By Hook or By Crook
After last weekend’s chaos on the trains, we needed at least a week away from them before trying again. However, I still needed my football fix by hook or by Crook… and we chose Crook.
Crook Town, to be precise.
The opponents would be the familiar faces of West Auckland, whom we have seen twice this season at Whitley Bay and their own Darlington Road ground.
This would be a Northern League Division One match with West being the favourites heading into the game. West Auckland was undefeated in their last seven games and were sitting in fifth place in the division. The Black and Ambers of Crook meanwhile, had won three and lost four of their last seven matches and sit in fifteenth position in the league.
Crook Town – Pre-Game
We caught a bus from our home town to Durham and a connecting bus onwards to Crook. A total journey time (including waiting around in Durham) of one hour and fifteen minutes.
The Copper Mine
We got off the X46 just before we got into Crook town centre, as we wanted to try lunch at the Copper Mine pub on the outskirts of town. It was a wet, misty and miserable day all day in the northeast and we arrived a couple of minutes before they opened at noon. This left us feeling like one of those pub regulars banging on their local’s door to let them know it was opening time.
Bang on noon, someone opened the door and let us in. The first thing we noticed was Halloween pumpkin carvings on the bar. I’m not sure if this was purely for decoration purposes or to stop people hanging around at the bar…
We were shown to a table and we ordered a Guinness and a Moretti while we checked out the menu. Eventually settling on a steak pie for me and pork gyros for Mrs Hopper. The service was quick and the food was tasty and filling.
The decor was in keeping with the name of the pub, with copper items dotted around and a rustic tone that felt quite cosy. I would definitely recommend this place if you are ever in the Crook area or go for a game at Millfield.
After eating, we paid the bill and made our way into Crook. This was around a mile away and would have to be done in the steady drizzle and murk of the day. There was one spot that amused me along the walk into town. The Copper Mine is situated on Front Street, near the top of a hill. This is called High Jobs Hill and beneath it is Low Jobs Hill… enter the local comedians.
Elliott’s Sports Bar
After hanging around in vain for five minutes(!) we walked on down the hill, relieved that we wouldn’t need to be coming back up this way as we would be catching the bus home from the town area. We saw the Crook Town ground off to our right and our next destination on the left – Elliot’s Sports Bar.
Don’t let the outer appearance put you off going in here. It looks a little austere and unwelcoming but once through the door, it is anything but. A modern, well-kept bar with a separate room filled with pool tables. There were TVs dotted around the wall showing the Leicester v Chelsea match and football memorabilia hung, framed on the wall behind the bar.
We had a quick chat with a couple of locals wearing Crook Town shirts and sat down to enjoy our drinks watching the footy. We didn’t stay long in Elliott’s as I like to get to the grounds early in order to take photos and videos and generally have a wander around before too many people arrive. Elliott’s is a place that I would say is a must before a Crook Town game. It is literally opposite the ground and is a nice place for a pint.
Crook Town – The Stadium
Having supped up our drinks, we headed across the road to the Sir Tom Cowie Millfield ground.
Believe it or not, Millfield once held 17,000 spectators for an FA Amateur Cup Replay against Walton & Hersham. This is a conservative estimate based on turnstile clicks alone. Allegedly the crowd was more like 20 to 21,000, as the gates were broken down as people forced their way into the ground.
Seeing the stadium now makes that figure all the more incredible.
We paid £6.00 each (cash only) at the turnstile and bought a programme which is excellent value at just £1.00 for 24 glossy pages. Well done Crook Town!
North and East of Millfield
Two sides of the ground are small standing areas. The far end from where you enter and the side off to the right, where a pathway works its way around the ground. Presumably, the terracing in these areas has either been removed or allowed to be grown over, because there are just grassy banks above the path now.
Maybe someone from the club can confirm, or put those thoughts to bed.
South and West of Millfield
Indeed, all the action takes place in the south and west of Millfield. At the southern end of the ground is an open terrace that is probably similar to how those other two grassy banks once looked.
This terrace stretches almost the full width of the pitch and is nine steps deep. There are four crush barriers dotted along it and a row of picnic benches at the top. The club has a licence for pitchside drinking and I’m sure these benches would be very popular on a warm sunny day.
Not today though!
The real hub of the ground, however, is contained on the west side of Millfield. This is where we have two structures: the main stand and a separate covered terrace that joins onto the south-end terrace.
The roof on the covered terrace looks like it has seen better days but it will still be a welcome shelter on days even worse than today’s drizzle.
Next to this, is the main stand. A small structure that sits astride the halfway line and contains the dressing rooms for players and officials. It is also where the committee room is (more about that soon.) In front of the main stand are the dugouts and between the main stand and the covered terrace is the punnily named snack bar – Only Foods and Sauces.
I’m quite disappointed that I was too full from my lunch to try the famous Black and Amber burger that they sell here. It had been highly recommended to me by a few different people, including the Crook fans in Elliott’s Bar that we had been chatting to.
The pitch at Millfield is natural grass and it is a nice flat playing surface. There are six floodlights at the ground, three on either side of the field.
