Friday 8 March 2019

Durham City and Ashington - Two more forgotten Football League sides from the North East

I've written previously about the two forgotten Football League clubs on Tyneside, Gateshead and South Shields, and for a period in the 1920s when Shields played in the league there where as many as eight teams from the North East of England playing league football. Alongside Shields' and the obvious big three of, Newcastle, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough, there where at that time four other teams from the region in the league, all playing in Division Three North. Two of those sides Hartlepools United, and Darlington spent many years in the league and are well known throughout the region and beyond. But the final two North Eastern sides did not last so long in the league, and their exploits are today very much forgotten. Ashington and Durham City both joined a newly formed Division Three North in 1921. Durham, where voted out of the league in 1928 whilst Ashington, lasted only one season longer.

A third division of the Football League was formed in 1920 consisting of teams formerly of the Southern League, and it was soon decided the top Northern clubs outside the league should follow suit and join up to form a Northern section of Division Three. Ashington had been playing in the North Eastern league since before the great war whilst Durham City were only formed in 1918 when local businessmen saw an opportunity for a Durham club to join the hastily organised Northern Victory league that took place for half a season after the war ended. Durham then joined the North Eastern League for the first full football season after the war and after only two seasons they successfully applied to join the Football League for the 1921/22 season along with fellow North Eastern sides, Hartlepools, Darlington and of course Ashington.

Ashington spent £8,000 refurbishing their Portland Park ground in preparation for their new football league adventure, it had a capacity of 25,000, boasted some of the best facilities in the league at that time, and over 8,000 spectators were in attendance for the opening league match at home to Grimsby Town. That opening game saw the hosts win 1-0 thanks to a goal from Joe Dickinson on his debut. Dickinson lobbed the ball into the net after the Grimsby keeper fisted the ball away and it landed at Dickinson's feet. Dickinson only played three times in total for Ashington and those three games were the only Football League appearances in his career. 

Durham City started their league campaign with a 1-1 draw away at Southport. Durham's goal came from Ernest Young and one report described his goal as 'a beautiful shot that gave the goalkeeper no chance'. In that first season Young, who had previously played 10 Second Division games for South Shields, scored 13 goals in 29 games, only bettered by Harry Cousins who scored 17 in 37 for the club. In 1924 Young transferred to Spennymoor United. 

Later that first season a record crowd of 7,886 saw Durham lose 2-0 at home to league rivals Darlington in the FA Cup, but overall gate receipts were low and the club suffered heavy financial losses in a season that saw then finish 11th. Ashington meanwhile finished the season in 10th place and won three FA Cup ties before eventually losing away at Millwall. As with Durham, Ashington suffered financial losses causing several experienced players to be moved on in the close season.

In their second season, Durham continued to suffer financially and some were worried that the club wouldn't last the season. A 7-1 trouncing of Lincoln City in the February was a rare moment of relief as the club finished bottom and were lucky to be re-elected. For Ashington, a promising start faded away and the club finished second bottom and they themselves also had to re-apply to stay in the league. Like Durham, they were also successful.

There was massive upheaval in the playing squad for Ashington in preparation for the 1923/24 season. The club ended up finishing that season in 8th and even made a small profit. This was largely down to an FA Cup run that ended with a plum home tie with Aston Villa where a record crowd of 11837 saw a 5-1 victory for the visitors. Durham finished the 1923/24 season in 15th place but despite improved attendances, after moving to a new stadium in the centre of town they still couldn't quite make a profit. Durham finished 13th the following season, a season notable for a January debut from a 22-year-old player called George Camsell. 

George Camsell scored almost a goal a game for Durham before moving to Middlesbrough in October 1925. Camsell scored a hat-trick against Hartlepools United in the penultimate match of the 1924/25 season and scored 12 goals in 10 games for the club at the beginning of the 1925/26 campaign. At Middlesbrough, Camsell scored 345 goals in 453 games. Camsell played only four games in his first season at Boro but in the following season famously scored 59 league goals in 37 appearances, this including 9 hat-tricks. This was surpassed the following season however when Dixie Dean scored 60 goals for Everton. Although Camsell was capped only 9 times by England he scored in every single game, totalling 18 goals including 4 in one match against Belgium and a hat-trick against Wales.

