Off the Rails
The third week of our new season, already and we were heading to Shildon, a small town in County Durham.
Shildon is a town built on the back of the Industrial Revolution and in particular, the construction of the railways. To this end, Shildon is the home of the Locomotion Museum, which was opened in 2004.
Shildon was one of the major points on the world’s first public railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway – which opened in 1825. It gave birth to one of Shildon’s main employers over the years, a wagon maker. It was also how the club came to be nicknamed the ‘Railwaymen’.
Interestingly, while doing a quick research on the dates, I discovered that an even earlier (but private) railway line was built in our town. This was built to transport coal from the Hetton Colliery to Sunderland and was opened in 1822.
Both of these lines were built by the famous Victorian engineer, George Stevenson.
I keep saying it folks, groundhopping is educational!
The journey to Shildon from Hetton goes through some wonderful scenery as you enter the moorlands of County Durham.
Shildon – The Journey
Despite being just under eighteen miles away, we would need to take three buses to get to our destination. The first of these, we caught at 11:15 for the thirty-minute trip to Durham. This gave us time to munch on our breakfast/lunch, courtesy of Greggs sausage rolls.
Arriving in Durham, we made the short walk to Claypath to pick up our first connection, still brushing flecks of pastry off our clothes.
The #6 bus to Bishop Auckland (Hopper Tales #27) was due at 11:54 and it turned up promptly… at 12:05.
We arrived in Bishop Auckland forty minutes later and made our way to Stand E for the final bus on to Shildon. This arrived at 13:02 and deposited us outside St. John’s Church thirty minutes later.
The weather on this particular day was typical England.
We packed our sunglasses, flip-flops and sunscreen, along with our Arctic parka coats, hiking boots and thermal socks…
During the trip, we were treated to searing Saharan heat and Indian monsoons. leaving me feeling like a global traveller without leaving the bus.
Even with the bipolar weather, some of the views in County Durham are nothing short of spectacular and on a nicer day, you can see for miles across the moors from some of the vantage points.
Safely deposited in Shildon, we made a short walk from the church up to the Red Lion pub for a quick drink before the game.
Shildon – The Red Lion
With last week’s drinks at North Shields costing over £10 per round, it was refreshing to be charged just over £7 for pints of Guinness and Stella.
It begs the question, why such a big difference from pub to pub?
This was a traditional old-school pub, complete with wood panelling, stone walls, an old fireplace and ‘characters’. We sat off to the right of the bar and there was a similar-sized section off to the left.
In this section was a group of men who were clearly having a ball and good banter with each other. Nothing wrong with that, but I couldn’t help but think of how much my mother would be cringing if she was sat there listening to some of the colourful language.
We, as a nation, do like to liberally pepper swear words into sentences, don’t we?
Anyway, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I just know that some people get offended by it.
A couple of gentlemen wearing South Shields‘ (Hopper Tales #44) shirts were sitting under the TV in the corner. One of them also had a black and yellow tartan scarf around his neck. He was quite surprised when I recognised and asked him about his East Fife scarf. We had a good chat with them before they left for the ground a few minutes later.
The other thing of note about the Red Lion was the number of signs warning about zero tolerance of drugs. It seems they have had a problem with that recently and police raids on the premises were to be ongoing.
Luckily, there were no riot police battering the doors down while we were there and nobody injecting themselves in the toilets. Instead, what we encountered was a friendly barmaid, a good chat with visiting South Shields folk and a decent pint at a reasonable price.
Make your own mind up.
With our drinks gone, we got on our way and made the short walk to the Dean Street ground.
Shildon AFC – Dean Street
We headed back down Church Street, turned right along Primitive Street and the entrance to the ground is just off to the right, along Dean Street.
We carried on past this and headed up Brown Street to complete a wander around the perimeter of the ground.
It is mostly shielded by a fence but I did manage to get one decent photo of the floodlights.
We turned right along East View Terrace and right again into Southland Gardens before completing the circuit and back into Dean Street.
