Our next game was at West Auckland’s Darlington Road ground, or the Wanted Stadium.
It was here that I was reminded of the heroes that keep non-league football club’s running with their behind-the-scenes dedication and passion.
Step forward Dave Bussey, the man who does so much for the club… and all on a voluntary basis!
He is the club’s social media admin, the man who stands at the touchline keeping players watered in this blistering heat, manning the substitute’s electronic board, preparing the dressing rooms for the players and match officials, taking people like me on a tour around the ground and so much more.
These are the sort of people who rarely get any recognition and yet, once they are no longer there, they leave a huge hole that is hard to fill.
I just wanted to start this article with a huge thank you to Dave for making Mrs Hopper and I very welcome at the ground yesterday and for allowing us to see behind the scenes of the club and also for getting my hands on a historic trophy (more of that later) so, thank you, Dave!
West Auckland – Pre-Game
We caught an early bus to West Auckland in order to have a personal guide around the ground and something even more special. This meant catching the 08:44 to Durham, where we hopped on a connection to our destination.
All went well and we arrived at the designated time to find Dave Bussey waiting for us.
The first task was to get a photo of the magnificent statue dedicated to West Auckland’s famous World Cup victories in 1909 and 1911. The statue is right next to the bus stop on the main road through the village and it was a perfect summer’s day for getting photos of the picturesque village green.
After getting the pictures, next up was a tour of Darlington Road before people started showing up for the big derby game against local rivals Bishop Auckland (who we visited a couple of weeks ago – link here)
As well as getting a few good photos of the ground while there was nobody else around, Dave also took us into the dressing rooms, the social club and the function room.
In the dressing room, the shirts were neatly hung on pegs for the players, the fridge was full of much-needed bottles of water and the tactics board was ready to be used. A huge speaker was central to the dressing room too and Dave pointed out that the boys like to have the music blasting out before the game. It was certainly pumping out of the dressing room after the game, as was the noise of the celebrating home team!
Next up was the social club, which as well as being the club’s main source of income, is also home to a lot of West Auckland memorabilia, including framed programmes and tickets from three Wembley finals donated to the club by Dave himself.
There are three shirts from the Wembley finals, also framed and on the wall, although my pictures didn’t come out too well because of light reflecting on the glass, unfortunately.
There is also a lovely silver plate and glass plaque that commemorate the centenary of the game against Juventus, sent by the Italian club which is a tremendous gesture on their part.
Although, as far as I am aware, Juventus didn’t play West Auckland themselves until two years later in the 2011 version of the Thomas Lipton Trophy.
After seeing all this lovely memorabilia, Dave took us out onto the pitch itself so that we could get some nice photographs of the stands and this is also where I took a video from.
West Auckland – The Stadium
From here, it was off to the West Auckland Working Man’s Club and the bit I was most excited for… The Thomas Lipton Trophy!
West Auckland – The Thomas Lipton Trophy
In 1909, West Auckland became the first team to lift a version of a World Cup trophy in football.
The Thomas Lipton Trophy is named after the man who inaugurated the tournament when he invited teams from Europe to take part in an international competition. Teams from Germany, Italy and Switzerland took him up on the offer, along with a lowly northeast team made up mostly of miners who had to beg and borrow the money to make the trip to Italy.
Amazingly, this team of miners saw off the competition and lifted the first ever international tournament trophy by beating Sportfreunde Stuttgart of Germany and Winterthur of Switzerland.
Two years later, despite Juventus promising that it wouldn’t happen again, West Auckland retained their title by beating Swiss side FC Zurich 2-0 and spanking the hosts, Juventus 6-1 in the final.
Just imagine that happening today!?
There have been a couple of documentaries made about this incredible achievement. The first one was in the style of a film, called A Captain’s Tale and made back in 1982. It runs for 1 hour 18 minutes and stars Richard Griffiths, Nigel Hawthorne, Tim Healy and Denis Waterman.
The second is a shorter documentary (16:13), narrated by Tim Healy who starred in the film and is remembered best as Dennis in Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Younger readers may remember him as the transvestite character in the hit comedy, Benidorm.
Sadly, the original Thomas Lipton Trophy was stolen in 1994 and the one that is on display now is a replica made by a silversmith. This had to be done by looking at photographs of the original. One has to wonder at the levels people will stoop to for their own financial gain. If this trophy was melted down and sold off, it still wouldn’t be worth a fraction of its true historical and sentimental value to the people of this proud mining village.
More pleasingly, two of the original medals have managed to be purchased by the club and are held in the same place as the trophy. I was privileged to have one placed around my neck while having a photograph taken with the trophy. I will most likely never have so much money in my hand (and around my neck) ever again.
A lovely moment for any football fan and my thanks once again to Dave for doing this on our visit.
West Auckland – Lunch
At this point, we thanked Dave for his guided tour and went off to the Eden Arms pub for our lunch. As far as I know, this is the only pub in the village and luckily, it is a nice pub with good food.
