Saturday 15th August 2015 ko 15.00
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
NEWTON AYCLIFFE 4 (Knight 29 Banks 59 Moffat 81 86)
If there’s one competition every football fan should be a fan of it’s the FA Cup. Despite top flight clubs attempts to devalue it, for me the memories of clubs you’d never heard of battling against familiar Football League clubs remain a romantic part of growing up a football fan. Be it Blyth Spartans, Shepshed Charterhouse or Sutton United, the FA Cup was and is where the thrill of the underdog giving the patrician a bloody nose was more interesting than watching the same old sides fight for the League title. With those thoughts in mind I wanted something special to visit for the competition’s opening round.
Nelson, are of course a former Football League club, although there’s been a couple of insolvencies since those days. They were elected as founder members of Division Three North in 1921, and stayed until they failed to be re-elected in 1931. It wasn’t a decade of struggle though. They were promoted in 1923, and in preparation went on tour to Spain where they famously became the first English team to beat Real Madrid in Spain! Sadly that proved to be a false dawn as despite beating both Leeds United and Manchester United, they were relegated after only one season.
Eventually the club found themselves in debt, and two consecutive last places saw them fail to be re-elected in 1931, to be replaced by Chester City. The club entered the Lancashire Combination, but folded under the burden of their debts in 1936. They were swiftly reformed and after the World War II worked their way back to the Lancashire Combination. They found no little success their and in 1953 with Joe Fagan at the helm, tried for election back to the Football League. The attempt was unsuccessful, Fagan went on to managerial success with Liverpool via Rochdale, and eventually Nelson found themselves as founder-members of the Step 5 North West Counties League.
The club had its heyday at the Seedhill Ground, the other side of Carr Road from their current home at Victoria Park. Seedhill was vacated in 1980 to make room for the construction of the M65. There’s not much left, mainly the red brick surrounding wall, but there’s enough left of the footprint left to suggest that the club could move back there, and announced plans to do just that in 2009. However the current plan is to improve what they have, by building a new stand behind the near goal to be named after Joe Fagan. Meanwhile Seedhill is being used as a storage site for improvements to the motorway and I incurred the wrath of a couple of employees as I committed the heinous crime of taking a few photos.
But the emotional side of a visit to Nelson is far more important than mere bricks, mortar, and irascible builders. Put simply the place just oozes character and history from every pore. You find yourself drawn to the line of terraced cottages with the factory chimney behind, and if it doesn’t evoke William Blake, then I’d question either your education or your very soul. They’ve nicknamed the place “Little Wembley” a comment on the pitch more than anything else, but its the kind of place you just have to stop and linger in.
If course a football club isn’t made of bits of wood, steel and concrete as much as some groundhoppers would like them to be, they are made of people, and as wonderful as the location is, the people of the club are what make the place. Once they’d got over the 3 hour drive I’d completed to get there, I enjoyed their passion, and ambition and if the FA Cup isn’t about clubs like Nelson when what on earth is it about?
Sadly what I couldn’t bring them was a little luck. I normally comment that every time a Northern League takes on another league’s team in a national cup competition, the Northern League’s team normally wins. And while I do think 0-4 was little harsh on the hosts, the truth was that they found Aycliffe’s Matty Moffat utterly unplayable.
But as disappointed as I was for Nelson, there was so much more it for me than just the result. These days I tend to grade my grounds on one criteria, whether I’ve enhanced my existence by my visit. Seldom can that be so much the case as in the case of Nelson. It was by anyone’s standards a wonderful afternoon.