Spotlight On The Northern League...

The Northern League is 125 years old this season. Eight divisions below the PL, it has launched hundreds of careers. Owen Amos has helped write a book about it...

Last Updated: 13/12/13 at 10:49 Post Comment

Latest Articles

Football Folk On TV: Robbie Savage

28 comments

He's the driver of the banter bus who's the most likely man in football to tell you the price of his watch. But is Robbie Savage actually just a vulnerable puppy in a harsh world?

All Articles

When writing about the Northern League, you could start with a list of players who began their career there: people like Bob Paisley (Bishop Auckland) or Brian Clough (Billingham Synthonia) or Chris Waddle (Tow Law Town). You could mention that it's the second-oldest league in the world, behind the Football League. Or you could start with the Northern League's record in national competition: the past five winners of the FA Vase, for example, have all been league members.

But personally, I prefer this:

In 1997, the league needed a sponsor. That summer, in a bar at Wembley, the league chairman got speaking to the manager of an insurance firm. After a ten-minute negotiation, a deal was signed there and then - on the inside flap of a packet of Marlboro. It was never formalised, and, over ten years, it was worth half a million pounds. That, my friends, is rock 'n' roll football.

I know that story well because a) my dad is the (unpaid) chairman in question and b) this summer I helped to write a book marking the Northern League's 125th anniversary. As anecdotes go, you have to admit, it beats 'Sir Alex Ferguson thinks Jordan Henderson runs funny'.

The book is full of stories: the match delayed by armed police because someone thought a spectator's hot dog was a shotgun; the MP who complained about a referee in the House of Commons; the Northumbrian team sponsored by an American who made his billions in frozen food.

But the Northern League isn't just about off-beat 'and finally...' anecdotes. It's seen some pretty serious football, too:

- In 1913, Crook Town - a miners' team from County Durham - toured Spain and beat Barcelona 4-2.

- In 1958, after the Munich disaster, Manchester United signed three Northern League players from Bishop Auckland. One of them, Warren Bradley, went on to play for England.

- In 1978, Blyth Spartans reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, beating Stoke City on the way.

- At least one Northern League team has played at Wembley in five of the seven seasons since it reopened.

And there've been some pretty decent players here, too. As well as Paisley, Clough, and Waddle, Gary Pallister (Billingham Town), Steve Harper (Seaham Red Star), Steve Howard (Tow Law Town) and Danny Graham (Chester le Street) all started their career in the Northern League. Paul Robinson - the former England goalkeeper - once played for Durham City in an injury crisis.

I've watched Northern League football all my life. And yet, while writing the book, I felt like someone on Who Do You Think You Are, discovering a history that was under my nose all along. I learned about the team formed in the bait room of a coal mine (Washington); the club who borrowed 12 pounds and ten shillings from the local social club to get started (Ryton and Crawcrook Albion); the grandfather, father and son who spent decades as secretary of one club (the Fairburns at Tow Law).

Yet, despite being 125 years old, the Northern League isn't an anachronism. Crowds are increasing every year - Spennymoor, who are fifth, have a higher average attendance than almost half the teams in the Conference North - and clubs are building younger, more pro-active fanbases through social media. There's even a Northern League Day, separate from the national non-league day.

With only seven north-east teams playing at a higher level, the Northern League - which has teams from County Durham, Teesside, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Cumbria - feels like a bona fide regional competition. It's the place where, for the past 125 years, local pride has been won and lost. Buy a book and read all about it. Or better still: go to a game. Most clubs only charge £5 or £6 - some a lot less - and you'll get a warm welcome. But if you don't want to get tapped up for half a million quid, put the Marlboro away...

Owen Amos - follow him on Twitter here

The book is on sale for £5 plus P&P at Amazon. Orders should be placed by Wednesday December 18 to guarantee Christmas delivery:

They're also being sold for £3.99 at all Northern League clubs. For more information on the league, visit northernleague.org.

None of the authors or editors is being paid and any profit will be reinvested into the league.

Football365 Facebook Fan Page

The Football365 fan page is a great place to meet like minded people, have football related discussions and make new friends.

Most Commented

Readers' Comments

I

t's why Mourinho is so successful. He gives players a specific, limited set of functions to perform. They are but a cog in a machine. Do no more, do no less. I assume he learnt it from LvG :)

red_devil83
Fellaini Has Politely Become Undroppable

I

really hope that someone in the mainstream media spots that the Bayern manager played for and managed Barcelona quite well, and thinks to mention it in the build up. That would be really interesting.

megabrow (cufc)
Barcelona to face Bayern

Y

our gob says one thing, Brendan, the results say something else.

balls-to-monty
Rodgers bullish over Anfield future

Latest Photos

Footer 365

Eden Hazard lands PFA Player of the Year award

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard has been named the PFA Player of the Year.

Harry Kane lands PFA Young Player of the Year award

Tottenham striker Harry Kane has been named the PFA Young Player of the Year.

Arsene Wenger says it is impossible for Chelsea to lose title

Arsene Wenger believes it is just a matter of time before Chelsea are crowned champions after their 0-0 draw at Arsenal.

Mail Box

Chelsea Millions Should Buy Better...

For the money they have spent, Chelsea should be playing like the Harlem Globetrotters rather than Atletico. We have mails on Cesc, Brendan Rodgers and...

Brendan Rodgers Is David Cameron...

Rodgers is compared to the Prime Minister, insomuch as he has a right to peddle bulls**t, apparently. Plus why comparing Arsene Wenger to Diego Simeone is a mug's game...

© 2015 Sky Ltd. All Rights Reserved A Sky Sports Digital Media company