Back to Football
With last weekend’s sojourn into rugby union behind us, it was with relief that we looked to be returning to a football match this weekend. While I have nothing against rugby and even enjoyed the game we went to at Newcastle Falcons’ home game with Harlequins, football is our passion and a new ground was beckoning.
This time we would be staying in the northeast to visit one of the local teams in our area, Whitley Bay.
Whitley Bay – The History
Currently playing in the Northern Football League Division One, Whitley Bay has spent most of its existence in this league. Formed as far back as 1897, they have a long history and have won the FA Vase more times than any other team. They have won the competition – which is for over 600 teams competing in the ninth and tenth tiers of English football – a record four times. This includes an incredible run of three consecutive successes from 2009-2011. The latter three finals were held at Wembley Stadium, so their fans are no strangers to the national stadium. The other success came at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa.
The northeast seaside team, known as the ‘Seahorses’, or just ‘The Bay’, have also won twelve Northumberland Senior Cups, three Northern Football League championships, and a Northern Premier League Division One title.
The club reached its highest-ever league status after securing promotion to the Northern Premier League Premier Division in 1991. They spent four seasons at this peak of their history before sliding back into the NFL Division One in 1995.
Hillheads Park’s record Attendance was set in 1965 in an FA Amateur Cup tie against Hendon. The game attracted 7,301 spectators. The club’s record attendance was set when they played the Northumberland Senior Cup Final of 1953 at nearby St. James Park, home of Newcastle United. This tie attracted a crowd of 17,048.
The Bay’s record win of 12-0 came in a game against Shildon in 1961, while a 9-0 loss remains their biggest ever defeat, as recently as 2019 against Hebburn Town.
Whitley Bay – Pre-Game
The week started with my usual social media question asking where everyone is off to and announcing our planned destination as Whitley Bay. What I wasn’t expecting, was a message from the West Auckland admin asking if we would like a lift to the game!
Our friend Dave, who we met when he showed us around Darlington Road – the home of West Auckland – was up to his tricks again. An absolute gentleman and he even picked us up from our home town and dropped us off on Whitley Bay seafront while he went to get everything ready for West’s players before they arrived.
Having been dropped off on the seafront by Dave, we made our way a short distance to the Fisherman’s Bay chip shop. I’d had my eye on this place after doing some pre-match research on our destination. It has been nominated for awards and has a great reputation online.
We ordered cod and chips and waited for them to be freshly cooked. Fresh cooking is well worth the wait, especially when compared to the greasy, warm rather than hot, offerings from some chip shops. With a box of food each, we walked across the road and sat at benches by the seawall, where there were views through the pillars, of the North Sea. I should point out that there are seats available inside the Fisherman’s Bay and also immediately outside the shop, this was just personal preference.
I love eating fish and chips while sitting by the sea and as I remarked to (the American) Mrs Hopper “It doesn’t get any more British than this!” The food was excellent and the predatory seagulls that can make an impromptu al fresco meal at the seaside a chore, were happily absent. We did get a great tip from our Aberdonian friend though…
Although, I’m not entirely convinced…
Having demolished our food and admired the views out over Whitley Bay, we made our way towards Hillheads Park, home of the local football club.
Whitley Bay – The Stadium
Slightly under a mile walk from the seafront, we walk past Whitley Bay ice rink and get our first view of Hillheads Park just around the corner.
Immediately in front of us is the Seahorse Pub, which is actually accessed from inside the ground. Presumably, on non-match days the outer door will be open for customers. Just to the left of the Seahorse are the turnstiles. We paid via cash at the turnstiles at a cost of £7.00 each and made our way inside.
We bought a matchday programme from a hut just inside the ground and then went into the small club shop which is adjacent. From here I was happy to find that they had a pin badge (which cost £3.00) to keep my collection going from when I started this Hopping journey in January of 2022.
We were still pretty early and there was about an hour to go before kick-off. We had a slow wander around the ground taking photos and videos as we went.
The main stand is on the same side of the pitch as the Seahorse and covers around a quarter of the pitches’ length. On either side of it are standing areas and a few picnic benches where people can sit and enjoy a drink during the game.
