Tuesday 4 September 2018

Points Deductions and Pitch Invasions: The Fall and Rise Again of Spennymoor

There is usually a pitch invasion on these occasions and this was no different, the Brewery Field faithful in their traditional black and white attire were ecstatic, they could not believe it! It had been a long road back to the Premier Division of what is now known as the Evo-Stick League for Spennymoor, but not only had they made it back, here they were a year on having just gone one better! 

It took eleven years after Spennymoor United were removed from the Unibond League as it was then known for the club - since reborn under the name Spennymoor Town - to find their way back to what is the third level of English non league football, and if their eventual return was the icing on a cake many years in the making, then promotion from the division at the first attempt was obviously the cherry on top. 

I find myself at Spennymoor Town's Brewery Field home based in the town of Spennymoor, County Durham in what is former coal mining country. It is a cloudy overcast day with the sun just managing to peep through on occasion. After a brief dip in temperatures during what has been an unusually hot summer it suddenly feels warmer again and I later conclude that I have probably put too many layers on when I find myself stood on the terraces with the sun, albeit only briefly, pounding down on the back of my parka coat.

Today's opponents are FC United of Manchester, a club formed in 2005 by disgruntled Manchester United supporters who were unhappy at the Glazer family buying their club. Spennymoor are several games into their second season of National League North football after a first which saw them miss out of the play-offs thanks to the small matter of goal difference. Considering the club had been promoted via the play-offs in both of the previous two seasons, to miss out on another play-off campaign having come so close must have been thoroughly disappointing. Though when you consider their story and where they have come from, one hopes they were at least proud to have gotten so close.

The history of Spennymoor United predecessor to the current club dated back to 1904 and the club were for many years a prominent feature in North East non league football. Over the years the club was home to various players that would later go on to grace the Football League and the most prominent of these players was Johnny Dixon who captained Aston Villa to FA Cup final glory in 1957, whilst John Collins father of comedian Frank Skinner also performed in Spennymoor's black and white on the pitch here at the Brewery Field. Spennymoor were a successful club and alongside their various regional league and cup successes the club eighteen times reached the first round proper of the FA Cup, along with two second round appearances and a third round defeat at West Bromwich Albion in 1937. All that proud history however came to a rather sad end in 2005 for the then Unibond League Premier Division club. 

United's problems had began on Christmas Day 2003 when their clubhouse which extraordinarily was uninsured burned down thanks to a discarded cigarette. This lost the club a large chunk of its regular income, and the financial problems that followed weren't helped when the clubs main backer and chairman Benny Mottram announced in early 2005 his intention to stand down. Disagreements with the council over the lease on their Brewery Field home, Mottram's arguments with supporters, and problems fulfilling fixtures didn't exactly improve matters either. 

In March of that year the club found themselves without enough players available for a cup fixture and were eventually expelled from the competition. The game was to take place on a Sunday and according to Mottram among other reasons two of the clubs players were Catholic and were unavailable to play on religious grounds. The club continued with a depleted squad but in the league several games also did not take place and these were accompanied by fines and points deductions. Spennymoor were a club in crisis and manager Graham Clark had already walked out after a 5-1 Good Friday defeat at Gateshead. By April it was obvious Spennymoor would not be able to complete their fixture list and they were expunged from the league.

Arguments within the League over how the final 2004/05 table would look and how Spennymoor's fixtures both those completed and those not would fit into this raged on. But that did not concern the Spennymoor faithful, they just needed their team back. Plans by supporters to form a new club were put to one side when local Northern League team Evenwood Town, having various problems of their own, submitted plans for themselves to move into Spennymoor's Brewery Field ground. An independent Spennymoor fans group backed the Evenwood plans with the club set to be renamed Spennymoor Town (The FA twice blocked a name change to United).

The Brewery Field ground as it currently stands consists of a main seated stand on one side of the pitch with a marquee tent sat next to it, and another covered stand with newly installed seating behind the goal to it's right, whilst the other two sides consist of uncovered concrete terracing. In one corner there is mobile catering and bar facilities, and as I await kick-off I find their curry and chips a good hangover cure for the previous nights alcohol. I'm not drinking today but it's worth noting that aside from the limited bar facilities in the ground, the club also help run the Moors Tavern pub in town, an excellent choice for those who like a pre or post match tipple. 

