The Importance of Coal
Located fifteen miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne and three miles west of the North Sea coastline, Ashington is another northeast town built on coal.
The heritage of this industry has left an indelible mark on the entire region and although now defunct, the communities that were built on it will always remember.
The club even proudly bears the nickname, the Colliers and a former mine has been partially saved by turning it into a museum for local artifacts and art. For more about that, you can visit the Woodhorn Museum website.
According to the museum website, Ashington was once the largest pit village in the world. At its peak, it employed some 2,000 people and produced 600,000 tonnes of coal each year.
That’s a huge hole in the community to fill when it disappears from the local economy. It’s a thing the whole northeast region has had to cope with following the demise of the industry.
Football has been a huge help to villages, towns and cities throughout the area in dealing with it. Indeed, it may help explain the passion for the game that emanates from ‘pit-yackers’ throughout County Durham, Wearside and Northumberland.
A sense of belonging and fierce passion for the team exists in nearly every club I have visited in this region. The clubs have become binding factors holding communities together in the absence of the coal industry.
At least, that’s how I see things.
Along with South Shields (Hopper Tales #43), Ashington is another club that can claim to be an ex-Football League member. Between 1921 and 1927, they plied their trade in the old Third Division North.
I was looking forward to visiting Ashington and hopefully catching up with an old friend from today’s opponents, Workington AFC.
So, let’s get on with the review…
One good thing to come out of the rail strikes is the amount of local(ish) clubs I have visited. It’s instilled a desire to visit more and it helps that most are just a couple of bus rides away.
It also means I don’t have to get up at six am!
Today was no different. We started with the 09:45 X1 bus to Newcastle’s Eldon Square bus station. Of course, a couple of Gregg’s finest pastry products accompanied us on this opening leg of the journey.
At this point, you’d be shocked if there wasn’t!
It was during this part of the journey that I pictured my match tickets, freshly printed off, lying on my desk at home, alongside my inhaler…
Luckily, I managed to negotiate my emails and found the one containing the digital versions. Phew!
Still brushing crumbs from the front of my shirt, we had a short wait before clambering aboard the X21 to Ashington.
At one point, the whole bus were covering their mouths as we went past a field where a combine harvester was doing what combine harvesters do. A cloud of wheat dust enveloped the bus and lasted a good couple of minutes due to all the windows being open as we passed.
Luckily, my hayfever season is coming to an end, otherwise, that could have gotten quite hairy.
Asthma attacks are never much fun, with or without an inhaler!
Noxious dust cloud negotiated, we continued our run through the beautiful Northumberland countryside. We passed through Bedlington, whose Terriers club are a future target for my ground hops.
Just over two hours after setting out, we were in Ashington, at the bus station.
Ashington – The Cree
We headed past the local Wetherspoons – the Rohan Kanhai – and headed down Woodhorn Road towards the pub I had decided to visit last night.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Mighty Oak and Acorn Bistro, the shutters were still down, despite it being a few minutes past the opening time of noon. With the idea of heading back to the packed Wetherspoons, we retraced our footsteps.
This is when we noticed another watering hole between the two, The Cree, and we headed inside.
The Cree is a very spacious place with a high ceiling. It almost has the feel of a mini American sports bar, with TV screens showing different sports dotted around the walls.
Although no food is available here, the drinks were very reasonably priced. The lovely barmaid was fascinated with Mrs Hoppers American accent and we had a nice chat with her.
Mrs Hopper ordered a pint of John Smiths and I, fancying something a little different from the usual Guinness or lager, ordered an Inch’s Apple Cider. At £6.00 for the two, it was surprising to hear the barmaid say people had been complaining about the prices in here.
Ashington must be a great place for a pub crawl if this is one of the more expensive pubs!
As with most pubs in the northeast, the clientele were sporting the colours of Newcastle United and a few classic shirts of different vintages were on display.
After a couple of drinks, we headed off on the nearly one-mile walk down Woodhorn Road to the ground.
Football Icons and Famous Sports People
If I had thought about it before it was too late, I would have gone to get some photographs of the two football statues in Ashington. Two of the greatest footballing icons of the northeast are celebrated here, Jackie Milburn of Newcastle United fame and Jackie Charlton of Leeds United and latterly, the Republic of Ireland.