The overall feel of Millfield is one of past glory and melancholy of times gone by. However, there is clearly an appetite for football in this area and if the club can slowly build itself up again, more success could be waiting in the not too distant future.
Crook Town – The Stadium Gallery
The Committee Room
On the evening prior to our trip to Crook Town, I received a message on social media from Chris, who runs the Twitter account for the club. He said he had a teamsheet and a book he wanted to pass on to us and if time, we could have a look in the committee room where the club’s history is.
Having wandered around the ground and collected all my photos and videos, I came around from the north end to the main stand. Here I found Mrs Hopper happily chatting away with our West Auckland friend, Dave Bussey. This is the guy who not only showed us around West Auckland’s ground but also allowed me to get my hands on the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy AND gave us a lift to Whitley Bay for their fixture against them.
A gentleman and a friend!
With time moving on and a 14:30 guideline for meeting Chris, we moved to the home players’ tunnel (there is a separate entrance for the away team at the north end of the main stand) and found our man. He took us inside the main stand and led us into the committee room. A small room but full of Crook Town history. Chris introduced us to Vince, who turned out to be Vince Kirkup, the clubs’ chairman.
Chris left us with Vince and set off back to his duties. After shaking hands, Vince presented us with a book on the history of Crook Town, a pin badge and a match day team sheet. What a wonderful gesture! He then proceeded to answer all my questions about the club and the memorabilia on the walls. These included a pennant, photographs and letters from FC Barcelona… yes, that one!
FC Barcelona Connections
Turns out, Crook Town were instrumental in the early days of FC Barcelona’s infancy. Despite being a global brand these days, back in the early 1900s, the Catalonian club were very much struggling to make headway against the more traditional Spanish entertainment of bullfighting. In 1913, Crook Town toured Barcelona to help establish football ahead of the blood sport.
Crook man, Jack Greenwell organised the tour and went on to become the first English manager of Barcelona until the mid-thirties. He then took over the Spanish national side until the onset of the Spanish Civil War. He went on to manage Peru in 1938. There were two further successful tours to Barcelona during the 1920/21 and 1921/22 seasons.
In the modern era people were very sceptical about all this taking place and in 1984 Crook town wrote to the footballing giants to ask for some kind of proof that they could show people. This was the response from Barca…
I never thought of mentioning this to Vince at the time but if he gets the chance to read this, I would suggest getting in touch with Barcelona again and putting out the feelers for a friendly match with Barcelona. Maybe at the Stadium of Light or St. James Park, with all profits going into the club coffers.
I imagine a lot of good progress could be made from that and if Newcastle agrees to play Barca too, then it could be a worthwhile trip for the Spanish giants as a pre-season tour. This would have a great feeling of completing the circle about it. The irony of a small northeastern football club being helped out by global giants of the game.
The very same giants who were once helped out by this small northeast club.
Don’t forget my ticket!
Crook Town – The Game
Not only had we been shown around the committee room but Vince kindly invited us to come back in for a halftime cup of tea. We said our thank yous and headed off outside to watch the game.
Initially, we stood by the players’ tunnel next to the away dugout but eventually made our way into the seats in the main stand so that we could get a better view. Not before capturing a video of the players entering the field, kick-off and the first goal of the game though!
The players entered the field from their respective tunnels and went through the obligatory handshakes… which would soon be forgotten. The home side won the toss and elected to give the visitors the ball to start the game.
Forty-four seconds later, West Auckland were ahead. The ball was played to Niall Short by West goalkeeper Matt Wilkinson. The left-back then played it forward to Cieran Jackson who raced down the wing and cut inside the area. As the Crook keeper, Charlie Lamb came out to meet him, Jackson calmly placed his shot past him and into the bottom right corner of the net.
0-1 West Auckland!
What a start for the visitors! From here, things got a little ‘testy’ and there were a few questionable tackles from both teams throughout the first half. Starting things off was Crook town who received the first booking of the game in the eighth minute for a feisty challenge that set the tone of the half.
In the tenth minute a second yellow for Crook Town following another poor tackle. This was followed by a West Auckland player being accused of elbowing an opponent in the box but nothing was given as the referee was in danger of losing control of the match early.
Twelve minutes in, Niall Short was again involved in the thick of the action as he had a shot from range which skidded and bounced awkwardly towards goal and the keeper did well to block the ball on the greasy surface and concede a corner.
The constant drizzle had made the surface tricky and in fairness to the two teams, this probably contributed to some of the tackles going wayward.
At least, I like to think so…
Things started to calm down a little and the teams got on with the game without really threatening to add to the scoreline. Not that is until the 28th minute when Corey Nicholson was unlucky not to make it 0-2 as he hit the crossbar.
That was possibly the pinnacle of West’s half because it went downhill rapidly from there.
In the 35th minute, the visitors were reduced to ten men when a stud’s first lunge by Leon Scott got him a straight red. Was it worse than the two previous tackles? That’s not for me to say but I do think this was worthy of a red, so let’s just say I’m surprised it was the first one.
