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Saturday 23rd February 2019 ko 15.00

Northern League Division 2

ESH WINNING 5 (Donaldson 4 Arnott 32 Marley 35 63 Mole 67)

EASINGTON COLLIERY 2 (Pounder 14 71)

Att 64

Entry £5

Programme £1

It had been an odd way to visit. I’d dropped off the other 3 members of my party at West Auckland Working Men’s Club, for some Thomas Lipton Trophy history before they headed to West’s FA Vase game. I’d met the Northern League committee there, and it was lovely to catch up with Mike Amos, the inventor of the organised groundhop, and Harvey Harris the organiser of the league’s re-union hops a couple of years ago. The sense of anticipation there was obvious, so did seem a little counter-intuitive as I headed north, further into the North Pennines in County Durham. There was method in my madness though.

You really do climb to get to Esh Winning, perhaps not as much as you do to get to the notorious but glorious Tow Law Town but not far off it. You are in former coal mining country here, but just like in South Wales, the hill farms have returned and the mine workings that have all but disappeared. This is the parish where the great Sir Bobby Robson grew up, he was educated at Waterhouses where by co-incidence Esh Winning’s West Terrace ground is to be found, running parallel to the footpath that is all that’s left of the Dearness Valley line, closed in 1951, as colliery closures affected traffic.

You really do have to look at the villages of Waterhouses and Esh Winning as a pair, both were planned as model colliery villages, not with the same level of ambition as Saltaire but with a grid pattern not often seen in the UK. Sadly the model village in Esh Winning is no longer obvious but the east-west terraces of Waterhouses show the village’s background nicely.

What’s also left is a football club named after the coal industry, Esh is the Saxon word for Ash (trees) and Winning is a Victorian term used for when coal was discovered.

The original Esh Winning had folded in 1934 (with West Auckland FC taking on their record and remaining fixtures), and had played at the Stags Head Recreation Ground back in Esh Winning. The club were revived in 1945 and entered the Durham Central League, but again disbanded when a local businessman buought lease on the ground and gave the club 24 hours notice to quit. Ironically, the same man later became club secretary. The site of the Stags Head Ground is still there, and is in use as a public park.

The modern club was formed as Esh Winning Pineapple in 1967 (which would explain the kit!) named after the local pub at least in part to provide a team to play at the new ground. The new club bought the site of the current ground, the site of the former Waterhouses Colliery that had closed in 1965, from the National Coal Board. The new club started in the Durham Sunday League.

They’ve played in the Northern League since 1982, being elected when the league expanded to two divisions. They were promoted to Division One in in 2002 but have found the last few years difficult. After alternating between the two divisions they were relegated back to Division 2 in 2011 and since then have struggled to maintain their Northern League status. They were forced to seek re-election at the end of the 2016-7 season and I arrived at this game with the club having won one home league game all season. Was I trying something akin to a “Vulture job?”

I sincerely hope not, as this is a ground to grace the Northern League, complete with that wonderful stand, a smaller version of the one found at Bury Town. But what really draws then eye is the grass bank behind the far goal with the two shelters seemingly designed for Winning’s longer-in-the-tooth fans to sit and ruminate on the action unfolding beneath them.

Except they had little or nothing to worry about. I must admit I’d completely forgotten that blogger Connor Lamb is helping out at Easington Colliery and before the game he warned that the visitors were going through a bad patch. The situation has not helped by playing game after game catching up fixtures after one of their floodlights fell over earlier in the season.

Connor’s fears were entirely justified. The visitors tried to play a high defensive line, but each time they tried to catch Winning offside the trap failed and eventually the hosts took full advantage. I felt for Connor, he’s a fine young man but I was rather taken by where I was, not difficult when the ground is this good and the backdrop this spectacular. It was with no little regret, that I made my way back to the others back in West Auckland.