Blackhall Rocks! Sadly, Horden Doesn't!

BILLY'S CONTRACT on a sad time for the Collieries

I read in the Mail and heard over the Interwebby thing that Horden Colliery Welfare for whatever reasons have found themselves in extreme financial difficulties and as a result their parish council had taken them to court for monies owed. 

The Court found in the council's favour and awarded them costs of £80,000, which has made the extreme financial difficulties even more extreme. The outcome of all this being that it was likely that Horden's next home fixture against Jarrow would be their last game at Welfare Park.

Through the media the Horden CW directors and fan base appealed for supporters from other clubs who did not have a game of their own to go to, to make the trip up to Horden. To that end myself and a couple of mates said we would make the journey up the coast road and support their cause. After all, Horden, like Pools, had been founded in the year of Our Lord 1908.

Our only reservation about this short trip up the road was that we hoped the locals did not expect us to man any picket lines and voice our support for Arfur Scargill.

Image of Welfare Park

When I think back, I think that I have only set foot in Horden four or five times tops. After the closure of both the Odeon and ABC cinemas in West Hartlepool, the nearest picture house was up at Horden. I remember a group of us going up there (safety in numbers) in 1980/81 to see 'Airplane'. It was that funny that we went back to see it again a few days later. On another occasion I went to see a junior cup final replay at Welfare Park in the mid eighties. It was a bit embarrassing really, as a team from Stockton was playing a team from Hartlepool, and even though two of my work mates were playing for Stockton I was naturally shouting for the Poolies, which did not go down too well with all my pals who had travelled up to support their work colleagues. Hey - once a Poolie always a Poolie.

The only other time that I had an interest in Horden was when they drew Blackpool in one of the earlier rounds of the FA Cup in 1981. Due to the limited crowd capacity at Welfare Park, the game was played at Pools. I was pleased that our kid persuaded me to go as one of his former class mates played in the back four that day ...and he was 'class, mate.'  On the day, there was a decent sized crowd, bigger than what Pools were getting at the time, and although Horden were beaten one-nil, they gave the Tangerines a run for their money. A replay was the least they deserved.
"I forgot that Horden is three minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time"

I wasn't sure which mode of transport to bring but decided that as we were going to Horden, I'd better take the Time Machine, which took us through the mighty metropolis that is Blackhall. We parked up, or rather landed somewhere on the main drag in and out of Horden, and it was like a scene from 'Life on Mars'. Everything was post-1950's and there was not a soul about. We only encountered one other person on our walk down to Welfare Park, and after a lengthy walk around pretty much the whole perimeter of the ground, we eventually gained entry through the one and only turnstile.

We told the gadgie on the turnstile that on 'behalf of the cause' we would forfeit our concessions and pay the full price of £3 to watch the match. We got neither a thank you or a smile off said turnstile operator. When we asked him how the club had found itself in such a mess he just shook his head, which we took to be a 'No comment.'

With that we took to the club house and I had one of the best pints of beer ever. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the beer itself as one of my mates had bought it for me. Perhaps that is why it was one of the best pints ever! Half way through my pint I noticed that the game had kicked off some 3 minutes early to my reckoning. Then I forgot that Horden is three minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

I noticed about half a dozen or so other Poolies dotted around the ground who had turned up to lend their support, whom I knew either by sight or nodding acquaintance. I then got chatting to 'Poolpower', who I wished I knew strictly on a nodding acquaintance. The trouble with Poolpower is that you don't know who you are talking to - him or his bloody camera. I encouraged my mates to leave the bar once we saw Poolpower make for the the gents with his camera in hand.
"despite kicking up the north face of the Eiger, the colliery men squandered several good chances, but eventually put another two into the onion bag"

We made our way to the grandstand - a euphemism, if ever there was one, and even though it was sparsely populated we had trouble finding three seats together that weren't broken/snapped, had no back rests or were just plain vandalised. Eventually we did get sat together, however at half time when I stood up to go for a cuppa, I noticed that I had been sat on chewing gum (chuddy, as they say in these parts). Fortunately it must have been on the seat for the best part of twenty years and had solidified so much that it appeared to be part of the plastic.

Being sat in the stand was surreal; it was like being transported back to the seventies. In the corner were around fifteen youths who, to their credit, sang non-stop for the duration of the match. Some of the chants were very original, others a blast from the past and some could be the subject of legal proceedings. In front of us were half a dozen lads, I'd say in their mid thirties, singing and thumping away on the seats whilst careful enough to not spill the contents of their bottles of Nukey brown over their tabs. Quite an achievement.

One could not help but wonder sadly what else is on offer for the youth of Horden, as there is nothing there apart from the football and social clubs, and possibly the beach. Even if they had unicorn rides on the beach for the kids, no amount of government/lottery money could bring Horden back to life, assuming that it was ever alive in the first place. The village of Horden has absolutely nothing going for it at all. It is only the fact that it does not have a mine anymore that prevents it from being called The Pits.

What the parish council intends to do with the football ground once the club is evicted is anyone's guess. Executive housing? I think not. It really is the land that time forgot. It makes neighbouring Blackhall look like Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, back at the match, Horden, decked out in red shirts with a vertical white stripe down the left, same as 'Pools away tops of a couple of seasons back, began by kicking down a gradient that would not be out of place on Ski Sunday.

Image of match actionHorden pretty much dominated the half and went in at the interval one goal to the good against Jarrow, or in local parlance 'Jarra', not to be confused with Eifion Williams' last club, Jarra Roofing. During the half time break I read the excellent 30 odd page programme that was especially produced for the day, priced at a miserly One English Pound, which unsurprisingly sold out. When I said that it was a 30 odd page programme I did not mean this disrespectfully but it has to be said that there were a few, distinctly 'odd' pages. Eg, concerning the Weekly Buster, it read: "If you want to enter, see Tommy Johnson* and he'll sort it out". I just loved the 'sort it out' bit. Absolute class. It probably covers a wide range of services ranging from fights to financial advice.

The page concerning club links was equally amusing. Quote: We have had a few players this season who have played for Jarrow. None of our 'current bunch' of lads have turned out for Jarrow. What a wonderful way to describe the Horden squad: the 'current bunch.'

In the section where a player is asked questions about his team mates, full back John Pyle was asked who is the least intelligent player in the squad he said 'Alan Bloggs*, by a tattie field.' I spent the rest of the day chuckling to myself, trying to equate in scientific terms what sort of distance/margin/scale a tattie field would represent.

Image of Horden fans in grandstand
During the second half, despite kicking up the north face of the Eiger, the colliery men squandered several good chances, but eventually put another two into the onion bag. The football at times by both sides was neat and tidy and was pretty much played on the deck for the full ninety minutes (Pools please note).

Jarra pulled a late goal back to earn some respectability from the final three-one scoreline.

Walking back to the car we took our final glimpse of Welfare Park and saw that the occupants of the grandstand were now all standing around the centre circle, singing and chanting to their hearts' content some ten minutes after the final whistle had blown, with Brown Ale bottles raised aloft.

'Yakkers are definitely crackers,' or could it be that they are just very passionate supporters of their local football team. After all, Sunderland are just up the road and Pools are just down the road.

All in all it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I heard that the crowd exceeded one hundred fans and that there was a rumour doing the rounds late in the day that the new chairman might be able to pull some sort of deal off with the parish council. I for one certainly hope so.

With that I revved up the time machine and headed back to the 21st century. The following Monday I took the time machine on another journey, this time to Bishop Auckland. Now that is a whole different century. Spent the best part of two hours there and, despite our best efforts, we still only managed to spend £3.25.

* The names have been changed to protect the innocent.