Another Change of Plans
Another Saturday, another rail strike and another change of plans.
It’s becoming a familiar pattern for groundhoppers to lay down their plans only to find they must completely change them due to rail strikes.
I have gotten to the stage where I no longer plan to attend games where tickets are required well in advance. Watching games where there won’t be a desperate need to get tickets quickly before they sell out leaves me with wiggle room for disruption on public transport.
So, with this strategy in place and my claim for a refund logged with the relevant train company, we changed from heading to Scotland, to a more local affair.
Morpeth Town’s Craik Park.
Morpeth Town – Journey and Pre-Game
Our day started the way it so often does, with a bus to Newcastle. We went for the 10:00 am bus, as this would give us plenty of time to get to Morpeth before noon when our designated pub opened for lunch.
Good job we did!
With Christmas shopping well underway, the bus felt a little like being in a crowded submarine. All the windows were clouded with condensation, meaning the only view available is that of the people near you and likewise for them. When a bus is this packed, it really does feel claustrophobic although fortunately, I am not one of the unfortunate sufferers of that particular phobia, thankfully.
The journey took about twenty-five minutes longer than it normally does and when we reached Gateshead, the driver actually ran out of driving hours due to being so late. Luckily, despite saying the bus would terminate here, he realised that it would cause chaos due to the number of people on board and he drove the extra mile to Eldon Square bus station.
From here we caught a later-than-planned X18 to Morpeth, arriving a couple of minutes after midday.
This probably worked out better in the long run because we had no waiting around and walked straight into the pub.
Like last week, our journey needed two different bus companies, so that no savings could be made on a day saver ticket. The total journey cost us £24.80 and took just under two hours of travel and waiting.
Our chosen pub was The Sun Inn and it just happened to be very close to a bus stop… almost like someone had planned this out!
When we were inside, it was a bit of a surprise to realise how big the place was. There were tables everywhere, a large bar area and a big beer garden at the rear.
We chose a small two-seater table near the back of the pub. The serving lady took our drinks order (Guinness and Moretti) and was back with them just in time for us to decide what food to order. I went for a beef and ale pie with hand-cut chips and Mrs Hopper chose a steak and mushroom ciabatta.
When the food arrived, it was obviously all homemade and in nice, large portions, which justifies the slightly higher than normal prices.
Our only complaint was that none of the food seemed to be seasoned. I had to add quite a bit of salt to my plate and it’s never the same as when it’s done during the cooking process. For an establishment that seems geared up to make most of its money from the eating side of the business, I hope they look to change that going forward. Or maybe we just got unlucky?
Anyway, it’s a small complaint and the overall feel of the place is a good one.
After eating lunch, we waited outside the pub for a free shuttle service mini-bus that the club has recently introduced. This is a brand-new service and today was only the second time it had been in operation.
Due to the location of Craik Park, outside the town and poor pedestrian access, this is a great idea and hopefully, one that will drive more local people to start getting themselves down to the match.
At the arranged time of 13:25, the driver pulled up bang on time. He was a friendly guy who does this work on a voluntary basis and proves once again how lucky non-league football clubs are to have people like this. Although a Newcastle United fan, Morpeth is also in his veins and we had a chat about both clubs on the way into town for his other stop-offs.
With the bus nicely filled after the designated pick-up points, we made our way to Craik Park.
You have probably seen or heard of the movie ‘Cabin in the Woods’. Well, this is a ‘Football Stadium in the Woods’, located around two miles from Morpeth railway station.
We were dropped off at the end of the road that leads there, just outside the turnstile.
Morpeth Town – The Stadium
We thanked the driver and got off the bus.
We then walked around the corner of the brick building in front of us, to the turnstile. This is where we presented our print-at-home tickets purchased online from the Morpeth Town ticket website.
We went through the turnstile and purchased a programme from a box behind the turnstile operators. While Mrs Hopper went inside the adjacent social club to get the drinks in, I had a wander around the ground to take some photos and videos.
After walking down the path, it brings you out onto one side of the pitch. To the right of the path is a small temporary-looking stand with bench seats in it. There is also a small white building which houses both gents’ and ladies’ toilets.
