One Nathan Fisher

One Nathan Fisher

There’s something eerily appealing about eating food that’s bad for you, outside, in the rain, with a small group of complete strangers with whom you have a shared, albeit temporary, interest.  And the more arcane that interest the better.

It’s all about counterpoint.  The relationship between the independent yet somehow interdependent forces that govern our lives coming together into a harmonic and homogeneous whole.  It helps give purpose to our otherwise pointless human existence, encourages us to look at the stars rather than the gutter.

So.

West Auckland Town versus Guisborough in the Northern League, the ninth tier of English football.  Mid-August.  Raining.  Well, not raining exactly.  More like being on the set of Tiswas while a cocaine raddled John Gorman wreaks havoc with his tin bucket.

Pie and Mushy Peas

To blend in with the locals I had purchased a cup of tea and a pie and mushy peas, the latter of which pretty well disintegrated into a bright green spume under the relentless deluge as I performed the lower league tea dance.  One hand uses the single communal teaspoon, plopped peremptorily into a mug of tepid water between uses, to chase a tea bag around a polystyrene cup filled with water superheated to a thermodynamically unfeasible temperature, while the other simultaneously balances the plastic tray holding the aforementioned comestibles and pours milk from the customer-friendly 65 gallon container handily placed several yards away.  The goddess Kali would have smiled appreciatively had she been watching.  Do not think of this as a criticism though, especially if you are one of the good folks at the Wanted Stadium.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It was perfect.

I found myself at West Auckland very much by chance.  We (family and dog) had booked a cottage in County Durham as a last-minute getaway, the decision driven by both availability and proximity to a convenient picking up point for number 2 daughter’s best friend whom we had agreed to collect en route.  Number 2 daughter and her friend are 15 years old so best handled as a pair.  Singly they merely argue (well automatically gainsay whatever is said by their interlocutor to be exact), grumble or feign indifference to any suggestion outwith their own enclave.  Together they giggle inanely at some endlessly shared joke which I can only presume is hilarious.  Both of these are insufferable but the giggling is slightly less so.  Like having your arm chopped off rather than your leg.

The First World Cup

As we drove into Bishop Auckland I had a flashback from my childhood.  That name was familiar.  Bishop Auckland…Something to do with football.

Ah yes.  Not quite football.  Subbuteo.  That was it.  One of my first Subbuteo teams, chosen more for their (then) outlandish strip of dark and light blue quarters than any sporting renown.  Second only to Ajax Amsterdam in the small boy Subbuteo pantheon.

Minutes later we reached West Auckland and my heart skipped a beat.  We stopped for ten minutes while I satisfied myself that I was not undergoing a myocardial infarction.  This was too much.  There was a whole lot of coincidence going on here.  I vaguely remembered West Auckland.  They had won the first football World Cup back in the 1900s.  A film was made of it starring Dennis Waterman.  Or maybe I was mixing it up with Michael Palin and Barnstoneworth United.  Mr Coincidence gave me a wee hand though by pointing to a small sign.

West Auckland Winners of the First World Cup 1909

Beanoes

I am a Stirling Albion supporter of some standing.  The very first game I attended was in 1969 or 1970 (I can’t remember the exact date).  The opposition was a Russian, or more correctly Soviet, team called Kharkhov Metallist.  I was enamoured with all things Russian back then, primarily through having been given some Russian stamps by my eccentric bachelor uncle.  He was eccentric because he was rich.  He was rich because he was a bachelor and had no kids.  He was my uncle because he was my dad’s brother.

My stay in the world of the philatelist was a short one.  I had no money to buy stamps, had no relatives in foreign countries and no inclination to put pen to paper even had the previous two points been negated.  Plus ca change.  But those Russian stamps live with me still.

CCCP.

Rockets and spaceships and satellites.

The threat of being blown to smithereens or forced to huddle in some flimsy hut in the middle of a nuclear winter while axe-wielding Mad Max wannabes scoured the land for food, petrol and victims.  It was a good time to be alive and a kid, was the 1960s.

Hooked

Stirling’s football match with Kharkhov was shrouded in mystery.  The Russians were a good professional side, far above the quality of our honest journeymen.  So what were they doing playing against us?  There was talk of some administrative error.  They should have been playing one of the bigger teams such as Hibs or Hearts or even one of the Bigot Brothers from the west.  But there I was.  Ten or eleven years old at my first proper football match.  My wee home town team against the mighty Russians and we pumped them 1-0.  Big Joe Hughes with a trademark header.  That was it.  Hooked for ever more.

