Wallsend was a thriving place in the mid-1970s. The Swan Hunter shipyards were expanding along both banks of the Tyne, employing 11,500 people. Ray Hankin, schooled on Station Road, reached an FA Cup semi final with Burnley while a local amateur football club made minor headlines of its own, Wallsend Town defeating Annan Athletic and Sheffield FC to reach the last 16 of the FA Vase. In 1979 Brian Lisle's team beat Vase holders Newcastle Blue Star and Hartlepool United Reserves to first place in the Wearside League and knocked three-time Northern League champions Ferryhill Athletic out of the FA Cup. The title would turn out be the club's high-water mark: disbanded twice, it was eventually reformed by Alan James and Dave Grandini in 1998, dropping to the foot of the Northern Alliance after an ill-fated couple of seasons in the second-tier of the Wearside League. A merger with Wallsend United promised an upturn in fortune but progress on the pitch was hampered by half a decade of vandalism off it. "Any money we were getting from sponsorship was being spent on repairs," Grandini told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle last year as his side on the brink of back-to-back promotions and the club's first top-flight campaign since 1986. "Everytime we went down to the club something was wrong.
Promoted behind Amble United, an opening day draw at Walker Central preceded a half-time wash-out at home to Heaton Stannington, last season's Premier Division champions and the third of Town's victims in the FA Vase run of 1975. There are nineteen people at the Langdale Centre - still twelve more than turned out to see the club play Evenwood Town in the preliminary round of the 1981-82 FA Cup - to see the visit of Killingworth Sporting, Northumberland Benevolent Bowl holders but beatable in the league. Within three minutes Grandini's side are one ahead, Dekka Graham drifting right before looping up a cross which Paul Gordon dispatches unopposed. "You'd been warned," grumbles Sporting boss Davy Taylor from the sideline. Gordon's second goal is even easier, a backpass spinning away from ex-Hartlepool United keeper Liam Mooney and the striker jogging the ball into the vacant net. In between, Killingworth's Michael Bowman hits two shots into Rikki Donaldson's midriff and is forced off with a torn hamstring, the visitors' chances disappearing along with him. "We've been atrocious," Taylor says at half time, "the worst I've seen us play."
Killingworth respond to their manager's call for "graft" but a few heavy tackles and some inconsistent officiating raise hackles on both sides. Graham is booked for taking a shot after he's flagged offside and responds by calling the referee a "baldy fucking radgie". His teammates bundle him towards the dugouts, where he throws his top to the grass before heading off across the playground. "It's only a daft game of football," his response to the inevitable red card. John Amos scores a late goal for Killingworth, heading in a near-post corner with half the Wallsend team marking the back. As Sporting push for an equaliser, a mistimed challenge on Gordon sees the forward respond with an elbow and leaves the home side to play out the remaining seconds with only nine men. The referee leaves the pitch surrounded by irate Wallsend players. "Disgrace, isn't it?" says one fan to another.
Date: August 11th 2012
- Like its ships, Wallsend's footballers were once a global commodity. Curtis Booth, a forward with Wallsend Elm Villa and Newcastle United, coached in Erfurt, Istanbul and Paris between the wars. Billy Wright won 15 caps for New Zealand while Shaun Lowther played alongside Ray Hankin and Peter Beardsley at Vancouver Whitecaps and later helped Canada qualify for the 1986 World Cup.