Whickham Lang Jacks, Red House Farm, Harraby Catholic Club and Willington Quay Saints are just some of the odd and obscure club names that populate the three divisions of the Northern Football Alliance. But none stand out like Newcastle Chemfica (Ind), probably the only football club in the world whose name reads like the losing candidate in a council election.
The team’s come a long way since the days when they drew their players from Newcastle University’s School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials and “got regularly humped in the Alliance Division Two,” as local football writer Ian Cusack puts it. Formed by the merger of Benfield Chemfica and Independent FC, Newcastle Chemfica (Independent) Football Club now has six teams spread across Tyneside’s Saturday and Sunday leagues, with Nigel Reeves taking on the Romanov role of chairing the club and picking the starting eleven. The ambitious club train two nights a week and “reliability, commitment, a desire to improve…and an ability to pay your fees” are among the qualities demanded its players. On the heels of a Northumberland Minor Cup semi-final loss to Percy Main in 2010, twenty-two wins, four defeats and forty goals from Steve McLaughlin saw Chemfica streak to last season’s Northern Alliance Division Two title. So far Division One has proved a tougher proposition, Reeves’ first team squad losing all of their first three games before a 2-1 midweek win at Cullercoats.
With Newcastle University’s Cochrane Park pitches about to get a much needed spruce up before the London 2012 football teams start using them next year, Chemfica are playing their home games at the Longbenton Sports Ground this season. A blue rope, held in place by metal posts, is stretched around the touchline, where a crowd of eleven (or twelve if you include Ian Cusack’s bike) has gathered. Chemfica’s reserves – who turn out in the Tyneside Amateur League alongside Heaton Rifles, Diggers United, Blyth Isabella and New York – are already underway on the second pitch, kicking towards the Department of Work and Pensions complex.
Gosforth Bohemians haven’t started much better than Chemfica, winning two and losing two of their opening four games, including a 4-1 loss at Willington in their only away game to date. They go into the match with “probably the youngest side we’ve ever fielded,” according to their chairman Patrick William-Powlett, who’s been involved with the club since the early-1980s. “We’ve got two debutants, two 16 year olds and another two under 20 on the pitch.” Bohs’ inexperience is telling in an error-strewn first half. McLaughlin wears yellow boots and plays inches off the toes of the two centre halves, but his finishing is more Leon Best than Hernan Crespo as he blazes over the crossbar with only Bohemians’ keeper Steve Wilkinson to beat, pulls a shot wide and sees Wilkinson turn another effort around the post after a centre back passes the ball straight to his feet. Bohemians hit the ball long too often, barely mustering a chance of their own. “Play sensibly,” their manager tells them at the break.
Chemfica haven’t drawn a league match since the 2008-09 season and they begin the second half looking the likelier team to score. But then 16-year-old James Lockhead turns smartly on the edge of the box and hits his first ever senior goal under the diving body of keeper Craig Jones. “Fell asleep, didn’t you?” Jones grumbles at his defence. A minute later the keeper clips Lockhead as he tries to palm the ball away from the Gosforth player’s feet. “I never touched him, man,” he tells the indifferent referee. “He sold you a good ‘un there, like. They’re all diving nowadays.” Matty Atkin hits the penalty into the roof of the net. “You got mugged there,” Jones shouts as the teams run back to halfway.
Bohemians are rampant for the next twenty minutes, Jones keeping them out with two excellent saves from 18-year-old forward Andy Renton. Gradually, the home side come back into the game, McLaughlin having a headed goal flagged offside after Wilkinson tips a rising shot over the bar. Chemfica have two goalbound efforts blocked on the line – one bouncing back off the shin of their own players – while Bohemians have two players sent off in the final five minutes, ending the game with nine men on the field as a Chemfica player is carried back to the dressing room in the arms of two substitutes.
Date: 27th August 2011