Both men were born right here in Ashington and the town is quite rightly proud of them.
That being said, I’m not sure what more Bobby Charlton has to do to complete the trifecta.
Premier League referee Michael Oliver, cricketing brothers Steve and Ben Harmison, along with fellow cricketer Mark Wood, also come from Ashington.
In fact, Ashington FC is holding an ‘Evening with Michael Oliver‘ event on August 4th.
While the club were in the Northern League Division One, Steve Harmison was the Ashington FC manager from February 2015 until his resignation in October 2017. Meanwhile, his brother Ben has played as a striker for the club as recently as last season.
Ashington – Woodhorn Lane Exterior
Woodhorn Lane is a relatively new ground. The club have been playing at this facility only since moving from their traditional home of Portland Park in 2008.
Regarding the outside of Ashington’s ground, there isn’t a path around it, so you only get to see glimpses of it from one end and the side where the entrance gate is.
A car park is situated at the entrance to the ground and wraps its way around towards the entrance.
There aren’t a huge amount of spaces though, so I imagine on a busy day, these could be at a premium.
At the opposite end, an artificial playing surface pitch backs onto the ground, while to the right of the picture below, an area of rough grass lies beyond the perimeter fence.
To the left of the above photo, is the gate entrance to the ground. We showed our digital tickets, which were scanned and in we went. I also got a club crest pin badge from the lady at the gate hut, costing £4.00.
Our tickets were purchased online via the Ashington FC website and cost £5.00 each.
Unfortunately, no programmes were available for today’s game.
Ashington – Woodhorn Lane Exterior Gallery
Before you even get inside Woodhorn Lane, it is quite obvious that the main stand is the focus of this stadium.
Built in 2015, the impressive-looking stand was initially surrounded by controversy. The chairman at the time of its erection was Ian Lavery, who, as well as being chairmen of the club, was also the Chair of the Labour Party.
A council grant in excess of a million pounds was accepted by the club and I’m not here to judge whether it was right or wrong to spend public taxpayers’ money on the project. Suffice to say, the deal had its detractors and made mainstream news at the time.
What I will say, is that this football club represents Ashington as a town and a community and there is no doubt that the club has gained momentum in recent years. If putting money forward to facilitate this progress has directly helped, then surely the town and its people as a whole benefit from it.
Attendances have pretty much doubled in recent years, with the average attendance now over 400.
Ian Lavery left his position as club chairman and was replaced in 2018 by current chairman, Brian Shotton.
Ashington gained promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One East just last season, with a 3-0 inter-step playoff win over Glossop North End. Among the goalscorers in that match was none other than Ben Harmison.
Ashington – Woodhorn Lane Interior
The main stand sits on the southern side of the ground and straddles the halfway line. It has a capacity for approximately 250 spectators. (If anyone knows the specific figure, please drop it in the comments section below.)
We moved around the ground to our right once inside. To the right of the main stand are some picnic tables and the weather was nice enough for them to be in use, too.
The only feature of interest at the eastern end of the ground is a snack van that seemed to do a steady enough trade throughout the day. A net behind the goal protects the van and hopefully, its customers from stray footballs.
To the northern side of Woodhorn Lane, is a long roofed structure that houses a seated area and terraces on either side of the seats. A sign on the edge of the stand says that it has a capacity of 495.
It runs approximately three-quarters the length of the pitch and affords great views of the action.
The western end of the ground backs onto the previously mentioned artificial pitch and a perimeter fence is between the two. A net lies directly behind the goal.
This tour took us back to the main stand and we made our way up to get a seat for the game. The photo of the west end of the ground is taken from the main stand.
Ashington – Woodhorn Lane Interior Gallery
The technical dugouts are placed at either end of the main stand, while the players’ tunnel is located at the centre.
The pitch is of natural grass and there are six floodlights, three on each side of the pitch.
Ashington – Pre-Game View of Woodhorn Lane
Ashington v Workington AFC – The Game
Both clubs come into the 2023/24 season on the back of a successful finish to 2023.
Ashington, as mentioned, secured promotion from the Northern League Division One and will play this season in the Northern Premier League Division One East (Level eight in the football pyramid).
