I’m not one for hotel life to be totally honest. Due to a change in employment, this week I had no choice but to spend a few night’s at one in the North East, on a training course. Obviously I could think of worse places to be located for a while. As anyone that has read any of my previous blogs will know, the North East – in my eyes – is a beautiful part of the country. A week in one of the best hotels in Newcastle ( all expenses paid ! ) was not to be sniffed at, and a quick check of the Northern League website revealed there were quite a few midweek football fixtures on, whilst I was killing time up there. So all the ingredients were in place, now all I had to do was persuade the other lads I was on the course with, to play taxi for me.
Three of us headed up on the Sunday night. I’m in the back of the car surrounded by bags, the other two lads ( who I’ve worked with for 20 or so years ) are in the front. The passenger ( Kev ) is a lifelong Hull City fan, who like me, no longer attends – certainly not until the Allam’s have gone – but that’s a debate for another day. The driver, Dave, is about 10 years younger than us two, and has no interest in football ! How we are even friends is beyond me. We discuss our activities whilst we’ll be up there – Dave’s dad lives in South Shields so he’s promised to visit – and I’ve managed to drop the hint about a game on Wednesday night, Newcastle Benfield vs Dunston. Admittedly, this is greeted with replies of “Who?”, but I’ve managed to sow the seed, and after 10 minutes of explaining to them who the teams are, their position in the football “Pyramid”, and generally extolling the virtues of non-league football, I’m beginning to think I may not have to check out the local bus timetable after all. Admittedly, there’s also the chance I may have talked myself out of it too, but I’ll keep dropping hints, until they both agree it’s the best idea since sliced bread !
Three day’s of Full English breakfasts, dinner, and a substantial 2-course evening meal – plus drink – is starting to take it’s toll on the old waistline. On top of that, 2 days of classroom based lessons has hardly left any of us feeling fresh. I’m quick to cash in on the lethargy, suggesting a lung full of fresh air at a football game will help blow the cobwebs off. Not that its windy – far from it – it’s unseasonably mild, an ideal night to watch 22 blokes kick a ball around. Kev agrees, and to my surprise so does Dave, although I fear he’s in for a shock when he asks “Is there a concourse where we can have a drink?”….hmmm, not exactly mate ! I quickly re-list the virtues briefly touched on previously, and we all agree to go down for an early tea, and get off to the match. I’ve suggested pie and chips at the ground, but it doesn’t get off the ground up against “Line caught fresh coastal Cod, homemade chips, minted pea puree, and tartare sauce”- these fancy eateries, you need a bloody degree to figure out what you’re eating !
Newcastle Benfield are an EBAC Northern League Division 1 side, playing their Home games at the Sam Smith Stadium. Tonight’s opponents are Dunston, who a few years ago won the FA Vase at Wembley. Both teams are hovering around mid-table, but one thing I’ve learnt from watching previous games up here, the players don’t hold back, regardless of league position. A full-bloodied encounter is on the cards. I hand over my money at the gate, and just inside I’m met by the familiar figure of Ian Cusack. I’ve met Ian a few times at various grounds up here, and his current position is that of programme Editor at Benfield. A staunch Newcastle United fan, Ian also produces the Popular Side Fanzine. A man who has forgotten more words than I’ll ever know, Ian has been generous enough to contribute to my own fanzine, View from the Allotment End. A quick catch up follows, and I leave Ian to his job of selling the programme. Me and the other 2 lads position ourselves level with the 18 yard box, just as both teams enter the field of play. It’s at this point I’ll remind regular readers – all two of you – that match reporting isn’t my thing. Besides, the 3 of us were trying to remember the name of the ventriloquist our course tutor reminded us of – It was Bob Carolgees. Don’t ask. The half finished 0-0, a few shots on goal from both sides, but nothing to light up proceedings. I got the brews in at Half-Time, and assured the other lads that there were goals in this one. At this time Ian walked by, accompanied by Garry Ollyver, another regular on the North East non-league scene, and a man I’d had the pleasure of meeting at Whitley Bay vs Bridlington Town in the FA Cup a few seasons ago. Handshakes exchanged, a quick catch up, and both were off, but not before Garry mentioned the last time he was here it had finished 0-0 too !
Sure enough, the 2nd half was a better spectacle. My prophecy of goals came to fruition around the hour mark – a superb free kick put Dunston 1-0 up – a goal I would later be informed was scored by an ex-Benfield player ! That goal alone was worth the admission fee. The game was wrapped up in the last minute, a proverbial 2 yard tap-in gained Dunston the full 3 points. To the relief of one of my companions, the referee’s whistle sounded for Full Time, and the 3 of us – along with another 100 or so hardy souls – shuffled out of the stadium, and back to our car. It was clear that the game and the occasion meant more to me, but both my companions left singing the praises of this homely little club, and of the value for money they’d witnessed in comparison to the over-hyped and expensive professional variety on offer at most Premier League grounds. It hadn’t been a bad match – I’ve yet to witness one in the 2 dozen or so games I’ve seen up here – and allowed me to get another game in before Christmas.
The title of this piece ? Travelling Salesman ? Well that I’m not, but for a week I got a taste of what life must be like for those in that profession, living out of a suitcase in hotels. It’s certainly not for me, I like my home comforts and comfy chair too much. But along the way, I managed to “sell” non-league football to two lads that had little or no interest in that form of the game. If ever a career change occurs, I’ll be sure to do my best to sell a non-league game to anyone else unfortunate enough to be stuck in a hotel with me.