Behind the goal to our left is low terracing with a wall and netting behind it, to keep the balls in the ground from wayward shots. Immediately opposite us is a low terrace that runs the length of the pitch. There is a covered stand that takes up about a quarter of the touchline and there are more picnic benches to the left of this stand.
To our right, behind the other goal, is another terrace, which contains more picnic benches along the top. No shortage of places to enjoy a drink while you watch the game! A row of trees behind this terrace serves the same purpose as the netting at the other end and looks much more picturesque, too.
The floodlights at Hillheads are contained to the sides of the pitch, with three on each side. The playing surface itself looked in great condition and the groundsman had done a good job of mowing the grass in a circular pattern.
Whitley Bay – Stadium Gallery
Whitley Bay – Pre-Game Video of Hillheads Park
With time still on our hands, we went to grab a pint in the Seahorse Pub. A Guinness for me and a Madri for Mrs Hopper, a total of £8.00. We took a seat and listened to the ‘mainly’ football-based music, with old gold tunes like ‘World in Motion’ and ‘Vindaloo’, plus ‘Nessum Dorma’, all of which took me back to Italia ’90 and another heroic England failure.
Then something quite unexpected happened. One of the men sitting at a table nearby edged over and said “You must be Mr and Mrs Hopper?” Well, I wasn’t aware that our fame had spread as far as Whitley Bay and it was something of a relief to realise, it hasn’t. This was one of Dave’s friends and we chatted with him for a while about West Auckland and today’s game against Whitley Bay. A nice interlude and it’s amazing how often we get chatting to strangers at these games.
Given the sad passing of Her Majesty the Queen last week and this being the first opportunity for football clubs around the country to pay their respects, a minute’s silence was impeccably observed before kick-off, with players and supporters alike standing in reflective silence. It seems to me that a good way of summing up the passing of Queen Elizabeth II is that she sums up all the people we have lost over the course of her reign. Use these moments of reflection to think not only of her passing but of everyone that we have personally lost during that time, too.
Whitley Bay – The Game
Going into this game, Whitley Bay have started the season very well and they sit atop the division, looking down on West Auckland who sit in seventh position at the start of play.
With players suspended or missing for varying reasons, West Auckland started the game with just three named substitutes. Not ideal when you are playing the league leaders away from home.
The home side kicked off and quickly established some nice passing football. The game was partly decided as early as the eleventh minute when a hopeful ball crossed into the box hit West Auckland’s Danni Lay in the face and the referee pointed to the spot. Incredibly, despite a mark where the ball had hit his face, the referee had given handball. Lay could easily have been booked for his protests to the referee but escaped further punishment on this occasion
Make up your own mind about the penalty decision from the match highlights included below. (2:15 minutes)
None of this was Whitley Bay’s fault or problem and following a lot of angry recriminations from West, the spot-kick was duly taken and dispatched into the bottom left corner by Harvey Neary.
1-0 Whitley Bay!
I think it’s fair to say that this set the tone for the rest of the match as far as West Auckland were concerned. They played angry and were maybe lucky not to see more yellow cards, particularly for dissent. Hard to blame them for that though after what had transpired so early in the game.
The Seahorses should probably have made it two shortly after. Some neat football ended with Lewis Orrell given the chance but he delayed his shot and the West keeper did well to come out quickly and block the attempt. by this stage, Whitley Bay was the dominant side but West looked occasionally dangerous on the break and were far from beaten.
Another nice move from the home team led to another shot by goalscorer, Neary. This time his effort was well saved by Matthew Wilkinson in the West Auckland goal. Wilkinson was called into action again a couple of minutes later but this time it was an easy save as Whitley continued to put the pressure on.
In the 29th minute, on one of West’s counter-attacks, James Ellis was unlucky not to bring the scores level. A great left-footed strike from twenty-five yards out, seemed to be heading for the roof of the net but was well saved by Dan Lister in goal for Whitley Bay.