Technically, Dean Street is now known as the J. Denham Metals Stadium but I’m not a fan of sponsored stadium names.
They are obviously a source of valuable revenue for clubs but I will usually refer to stadiums by their original names where possible.
We made our way to the old-school turnstiles and paid £5 each (cash only) to enter the ground. The regular price for the upcoming season is set at £7.
There were no programmes or teamsheets available for today’s fixture, unfortunately.
What a pleasant surprise Dean Street was.
It started its life as a cycle track and has been the permanent home of Shildon AFC since 1898 when they opened with a game against near-neighbours Bishop Auckland.
The stadium once had a total capacity of 4,700, which is pretty impressive for a club plying its trade at level nine of the football pyramid. Nowadays, that capacity is reduced to 1,506.
Once inside, you come out to a large open area with picnic tables just off to the right and the pitch directly ahead.
There is also an artificial 5-a-side pitch that is fenced off. I’m not sure of its purpose, but this would be a great place for kids to play football.
We headed left to start a walk around the inside perimeter.
The South Side of the ground comprises a tarmac path and a modern all-seated and covered stand that bridges the halfway line. It has an area designated for disabled spectators towards the eastern end and seats dedicated to media, with a small video camera being operated from the back row, centre of the stand.
It has a seating capacity of 200 and was opened in 2018.
This end of the ground is the one that backs onto East View Terrace and the only thing of note is the large net that prevents errant footballs from landing in the road.
It also marks the end of the road as far as completing the circuit goes. At the far end of this part of the ground, are the dressing rooms and players’ entrance to the field. There is a steward and a chain preventing access around to that side of the ground.
We made our way back around to the other side of the ground.
On the north side of the ground, is the aforementioned dressing room building for the players at the western end.
At the eastern end is a small, covered standing area.
The main feature of this side of the ground, though, is the unique-looking ‘Pagoda’ Stand. Opened in 1921, it is unfortunately closed due to safety reasons these days. This is probably due to the fact that a lot of it is composed of wood.
In its heyday, this stand seated approximately 500 people.
There is a small terrace beneath the seating area of the stand and this was in use on the day. The team dugouts are on either side of this stand.
Although currently closed to spectators, it is still a wonderful feature of the ground and hopefully something can be done to restore it as a viable part of the stadium once more.
Underneath, is an entrance to the club bar, where there is a good amount of memorabilia adorning the walls.
The pitch itself is of natural grass and a metal mesh barrier surrounds the playing surface. There are four floodlights, in the traditional fashion of one in each corner.
They have quite a distinct character to them, too.
Shildon AFC – Dean Street Gallery
Shildon AFC – Pre-Game View of Dean Street
Shildon AFC v South Shields – The Game
Last season saw Shildon relegated from the Northern Premier League East, meaning they will play this season in the Northern Football League Divison One.
Despite winning 3-2 in their final game of the season at Grimsby Borough, the Railwaymen hadn’t done enough to salvage their season. A win for rivals Carlton Town against Dunston was enough to ensure Shildon’s fall from grace.
This season, they will be hoping to put that right and return at the first time of asking.
Opponents South Shields, meanwhile, had an opposite feeling at the end of the season. Their promotion from the Northern Premier League to the National League North means that the two clubs now find themselves three divisions apart.
For that reason, I am staying with the same score prediction I gave last week and a 0-3 away win for the Mariners.
Kevin Phillips, who oversaw the club’s promotion season, has moved on and the new South Shields manager is club and northeast football legend, Julio Arca.
This season, I have decided to do away with a blow-by-blow report on the match and wherever possible, leave that to the professionals who report on games.
In this case, I will leave a link to the South Shields Match Report on their website.
This allows me to get the review done quicker and provide more of the ‘experience’ and less about the match itself.
I hope this makes sense to regular readers(-s).
The gulf between the two teams was obvious and glaring for much of the match. South Shields were dominant for much of the game without ever really getting out of second gear.