Today's opponents from Manchester started life in step 6 of the non league pyramid and have had to work their way up to where they are today, one division below non league's top tier. When Spennymoor Town came about they also had to start from the bottom and began life in the second division of the Northern League some three divisions below where the clubs predecessors had played during that ill fated final campaign. 

Town gained promotion from Northern League Division Two at the second attempt, winning the league in 2006/07 with a record points total. The club stabilised themselves in the First Division before winning three titles in a row between 2009/10 and 2011/12, twice breaking the 100 point mark. Whilst having initial success in Division One the club did not apply for promotion (which until recently was not mandatory between steps 5 and 4) instead aiming to make the club self sufficient. In 2012/13 Spennymoor did eventually apply but missed out finishing behind a reformed Darlington side despite again breaking the 100 point mark. The following year the Moors were once again Champions and this time did secure promotion. 

Alongside their Northern League successes, Spennymoor also had cup success in 2013 when they won the FA Vase at Wembley. The Moors chartered a flight to the Channel islands for the first leg of their semi final with Guernsey, taking players, backroom staff, officials, and  supporters along to witness a 3-1 victory before a second leg at home in front of over 1700 people and a 1-0 victory that set up a Wembley final with Tunbridge Wells from the Kent League. During the build up to the final cup fever hit the town with shops selling merchandise and locals rushing to buy tickets for the big day. 5000 fans travelled down to Wembley from the North East and this included some 24 coaches being filled. Goals from Gavin Cogden and Keith Graydon secured a 2-1 victory and the Moors brought the cup back to the North East, much to the jubilation of the town.

Following promotion from the Northern League, league and cup success continued for Spennymoor. Another cup run in 2014 saw them make it into the draw for the first round proper of the FA Cup. Having beaten,Tadcaster Albion, Bishop Auckland, Dunston UTS, and Ashton United, the Moors faced then National League side AFC Telford United in the final qualifying round. An injury time Telford equaliser saw the Moors then lose a replay and miss out on what would have been a first round clash with Basingstoke Town. In the league Spennymoor took just two seasons to gain another promotion, leaving Division One of the Evo-Stick League via the play-offs, and then doing exactly the same the following year to gain promotion from the Evo-Stick Premier Division. 

Given home advantage due to league placings, a Rob Ramshaw winner in front of 1699 fans sealed a second successive promotion, and place in the National League North, producing in the process that aforementioned pitch invasion. Having worked their way back from the brink, Spennymoor had a team that had surpassed all expectations and now found themselves well and truly into the higher echelons of non league football.

If anyone thought National League North might be a step too far then last seasons eighth place finish proved the doubters wrong, and as I stand on the terraces I see a team that looks at home in their surroundings, competent against their opponents, and seemingly having the better of the chances in the first half. 

At half-time a man in the portakabin cum club shop that I find sat behind the terracing along one side  the pitch tries to sell me a club branded mug, but I politely decline. The travelling support from Manchester were in full voice stood amongst the covered seating behind the goal during the first half and regain the same position for the second period, whilst most the vocal of the home support who had been stood next to them have now moved around to the other end of the pitch to which their team will attack for the second period.

The second half is mostly dominated by the home side and the terraces erupt when the Moors are awarded a penalty on 59 minutes. Sam Baird pulls back Glen Taylor who takes the resulting penalty and beats the keeper smashing the ball right down the middle. Spennymoor are in control now and double their lead with Ryan Hall crossing in for Adam Boyes to tap home late on.

It doesn't matter where you go in the country you will always find football fans desperate to get away from a match early and at Spennymoor it is no different, with some people heading towards the exits even before the second goal goes in. Those that do stay however get to see that second goal and probably head home unnerved by the idea that they may arrive at their destination a few minutes later than those early leavers.

The Spennymoor faithful will be pleased with a second win in three days that puts them comfortably into mid table after seven league games, and who knows, some may even be daring to dream of another promotion. I suppose yet another advancement would be a long shot, but given what they've achieved in recent seasons then anything is possible. Having been through hard times the Moors have returned stronger, and although its been a long road back it's certainly been an exciting journey, and a story that hopefully has many more thrilling chapters to come. Just no more discarded cigarettes please!

As featured in the December 2018 issue of Football Weekends magazine

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