Their Cumbrian opponents, meanwhile, have just secured promotion to the Northern Premier League Premier Division (Level seven in the football pyramid) having played in the Northern Premier League Division One West last season.
With the contrast in East versus West, it would be interesting to compare the two levels. Having watched Workington in their promotion campaign last season (Hopper Tales #64), I know they are a very decent team.
Given that Workington are a division ahead of today’s hosts, my pre-game prediction was 1-2 to the visitors.
The Ashington Choir
I have to take this opportunity to mention the fans on the right-hand side of the main stand.
I had noticed a couple of drums attached to the railing at the front of the stand when we took our seats and it was apparent from the moment the teams made their way onto the pitch that they weren’t afraid to bang their own drum.
Having come across quite a few clubs where there are drums involved, I have grown to quite like the atmosphere they can create. I know they are quite a ‘Marmite’ method and some people really dislike them.
I say give them a chance, they can be a great way to get the crowd involved if done correctly.
Thanks to one of our Twitter followers, @craigandrewd99, I have a video of the choir in action. The three different clips show the contests between Ashington and Stocksbridge Park Steels in the fourth qualifying round of last season’s FA Cup.
The first game at Stocksbridge was a tie, with Ashington winning the subsequent replay 3-0 in front of nearly 1,500 spectators. The final clip shows the players singing the same song in the dressing room.
If you can’t quite make out what is being sung, it extols the virtues of Ashington’s seeming plethora of pubs, bookies and chip shops… 😂
They were also responsible for a rather amusing chant that even had Workington’s Les smirking (although he did say “I hope he goes and scores now!”).
As substitute Greg McCaragher took the field, someone started shouting “Sh*t Jimmy Bulard, you’re just a sh*t Jimmy Bullard” and nearly everyone started laughing.
I don’t know, what do you think?
A Familiar Face
As the players came out, we were joined by a familiar face from our trip to Workington last season.
Les Byers will be a familiar face to many who have been to Workington. A figure that has been associated with the club for many years, including a stint as club chairman. It was Les who showed us around the wonderful Borough Park as part of a groundhopper day at the club and we knew he would be here today, even though we hadn’t seen him.
As you can hear in the video above, he came sliding into the seat next to me and we chatted throughout the match. Les is a library of knowledge about his club and football in general and is a great guy to sit and watch a game with, so thank you for finding us, Les!
You can follow him on Twitter for more details of future ground hop experiences at Borough Park throughout the 2023/24 season.
He also managed to get me a teamsheet, for which I am grateful.
If you see a familiar surname in the Ashington team then well done, and yes, he is related.
Cameron Gascoigne is the nephew of legendary Three Lions footballer, Paul Gascoigne.
Ashington started the game with plenty of gusto and possibly edged the opening minutes but it was the away team who took the lead.
A fine finish from twenty-five yards out by Lewis Reilly, nestled in the bottom corner to give the visitors the lead. This was the first of three for the Reds’ number nine.
His second was another fine finish from a very acute angle, as it looked like the ball might even go out of play.
With Ashington keeping the game very competitive and Workington holding a 0-2 advantage at the break, my 1-2 prediction was still looking possible.
Reilly had to wait for the second half to complete his trio of goals but it was worth waiting for. With multiple attempts to block the shot by desperate Ashington defenders, Reilly managed to create the space he needed and applied the finish he had worked hard for.
A nice hattrick sir, take a bow. It also meant my prediction was a bust again.
It’s Just a Friendly Guys… Guys?!
There was a bit of needle evident in some of the play as the game progressed and it seemed to be coming to a head. No names will be mentioned but I did see one player get poked in the eye at one stage as words were exchanged between players.
Whether it was because of this or not, a whole raft of substitutions were made and the tension, thankfully, died with it.
Lewis Reilly has to take the man-of-the-match award for his well-taken hattrick but a special mention to the visitor’s number eight Kofi Moore, too. Les tells me he is at Workington on a three-month loan from Oldham Athletic and the eighteen-year-old midfielder looked a real handful.
On the evidence of today, I’m sure the Reds will be doing all they can to secure him on a longer deal, if at all possible
Ashington were by no means outclassed by the team from a division higher and they can take some positives out of this game.
You can read this full Match Report taken from the Workington AFC website.
