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Saturday 13th October 2012 ko 15.00

Northern League Division Two

CROOK TOWN 3 (Hodgson 10 Davis 55 Byrne 76)

NORTH SHIELDS 1 (Nolan 65)

Att c160

Entry £4

Programme 50p

Badge £3

So many choices, on “Non-League Day,” including a Mancunian triple, but I’d heard good things about Millfield, so gambled on it being worth three games elsewhere. Carry on dear reader and you’ll see why Lee and I got it absolutely right.

On the face of it, Crook is a rather unprepossessing market town, in agricultural County Durham. In fact, its the town’s football team that is the principle source of fame for Crook. For older readers the club’s exploits in the FA Amateur Cup may be how you know Crook but if you’re from Catalonia the reason for knowing them is that they had a part in the establishment of Association Football as principle sport ahead of bullfighting in the region, and in particular the rise of the collossus that is FC Barcelona. Crook played a series of friendlies against Barcelona between 1912 and 1929 and Crook-born Jack Greenwell managed both Barcelona and the Spanish National side in the 1930’s. The ground also staged boxing, former heavyweight champion Brian London (from Hartlepool) topping the bill.

Millfield reflects the fact that the club routinely saw crowds of 10,000 plus for cup games, with a record of 17,000. These days the ground has been renamed the Sir Tom Cowie Millfield after the Transport tycoon gave £50,000 to buy a 100-year lease on the ground from the local council . That is the cleft-stick for the club, they love the ground, but its a nightmare to maintain so are looking to move. The council, presumably more than happy to receive the income are set against the move so the club are staying put for the time being. We were both struck by how friendly a bunch they were, even down to being given a free drink in the bar at half-time.

I’d only watched Crook once before, in 2006, playing away at Penrith. Former Newcastle defender Steve Howey had just left and taken most of the team with him, so just eleven players made the journey on the A66. One of them was club caretaker manager Dennis Pinkney, and other team members included a 15-year-old, and a committee member. Crook lost 10-1 but I’ll remember the game for Dennis picking up the only booking in his career 34 years after his debut, despite the Penrith players asking for leniency! Dennis is no longer with the club, but as one committee man put it, “If ever the club ever gets into trouble, he’ll be back to help.”

The ground is spick and span, but is clearly showing its age. The roof on the covered terrace now sports an extra stanchion after heavy winds bent the metal. The stand looks fantastic with its pitched roof, but few people used it, the sight lines impaired by floodlight pylons. The game attracted a reasonable crowd, with a high percentage following the visitors and all were treated to a cracking game in the autumnal sunshine.

Crook made the better start, and Richard Hodgson’s thumping drive from just outside the area was the very least they deserved. Kyle Davis squeezed a shot home from an acute angle to make it 2-0, before Rob Nolan pulled a goal back for the visitors with a similar effort. A counter-attack from North Shields saw Keith Douglas’ sliding effort blocked on the line with what looked suspiciously like an arm, but Crook soon put the game beyond doubt, Warren Byrne smashing home from just inside the box.

It was hard even as a neutral, to begrudge Crook their win. Few clubs have grounds as wonderful as this, and even less are friendly as well. If all grounds and clubs were like this the whole world would go groundhopping. Please pay them a visit soon.