Up in Them Thar Hills
Tow Law, (pronounced ‘Ow!’ the same way as if you hit your thumb with a hammer and have an aversion to cursing) is a small town in County Durham. It lies on the eastern approaches of the Northern Pennines and has an altitude of around 1,000 feet above sea level.
In 1841 only one building stood in the area, called Tow Law House. “Tow Law” is from the Old English “tot hlaw” meaning “lookout mound,” the name of the lone house which stood there.
The population was built up during the mid-19th century when the Weardale Iron and Coal Company was established in 1845. Blast furnaces and collieries provided work opportunities and the population was about 2,000 in 1851 and over 5,000 in 1881.
With the close of these industries, the town has seen a decline in population once more and at the last Census in 2011, there were 2,138 residents.
“Enough of the education, what about the football?”, I hear you cry.
Despite being a little under twenty miles away from home, Tow Law requires three bus journeys to reach it. We set off for the first of these and caught the 10:46 #65 to Durham, clutching the obligatory Greggs breakfast.
Broken Britain sat behind us, with a separated mother/father/son trio. The mother was clutching a bottle of vodka and clearly under the influence, despite the early hour of the day. She started berating the father about his new girlfriend being a drug addict.
You have to wonder what chance kids have, brought up in this environment.
Anyway, that drama aside, we arrived in Durham thirty minutes later and awaited our first connection.
The X46 to Crook (Crook Town – Hopper Tales #43) duly showed up and deposited us at Crook bus station at 12:05. A ten-minute wait and the #1 bus to Tow Law took us the final five miles, arriving at 12:17.
So, a total journey time of just over one and a half hours from home to Tow Law.
With a stroke of luck, the bus stop is right outside our chosen watering hole of the day, The Newmarket pub.
Tow Law – The Newmarket
Strangely, once at the bar, you are immediately at a disadvantage. The barmaid knows what she is selling but I had no clue. No names on the pumps to distinguish one beer from another.
That was the only complaint I had though.
We bought a couple of pints of Fosters for a very reasonable £6.90 and went to sit in the corner by the window. There were a group of friends playing pool and after a few minutes, I asked if I could play the winner. It’s been a while since I picked up a pool cue, so it was no surprise when I lost a game I should have won twice over.
Still, it was nice to play a game without my body screaming at me in pain, so that was a win in itself.
I’m not sure if the Newmarket sells food or not. I think they do because the adjacent room looked like it may have had tables set for food. As we didn’t have anything, I can’t testify as to how good it is.
A couple of pints later, we headed off on the short walk to Ironworks Road, home of Tow Law Town FC.
Tow Law Town – Ironworks Road Exterior
Turn left out of the pub and up and around the corner brings you to another left turn. This is Ironworks Road and leads you straight to the ground.
Built on a hill, as is most of Tow Law, the ground has quite a slope from side to side. At the top of the slope, is a car park and the turnstiles are adjacent to the social club (the white building in the photograph).
We had a wander into the car park but as there is no way of walking around Tow Law’s ground, I won’t post any spoiler pictures yet. Technically, if you aren’t averse to watching games through a fence, there is nothing stopping you from watching the game from the car park.
With non-league clubs struggling like the rest of us, I do not advocate that, though. We need to support smaller clubs and help them survive the current ‘cost of greed’ financial crisis we are suffering through.
We paid £5 each at the turnstile and entered the ground.
Tow Law Town – Ironworks Road Interior
As with our visit to Shildon (Hopper Tales #73), Ironworks Road was another pleasant surprise.
I knew there was a small stand decorated with the club’s logo but aside from that, I knew nothing at all about it.
Once through the entrance, you find yourself at the southern end of the pitch.
The social club (only accessible from outside until later on in the game) is off to the right and a small terrace, toilets and player dressing rooms complete the make-up of this end. There is also a net that covers a small area directly behind the goal.
At this point, I should probably point out today’s weather… it was wet… VERY wet!
While Europe suffers through a heatwave, Great Britain was doing Great Britain things…
The eastern side of Ironworks Road is made up of a long, shallow terrace perched atop a grassy bank that rises from the touchline. The aforementioned car park sits behind a metal mesh fence above the terrace.
The majority of it seems to be an original feature, although it appears some has been replaced with a more recent-looking concrete mix near the halfway line.
This is probably due to the original bits subsiding. The reason I suggest this is that there are places where the original terrace that is left seems to be cracking apart and sinking in places. Although not dangerous, it is showing signs of wear and tear.
