With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Saturday 27th January 2007 ko 15.00
Northern League Division One
ASHINGTON A.F.C. 0
SHILDON 2 (Emson 5 Ord 8)
“Northern Ventures, Northern Gains” 30p
Quite often you hear football referred to as a religion. I’m not religious in the slightest but it isn’t a phrase I’m comfortable with, football is a sport after all. But in the Northumberland colliery town of Ashington I’d argue that football comes as close to being a religion as it can, and the evidence is there for all to see.
The town is the birthplace of Jackie Milburn, and of Jack and Bobby Charlton. Former England fast bowler Steve Harmison played for Ashington in the 1990’s before settling on cricket in 1996. He returned to manage the club from 2015 to 2017.
This could easily be tale of another obscure long-lost non-league football ground but for one detail. Portland Park was a former Football League venue. Ashington were elected to the newly-formed Division 3 North in 1921 and remained as the Football League’s northern outpost until 1929 when they finished bottom, failed to be re-elected, and were to be replaced by York City.
Portland Park staged more than just football. There was dog racing, and Stock Car Racing. The Ashington Arrows speedway team were unfortunate. Formed in 1972 they managed only 2 meetings before a spark during a stock car meeting caused the stand to burn down and all motor sport ceased at Portland. Greyhound racing finished in 1993.
The football club moved into Station Road in 1909 with the stadium being renamed Portland Park after landowner the Duke of Portland in 1914. After leaving the Football League Ashington returned to the North Eastern League, and after stints in the Midland League and the Northern Premier League the club switched to the Northern League where they remain to this day.
In the 1990’s financial problems saw the club sell Portland Park to the local authority Wansbeck Council, but when I arrived in 2007 it was clear from the graffiti around the ground that the council hadn’t exactly been a benevolent landlord. The ground clearly hadn’t been maintained properly and despite it’s long and storied history looked down at heel. Here’s my little video of one of the pieces of graffiti. It is rather inventive!
The covered enclosure on the clubhouse side had lost most of its roof, putting an end to the covered markets that used to be held there. Here’s a photo of the enclosure in its pomp.
It didn’t take a town planner or a scholar to see the club’s problems back then. There they were in a prime town centre location in a ground they didn’t own with the Asda the other side of Station Road beyond the near goal eyeing up the prospect of a larger store. Worse, there seemed to be little or impetus to find somewhere else for the club to play once the Portland Park had gone. The impression I got is that the council were happy to see Ashington shunted into a groundshare at Bedlington Terriers, and if that finished them off then so be it.
I watched Ashington slip to a home defeat to a strong-looking Shildon side, and made the long trip back to Oxford grieving for a fine club and a quite wonderful ground. Portland Park lasted another year, the club moved to Bedlington in February 2008, with the old ground eventually seeing Asda move across Station Road, and the former supermarket became a leisure centre.
Fortunately the club’s exile was brief. They moved to a purpose-built ground on former coal-mining land at Woodhorn Lane in August 2008. I looked at what had replaced Portland Park, which added up to modular “Arena” stands and some temporary-looking buildings used as changing rooms and a social club. On one hand at least this famous old club had a home, but I looked at what had had been lost and grieved all over again. I suppose that’s why, so far I’ve never visited Woodhorn Lane although I note that a new stand has been built.
It’s a facsimile of the stands at Bishop Auckland and at Penrith and there has been no little disquiet as to how it was financed. But looking back at how I felt leaving Portland Park in January 2007, perhaps the way to look at it is that 13 years later there is an Ashington football club and they have a ground they can call home.
My thanks to Chris Sanderson for his photo and help in putting this article together.