There were mid tables finishes of 10th and 9th for Ashington in 1924/25 and 1925/26, whilst for Durham, there were two 13th placed finishes over the same period. Durham were still struggling financially, but outgoing players were helping them make a small profit. Ashington began to drop down the table over the next few seasons whilst over at Durham things were even worse. In 1926/27 a late rally at the end of the season saw the club manage to avoid having to apply for re-election by the skin of their teeth.

Whereas Durham's George Camsell went on to make a name for himself in the First Division, no one from Ashington's football league years really made an impact in the higher echelons of the game at any point before or after playing for the club. Ted Ferguson, for example, left the club before they joined the Football League but returned in 1924 after a rather unsuccessful spell at Chelsea where he made very few first-team appearances. An Irishman named Patrick O'Connell, however, was one exception to the rule. O'Connell joined Ashington in 1920 having previously played in the First Division with Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester United before the war. He has also won five international caps with Ireland. In 1921 he became player-manager at Ashington and later went on manage various clubs in Spain, winning the La Liga title with Real Betis in 1935 before spending three years as manager of FC Barcelona. Quite a career indeed!

Durham City had somehow managed to avoid the re-election process in 1927 but weren't so lucky the following year. Despite finishing second bottom above Nelson and only a point worse off than the previous season, Durham were booted out of the league. Their low home crowds had evidently been noticed by other clubs, and geographically being stuck out of the way in the North East probably did not help matters either. There was also a crackdown on supposed amateur players being paid handsome match fees, and this being a scandal that Durham were themselves caught up in was another issue that would not have helped matters. Besides all that however, even though the league table told us Nelson were a worse team than Durham City, Durham had suffered four 4-0 defeats that season and three times conceded five in game, so they could hardly claim to have had anywhere near a successful season on the pitch, plus the club was now heavily in debt.

1927/28 whilst Durham had fallen on their sword, Ashington had finished three places higher and kept their heads just above water. Financial problems had had an effect on squad numbers and a depleted Ashington side had conceded 25 goals in their first six games, but form had then improved slightly, particularly in the second half of the season, and a 6-0 win over Rotherham United in their penultimate match certainly helped things! The 1928/29 season was, however, a different story...

Despite winning two of their opening three games in 28/29, defeats began to follow and a low point was an 8-2 home defeat to Bradford City in October. Bradford then went and signed Ashington's outside left James Randall for a fee of £400. Ashington spent most of the season marooned at the bottom of the table and there were further heavy defeats, whilst one game of note was a high scoring 7-4 loss at home to Doncaster Rovers. Star forward Tom Keetley netted a double hat-trick for the visitors that day! Aside from terrible performances on the pitch, there were also dismal attendances to contend with. One home game had only seen 729 in attendance, clearly not high enough for the club if they expected to hang about in the Football League much longer! As with Durham, depression in the coal trade left many locals struggling financially and some out of work. The club won only one of their last 8 matches, finishing rock bottom, and all things considered, their application for re-election was probably made more in hope than expectation. In the end, Ashington received only 14 votes and were replaced by York City.

After demotion from the league, Ashington continued their existence playing in various different divisions within non league football, and are still around today plying their trade in the Northern League. Durham only lasted 10 seasons after their league exit before folding, but Durham City, however, do live on today, with a team by the same name forming in 1950, and like their one time Football League rivals Ashington they also currently play in the Northern League.

Saturday 2 March 2019

South Shields and Gateshead, the Football League Years - PART TWO

On the 28th day of May in 1960, Gateshead Football Club was kicked out of the Football League, they had failed to secure re-election meaning for the first time in just over 40 years there would no longer be league football taking place on the southern banks of the River Tyne. A compelling story that had begun four decades earlier further down the river in the town of South Shields had now come to an abrupt and rather sad end.

Whilst on the northern side of the River Tyne Newcastle United have been a massive institution in the world of football for well over 100 years, and regularly draw crowds of 50,000+ to watch them play. However, across the river, for their one-time football league rivals, things did not fare so well. The story of South Shields FC and the Gateshead side they became when after 11 years they moved upstream is largely forgotten. But this is a fascinating tale nonetheless, and in a two-part piece, we look back at these fascinating years and in the second part we look at the story of Gateshead Football Club, ups and downs on the pitch, a historic cup run, and a sad end to thirty years of league football. (You can read Part One here)

Although there were fairly big crowds on occasion, in general, South Sheilds' move to Gateshead did not see a massive upturn in support, in fact, Newcastle Reserves often drew bigger crowds in the North Eastern League than Gateshead did in Division Three North, just as Sunderland's reserve side had drawn bigger crowds than Shields did in their later years. This was the case for most of the 1930s and Newcastle's first team were actually relegated to Division Two in 1934. But nonetheless, there would be no more moves. The club stayed in Gateshead with a wealthy businessman named Willaim Tulip at times keeping them afloat financially.

