We expected football and beer, but few of us were expecting sunshine. As it was, the morning of the inaugural Northern League Day brought weather more suited to mid-August than early April. So it was with something of a spring in my step that I headed out off to Kingsley Park to take in Ryton vs Billingham Synthonia.
Meeting up with a couple of like-minded souls at Newcastle Central Station, we jumped on a train and headed along the Tyne Valley to Wylam and the marvellous Boathouse pub. Already assembled in the beer garden were 20 or so football bloggers and tweeters, most only known to each other via Twitter usernames and avatars. Cue some awkward introductions (particularly for those of us with ‘ironic’ usernames that sound faintly ridiculous when spoken out loud…).
So onward to Kingsley Park, which, slightly confusingly, is not in Ryton but in Crawcrook. I bought a match programme for the first time in probably 20-odd years and headed into the clubhouse for a pint, buying some raffle tickets and entering the Grand National sweep on the way in (I didn’t win). Then it was out onto the terrace, paying just a fiver for admission. (By comparison, the cheap seats for NUFC vs MUFC are currently on sale at £42.)
And what a cracking little ground Kingsley Park is, bathed in sunshine and offering views across the Tyne Valley. The only disappointment was that by the time I got to the catering shed they were all out of pies. (By all accounts they were lovely.) In front of us, Ryton were being put through perhaps the most strenuous warm-up session I’ve ever seen. And it seemed to pay off.
Ryton have had a tough season, losing their management team and almost their entire playing squad after promised sponsorship money failed to turn up. Before today they’d won only one league match out of 40 – away to Sunderland RCA. The programme showed that the club had used almost 60 players this season. Unfortunately for Ryton, a big letter ‘R’ had already been written next to their name in the league table. But they’d managed to draw their last two games, so by their standards were actually on a decent run.
It was the underdogs Ryton who took the lead, only for Synners to peg them back, the first half ending 1-1. Half-time hospitality meant I was still in the clubhouse when the second half kicked off, and Ryton quickly raced to a 3-1 lead. Three became four, and four became five, as amazingly this team that had not won at home all season took a 5-1 lead. Chris McCabe scored a hat-trick in what was apparently his first start for Ryton. But Synners didn’t give up, managing to pull back two more goals – James Magowan scoring the second hat-trick of the day. The match ended 5-3, Ryton’s first home win of the season.
And so ended a thoroughly enjoyable day (give or take several post-match cold drinks). Football, beer, sunshine, eight goals, two hat-tricks… Let’s hope Northern League Day becomes a regular event. It was great to enjoy football without all the commercial nonsense that surrounds it, and to meet and chat with a top bunch of people.
Sometimes you need to step away from the Premier League to really appreciate what football is all about. I, for one, will return to the Northern League, and to Ryton FC, for more proper football.
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