Things were made even worse just five minutes later when West captain, James Harwood was shown a straight red card for dissent. Having already heard a few choice words directed at the match official, this must have been a particularly bad choice of words…
Crook looked for an equaliser as the half drew to a close but the closest they got was when a ball was played in from deep on the right flank and a Crook player (sorry, I missed the number) tried an audacious bicycle kick that went high and wide. If you don’t try, you don’t score!
That was the last action of a bad-tempered first half that saw both managers go and speak to the referee after he blew for half-time. Also if you watch the video, you will hear that one of the West players didn’t sound particularly happy with his manager by this point either, as he walked down the tunnel by me.
Half-time – Crook Town 0 West Auckland 1
With the half over, we went back down to the players’ tunnel and took Vince up on his kind offer of a cup of tea. Mrs Hopper was particularly keen on a hot drink and a warm-up.
While we were in there, I was asked to generate the half-time draw ticket number, so apologies to all those who didn’t win but to the holder of ticket number 150, message me for details on ways of getting my half to me… 😂
The Second Half
The second half started with West Auckland one goal to the good but down to nine men. This obviously meant a rearguard action for the rest of the game and a game plan of backs-to-the-wall defending to protect what they had.
So, with that in my mind, it was obviously West Auckland who had the first chance to score in the half. Six minutes in and a corner is floated over to the back post where it was headed just wide of the post.
A dangerous attack for Crook came to nothing in the 54th minute and two minutes later, a shot from the left was saved by Wilkinson.
However, the scores were level almost immediately after this. In the 57th minute, Adam Burnicle curled a shot from the left side of the box into the far top corner to set up an intriguing last half hour.
Crook Town 1 West Auckland 1
59th minute and a promising move for Crook ends with a shot being blocked well by Wilkinson again to keep West’s hopes alive. Sixty-four minutes in and Crook again come close but have to settle for a corner, which is cleared.
Wilkinson was called into action again in the 71st minute as a ball was angled in low across the box but he got down well to gather the ball.
Crook Town were starting to pile on the pressure as the game entered its last few minutes. A free kick was conceded on the left of the penalty area which was cleared for a corner at the back post. The corner itself wasn’t dangerous but in the ensuing play, Crook managed to work the ball back into the box and set up a clear chance.
Somehow Gary Brown managed to get a full-stretch tackle in that deflected the ball over the bar for another corner.
The resulting corner also went dangerously close to going straight into the net but Crook couldn’t quite make their two-man advantage pay.
Then came a moment of comedy as an ‘injured’ West Auckland player limped slowly off the pitch to be replaced. As he reached the bench, he started laughing and walked normally.
It made me laugh too. So long as the referee adds on the time, I see no harm in it.
In the 87th minute, West almost snatched an unlikely victory when Jordan Blinco, the recently introduced substitute, shot from halfway and tried to catch the keeper off his line. He did but was unlucky to see his effort go just over the bar.
The referee added six minutes of injury time to the end of the game and in this span of time came the third red card of the game.
Crook’s Joe Lamb, who had been booked early in the first half, committed another reckless challenge and was shown his second yellow of the day. Despite all that had gone on during the game, it was all forgotten as the final whistle blew and the players and officials all walked around shaking hands.
Not a great game of football but still entertaining, nonetheless.
Full-time – Crook Town 1 West Auckland 1
Attendance – 322
Entrance Fee – £6.00
Programme – £1.00
Crook – After the Game
Following the end of the match, we had a brief chat with Dave Bussey about the game before making our way out of Millfield. A short walk back into the town brought us to our bus stop where we hoped to pick up the 17:25 bus to Durham.
17:58 to Durham did show up and that meant we arrived in Durham about two minutes late for our connection. Of course, our connection was running on time and that meant we had to wait an hour for the next one. Sigh!
Oh well, not as bad as last week at least.
We arrived home around 20:00, which is still earlier than most Saturdays, so no complaints from me. Well, not too many anyway.
Last but not least, I would like to give a big thank you to Chris, Crook’s social media man and club secretary. To Vince Kirkup, the club chairman and to everyone in the committee room who made us feel very welcome before the match and at halftime!
If you have been thinking of giving Crook Town a visit, do it, you won’t be disappointed.
As for us, it’s South Shield’s big FA Cup tie with Forest Green Rovers on Saturday and that should be a cracker!
Onto the next!
4 thoughts on “Crook Town, Sir Tom Cowie Millfield – Hopper Tales #43”
To the best of my knowledge the grassy banks behind the top goal, down the far side and up from the main stand have always just been like that and never terraced. I’ve been going there since the 50s although no longer because of age! Enjoyed the article.
That’s very interesting David,
It’s hard to imagine 17,000 people inside the ground, especially with grassy banks. Health and safety officials would be having palpitations nowadays!
Thank you for the information and the feedback!
On further reflection -it takes longer at my age!- apart from the main stand all the ground was just grassy banks in the 50s and 60s. There was no covered area and nothing behind the bottom goal apart from the bank. No barriers, no steps up etc. There was an additional turnstile at the very top of the side opposite the grandstand. It was through there that most illegal entry was made! Yes the mind now boggles at how dodgy it was but they were great times.
Wonderful information, thanks David!