Once, Evenwood Town hosted the Sky TV Cameras. OK, it wasn’t exactly a Super Sunday with all stops pulled out, but back in August 1997 the club hosted the first FA Cup tie of the season. Admittedly, the preliminary round game was only switched to a Friday night because of a clash with the cricket club that still shares the Welfare Ground, but the quirk of the fixture list caught the eye of schedulers and brief footage was aired. Unfortunately for Evenwood, Durham City eased to a 3-0 win. Perhaps worse, there was no broadcast fee; not even a token gesture from a company happy to pay millions to secure the rights the later stages of the same competition.
This time, the Sky was the limit; it would be the last highlight for the old Welfare Ground, a focal point in another of those hilltop County Durham villages where the wind never stops, was one of those gritty football villages. Within a decade, Town were no more. The costs of competing in Northern League Division 2 were beyond a community with a population of barely 2,000 (and falling). On the brink of collapse, the club merged with the remnants of Spennymoor United in 2005 and changed its name and its kit as it moved 11 miles or so up the road. The newly-merged club has thrived – wins at Wembley, promotions and a place in National League North. In Evenwood, the old grandstand was pulled down and the terrace was lost in the undergrowth. Today’s Welfare Ground draws a bigger crowd to the kids playground than to the football.
But there’s still football here and the Evenwood Town name lives on. Evenwood White Swan adopted the old name in 2012 and still plies its trade in the Crook & District League Division Two. It’s the last of the county’s adult Saturday leagues with 15 teams in two divisions taking to the windswept fields of Weardale and Teesdale. The action rarely draws any sort of crowd, facilities are basic at best. The backdrop is agricultural, the views roll up to the North Pennines. Some of the tackling is similarly rustic. Evenwood, at last, is having a season to enjoy, up to second in the league and just three points behind leaders Stanhope. Promotion could be on the way, something seldom seen in these parts. The Northern League club dropped out of the top flight in 1984, never to return, while the ‘new’ Town’s first season in action brought relegation. Saturday brings a 5-1 win over Darlington GSOB, the Grammar schooled for the second successive game after Evenwood’s 6-2 win in Darlo at the end of February. There’s a sense of satisfaction in a winning team, James Lamb’s goal is hailed as ‘a beauty’ and there are genuine hopes of landing a title this time around.
Football here wasn’t always so basic. Once Evenwood was a real town. The Randolph Colliery, at its peak, employed 1,000 men and that workforce was available to fuel Evenwood Town’s exploits after joining the Northern League in the 1930s. Three times champions – twice in the early 70s, a decade after the mine closed – the club also reached the first round of the FA Cup in 1956. This was perhaps the heyday of the Northern League, with its top teams regularly advancing in national cup competitions; the evidence is clear from four qualifying rounds against Tow Law, Willington, Stanley United and Easington Colliery – every team within the county, three of them within 10 miles of Evenwood. The run ended with a 7-2 loss at the pros of Darlington; FA Amateur Cup hopes ended that year in the last 16 at the equally local Crook Town.
But the passage of time hurt towns like Evenwood. The mine closed in 1962; in a last hurrah the early 70s brought titles and an Amateur Cup quarter-final replay but by the end of the decade the team was bumping along the foot of the table. The newly-formed Northern League 2 beckoned, fourth place in 1994, two points behind Prudhoe, was the closest they came to returning. What was once a significant name in the local game looks destined to play parks football for the foreseeable future.
Welfare Park, Evenwood, England
Crook & District League Division 2, March 2, 2019
Evenwood Town 5 (Duggan 2, Brack, Murphy, Lamb) Darlington GSOB 1 (Smalling)
Att: maybe half a dozen