From here I carried on in an anti-clockwise walk around the perimeter.
The end behind the goal is devoid of any structures and is just a path that is split in two with one smaller raised section beneath the rear fence.
The other side of Craik Park consists of a wooden building which appeared to be closed but was called The Tavern. I assume some kind of bar that can be used on busier match days? Adjacent to this is another wooden structure that is two-tiered. I’m not entirely sure what this one is used for but there was a sign on the lower part that said ‘First Aid and Lost Children Point’.
The upper tier is used by the Morpeth Town club cameras for recording the match, among other possible uses.
Further along is the Main Stand at Craik Park. A single-tier structure that is accessed by metal steps at either end. It contains two rows of plastic seating and a bench that runs between the two rows. This is also the designated press area and some of the seats are reserved for directors etc. of both teams.
This stand straddles the halfway line and the team dugouts sit on the touchline on either side of it.
Behind the other goal is a covered terrace consisting mainly of a path and a couple of low-raised areas covered with paving slabs to the rear.
This brings us back around to the side we started on and it is completed with a raised area on which is housed a large permanent marquee/conservatory building with a veranda that overlooks the pitch.
This is obviously the prime vantage point for many of the people watching the game as it gives handy access to a bar while you watch the game.
The pitch itself is an artificial 3g surface and there are four floodlights, with the traditional layout of one in each corner. The whole playing surface is surrounded by a waist-high green metal fence.
Overall, Craik Park is situated in a very scenic wooded area and gives the ground a lovely backdrop. The structures are for the most part, modern and well looked after and the continuous path that snakes around the ground is flat and safe. However, be aware of the raised levels. They are all made of the same tarmac and it would be easy to stumble off the higher levels if you weren’t paying attention.
The ground looks like the owner is mates with a local builder and between them, they have built a ground with all the parts from the local builders’ yard… and that’s not a criticism!
I have to say, I love the uniqueness of Craik Park and look forward to visiting again someday.
Morpeth Town – Stadium Gallery
Morpeth Town – Pre-Game Video of Craik Park
Morpeth Town Social Club
After my walk around, I went to join Mrs Hopper in the social club where I found a nice pint of lager and a pin badge waiting for me. The pin badges are available behind the counter if you ask for them. I didn’t see a club shop anywhere, so I’m not sure if any other merchandise is available anywhere at the ground. There doesn’t appear to be an online store on the club website either, so they could be missing out on valuable revenue there.
The social club is a nice, spacious area with plain white decor with club memorabilia and TV screens dotted around the walls. These were showing Poland versus Saudi Arabia in their World Cup game.
Mrs Hopper’s plastic beer glass sprung a leak in the bottom when she was a third of the way down it. She hurriedly took it back to the bar while I mopped up the mess. The pint was replaced without question and there were no further mishaps.
Once our drinks were finished, we headed off to choose our vantage point for the game.
Morpeth Town – The Game
Initially, we were going to stand on the near-side touchline. At the last minute we changed our minds and walked around to the far touchline and stood beneath the shadow of the main stand next to the home dugout.
An inspired choice!
Morpeth has one of the most vicious sprinkler systems I have ever seen on their 3g pitch and players and fans alike needed to keep a close eye on the firehose-like jets kicking into life before the game.
The teams came out to the strains of Banks of the River Tyne, a song by Junior Turner. I’m not sure if this was the original singer or someone covering the song. what I do know is that the referee, Kirk Freeth, was very tall!
As the two lines of players lined up and shook hands, he towered above them all and his bald head made him stand out even more. Maybe this is why he drew so much attention from the Morpeth dugout during the game?
Or maybe his decision-making on the day was just awful…
Whatever the case, this wasn’t going to be a quiet game for the man in black.
Belper Town got the game underway and coming into this game, the Derbyshire side were rock bottom of the league. This was the ninth game since their last league win back on the 27th of September.
Morpeth Town weren’t faring much better in terms of recent form. This was the seventh match since their last victory at home to Stafford Rangers on the 15th of October. They were, however, faring better in league position, coming into the game in thirteenth position.
