GO TO REDCAR ATHLETIC. TAKE MY CAR

The writer Bill Bryson, in his book “Notes From A Small Island”, stumbled across Durham. He was so impressed that he wrote “If you have never been to Durham before, go there at once. Take my car, it’s wonderful.”

Redcar Athletic is the equivalent for the Northern League aficionado. Their Green Lane ground is not as aesthetically pleasing as Durham Cathedral or Crook Town’s Mill Field, but the whole aura around the club is the equivalent of the cathedral’s nave and Crook’s wonderful terracing.

I saw them play Willington on Wednesday night in the company of Clive Adams, a Watford supporter (“Don’t mention the cup final. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”) and prodigious groundhopper, a man who had ticked off several stadia in Chile, Peru, Belarus and Methil in the last few weeks.

Dinner was taken a few miles down the coast in Saltburn at a rather good and very busy Italian restaurant called Alessi’s before the short drive through Marske and along the esplanade to Redcar. The floodlights were on as I pulled the trusty Mazda into the car park and entertained a mother and son with my embarrassing attempts to reverse into a wide space. I think the only time I have reversed a car successfully was 50 years ago when I eventually passed my driving test.

I had told Clive that the ground was basic with a shelter and a small stand. It is. But what I didn’t tell him, because I didn’t know, is what a very impressive club Redcar Athletic are.

On the surrounding playing fields, there were training sessions for male under 17s and 19s and female under 12s taking place. There were another 17 teams listed in the excellent programme ranging from tots 3-5yr right up to the first team who were preparing to do battle with the boys from Hall Lane.

The programme was a minor miracle. It consisted of 40 glossy pages, was full of original reading material which related to the home team and the visitors. It’s produced by a company called footieprint who are based in Oswestry and is a quite superb production. Well worth looking at for any harassed club secretary who is desperately searching for a printer. Oh, and did I mention it cost £1 and there was a team sheet as well? No? Well, I have now.

There are plans afoot for a new covered area, canteen, club shop and proper hard standing all the way round. There is a bar in the changing area with two hand pumps on – alas, I was driving so nothing for me, but the Yorkshire Porter caught my eye and there was a real feel of a club that had set ambitious but realistic targets for the future.

So, what were they like on the field?

Pretty good. Willington came with a 100% record and left with a 75% one. Redcar skipper and general nuisance to the Willington defence, Michael Woodhouse, had Athletic two up before the European Super-Duper Pointless Game Cup had even kicked off and a rout looked likely as the visitors were all over the place.

They restored some shape and order and, prompted by some excellent crosses from old warhorse Craig Ruddy, they began to gain a foothold in the game. When Vinnie Gash scored on the half hour, they were back in it and looking to at least keep their unbeaten record.

My viewing companion expressed amazement at the standard of football on show and made it clear that Step 6 leagues in his neck of the woods were neither as proficient, as exciting or as well attended as this game was. It would be a real shame to see the quality diluted as the FA pyramid claims more of our clubs. That’s progress, I suppose.

The second half started with both sides looking for a decisive goal and it fell to the Redcar centre forward Adam Preston to wrap it up for the Reds. He finished off a very good move with some aplomb to round off an excellent performance by him and his team. As Willington went chasing a second goal, their positional discipline slipped and players were just charging about looking for the ball while Redcar were cooler and calmer.

It was a clean game with very few unpleasant incidents and it was well controlled by a good team consisting of Messrs Parnaby and Denton and Ms Brown.

I urge you to go there. Should you need the trusty Mazda, give me a call, I’d be only too happy to let you use it – although I may need it to get to wherever I’m going.

Pete Sixsmith