Druid Park, Football, groundhopping, Newcastle Blue Star, Non League, Northern League, Northern Premier League, Wheatsheaf Park
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 28th April 2007 ko 15.00
Northern League Division One
NEWCASTLE BLUE STAR 0
WEST AUCKLAND TOWN 3 (Bromley 15 Fairhurst 57p Middleton 87)
“Northern Ventures, Northern Gains” 30p
It’s fair to say the Northern League has become good at keeping clubs within its ranks. Few clubs leave upwards, and the league was never an enthusiastic supporter of the footballing “Pyramid” to the extent that it turned down repeated invitations from 1979 and during the 1980’s to become a feeder league for the Alliance Premier League, now the National League. They could have been a Step 2 league, but when they finally entered the pyramid in 1991, it was at Step 5, but even the best part of 30 years later the Northern League is, for my money the strongest league at its level.
In fact it wasn’t until fairly recently that clubs started to move up from the Northern League, mainly due to the FA making it mandatory! You can see why the league was so reluctant, the league’s footprint in the North-East means promotion adds-up to equally a huge increase in travel times and costs. The likes of Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland had made the step up and returned in a desperate financial state. And there was also the thought that as the second-oldest league in the world (behind the Football League) why should the Northern League change? They’d done perfectly well since 1889 after all!
So when Newcastle Blue Star announced they were seeking promotion I pricked up my ears. They’d already made the headlines in 1992 when a proposal was made to merge Blue Star with financially stricken Maidstone United. The idea was to move Maidstone to the north-east and give Newcastle a second League club. The then Maidstone chairman Jim Thompson turned down the idea flat, and the Stones went bankrupt soon after.
But this seemed a far more concrete idea than the Maidstone affair. For one thing the club were the reigning Northern League champions, but didn’t stand a prayer of repeating the feat, this defeat meant they finished precisely mid-table- 11th. The other issue was that their home Wheatsheaf Park wasn’t up to Northern Premier League standards so they’d announced that they were going to groundshare at Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park and give up Wheatsheaf Park completely.
From a distance it felt like the club was burning its bridges, and as I arrived for Blue Star’s final game at Wheatsheaf, and in the Northern League that feeling was solidified. On one hand my copy of the Northern League mouthpiece “Northern Ventures, Northern Gains” ran a piece wishing Blue Star well, whilst being sorry they were leaving. On the other the Blue Star programme alleged league obstruction and championship trophies being dumped in corridors, and that they certainly weren’t leaving the Northern League on the best of terms, and clearly had no intention of ever coming back. And to be fair to them, they never did!
They tamely lost this game, left Wheatsheaf Park, and took a special FA dispensation to be promoted to the Northern Premier League, Division One North. Now I’m normally in favour of promotion and relegation but this was an odd case. Back in 2007 there were sides in the Northern League who looked capable of sustaining football at a higher level, but with all due respect, Newcastle Blue Star weren’t one of them, the attendance at this game rather proving the point.
That said, their second season at Kingston Park saw them win promotion from Division One, but at the end of that second season their inability to pay off an FA stadium improvement loan of £65,000 ironically for improvements to Wheatsheaf Park saw the club fold before being able to take that elevation.
The Newcastle Blue Star name was revived in 2018 and the club now play in the Northern Alliance at Scotswood Sports Centre roughly 6 miles south of their old home, Wheatsheaf Park, but what happened to that facility?
When Blue Star left the ground was taken over by Newcastle Falcons RUFC, converted to 3G and became the Falcons’ training ground. They renamed the ground Druid Park, and in 2007 invited Gosforth RUFC to play there, which was interesting since Gosforth broke away from the Falcons in 1990 to remain as a amateur club, seemingly pre-empting professionalism in 1995. But Druid Park is in Woolsington, not Gosforth, and the club returned to Gosforth in 2015.
That proved to be fortunate for West Allotment Celtic who’d been forced to leave the Northumberland FA Ground, Whitley Park at the end of the 2016/17 season due to a rent increase. Having Druid/Wheatsheaf Park available quite possibly saved the club, and they still play there now.
So to summarise, this is the story of club at one ground, who moved to another, folded then reformed somewhere else while an entirely different club moved into their old ground. No one said life was straightforward!