Groundhopper: Willington – Darlington RA (Malcolm Stephenson)

GetAttachmentWillington 4 Darlington RA 3.

Blyth Spartans were away again this weekend (Rushall Olympic) and was not able to travel. I have to have my football fix each Saturday and I chose to go watch Willington in the Northern league. Its not a new ground for me but it has been about a quarter of a Century ago since I was last there.

Its an easy drive down there taking the M1 down to Durham and then the A690 onto Willington. This former colliery Town on the foothills of The Pennines is close to Crook and Bishop Auckland. Always good for derbies when they are in the same leagues. The colliery closed in 1967 and hit the Town hard. I believe some people travel to Bishop Auckland or Durham for work as there is not a great deal in Willington itself for the 7,000 population.

Willington formed in 1906 and have won the Northern league as champions on 3 occasions. The last time was a short while ago. Back in 1930 to be precise. They have won the Northern league cup twice (1957 and 1975). Probably their greatest achievement was winning the Amateur cup in 1950. In recent times they have had success in gaining promotion back to the Northern league after demotion to the Wearside league for a number of years. In 2012-13 they finished Wearside league champions. In the 1973-74 season Willington got through to the first round proper of the FA cup where they met Blackburn Rovers at Hall lane. The score that day was a 0-0 draw but the Durham side went out 6-1 in the replay at Ewood Park.

Today’s opponents were Darlington RA who were originally formed in 1919. As a Wearside league club they folded in 1992. They later reformed and eventually made their way back to the Wearside league and finally fulfilled their long term aim of getting into the Northern league.

There is only one entry point into Hall lane on one side of the ground. To the left is a windowless social club and to the right the changing rooms which also incorporated a snack bar. There is a stand down the far side and I recollected that from years ago but I did not recognize the two small covered areas for standing spectators, behind each goal. This ground held 5,000 fans in that day for the visit of Blackburn Rovers. I believe 10,000 supporters once squeezed in for a match around 1950 to create the club record.

I bought a half time raffle ticket as I like to do my bit for clubs at this level. Fumbling in my pockets it was at this stage that I probably lost my lottery ticket for Saturday night. Chances of probability are that I would have won nothing anyway. However if Willington suddenly sign Frank Lampard, I will know someone found my successful jackpot winning ticket.

The game kicked off and the cold biting wind made for a quick entry into the main stand. The seats were blue painted planks of wood without any lines of division to mark your bit of territory. The games was fairly even and Phil Caley put the visitors into the lead with a cracking 30 year shot. The home side were unfazed and got right back into the game on 20 minutes with an equaliser from Michael Gibson. Willington went into overdrive just after the half hour mark. On 31 and 35 minutes, Willington stormed into a two goal lead with goals from Mark Bell and Adam Burnicle respectively. The quality of some of the goals was really good in this match.

As half time was approaching Darlington RA decided they were not dead and buried yet. John Wood and Phil Caley scored in relatively quick succession to bring the visitors right back into the match.

At half time I ventured into the club house for warmth and the scores on the telly. There was not many pints pulled today and it never ceases to amaze me how these clubs keep going. There was probably less than 100 paying spectators. But some of these supporters wore their blue Willington hats and scarves with pride. Worth their salt to their local team as much as any fan at any Premier league club. It’s a pity more did not get through the gate instead of watching some Premier game through a Norwegian channel in the pub. I do not think your spoilt for choice with social activities in Willington on a Saturday afternoon.

I came out for the second half and discovered i had one the raffle draw for today. I won a bottle of Irish cream so it went someway in compensation to losing my lottery ticket.

When you have six goals in the first half you wonder if the second is going to be anything the same. It was not to be as the game flowed back and forward from one end to the other. The match today was played out in a cold wind, driving rain/hailstones and glorious sunshine all in the space of 90 minutes. It looked as the game was going to finish with both teams sharing the points. Five minutes from time Adam Burnicle popped up to score his second goal of the game. It was enough to take the three points although Phil Caley missed the chance of an equaliser and his hat-trick in the last minute.

It could be a little while yet until  we see 5,000 fans packed into Hall lane once more.

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