of Spennymoor Town FC. “We’re delighted that Spennymoor will be returning to the Northern League. They will be a breath of fresh air for the Second Division and the town,” said Northern League Chairman Mike Amos. “In effect, Evenwood are moving ground, and then it’s a matter for Durham FA to approve the name change.”
The new team - playing in the Moors’ club colours of black and white stripes – returned to the vacant Brewery Field (Spennymoor’s home since 1904) in time for the start of the 2005-2006 season. After finishing eighth in their first year, they stormed to the title in their next, ex-Middlesbrough, Osasuna and Manchester City midfielder Jamie Pollock – who’d already led United to a Northern Premier League promotion in 2003 – overseeing a campaign in which the club went undefeated for six months and won their final seventeen games to clinch the title with a ten-point gap to runners-up Seaham Red Star. Although Pollock departed that summer – and a row with the council saw the club served with a twenty-eight day notice of eviction before club chairman Alan Courtney was able to negotiate a new 25-year lease – his assistant Jason Ainsley, an-ex United, Hartlepool and Durham City midfielder nicknamed ‘God’ by the Brewery Field fans, took over the reins. You can measure his success by the fact that Tuesday’s 6-1 win over West Allotment Celtic sealed the club’s second Northern League title in a row.
“Just like old times,” says Dave as we get into the car, his Whitley Bay scarf standing in for the black and white of Newcastle United as it flaps against the passenger window. Thankfully, the journey is nowhere near as long it was in the Premier League: we’re at the ground for two o’clock and straight into the bar, handily sited at the top of the impressive, all-seated main stand. “Best ground in the Northern League,” Andy reckons. A window looks out on the pitch while a framed photograph shows Ryan Giggs, Mark Robins, Jim Leighton and Gary Pallister lining up as part of a visiting Manchester United team, alongside the programme from Spennymoor Town’s first Northern League game and a shot of ‘Players and Committee, Season 1906-07’
It may be Spennymoor’s big day but visitors Whitley Bay arrive determined to spoil the fun. Eight days ahead of their third successive FA Vase Final, the Bay can still clinch second place – and a possible promotion to what was the Northern Premier League – with wins from their last two games. But with whispers intensifying that the club don’t want to go up (“There must be some of the players who want promotion but I haven’t come across any yet,” a Bay fan tells me before the game), most of the fans’ attention is on next week’s trip to Wembley.
The teams kick off in front of a Northern League season-high crowd of 626, around half from Whitley Bay. “Our budget’s bigger than yours,” sing the fans behind one goal. “What’s it like to see a crowd?” reply those behind the other. What begins as “We are Spennymoor” ends as “You are Evenwood.” “You’re going all the way to Wembley for a pie,” taunt the Spennymoor fans, bizarrely. “We’re all going to Wembley, you’re all going to Aldi,” comes the quick retort from the Bell-End Choir. On the pitch, Spennymoor, with ex-Newcastle United and Norwich City junior Sam Grieveson replacing former Sunderland man Craig Turns in goal, are strangely lethargic in the opening, affording Bay time and space in the middle of the pitch. Spennymoor’s Chris Mason heads a Lee Kerr effort away from the goal-line before David Pounder curves a shot round Grieveson’s right hand and back off the bar. Having found his range, Pounder smacks one into the opposite corner on the stroke of half time.
Shortly after half-time Craig McFarlane makes it two, chipping Grieveson from the edge of the box. Spennymoor’s Kallum Griffiths is forced to head off his own line before the champions hit back, two goals in the space of a minute from Steven Richardson and Craig Hubbard levelling the scores with thirteen minutes still to play. The visitors hold on - but Consett’s 2-1 victory over Ashington takes the Steelmen three points clear in second, leaving Bay needing a fifteen-goal margin of victory at Newcastle Benfield to overhaul them.
The Spennymoor fans walk on to the pitch, unfurling a banner saying ‘Northern League Champions 2010-11’. “A magnificent achievement,” says Mike Amos before handing the trophy to skipper Leon Ryan, who this time last year was preparing for Wembley as captain of Whitley Bay. Sadly, a few Spennymoor fans plumb the depths of childishness by sticking their hands in their pockets and shaking their heads when Amos wishes Whitley Bay all the best against Coalville Town.
We leave with Spennymoor’s party just getting started. Hopefully, Whitley Bay will soon be enjoying another one of their own.
Date: 30th April 2011