And didn’t West Auckland have a similarly oddball, although much more romantic and successful story?  They had competed in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy as England’s representatives.  Apparently, Sir Thomas Lipton, Weegie tea merchant and grocer, wanted to see a competition between the great nations of Europe.  Lipton was a bit of a sports fanatic and had the cash so why not?  Germany, Switzerland and Italy all pitched in but the English FA refused to put forward a club.  Presumably he didn’t offer them enough money.

West Auckland Town Football Club

So West Auckland Town, a part time team of coal-miners playing in the Northern League (the second oldest league in the world) duly obliged.  No-one is quite sure how this came about but there is a somewhat apocryphal story that Lipton told his secretary to contact WA (meaning Woolwich Arsenal) to ask them to compete.  She hadn’t a clue what he was on about so, using her initiative, contacted West Auckland instead.  What is indisputable is that West went on to win the trophy beating Stuttgart and FC Winterthur along the way.  The tournament was held in Turin so the players had to pay to get there out of their own pockets.  Mollycoddled, spoiled brats of the EPL take note.

Not only did West win the inaugural trophy in 1909 but they went on to win it again in 1911, this time beating FC Zurich and then Turin in the final.  They were allowed to keep the cup as a result.  That cup is no longer with us having been tragically half-inched in the 1990s by someone with no appreciation of history, romance or proportion.

I returned next day to take a few pictures of the ground.  There on a poster on a lamp-post…

Next home match tomorrow night versus Guisborough.  Kick-off 7:45 pm

So 24 hours later I duly rocked up in my scuba gear to take in the proceedings.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I was hoping it would be a bit like Scottish junior football.  Played at 100 mph by small red-haired, angry people with a sense of injustice and a very short fuse.  Spectators insanely suspicious of anyone with less than twelve fingers.

But it wasn’t.

Wanted

Wanted Stadium, West Auckland Town Football ClubThe Wanted stadium (named after its sponsor Wanted Metals) is neat and tidy with a very small seating area on one side and, thankfully, given the weather conditions, a slightly larger covered standing area adjacent.  A couple of portacabins serve as club shop, social club and pie/peas hut.  The people are immensely friendly and only happy to fill in the casual visitor with whatever information is required.  The team-sheet was helpfully pinned up on a wooden post although illegible within seconds due to the rain.  The crowd looked to number 100-150 although it was difficult to tell as people were huddled together in protective groups like meerkats in a Scottish safari park.

So. I had my pie and my mushy peas.  I had my cup of tea.  I knew which team was which (West were in the yellow with the badge with the two stars on it – each star representing a victory in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy).  I knew some of the West Auckland players through deciphering the sodden team sheet and listening to the voices around me.

We Can See You Sneaking Out

West pummelled a pretty insipid Guisborough team 9-0 although the final score was maybe a bit flattering to the home side.  But they played with a great deal of verve and passion.  McKeown and Bell bossed the midfield and they had a good bit of trickery on the wings in the shape of Adam Mitchell and Arran Wearmouth.  Up front big Amar Purewal – who was the best player on the park IMO – ran the Guisborough defence ragged with his direct running.  And of course there was the enigmatic Nathan Fisher.  The wee man scored a hat-trick that night and I believe scored another two hat-tricks in his next two games.  His strike rate is currently something like 12 in 5 matches.

He’s one of these players that you often see in the lower leagues – lots of footballing skill but maybe lacking either the consistency or the willingness to do it at a higher level.  He’s the Northern League’s Rory McAllister, I guess.  I wonder if he’s a plumber too.

I could tell from the looks of utter bewilderment on the faces of the home support that this kind of result was unusual.  Indeed even when West were 5-0 up early in the second half a few wags were suggesting that there was still a way back for the away side.

I left wet and happy and at my time of life that’s not a bad result.  I would urge you, should you ever be in the vicinity, to take a stroll down to the Wanted, get yourself a pie and peas and enjoy a thoroughly entertaining hour and a half or real and proper football played in front of real and proper fans.

I will certainly be back and, subject to a personal self-examination to ensure I am not encroaching into cultural appropriation, I have hereby adopted West Auckland Town as my English team.

C’mon the West.

4 Replies to “One Nathan Fisher”

  1. Your adoption of WA is commendable but somewhat ill judged given that you have the option of joining me pitchside on a Sunday to watch the indomitable AFC Hackleton. C’mon the Magpies ( guess the strip colours )

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