Despite the Guinness not being available, we found a nice beer, Top House lager and ordered food – From the excellent new Thai food menu, a Pad Thai for Mrs Hopper, and a more traditional English corned beef pie and chips for myself. Both were very good and I have no problem recommending this friendly pub if you happen to visit West Auckland at some point.
Three pints later, we made our way back along the village green and back to the football ground a short distance away.
West Auckland – The Game
Entry to the Darlington Road ground is £6.00 and I’m happy to say this is a club that still produces a matchday programme and at a cost of just £1.00 too. We bought a copy and made our way round to the social club. Not for more beer, but to purchase a pin badge for my burgeoning collection. A delightful design it was too at a cost of £3.50.
Normally I’m happy to stand but in the baking northeast sun, I wanted to stay in the shade, so “the seats it is then!”
We spotted Dave, doing multiple chores along the touchline, making sure the players and officials had everything they needed and greeting people as they came by. We gave him a wave and took our seats for the big game.
There are just 1.4 miles between the club’s two grounds but despite this, the rivalry seems to be a very friendly one with fans of both clubs freely mixing together. The only harsh words throughout were directed at refereeing decisions and it was lovely to be a part of it for the day.
You may remember Barnet’s old Underhill ground being famous for its slope but I will wager that had nothing on the Darlington Road pitch!
The playing surface rises dramatically on the far side where the entrance is and it also slopes from side to side. In fact, by following the drop of the wall behind the goal, the incline is steep enough to drop five breeze blocks worth of depth! Incredibly, the corner flag in the bottom end of the pitch is almost level with the base of the far post!
Fair to assume then, that any side winning the toss, especially on a hot day like today, would choose to kick uphill in the first half and that is what Bishop Auckland chose to do (assuming my logic is correct.)
The downside (pardon the pun) to this, is that it gave West Auckland the chance to take full advantage of the slope and the fresh energy and build a two-goal lead by halftime.
Indeed, it took just three minutes for West to take the lead as number 7, Corey Nicholson, put in a cross from the right to find number 10, Cieran Jackson unmarked in the box and he applied the finish.
1-0 West Auckland!
Bishop Auckland continued to struggle against the slope, the heat and a good West Auckland display, looking inferior for large parts of the first half. It wasn’t until the 30th minute that West proved their dominance for the second time though. This time it was Scott Heslop with an easy close-range finish to put the hots into a commanding halftime lead.
2-0 West Auckland!
After the halftime break, Bishop Auckland looked like a much better side and were in control for large parts of the half. They couldn’t make that dominance pay until the 84th minute though. A finely worked goal came from a cross which was laid off to the onrushing Niall McGoldrick who slotted the ball into the net to give the visitors hope of a comeback.
2-1 West Auckland!
West were still creating the occasional chances during the second half, despite being the poorer team during this period, and it was one of these counter-attacks that effectively ended the game.
After Bishop almost equalised, from the ensuing West goal kick, the ball was hit long, flicked on and substitute Kyle Fryatt started to pull past the Bishop goalscorer, McGoldrick. The Bishop defender then went from potential hero to villain as he pulled Fryatt back and was red-carded for the professional foul.
I managed to capture this incident on video, below, along with Bishop’s chance to equalise.
Despite being here as a neutral, I couldn’t help but be pleased that West Auckland won, simply because I knew how much it would mean to our host for the day, Dave Bussey. I should also mention that it was Dave who went around collecting players’ signatures for our programme! We managed to grab a quick word with him again after the game before he dashed off to collect the 45 pizzas he had ordered for the players and officials post-game snacks (don’t tell Macclesfield and Wythenshawe!)
Attendance – 426
Entrance Fee – £6.00
Programme – £1.00
West Auckland – Post-Game Pictures
West Auckland – After the Game
So, that was the great part of the day… then came the nightmare.
We took a few departing photos of the ground and made our way back to the bus stop for the 17:44 Arriva bus service to Durham. It never showed up… and neither did the 18:44!
This meant that in order to catch our connecting bus, we would now have to get a taxi, which cost us £32.90! On top of this, Mrs Hopper managed to leave her phone on the back seat and didn’t realise until the taxi had left. Luckily, we managed to contact him back and he is popping it in the post for us, so, fingers crossed on that score.
At least the connecting bus showed up on time but we were back home almost two hours later than planned and yet another day was tarnished by public transport (see my rant about it in last week’s review of Doncaster Rovers)
Arriving home as the sun was starting to lose its heat, we still made our way into Tesco to pick up ice cream and I’m not ashamed to admit we rage ate the whole tub between us!
Hopefully, these public transport issues will get sorted soon because they are ruining the experience at the present time, as well as disrupting everyday life. The conspiracy theorist in me is starting to wonder if bus companies have decided to deliberately cancel services so that more customers are packed onto one journey instead of fewer people on two…
Anyway, onto the next!