On the pitch, Gateshead finished 9th in their first season and managed two wins in the cup. Their first league game in Gateshead had attracted an impressive 15,545 with the local town mayor and the President of the Football League both in attendance. With nine players from the old Shields team in the lineup, they beat Doncaster Rovers 2-1.

Gateshead's second season as a Football League team proved to be one of their best, and they did for a short while manage to draw large crowds of locals to watch them play. The club won all five of their opening matches whilst an excellent unbeaten run towards the end of the season saw them finish as high as second in the final table behind champions Lincoln City. Sadly for Gateshead, the second of only two promotion spots went to the Champions of Division Three South, so there would be no promotion party on Tyneside. 

In that second season, a player called Bill McNaughton scored four times in two successive games for Gateshead against Barrow and York City. He was transferred to Hull City the following season and ended up scoring 41 goals as they cruised to the Third Division North title. Another high scorer in those days was Jack Westley who scored 26 goals for Tynesiders in the 1933/34 including four against Hartlepools United in one match. The following year he moved to Bradford (Park Avenue).

After finishing second in 1931-32 Gateshead didn't finish so high the following season, ending the campaign in 7th place, whilst an impressive 1-1 draw at home to First Division Manchester City in the cup was followed by a 9-0 defeat in the replay. Two 19th placed finishes (out of 22) followed, and the club continued to struggle financially with the usual issue cropping up once again - poor attendances. Two seasons later the club finished second bottom and had to reapply to stay in the league. They were successful on this occasion, but it was hardly something to shout about with the club struggling near the bottom year after year.

In the summer of 1937, it was announced that Redheugh Park would be transformed by installing a greyhound track. The greyhound racing company who would use it outside football matchdays would pay the rates and ground rents, and this was something that was bound to help the club at least a little financially. 

On the pitch, things did begin to improve. An excellent start to the 1937/38 season saw Gateshead top of the league in October, and the locals clearly took note with over 20,000 in attendance for one game. Sadly this excellent form did not last all season and the club ultimately finished 5th. 1938/39 saw Gateshead finish 10th whilst following season only managed to last three games before world war two brought proceedings to a halt.

From 1941 onwards Gateshead played in the wartime leagues, and in 1945 they actually claimed a piece of silverware winning what was called the Tyne-Wear-Tees Cup, beating Sunderland 6-3 in the final.

Several Gateshead players went on to play First Division football over the years but few made much of an impact in the top division, one who did though was Billy Cairns. Cairns moved to Grimsby where in the first two post-war seasons he scored 34 goals in 59 top flight games before Grimsby dropped back down the divisions and soon ended up in Division Three North. Another Gateshead player to make it to the First Division was Cecil McCormack who scored 100 goals for the Tynesiders during and after the war. His First Division stint was brief but he did manage to score a hat-trick for Middlesbrough in a 7-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers.

In the seasons after the war, Gateshead had several mid table finishes, but also managed to finish as high as fourth and fifth in two campaigns. Matches of note over this period included a 7-0 Christmas Day victory over Hartlepools United and a 3-1 fourth round FA Cup defeat against a West Brom side who would finish that season runners up in Division Two.

1949/50 was a season of note for the Gateshead boys as for the second time in their Football League history so far they came rather close to promotion. An excellent start to the season saw the hope of promotion seem to fade away as they headed towards Christmas, but then things began to then turn around. A win and a draw against North East rivals Darlington over the festive period was followed by four straight victories as Gateshead began to climb back up the table. A couple of draws and a defeat in February and March were surrounded by victories, and then seven straight wins at the tail end of the season saw Gateshead in second place, but earlier losses proved fatal and Doncaster won the league with two games to spare. Promotion sadly denied for Gateshead.