With this being the case, it was never likely to be a classic game of football with both teams just desperate to put an end to the dismal form.
The hosts were attacking the goal to our right and it was they who had the first chance seven minutes in. A free kick was awarded near the halfway line following a push in the back. Ben Sayer was quick to spot Andrew Johnson in space on the left flank and directed the ball quickly to him.
Johnson controlled the ball on his chest, beat a defender and cut inside the corner of the box before unleashing a good effort that whistled past the far post.
Two minutes later, the home side put a second shot just on the wrong side of the same post from a corner and they seemed to be having slightly the better of the early exchanges, with neither side dominating.
Twelve minutes in, another corner from the near side was floated across the box. Chris Reid’s header was followed by a scramble in the box with Dale Pearson unable to get much purchase on the resulting shot at goal. Harrison Davies-Hale in the Belper goal gratefully dived on the ball and the chance was gone.
As the half wore on, chances were at a premium but the Nailers were slowly gaining their confidence as Morpeth’s drained from them. The game was punctuated with some poor passing from the home team and they looked bereft of faith in themselves.
In the 31st minute, a Jacob Gratton free kick from the Belper left was floated towards the penalty spot. Luke Mangham rose highest and his header looked destined to sneak inside the post until Dan Lawson, at full stretch, managed to tip the ball wide for a corner.
With five minutes left in the half, Morpeth’s Johnson again went close in almost a carbon copy of his earlier chance. The ball was floated over to the left wing, where Johnson latched onto it. He put the ball through the defenders’ legs before flashing his shot across the goal and just wide of the far post from a narrow angle.
Second time unlucky!
This was the end of any meaningful action other than the tension that had been building between the two sides starting to play out. Morpeth were upset at what they perceived as Belper’s gamesmanship. A few players went down rather easily and comments were exchanged between the two benches. Luckily these are quite away apart from each other, or it could have escalated more.
I can’t help feeling the referee was partly to blame for not stamping this out earlier on. He did try to assert some kind of authority with a double booking towards the end of the half but by then it was clear to the players that they could get away with more than usual.
This continued into the second half.
Some of the drama was captured on my phone, culminating with the two yellow cards.
Half-time – Morpeth Town 0 Belper Town 0
The halftime whistle brought an end to a first half that was lacking in quality but not in entertainment.
During the halftime break, we gave our ageing backs a rest by sitting in the main stand behind us and watched the sprinkler system attacking the substitutes who were keeping themselves active during the interval.
The Second Half
The second forty-five minutes almost began with an own goal. Some good work down Morpeth’s right flank saw the ball crossed low across the line of the six-yard box. Tom Wilson stuck out a leg and diverted it towards his own net. Luckily for him, Davison-Hale was alert and managed to block it clear with his legs.
Again from the right wing came another chance moments later. This time the ball was crossed to the near post where Ryan Donaldson was lurking. His shot went into the side netting though and those two chances were the highlights of the half for the home side, as Belper started to take control of the game again.
Indeed, in the 54th minute, they took the lead.
They won the ball back in the Morpeth half and some neat passing in the centre of the pitch saw the ball eventually played out wide right to Luke Mangham. His lobbed cross found Shaun Tuton on the edge of the area. He attempted to turn with the ball but then fell to the floor with not a lot of contact… if any.
Meanwhile, the ball landed at the feet of Ethan Cartwright and he gleefully turned and smashed the ball low into the bottom right corner to put the visitors ahead.
0-1 Belper Town!
In the 58th minute, the Highwaymen made a substitution, replacing Dale Pearson with Sam Fishburn. Three minutes after his introduction, Fishburn came as close to a goal as Morpeth would get. The ball was twice played down the centre of the pitch, with the second pass somehow seeing Fishburn burst through his two markers into the area.
Unfortunately for him and his team, the resulting shot from the corner of the six-yard box cannoned off the upright and out of danger. Had that gone in, who knows what the result might have been?
As it was, Belper went on to cement their dominance over the home team.
