Football in Northumberland. Black and white shirts. St. James’ Park. A venerable town institution, competing since 1879 and a ground that opened for football back in 1901. But it’s not Newcastle. This is Alnwick Town.
The team, one of the oldest in the region, predates the more famous Magpies. Newcastle Utd, 35 miles south, weren’t founded until 1892. The St. James’ Park ground, one of the more modest in the Northern League, is more recent than its celebrated namesake: the first football at Newcastle’s home ground was played way back in 1880, Alnwick arrived in their home a mere 115 years ago.
But there may be something of the spirit of the early days of Newcastle West End here. No misshapen mass of concrete and steel dwarfing the neighbours, no lavishly priced ‘executive’ bars. Instead there’s a small stand – 51 seats, only one row of them with a back – and a covered terrace at one end decorated with a collection of flags. No VIP treatment for visiting officials; there’s a free cuppa and a sandwich, but they rub shoulders with anyone else who stumbles in for a scotch pie and a squint at the half-time scores. Stand in the car park behind the top goal and you can catch a glimpse of Alnwick RUFC in the background; Newcastle has its own rugby heritage, albeit in the 13-a-side code and the second ever international test match back in 1908.
Alnwick, a fine medieval town, is best known for the castle that starred in the Harry Potter movies, among others. It’s still the home of the Duke of Northumberland, the Hotspur family who owned ample land in the Northumberland Park area of North London, close to White Hart Lane and Tottenham Hotspur. Blue blood is no historical curio in these parts; the current Duke is president of the football club.
If Alnwick, town and team, come steeped in history, the visitors were one of the newest and most progressive clubs in the Northern League. Stockton Town represent a Teesside community with a proud footballing lineage but have grown up fast in the last few decades. Initially a very local junior team, founded in 1979 as Hartburn Juniors, the club has evolved into a serious force in the non-league game. In 2003 they adopted the name of Stockton Town, partly inspired by the Ancients, the original Stockton FC of 1889. That team was among the region’s trailblazers in the early years of the FA Amateur Cup, winning it three times before World War I; modern day Stockton Town went on to dominate the Wearside League with four successive titles before finally having the facilities in place to accept promotion in 2016. In their first Northern League campaign, they’re among the Division Two pace-setters; dreams of bringing the Northern League championship trophy back to the town for the first time since 1933 could be on the agenda in the coming seasons.
On the field, the clash between old aristos and a thrusting young generation went the way of the visitors. Kallum Hannah, by some margin his club’s record scorer, led the way with a hat-trick as Stockton picked up a 4-1 win. Home anger was mostly directed at the officials: Stockton’s crucial second goal, forced home by defender Tom Coulthard, came from a corner awarded after a breakaway that looked several yards offside. “Even their fans say it was offside, ref man!” lamented an Alnwick player. Quick as a flash came the reply: “Aye, but we’re not saying it to the referee.”
St. James’ Park, Alnwick, England
Nov. 5, 2016, Northern League Division 2
Alnwick Town 1 (Hay) Stockton Town 4 (Hannah 3, Coulthard)