Frank Skinner’s second team? The last known sporting sighting of the infamous Ali Dia? The team indirectly responsible for three championship winners in the same season? Football in Spennymoor can sometimes read like a series of pub quiz posers.
Today Spennymoor Town, the club that rose from the financially destitute ashes of Spennymoor Utd, are hoping for promotion to the Evostik Premier Division and a return to United’s greatest heights in the pyramid. The Brewery Field ground, home of football in the town since 1904, looks prosperous once more. A smart main stand built after the Bradford fire of 1985 prompted the demolition of its predecessor, a covered terrace behind one goal and – at last – the foundations of the old main stand have been tarmacked over to create proper hard standing behind the dug-outs.
That’s testament to the hard work done by Spennymoor Town following the collapse of the old club in 2005. But Spennymoor United, a rare semi-pro team in the heartland of amateur football, had an impressive history of its own, with 10 championship trophies and some stirring runs in the FA Trophy under the captaincy of Albert Hickman in the 1970s. The Frank Skinner connection revolves around the comedian’s father, John Collins, who played for the club in the inter-war years and featured in an FA Cup Third Round tie against Skinner’s more famous love, West Bromwich Albion. The story goes that Collins met his future wife in a Midlands pub after that game, which would be some consolation for the 7-1 defeat the Moors suffered against their top-flight opponents. Ali Dia, renowned for his ‘Bambi on Ice’ appearance in the Premier League for Southampton back in the 1990s, played a handful of games in the Northern Premier League for Spenny, including a man-of-the-match display against Chorley on his debut in 1998 and a series of ever-decreasing returns before his abrupt disappearance. And the failure of the team in 2005, brought on by a perfect storm of disputes between club and local authority, declining crowds and a devastating loss of income following the destruction of the (uninsured, amazingly) clubhouse in a fire at Christmas 2003, resulted in a submission to the High Court after three clubs – Workington, Hyde United and Farsley Celtic – pressed claims to be crowned league champions.
Spennymoor United resigned from the Northern Premier League with nine games left to play. Pandemonium ensued. Should the Moors’ results be expunged? Should they count, and the nine teams left to play them be awarded a victory by default? As league and clubs got lawyered up to thrash that one out, the fate of the championship trophy hung in the balance.
On the final day of the season, Workington topped the table ahead of Hyde United and Farsley Celtic, with Hyde still awaiting its game against Spennymoor. Initially the league simply expunged Spennymoor’s results. The decision to wipe out the Moors’ results saw Farsley and Workington swap places, with Hyde still in second. The Yorkshire club celebrated its championship success on the final day of the season but Workington, Hyde, Gateshead and Radcliffe Borough launched an appeal to the FA. That resulted in a new verdict: Spennymoor’s completed fixtures would be counted; teams still waiting to play them would be awarded three points for the unfulfilled match. Now Hyde United were champions, and Burscough dropped out of the play-offs after Prescott Cables were awarded six points for two unplayed games. Farsley and Burscough embarked on their own legal bids to get the High Court to overturn the FA’s verdict but failed. The merger between Spennymoor and Evenwood Town that enabled the Moors to play Northern League football in 2005-06 also caused controversy, especially in Easington Colliery.
Those arguments are now largely forgotten. The new-look Spennymoor Town quickly became a dominant force in the Northern League, winning promotion in its second season and going on to land four titles in five seasons in the first division as well as the crowning glory of a 2-1 FA Vase Final victory over Tunbridge Wells at Wembley in 2013.
Promotion to the Evokstik League Division 1 (North) came in 2014 and the club, ably managed by popular ex-player Jason Ainsley, is aiming higher still. In October, against Glossop North End, another club with a big history, the team picks up an entertaining 3-2 win on a misty evening to keep its FA Trophy hopes alive. Fans, who insist ‘we’ll always be United’ despite the FA’s reluctance to allow the team to change its name, enjoy some slick passing football and take time out to barrack the man buns of the visiting defence. The talk is of another play-off push; the biggest threat seems to be meteorological. By the turn of the year the impact of a wet winter means the Moors have played just 22 games – fewer than anyone else among the leaders – and face a busy schedule in their bid to hold on to a top-five finish.
Brewery Field, Spennymoor, England.
FA Trophy Preliminary round (replay), 6 October 2015.
Spennymoor Town 3 (Henry 25, 70; Mason 73) Glossop North End 2 (Andrews 34, Alexander 86)