The 12th-minute opening goal by Joao Gomes was a really well-taken effort.
There was no shortage of effort from the Shildon players but they were clearly outmatched and rarely threatened the Mariners goal.
As the game came towards its end and Shields’ winning 0-3, I thought I might finally get a prediction spot on. Nope! A fourth goal killed off that notion and it completed what was a very comfortable run out for the away side.
This was no embarrassment for Shildon, however. South Shields is very much a club on the up and it will be interesting to see how they fare in the National League North this season.
Full-time – Shildon AFC 0 v South Shields 4
Attendance – Official club estimate placed at around 300. No exact count was taken.
Entrance Fee – £5.00
Programme – N/A
Shildon AFC v South Shields – Match Highlights
A post-game interview with Mariners’ manager, Julio Arca.
Shildon kicks off their league campaign on July 29th with a visit to West Allotment Celtic. They follow this up with a home game against Northallerton Town on August 1st.
They also travel to Sam Smith’s Park for an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round against Newcastle Benfield (Hopper Tales #71).
South Shields will travel to Whitby Town for a friendly on the 18th of July before facing Harrogate Town (Hopper Tales #40) and Gateshead (Hopper Tales #65) in home friendlies on the 22nd and 28th respectively.
Their new National League North campaign will begin with another home fixture against Alfreton Town of Derbyshire.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from our trip to Shildon but I have to say, I enjoyed our visit to Dean Street. It’s a very tidy-looking stadium with great views from the new stand.
The rain was kept at bay by the roof of the stand and it also kept out the glare of the sun.
Good old England, eh?
The club is clearly set up to be playing at a higher level and I’m sure they will be pushing hard to get back into the Northern Premier League East sooner, rather than later.
I wish them well with it.
I had been hoping to meet up with a fellow Stoke fan who follows Shildon while we were in attendance. Unfortunately, our trip coincided with his being in Majorca.
The lengths people will go to, to avoid me!
Shildon – After the Game
Following the game, we made our way around to the social club and enquired whether pin badges were available. The lady at the bar was helpful and told me to email the club and they would get one sent out to me.
I thanked her and we made our way outside. I took a couple of photos of the unused stand through the rope barrier. You can clearly see that it is a wooden stand and therefore wouldn’t pass muster following the Popplewell Inquiry and the subsequent Taylor Report on ground safety.
After leaving the stand, we walked toward the exit and as we did so, bumped into someone who looked like he might be a club official. I asked him and he turned out to be Michael Wilson, the General Manager of Shildon AFC.
I explained about the pin badge collection I have been building and he gave me his email address and told me he would get one to me if I contacted him.
Thank you, Michael!
With this, we headed toward the exit, which had been opened up adjacent to the turnstile block.
We headed back to St. John’s church and waited for the bus to Bishop Auckland. It appeared on time at 17:05 and we were at Bishop Auckland bus station by 17:33.
A short five-minute wait later, we were on the bus headed for Durham, arriving 1t 18:15. It was on this second leg of the trip back that we had to listen to two couples arguing and almost fighting downstairs. They appeared to be accusing each other of being ‘smackheads’.
It sounded like they both may have been correct, to be honest. People can be exhausting.
This was the longest part of the journey today, waiting until 18:45 for the bus back to Hetton. It eventually arrived on time and we headed straight to the local chippy.
Those two Greggs sausage rolls were fading fast!
Having got through the front door, I took my coat off for the last time that day, feeling a little like Daniel San in The Karate Kid. I had taken it off and put it back on so many times, it felt like one of Mr Miyagi’s instructions.
Coat on, coat off, coat on, coat off!
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
After a good day at Shildon, our next game comes quicker than usual.
Usually, we only head to one game per week but I couldn’t pass up the rare chance to watch a game of football at Murrayfield.
Normally the home of Scottish rugby, Murrayfield will instead be hosting a friendly game between Manchester United and Olympique Lyonnais of France.
Onto the next!