Redcar usually only hits the headlines due to its steelworks – and in recent times there’s been little good news on that score. So it was a slight surprise to discover that, once beyond the industrial areas on the way into town, it’s a pleasant enough coastal spot. Redcar Athletic, the local football team, has a seaside ground; behind one goal ships head in and out of Teesport, at the other end there’s a view across to the Cleveland Hills. Not for the first time, north-east non-league offers far most rustic surroundings than the traditional ‘coal mines and cooling towers’ image might suggest.
But come June 21, Redcar Athletic are desperate for good news from the FA. The team, founded as a reformed Teesside Athletic in 1993, finished second in the Wearside League behind Stockton Town, and believe that they have done enough to earn promotion to the Northern League – a long sought-after aim. Their home ground, Green Lane, is somewhat basic but has achieved the necessary ground grading to go up a level. The team has been a consistent contender at the top of the Wearside League in recent seasons. And while nobody begrudges Stockton the promotion they might have had a year earlier had it not been for a planning row halting the development of their Bishopton Road ground, there’s a sense of grievance in Redcar.
It all goes back to the start of the season as the FA grapples with a lop-sided pyramid that sees ‘Northern’ teams in towns like Sutton Coldfield. The north-east, for various reasons, is particularly sparsely represented above Northern League level, prompting the FA to ask the Wearside League to give up two teams to promotion to help fill in the gaps. The league agreed, and Redcar believed that a top-two finish was good enough to go up.
Then things get complicated. Stockton won the league and claimed promotion. Whitehaven, out on the Cumbrian coast, finished in mid-table and accepted a sideways move into a Cumbrian league. Redcar’s view is that the second promotion place is still up for grabs … and should rightfully be theirs. It’s an opinion reinforced by the prospect of other teams at this level gaining promotion to the North West Counties League despite less success in their league campaign. The FA, thus far, has demurred; Redcar’s appeal is due to be heard on June 21.
A resolution in Redcar’s favour in late June could cause massive disruption. To accommodate a possible Redcar promotion, Northern League Division 2 could run with 23 clubs … but that would leave relegated Birtley Town aggrieved. Alternatively, Northallerton Town, southernmost in the Northern League, could be moved into the Northern Counties East League to make room in a 22-team competition. But that, apart from disappointing Northallerton, would have a knock-on effect in the NCEL. The Wearside League, too, is dependent on a final verdict before completing its plans for the coming campaign. Whatever decision comes back from London, there will likely be as much anger as vindication among the clubs affected by the decision.
Back in May Green Lane hosted the Wearside League Cup Final. Stockton Town, almost inevitably, were the visitors. The title race was still mathematically alive, but effectively Stockton had it wrapped up and duly went on to clinch its fourth successive crown a few days later. Redcar had consolation silverware in mind, but lost out despite taking the lead with a close-range finish through Lewis Wood. It took just two minutes for Kallum Hannah to tie it up after springing the home offside trap. Hannah added a second after the interval and Sonni Coleman wrapped it up with half an hour still to play.
The remaining league games saw Redcar post an emphatic 13-0 win at Annfield Plain while leading scorer Andy Jennings, absent for the cup final, took his tally to a club record 52 goals for the season. But the biggest match of the campaign looks set to be decided in a committee room rather than on a football field.
Green Lane, Redcar, England
Wearside League Cup Final, May 2, 2016
Redcar Athletic 1 (Wood) Stockton Town 3 (Hannah 2, Coleman)