I should have been packing for the Middle East, but paperwork delays at the Ministry of Manpower meant I was by a municipal pitch at High Flatworth instead. For a third weekend in a row I was watching a game in the basement division of the Northern Football Alliance; and like the previous Saturday it involved the black and white shirts of Wallsend Labour Club FC. The footballing arm of the town's "finest CIU affiliated club" was formed to play in the Tyneside Amateur League, promoted at the first time of asking, and had been in the Alliance's Second Division since 2012-13. Undefeated so far, their game with Whitburn matched second against third bottom in a reversal of a fixture I'd watched when the black and whites were still known as High Howdon SC.
Newcastle were limping to defeat against Arsenal in a game spoilt by a 16th-minute sending-off as the match got underway, wind whipping back the corner flags and precisely nine people looking on. Six minutes in, a Labour Club corner smacked a knee, rebounded from a boot and bounced back off the line. The ball was cleared upfield, there was a crash of heads and neither player moved from the ground. A Whitburn defender got on his mobile for an ambulance. "I can't look, mate," another told. "His cheekbone's gone into his face. If this gans on we'll be two down 'cos his best mate's gannin with him to the hospital and there's another lad whose wife could gan into labour anytime now." "He's just asked me how he looked," said a third Whitburn player. "I didn't know what to say. Not good, like."
Before the medics arrived a bloke turned up with two golf clubs and a bag of balls, whacking shots against a bank behind the far goal. One player nipped off for a cigarette while the injured Labour Club defender was taken to a garden chair. "I divvent kna if I can gan on here," a Whitburn player reckoned. "How do you get your head right after seeing all that?" It was forty minutes before the game was called off. Five minutes down the main road, I saw the ambulance going the other way.
Back across the river, South Shields were at home to Ryhope Colliery Welfare with a crowd of over 300, a free post-game barbecue and happy hour in the bar. I got there just in time for what I thought would be the second half. "It's been abandoned, mate," said the bloke on the door. "Player went down after four minutes." He was still there, sheltered by a golf umbrella, an hour and three quarters after colliding with Ryhope's keeper. "A suspected dislocated shoulder," Shields tweeted as he left for hospital. "He was also knocked out cold for 10 seconds."
Two games, six minutes. Even Aleksandar Mitrovic couldn't come close to that.