First, came a chaotic corner kick in the 67th minute that saw a low ball go through the near-post players and land at the feet of Belper’s captain, Ben Middleton in the middle of the goal. His shot struck a Morpeth defender in the midriff and prevented a certain goal before going to the right of the area where Todd Jordan struck another shot at goal.
This time it was a defender’s knee that kept the effort out with the goalkeeper at full stretch behind him. The ball was subsequently cleared out for a throw-in.
Breathe, everyone, breathe!
Belper then took a stranglehold on the game in the 75th minute with their second goal.
This goal was definitely the highlight of the game and was all about the individual skills of Shaun Tuton. Having picked up the ball on the left touchline, he glided past one defender before dropping his shoulder and ghosting past a second Morpeth player.
As the ball started to go towards a narrower angle, Tuton put in his shot as he started to slide at the same time, his shot going across the goalkeeper and into the opposite corner of the net. Belper’s players ran to the far corner to celebrate with the small band of Nailers fans who had made the 340+ mile round trip to the northeast.
0-2 Belper Town!
The below video is of some in-game footage that includes the chaotic corner and culminates with Belper’s second goal.
Following the goal, Morpeth’s player of the game, Andrew Johnson was brought off and we could hear him apologising to the management for his part in the goal, although I never noticed what he’d done wrong at the time.
The only further chance of the game fell to Highwaymen substitute, Ben Ramsey. A Morpeth goal kick was headed and twice passed without touching the floor, with the second pass playing Ramsey through on goal. His shot, however, couldn’t beat the onrushing Davison-Hale and the goalkeeper blocked the shot with his body, high over the bar for a corner.
The only other action that took place was a repeat of the drama towards the end of the first half, with players squaring up to each other and off-the-ball incidents taking place.
At one point, I’m pretty sure a Belper player was part shoved, part slapped in the face by a frustrated Morpeth player, which you can see in the video below as the game wound down to a feisty end.
By the full-time whistle, there were even two Belper players squaring off with each other amidst chaotic scenes that the teams will want to be put behind them as soon as possible.
The below video starts with the aftermath of an off-the-ball situation on the far side of the pitch and ends with the Belper players squaring off.
There is even a little bit of football in between!
Full-time – Morpeth Town 0 Belper Town 2
Attendance – 355
Entrance Fee – £12.00
Programme – £2.00
Full Match Report from the Morpeth Town website.
Next up for Morpeth is a trip to Guiseley for a 12:30 pm kick-off at Nethermoor Park. Belper will face another tough away trip to FC United of Manchester at Broadhurst Park.
Morpeth Town – Match Highlights
Morpeth Town – After the Game
Following the game, we made our way out of the ground and the shuttle bus was waiting outside.
We made the strange decision to walk instead of getting on the bus. Partly due to needing to stand around waiting for the bus and partly due to a sense of adventure. As I mentioned, Craik Park is built in a wooded area and there is a path leading alongside a small stream through the woods and back into town.
On a nice summer’s day, with the sun shining, this would be an inspired choice. With a pitch-black sky and rain in the air… not so much.
The 1.3-mile walk through the dark woods on a path that wasn’t always clear and sometimes muddy, was worth it for the fun, though. Using just my mobile phone’s light, we managed to negotiate the walk without any worse mishap than mud-caked boots.
I even deliberately avoided mentioning The Blair Witch Project to Mrs Hopper. It’s easy to understand how she fell for someone with my loving and caring nature, isn’t it?
We also got a great final view of Craik Park’s floodlights through the trees.
The path finally brought us out by Morpeth golf course clubhouse and a short walk to the nearest bus stop. The X18 arrived about ten minutes later and we were on our way back to Newcastle.
We arrived about twenty-five minutes later and walked to our connecting stop in Eldon Square bus station. Remember all those Christmas shoppers that were on our bus to Newcastle earlier in the morning?
Well, they were ALL waiting for the same bus home as us.
Two buses came in quick succession and we managed to get on the second one, finally arriving home around 19:45.
Morpeth was a great place to visit and one I will definitely consider going back to in the future.
This brings me neatly to next week’s trip and another club we will be visiting for the second time – Berwick Rangers.
Onto the next!