The Northern League 2016-17. A boom time, with fantastic crowds at South Shields putting the competition under the spotlight in a way not seen for years. At the top of the table, three teams broke through the 100-point barrier amid some of the most exciting and competitive football seen at this level in decades. And, to wrap it up, another victorious trip to Wembley as the Mariners sailed away with the FA Vase.
But not everyone was so buoyant. Norton & Stockton Ancients folded partway through their Division Two campaign. West Allotment Celtic and Washington both tendered their resignations, but were happily reprieved in time to continue into the new season. Hebburn Town galvanised local support after home gates dwindled, other clubs tried to watch and learn.
‘Ancients and Mariners: haves and have-nots in the Northern League’ tells the story of the season – and much more besides. The author, experienced sports journalist Andy Potts, returned to County Durham after 20 years away. The region is much changed, and so is its football; wandering around the Welfare Grounds of the Northern League was a way of reconnecting with home, of seeing what has changed and what remains the same. Like many things in the north east, it started with football and became a journey that connected Catalonia and Crook, pigeon crees and pit villages, socialist theatre and Tyneside football, and a sighting of an updated Geordie ‘Last Supper’ at Newcastle Benfield.
Respected Northern Echo columnist and former Northern League chairman Mike Amos described it as ‘diverting and compelling’; Heaton Stan Harry, Tyneside’s favourite cocker spaniel, gave it a favourable review. There were also positive write-ups in Libero and Roker Report.
Ancients and Mariners is available from Amazon for just £2.49 (Kindle download only at present). Any clubs interested in an article about the book for their website or matchday programme, please contact me using the form at the foot of this page and I’ll be delighted to help out with words and pictures.