The 1952/53 season was another one worth remembering, but more so for Gateshead's FA Cup fortunes rather than their league form. Rounds One and Two of the 1952/53 FA Cup saw Gateshead defeat Crewe Alexandra and Bradford (Park Avenue), and this set up a mouthwatering Third Round home tie with First Division Liverpool. Liverpool visited Tyneside on an afternoon covered in fog and this saw the abandonment of the game between Newcastle United and Swansea Town across the river at St Jame's Park, but over at Gateshead's Redheugh Park ground the full 90 minutes took place. An excellent performance from Gateshead culminated in an 84th minute winner for the home side thanks to an Ian Winters header, a goal which because of the heavy fog many in the 15,000+ crowd did not see. 

A remarkable victory over a top First Division side saw Gateshead drawn away at Hull City in the next round and more than 4,000 supporters travelled down from Tyneside to cheer on the lads. The visitors took the lead after just four minutes when John Ingham slotted home after Johnny Campbell corner. 1-0 become 2-0 on 29 minutes a Winters shot deflected into the net of a Hull City defender, and whilst the home side pulled one back three minutes later, resolute defending saw Gateshead hold out for another impressive win.
The next round saw Gateshead drawn away against Plymouth Argyle and in the 53rd minute Winters headed home from 10yds to seal another famous victory and set up a delicious quarter final home tie with First Division Bolton Wanderers. Plymouth, on the other hand, became the only team to be knocked out of the FA Cup by not only Gateshead in their then current guise but also by them in their previous incarnation as South Shields.

17,692 were in attendance at Redheugh Park for the Quarter Final tie and for over half the game Gateshead managed to keep Wanderers at bay, but on 55 minutes Nat Lofthouse put Bolton ahead and Gateshead lost the game 1-0. Bolton, on the other hand, ended up making it to the final where they faced Blackpool in what many consider one of the greatest cup finals.

In 1955 the FA Cup once again saw First Division opposition return to Gateshead as the club faced Tottenham Hotspur in round three. Unfortunately, however, the 18840 spectators in attendance saw the visitors win 2-0. 

A 7th placed finish that season marked the end of what had been a moderately successful period for the club, though on too many occasions early season promise had faded away and attendances had dropped. One Wednesday afternoon home game towards the end of the 1951/52 season had even sen the humiliation of a three figure crowd. With Gateshead's season going nowhere only 622 people bothered to take an afternoon off work for what was basically a meaningless end of season match. By the 1956/57 however, the introduction of floodlights helped stop further embarrassing afternoon crowds.

6 and 7-0 defeats against Chesterfield and Darlington in the 1956-57 season saw Gateshead end the campaign in a miserable 17th place with attendances getting lower and lower. Although a slight improvement on the previous season, an average home attendance of 3,875 for Gateshead in 1956/57 was still the lowest in the entire Football League. Interestingly the following season Gateshead were one of the few teams to see their attendances significantly increase as the club finished 14th.

The 14th placed finish in 1957/58 saw Gateshead effectively relegated to a new Fourth Division. Regionalised football was disbanded in the Football League with top half of the Division Three North and South leagues merged into a nationwide Third Division for the following season and the bottom half, including Gateshead, dropping down to a new Division Four.

1958 saw the arrival of Scottish centre forward Hughie Gallagher to the club. Gallagher was already a hero on Tyneside thanks to five hugely successful years at First Division neighbours Newcastle United between 1925-30 where he scored 133 goals in 160 games. He only played 34 times for Gateshead however, scoring 18 goals in the process, 5 of which came in one single game against Rotherham United.

Gallagher's retirement from football in 1939 came the year before 30 years of league football at Redheugh Park came to a very sad end. Having finished as low as 20th (out of 24) in 1958-59, the following season was even worse. Completely disastrous in fact. Gateshead did not win a single game away from home finishing second bottom and for only the second time in 30 years, suffering the humiliation of having to apply for re-election. Unlike in 1937, Gateshead were this time unsuccessful. On May 28 at the Football League's Annual General Meeting their application was rejected. Gateshead gained only 18 votes in their bid for re-election whilst Oldham reapplying for the second successive season gained as many as 39, behind them Midland League side Peterborough United, Hartlepools United, and Southport all gained more votes than the Tynesiders. After 30 years Gateshead Football Club was no longer a Football League club.

Gateshead have not played in the Football League since, the closest they've come was reaching Conference Premier play-off final in 2014, where a 2-1 defeat to Cambridge United saw them miss out on promotion back to the Football League.