July feels too early for competitive football. The schools have barely broken up, the sun shines, the grass is green and stretches deep into the heart of the goalmouth. In County Durham, beautiful weather isn’t really part of the beautiful game; there’s something unreal about watching the Northern League without enduring the kind of wind that blows corner flags flat or peering into impenetrable fog.
But the Cleator Cup, the league’s traditional curtain-raiser, has sneaked every earlier in the calendar: this time it was July 30 when league champions Shildon hosted runners-up Marske United on a summery Dean Street afternoon. Putting it into context, July 30 was also the date when England won the World Cup 50 years earlier. What was once the end of the football season has, somehow, become the start.
The World Cup theme continued: half a century after Moore hoisted England’s most glorious trophy, Shildon’s captain Moore – Daniel, not Bobby – gets to parade some silverware after the Railwaymen’s 4-1 win. The latter-day Moore has had a bit more practice at presentations than most England skippers, though. Shildon did the double last season, adding to a Durham Challenge Cup triumph in 2014 as the club continues to prosper after coming close to collapse in 2004. Pun-hungry sub-editors might note that they haven’t built up a head of steam like this since they were on track for four successive Northern League titles in the 1930s.
Shildon’s success also marked a fitting end to Mike Amos’ 20-year stint as Northern League chairman. Shildon born-and-bred, few could have been prouder of Gary Forrest’s title-winning team than Amos. Now revelling in both the Cleator Cup sunshine and a return to the life of carefree fan rather than careworn chairman, he’s continuing his popular blog in a new guise.
Pre-season skirmishes suggested that Shildon were in a mood to carry on where they left off. Crushing wins over Tow Law, Durham City and Norton & Stockton Ancients were followed by an awayday success in Scotland at the James Glen Memorial Cup. Marske’s form was less impressive; the team from the Teesside coast had brought in some new faces in a bid to improve on two second place finishes last time around.
But it was the visitor that looked livelier early on, taking a deserved lead through a Jamie Owens’ header as both teams looked to run off some of the summer rust. Shildon improved as as Mark Doninger began to cause more trouble down the flanks, and hit back with two goals late in the first half. Michael Rae got both of them, pouncing on a rebound from close range before deflecting in a Doninger cross on the stroke of half-time.
The second period saw a rather better Shildon performance. Sub Paul Connor added a third before Rae completed his hat-trick to put some gloss on the scoreline.
Dean Street, Shildon, England
July 30, 2016. Cleator Cup Final
Shildon 4 (Rae 3, Connor) Marske Utd 1 (Owens)