As hurricane Desmond battered Britain back in December, non-league football was laid waste. But, in the teeth of the storm, a handful of Teesside teams got their games on. Norton & Stockton Ancients was one of them, staging a bottom vs top clash with Shildon in Northern League Division One.
The ‘Ancients’ bit of the team’s name is something of a misnomer: the club dates back to 1959 when it was formed as an off-shoot of Norton Cricket Club. The full name comes from the 1980, when Stockton FC was wound up and its remaining assets were transferred to Norton. Shortly after this, the team stepped up from the Teesside League to become a founder member of Northern League Division 2.
If there’s anything ancient here, it’s the ground. That was established by the cricketers in 1847, at a time when Norton was the major parish and Stockton, now a significant town, was a grubby industrial parvenu. Times change, and Norton, with its unusual Saxon church and large village green, is now the outsider next to its bigger neighbour. The Station Road sports complex indirectly commemorates the old Clarence Line; trains still run hourly between Billingham and Stockton, but there’s no station in Norton anymore. Visitors to the 12-acre multisport grounds tend to come by car.
The Ancients spent most of their Northern League history in the second tier, waiting 27 years before clinching promotion in 2009. They’ve been down and up again since then, and along the way set a record attendance just a shade over 1,500 for the visit of FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup in 2010. Now they’re back in the top flight thanks to the efforts of manager Andy Campbell, now at West Auckland. Life at a higher level hasn’t been kind, as the conversation in the snack bar suggests. With the team trailing once again, the burning question is ‘Are they trying? I don’t mind them getting beat, but are they trying?’
In reality, this is a club that tries harder than most. There’s plenty of competition for attention around here, and at this level teams like Billingham Synthonia, a division lower but with a more illustrious history, tend to capture the imagination more readily than Norton. The efforts involved in getting a game on at all in filthy conditions also suggest a group that is passionately committed to football and, while the team is struggling at the foot of the table – and finds high-flying Shildon too much to handle here – there’s a determination to keep going. The game finished 4-1 to the visitors, reaffirming their title credentials; Norton may struggle to escape relegation but can at least reflect that they are winning friends more readily than points at this level.
Station Road, Norton, Co. Durham, England
Dec. 5, 2015. Northern League Division 1
Norton & Stockton Ancients 1 (Charney) Shildon 4 (Moore (2), Dodds, Fryatt)