First contested in 1989, when Blyth Kitty Brewster saw off the challenge of Heaton Corner House, the Northern Football Alliance League Cup has since been won by the likes of West Allotment Celtic, Team Northumbria, Shankhouse, Percy Main Amateurs and Morpeth Town. Amberley Park, home of Killingworth Sporting and located near the site where, in 1814, a 33-year-old colliery engineer by the name of George Stephenson trialled his first working locomotive, is the venue for tonight’s 23rd final between Ashington Colliers – the reserve eleven of the Northern League side – and Heaton Stannington, whose 2-1 weekend win over Alnwick Town had helped Ponteland United to their first ever Premier Division title.
Renamed in honour of George Dobbins – the long-serving Northern Alliance committee member who was League Chairman at the time of his death in March 2010 – this season’s League Cup saw Alnwick Town put twenty unanswered goals past Chopwell Officials, Red House Farm and Heddon in the opening three rounds before falling 8-7 on penalties to Whitley Bay A in the fourth. Bay went out in the semi-final, Heaton Stannington – who’d previously beaten Newcastle East End, Murton and Percy Main – coming back from two goals down in the first eight minutes to eventually win 4-2 on penalty kicks.
A 6-3 win at four-time winners Carlisle City set Ashington on their way to Amberley Park. After Amble and Newcastle University were dispensed with in the second and third rounds, Wark – who’d previously knocked out holders Hebburn Reyrolle - were beaten 7-4 in the fourth. There were four goals shared in the semi at Blyth Town, the Colliers scoring the final three to make up for the disappointment of their lowly 10th place in the league.
It’s the final game of the Northern Football Alliance season and the great, the good and the groundhoppers have all turned out. Jarrod Suddick, Ponteland United manager and son of ex-Newcastle and Blackpool midfielder Alan, watches from a corner flag, Mick Jeffels, who recently swapped Walker Central for Seaton Delaval Amateurs, does a circuit of the pitch, while Percy Main coach Mick Ritchie walks his dog behind the goal the Colliers are defending. The game begins at a thunderous pace. Heaton are denied a penalty in the first fifteen minutes when a shot is blocked simultaneously by a foul and a handball, and have a headed goal flagged correctly offside. The frame of the goal is rattled as often as Alex Ferguson at a press conference and Shaun Backhouse, the Heaton goalkeeper, goes full-length to claw a shot away. “How’s this still goalless?” asks Ian Cusack, Percy Main’s assistant secretary, at half-time.
Backhouse saves Van der Sar style with his feet, Heaton hit the crossbar from a corner and Ashington’s Craig Towart makes a brilliant one-handed stop as both sides edge closer to scoring the winning goal. The clock ticks by, a few people mutter about having to leave early if it goes to extra time – “I said I’d be back in the bar by quarter past nine” – and then, with just a minute left to play, the ball rolls right to left across the face of the goal and Lawrence McKenna – the league’s second highest scorer behind Shankhouse’s David Dormand - slides in past Towart at the back post. The touchline erupts. All over the pitch, Ashington players drop to their haunches and stare off into space.
The trophy is carried out on a table and the victorious manager jogs back to get a camera from his car. “McKenna is magic!” reads the headline in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle.
The new season starts on August 14th.
Date: 25th May 2011