Out of adversity comes a football revival

Out of adversity comes a football revival

It is a delight to welcome Andy Potts to Footy in Durham as our first guest contributor. Andy is the man behind the excellent Groundhoppers blog as well as other projects detailed at the end of the piece.

For years, there’s been talk of the demise of Saturday football. Old-timers highlight the long list of grassroots competitions that have disappeared below the national non-league pyramid. But this summer brought better news, with the Wearside League receiving applications from 15 new clubs for the 2020/21.

Shotton Colliery, starting from scratch, was one of them.

Joint manager Martin Dunn, part of the Peterlee Catholic Club set-up that reached the FA Sunday Cup semi-final before last season’s lockdown, believes that there’s a new appetite for playing the game at a good level.

“A little while ago, the standard massively dropped in the Saturday leagues,” he said. “There’s a few reasons; lifestyle changes, the fact that younger players are allowed to play more age-group football – u21, u23 – and don’t always step up to men’s football. It’s not always a case of not being good enough, it’s about wanting to play football.

“It’s turned around and kids don’t want to get out of bed and play on a Sunday morning, but they will get out for a Saturday afternoon.”

At Shotton, Dunn reckons, there are 30 lads – all from within a few miles of the ground – eager to play at the highest level they can reach. That could be a return to Northern League, where Shotton Comrades once played.

Adam Cockroft, the other joint manager of the team, remembers those days.

“Shotton has a really rich history of Northern League football,” he said. “When I was a young lad, I was stood in the stand over there and it was always chocka. That’s probably the main reason why I’ve bought into this club, heart and soul. I was here as a kid.”

The Comrades folded in 2005, but lockdown gave impetus to a new club. Club chairman Gareth Coxon highlighted the important role sport can play in helping communities through adversity.

“We saw a lot of people having problems during lockdown, struggling to find things to do,” he said. “I know a couple of lads who on medication with mental health problems. Something like this occupies your mind, it gives people something to look forward to. It’s all positive, I really can’t see a downside.

“It gets people out of the house, brings them together and, like we saw on Saturday, people want to come and watch as well.”

The Shotton community was quick to get behind the team. Saturday was the first time the club could welcome fans to the Station Road ground. An booking scheme for track and trace anticipated 50 people; it was fully booked within hours of going online. The game attracted almost 100 socially-distanced supporters.

A 2-1 defeat to Durham Utd Reserves was the only disappointment on the day; the hastily-assembled team feeling the effects of a limited pre-season. But the bigger picture looks bright for the Yakkas.

A longer version of this story appeared here as part of the Talking Northeast project by Durham-based freelance journalist and football fan Andy Potts.

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