With 452 fans in attendance, the gate swelled by visitors after the games involving neighbours South Shields and Heaton Stannington across the river were postponed, the Save Hebburn Town campaign had a day to savour.
The idea of the day was to tap into Hebburn Town Juniors, inviting the under-sevens to come along as mascots and bring the family to make it a Non-league football day out. With Newcastle Utd away, Sunderland playing the next day and a raft of Northern League postponements all encouraging people to South Tyneside, the result was an unqualified success. The biggest crowd of the day anywhere in England at this level of football saw a convincing home win.
All around the ground, the buzz was about how impressive Hebburn’s recent PR campaign had been. But this was about more than a few press releases and a bit of media coverage. The very atmosphere of the club felt different. Back in October, on an admittedly bleak evening at home to Darlington RA, everything felt rundown. The lack of programmes was apologetically explained away due to the anticipated lack of much of a crowd, the atmosphere was flat and the football little better.
Fast forward to March, and the whole place had a renewed sense of energy and purpose. It wasn’t just the mild weather, nor was it entirely down to the large crowd. The club’s officials had a spring in their collective step, the tannoy announcements – from Belinda Carlisle’s “national anthem of Hebburn” (it’s a Place on Earth, as the songstress almost sang) to the plugs for the tea hut – came with verve and enthusiasm. It was a day that made casual visitors want to come back, if not to Hebburn, then to non-league football in general. Even if not every club in the Northern League can offer a half-time snack to rival Hebburn’s game pie.
A comfortable home win always helps, and Hebburn made the perfect start when young striker Jason Blackburn swivelled in the box to smash home a volley from Channon North’s cross. A Tow Law equalizer kept the game interesting, but North and Blackburn were to finish with two goals each in a convincing win. For North, the club captain, it was also his 100th Hebburn goal in his 139th appearance for the club.
Celebrations for North, and bigger celebrations for Hebburn. In the space of a month since that infamous game in front of 16 paying fans, the club has transformed itself. The work is far from finished – at this level, clubs are almost inevitably reliant on help and support from their communities, and vulnerable to the problems that afflict their surroundings – but the foundations feel like they are renewed.
Hebburn Sports Ground, Hebburn, England
Northern League Division 2, March 4, 2017
Hebburn Town 4 (Blackburn 2, North 2) Tow Law Town 1 (Gibson)