Full-time – Ashington 0 Workington AFC 3
Attendance – 350
Entrance Fee – £5.00
Programme – Teamsheet (free)
Ashington v Workington – Match Highlights
Ashington will begin their competitive fixtures next Saturday when they face Northeast rivals North Shields (Hopper Tales #47). This will be an FA Cup Preliminary Round tie and both clubs will be desperate to go into the hat for the next round and potential financial riches further down the road.
The Colliers’ League campaign begins on the following Saturday, with a home tie against West Yorkshire team, Brighouse Town. This will be followed by a visit to County Durham side, Newton Aycliffe on August 15th.
Based on today’s performance, I expect Ashington to do enough to remain in the NPL D1 East and hopefully, they can push on from there in ensuing seasons.
Next up for Workington is another trip to the Northeast. This time for a friendly fixture against another Northern Premier League Division One East team – Dunston UTS on August 5th.
In a fantastic gesture from Dunston, admission to this fixture will be free of charge. I hope people turn up and give a donation towards repairs to their ground. The fiasco surrounding their game against Gateshead has left them with quite a financial headache with the season fast approaching.
You can read more about that incident here.
They will follow this up with their opening fixture in the Northern Premier League Premier Division with a home tie against Ashton United the following Saturday.
This will be followed by a swift return to the Northeast when they visit Morpeth Town (Hopper Tales #47) for a midweek fixture on August 15th.
Ashington has a long history of producing great sportsmen and with the club gaining some momentum, you would expect that to continue.
They have a nice set-up at Woodhorn Lane and if the club can keep progressing, there is plenty of room for future expansion should it be necessary.
At the last census, Ashington had a population of 28,278, so there is definitely room for attendances to pick up with more success on the pitch.
The club has a nice bar built into the main stand and with this stand as the backbone of their home, they are in a good position to move forward.
A word also for the groundsman. The pitch looked in great condition and there could be no complaints from either side about that.
Ashington – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we said our goodbyes to Les Byers and hopefully, we will have a chance to run into him again at some point. A genuinely nice man.
We walked to the top of the stand and into the bar area. Photographs and other memorabilia adorn the walls and there is a good view out to the pitch, too.
After a quick visit to the little boy’s room, we walked down the stairs at the back of the stand. This is where the great picture of the famous Ashington trio of players is situated.
At the bottom of the stairs, there is a club crest carpet leading towards the player’s and officials area.
We headed back out through the gate and into the car park. From here it was a short walk to the nearest bus stop opposite the bottom end of Woodhorn Lane.
The bus was due at 17:05 and it arrived promptly at 17:25.
Back through Bedlington and the countryside we went, passing Gosforth Park as we neared the city.
It had been Newcastle race day and there were plenty of people walking along the road in their Sunday best. Not all of them seemed steady on their feet…
We arrived back at Eldon Square at 18:30, catching our connection at 18:44. After catching up with a little food shopping that we had been putting off, mostly due to idleness, we got home at 20:30.
Another successful hop in the books.
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
Train journey permitting, we have a trip to the fabulous old Goodison Park next week.
A stadium that is scheduled to be replaced by a brand new ground at Bramley Moore Dock and I’m sure Evertonians are experiencing mixed feelings about the changes ahead.
As a Stoke City fan who went through this when the club moved from the Victoria Ground to the Britannia Stadium (now the Bet365 Stadium), I know how it feels.
Goodison Park is all that Evertonians have ever known and it will be a sad day for them when the gates close for the final time and the bulldozers eventually destroy a place packed with the memories of a lifetime.
Believe me when I say grown men will be shedding tears when this happens and from experience, I have to say, you never quite get over the fact that your second home is no longer there.
To counteract this, there will be excitement for a new and hopefully, improved matchday experience.
A much-improved view for many, after restricted views from the seats in Goodison will be much welcomed. As will the expanded capacity of 52,888 (Goodison Park currently holds 39,572).
This will mean an extra 13,316 Evertonians will get to watch their team each week.
I look forward to being able to compare the old with the new once Bramley Moore Dock is ready, but for now, I’m just excited to see the beating heart of the blue half of Liverpool.
There will also be a good level of European opposition on display, as Portuguese heavyweights Sporting Clube de Portugal (or Sporting Lisbon) will be the opponents.
Onto the next!