Two rail fences run along the length of this terrace.
The North Stand
The northern end of the ground is another terrace, this time with a much-welcomed roof on it.
The roof gives you some idea of the extent of the pitch’s slope. See how it lowers from one end to the other in the photograph.
There are two sections of this terrace where thirteen seats have been bolted to the wall, a set at either end. There is also a neat logo on the wall referencing the club’s nickname, “The Lawyers”.
Unfortunately, we then had to retrace our steps, as the western side of the ground is inaccessible from the north stand.
With rain steadily soaking us and seeping through my summer jacket, we made our way back to the south end.
We took this opportunity to visit the toilets.
Mrs Hopper had to ask about toilet availability and was told to go back outside the ground and into the social club. She also took that opportunity to grab me a pin badge from behind the bar. I have to say, at £5 these are an extremely pricey option compared to other Northern League clubs’ efforts which are just as good.
You can do better here Tow Law Town…
While I waited for Mrs Hopper to reappear through the turnstile, I went into the men’s facility next to the small terrace. It was a throwback to days of yore, where rows of men stood shoulder to shoulder above a trough in the floor.
For those that don’t know what I mean, I took a picture. At least it had a roof and a sink! 😂
Having secured a pin badge and emptied bladders, we made our way over to the western side of the ground.
Technically, you can stand on this side of the ground, south of the main stand but it is mostly a path leading to the stand which spans the halfway line.
What a lovely little stand it is, too!
Bedecked in club colours and badge, the covered stand has a seating capacity of 120.
Team dugouts lie on either side of the stand and when combined with the three pillars that support the roof, convinced me we should move on.
We had planned to sit in this stand to watch the game but changed tactics and headed once more around the ground to the North Stand.
The theory was that the view of the game would be better from there. If it hadn’t been so wet, we would have happily stood on the East Terrace where the views were perfect.
A rail fence surrounds the playing surface on all sides of the pitch, which is of natural grass. Four floodlights are located on both sides of the pitch.
One other thing of note is that Ironworks Road is the highest natural grass football ground in England. Only Buxton’s ground is higher but they have a 4G playing surface.
To put it in perspective, many of you will know West Bromwich Albion‘s Hawthorns ground is the highest Football League ground.
Tow Law is almost twice the height above sea level!
It is also notorious for being pretty chilly up here, so if you plan to visit make sure you dress accordingly!
Tow Law has a very famous ex-player to boast of, too. Chris Waddle, while still working in a sausage factory, started playing for the club in the summer of 1980. He was sold to Newcastle United (Hopper Tales #50) for a fee of £1,000, which would have been a nice influx of cash for a small club at the time.
I hear he went on to bigger things…
Tow Law Town – Ironworks Road Gallery
Tow Law Town – Pre-Game View of Ironworks Road
As we started to make our way back around the pitch, the players came out into the rain and took up their positions for the match.
Tow Law Town v Chester-Le-Street United – The Game
Currently plying their trade in the Northern League Division One, five steps below the Football League, Tow Law finished last season in 12th place (of 20).
Having spoken to one of the Tow Law supporters before the game, it sounded like a big shift of personnel was in force for this season. With players moving elsewhere for better money (who can blame them with the way things are currently), the Lawyers will be hoping the new faces settle in quickly and they can emulate or even improve on last season’s performance.
Given this tweet from CLS United’s Twitter page, it seems they were having problems of their own.
A division between the teams, CLS United down on regular players and Tow Law at home, my prediction stayed the same as it has for a few games so far this pre-season… 3-0. This time to the home team.
(Spoiler Alert: YES!)
With us still making our way across the East Terrace through the steady downpour, the game kicked off.
Despite Tow Law winning this game comfortably, there was never a dominating feel to the gameplay, which is a testament to this young CLSU team.
The first goal was a well-taken effort from Benji Urwin. He stayed composed in the box and shifted the ball through the pack to create a shooting chance, before slotting it past the ‘keeper.
The second was a nice lobbed finish by Jack Evans from just inside the area and 2-0 was the score at halftime. The players went off for a good towel down, I should imagine, with the rain not letting up.
The second half started brighter for CLSU as they had chances to score and even looked the better team for a while. However, any hope they had of getting back into the game was shattered when they conceded a third midway through the half.
You have to take your chances in football, or you get punished.
3-0 was the final score and I had finally got one right.
One other thing I should say is a big well done to the young match referee. This is the first time I have ever watched a game at this level with nobody running the lines. Not only did he cope, he actually got through the game better than some officials who have two assistants and communication earpieces.