Just a minute later and the away side should have equalised. A great ball was put across the six-yard box from the right-hand touchline by Corey Nicholson. The cross skimmed past everyone to the onrushing West attacker at the back post. Inexplicably, he fell over the ball while trying to convert and the chance was gone.
The half ended just after West had another good chance to equalise. The ball was played into the box but the striker failed to control the ball with the net at his mercy had he done so.
Half-time – Whitley Bay 1 West Auckland 0
At the break, the home side was deservedly ahead. Although the goal that put them ahead was a glaring error by the referee, West Auckland hadn’t helped themselves either by missing the chances they’d had.
Also of note in this game was the appearance of a 17-year-old girl running the line. Great to see how football is slowly starting to embrace women in the sport, both in their own leagues and also as officials in the men’s game.
The matchday announcer read out today’s attendance as 312.
The Second Half
There was drama before a ball was even kicked in the second forty-five. West Auckland manager, Gary Forrest was sent off for what I can only assume was for dissent. Maybe still complaining about that penalty decision. Despite being sent to the stands, in reality, this just meant he was on the other side of the wall, right next to the dugouts.
West Auckland kicked off the second half on the front foot but the first meaningful action came five minutes later. Lay was finally given the yellow card he seemed to have been looking for and just a minute later Whitley Bay were awarded a free-kick. The resulting shot from Ben Richardson went around the wall and struck the outside of the right-hand post.
Liam Heggarty followed Lay into the referee’s notebook and West were still playing as if someone from Whitley Bay had washed their kit in itching powder. An incident on the far touchline led to West Auckland having their third player, Gary Brown, booked in the 69th minute.
With this low-scoring but entertaining game entering the final ten minutes, it became low-scoring no more. The second Whitley Bay goal came from a diagonal ball across the box being headed home at the back post by eventual man-of-the-match, Scott Lowery.
2-0 Whitley Bay!
Four minutes later and two became three and again it came from the right wing. The ball was put across the box and ended up deflecting off an attacker to the edge of the area. The oncoming Elliott Day lashed the shot into the bottom left corner of the net, giving Wilkinson no chance.
3-0 Whitley Bay!
A sloppy kick-out from Wilkinson almost gave the Bay a chance to make it four just a minute later but fortunately for him, the Whitley Bay attackers’ shot was weak and straight at him. This was the last real action of the game and the referee blew for full-time shortly after.
Whitley Bay thoroughly deserved their victory and reinforced their position at the top of the table. They play some neat football and look capable at the back too. A notion that is backed up with their record of four clean sheets in the last six games. During that spell, the only goals conceded have come from the penalty spot.
You can read the excellent match report from the Whitley Bay website here.
Full-time – Whitley Bay 3 West Auckland 0
Attendance – 312
Entrance Fee – £7.00
Programme – £2.00
Whitley Bay – Match Highlights
Some Personal Videos of the Match Action
Whitley Bay – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we made our way back to the other side of the ground to go back into the Seahorse while we waited for Dave to finish his duties in the West Auckland dressing room.
Unfortunately, an old man was lying on the ground looking in some discomfort. He seemed to have either fallen or collapsed and had a cut hand from the fall. He was being well looked after by a few people who covered him up and called for an ambulance. We ordered another couple of pints and about forty minutes later, Dave came in to find us and we were on our way.
On the way out of the ground, it was sad to see that the elderly gentleman was still lying on the cold ground awaiting an ambulance. We really have gone backwards as a country in recent years. The services are constantly being cut while we are asked to pay more and more for less and less. However, I am not here to give political opinions and all I will say is I wish the gentleman all the best and hope for his speedy recovery.
During the drive back home, Dave informed us that the referee had told them the penalty was given because the defender’s arms were in an unnatural position. As far as I’m aware, having your arms in an unnatural position doesn’t constitute an offence unless the ball actually hits that arm, so I’m a bit mystified by that one. I have also since obtained a slow-motion video of the incident which I will post.
Dave dropped us off at the end of our street and we can’t thank him enough for saving us from our Saturday battles with public transport.
Next up for us is a special midweek adventure north of the border and we can’t wait for that one.
Onto the next!