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Saturday 26th June 2021 ko 18.30

Berwick Charities Cup Quarter Final

NORTHUMBERLAND FC ( Brooks 49p Cravagan 86)

B.A.S.U. ADULTS 5 (Bell 16 90 Renton 52 Grey 37)

Att c108 at The Stanks, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Entry- By Donation

As you clock up the grounds you do tend to pigeonhole them a little. There’s the modern, and the classic, and yes, the ones that are little more than a pitch. At the very least there’s always another place to compare where you are against, but then you visit The Stanks!

For the initiated The Stanks are a small area just outside the city walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. They’ve seen service as a latrine, a moat and as an ice house, but the significance for the last 100-or-so years is that there is just enough room to fit in a football pitch. That has seen no end of charity football matches played here, but the place’s superlatives do rather leap out at you.

I’d recommend parking up in the Parade Car Park and walking through the narrow Cowport Gate to get to the pitch, you’ll pass by a little door to a room that before Covid was used as changing room. But look above the door, the place was built in 1755, making it older than the farmhouse at Lesser Hampden reckoned to be the oldest football structure in the world dating from just after 1800. Now I don’t think anyone who try to claim the room at the Stanks is football architecture but the date is quite something!

Then you look at the walls themselves- Grade I listed no less, being built from 1558-1570 at massive expense in the Italianate style and clearly designed to both withstand attack from both land and sea, but with the bastions in place to allow for significant cannon power. Or in this day and age the Brass Bastion behind the goal does give an onrushing player the potential for significant injury!

But to simply look at The Stanks as a piece of Tudor military architecture is only a small part of the explanation why this place was on my and many other groundhoppers’ bucket lists. It is a place that defies most description even down to LS Lowry sketching the place on one of his many visits to Berwick, but never actually converting that sketch into a painting. On a different level entirely I was apprehensive as to how I’d approach photographing the place, and I ended up throwing away just about everything I tend to do at a “Normal” ground. 

The Stanks has had a long history of football being played here, mainly non-FA, and charity games. Before the current competition a game in 1915 saw a huge crowd watch Berwick Rovers lose 1-0 to the 2/10th Royal Scots Guards in a fund raiser for the Queen’s Hospital in the town. The 1920’s and 30’s saw the Berwick Infirmary Cup played here with the FA occasionally banning players who took part for “Illegal Football!” Here’s some quite incredible footage of the 1929 Infirmary Cup Final.

The Berwick Charities Cup is being played for the 99th time this summer, albeit in slightly abbreviated way due to Covid. Its a competition that sees teams you don’t see anywhere else, to the extent that at least one player we watched here, had turned out for Tweedmouth Rangers earlier, and yes, teams from both sides of the border do enter! Its’s still non-FA, which is no bad thing, I’m sure the ground graders would have a fit if they saw The Stanks- if its beyond comparison, its also beyond grading!

Given the scratch nature of the teams you’ll understand that I wasn’t expecting a particularly high standard, particularly as Northumberland had won their Preliminary Round game 14-2!   I was very pleasantly surprised as both sides played their part in an entertaining game. BASU , or Berwick Adult Service Unit won the tie, although 5-2 did flatter them a little. 

But without wishing to offend either of the teams involved, the fact that it was a good game was something of a bonus. Here the location was the star, and made the fact that I didn’t arrive home in Oxford until 3:30am a worthwhile price to pay. 

I’ve clocked up more than my fair share of football grounds, and a fair few of them I’ve documented on here. But The Stanks is something different to all of the others, in a category of its own, and is beyond comparison. It goes without saying it should be on any groundhopper’s bucket list. 

Fixtures can be found on a dedicated Facebook page and on their Twitter Feed. The ground address is The Stanks, Magdalene Fields Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1NE. The competition starts in May and finishes in July.