Well done, sir!
Full-time – Tow Law Town 3 Chester-Le-Street United 0
Attendance – 87
Entrance Fee – £5.00
Programme – N/A
Unfortunately, there are no official match highlights videos for me to post, so you will have to make do with this very brief bit of action from the first half, where I was taking a video of the view from the North Stand.
Next up for Tow Law Town is a friendly against nearby rivals Consett (Northern Premier League Division – One East) at Ironworks Road on 26th July, 19:30 KO.
Their Northern League Division One campaign begins with a pair of home fixtures against Carlisle City (29th 3 pm KO) and Penrith (August 1st 7:45 pm KO).
These games are followed by an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round match at Grounsell Park, home of Heaton Stannington. The Stan are also an NL Division One team and they will know each other well.
As far as I can tell, Chester-Le-Street United dive straight into their League campaign.
Two home games to start them off, with fixtures against Boldon CA (29th 3 pm KO) and Easington Colliery (August 2nd 7:30 pm KO).
CLS United play at the Riverside Complex adjacent to Durham County Cricket Club’s stadium.
Tow Law is a little off the beaten path and looks like it could be the setting for a Catherine Cookson novel, set in the hills. That’s not a negative, though. I could happily live in a place like this, away from the crowds, yet still with a bit of social character.
I’m not sure what the locals are like but at one time, Tow Law Town did have a bit of a reputation for a hooligan element (the Misfits) back in the 1990s.
Hopefully, that is a thing of the distant past, as no club needs people like that following the team around and besmirching their good name.
The ground itself had a very nice old-school feel, with genuine terracing and a nice little main stand. Natural grass is always a bonus as more and more clubs switch to synthetic surfaces.
I feel the social club should work the opposite way to the current method, by locking the door to the street and opening the door to the ground. This allows paying customers to easily access the toilets (and bar) while preventing anyone from just walking in for free.
I would also lower the price of pin badges and bring them in line with most other clubs, ie £3 – £3.50.
£5.00 feels a little too steep, to be honest.
Overall, I’d heartily recommend Ironworks Road to anyone who is yet to visit, a great little ground.
Tow Law – After the Game
We left the ground via the social club and here are a few photographs Mrs Hopper took while getting my pin badge before the game.
I slowly dragged Mrs Hopper away from the horses that were busy eating their dinner by the fence in a field opposite the club. We made our way up Ironworks Road, with at least one of us watching where we were going.
A right turn put us back on the A68 and a couple of minutes later, we were back at the bus stop opposite The Newmarket.
at 16:59 our first bus arrived, taking us back to Crook. As we neared Crook bus station, Broken Britain #2 was making his way across the road ahead of us.
What Am I Watching?
Resembling something somewhere between a Fiddler Crab and an extra from The Walking Dead, he walked/sidled/jerked his way across the street. The bemusement on the faces of everyone nearby told its own story. Clearly away in a fairyland on some kind of drug, he had no idea of all the people around him pointing and laughing to each other.
I personally find it sad, rather than funny. Why do we do this to ourselves as a society? Drink and drugs are seen as some kind of escape but I will be honest, the place you are escaping to is worse than the place you are escaping from.
As we pulled into the station, we could see the half-hourly bus to Durham pulled up ahead of us and we hurried to catch it before it left us with a long wait.
Not so nice, was the fifty-minute wait in Durham for the last bus of our journey.
I used to like Durham but it feels quite different of late. There always seem to be gangs of teenagers milling about looking for something to do. Not to mention gangs of drunk middle-aged people looking where to put their next step forward without falling over.
Bear in mind this is still early evening!
It might just be me but it feels like a latent sense of violence is always just around the corner and I’m always glad to get on the bus home.
At 18:45, we caught our last bus and by 19:25 we were back through the front door of our house.
Always a nice feeling after a day out travelling.
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
Up next for us, is another northeast club.
This time, it will be Ashington AFC v Workington AFC (Hopper Tales #64).
Ashington is a town fifteen miles north of Newcastle Upon Tyne, in Northumberland. They have just won promotion to the Northern Premier League – East Division.
Their opponents have also just been promoted, to the Northern Premier League – Premier Division. This puts them one step ahead of their hosts on the day and it will be interesting to see how the comparison of East versus West shapes up.
Workington was a very enjoyable place for us to visit last season and hopefully, we will run into a familiar face or two at Ashington’s Woodhorn Lane ground.
Onto the next!