Once, Cockfield’s playing field was home to some of the unlikely heroes of amateur football. In the 1920s, a time of industrial strife and economic depression, the miners of Cockfield FC twice took the name of this ‘two-street pit village’ deep into the FA Amateur Cup. A run to the semis in 1923 had the so-called ‘village wonder team’ making headlines; only Evesham United could halt their march.
By 1928 the economic situation had worsened. However, the footballers had improved: unemployed as miners, the game offered an outlet for the frustrations of the great depression. Cockfield made it all the way to the Amateur Cup Final, defeating Willington in the semis and leading twice in the final against holders Leyton before going down 2-3. That game was played in front of 12,000 people at Ayresome Park.
There aren’t quite as many fans in town to see the first pre-season friendly on the old ground. Cockfield – town and team – suffered reduced circumstances as the mines closed and the population drifted away. By 2010 the old Hazel Grove sports ground was disused, the team defunct. Traces of the glory days were scarce. Since then, West Auckland Tuns, about to embark on a second season in the Wearside League, have adopted Cockfield as a new home. They were up against Winlaton Vulcans, founded in 2017 and already celebrating back-to-back promotions to reach the top division in the Northern Alliance. The visitors’ pre-match pep talk insisted that it was a whole new ball game at this level; Tuns, meanwhile were involved in a ‘getting to know you session’ with the coaching staff busily checking they had the right names and positions for new signings.
Not much of the Cockfield glory days is visible now. Where once there was a grandstand, terracing, and a pavilion, there’s now just a railed off field and a recently redeveloped changing room. Careful foraging behind one goal offers a hint of an old terrace; low walls, overgrown, suggest the outlines of something grander. A future episode of ‘Time Team’ might produce a computerised reconstruction of the past but today it’s a convenient perch for a handful of local lads and their cans of pop. At the opposite end there are signs of a grass bank – once a beloved feature of many Northern League grounds – but it could just be part of the general undulation of the local countryside.
And countryside there is. Forget about being grim up north – although a wintry day in these Pennine foothills could certainly be grim – on a glorious July afternoon it’s a bucolic setting. Mature trees dominate behind one goal, the sun beats down and the lie of the two-street village is unmasked. There’s some attractive old stone housing around the green, a church that dates from the 12th century (albeit much modernised) and rather more than two streets of the obligatory terraced housing that was integral to any Durham pit village. Two thriving pubs hint at a lively community, even if mining and the town’s lifeblood ended decades ago.
As for the football, it’s typical pre-season fare. The summer hasn’t been kind to teamwork or waistlines, the game stutters rather than flows on a dry, bobbly pitch. A moment of quality brings an opening goal for Tuns, the Vulcans equalise before half-time when the home defence parts and even a good save from an exposed goalie can’t prevent an easy rebound finding the net. Tuns win it in the second half thanks to a solo effort, the scorer encouraged by more sluggish defending. The start of the competitive action feels a long way off.
Cockfield Sports Ground, Cockfield, England.
July 6, 2019. Pre-season friendly.
West Auckland Tuns 2 Winlaton Vulcans 1
Att: 15 (head count)