Remember When

First Ever Cup Final - Spennymoor United 0 Ryhope Villa 1

Durham Aged Miners Cup final April 22nd 1905 Kelloe

Over 2000 people attended the game at Kelloe, and it's fair to say that a good proportion of those would have made the journey from Spennymoor. The Cup attracted many entries from around County Durham, and United played seven games to reach the Final, including two replays against Cockfield in the quarter Final. There was also a 15-0 thrashing of Quarrington Hill along the way, a club record that stood for over thirty years.

Maybe though, there were some cup final nerves amongst the players, as the report in the Durham Chronicle hinted: Ryhope had the game nearly all their own way with a goal just before half time. The Spennymoor forwards never seemed to get going at all, and nobody except Alf Smith seemed to know where the goal lay. The nearest United came to scoring was a shot by Small, which was cleared off the line.

The Spennymoor team was Hess, Dial, Franklin, Lancaster, F Smith, Hindmarsh, Robinson, Alf Smith, F Small, G Jenkins, Barrass.

At least the game didn't go to a replay, because at the annual meeting of Durham FA in 1902 there was a discussion about introducing extra time at the end of cup replays. The Northern Echo revealed that Mr Smith of Spennymoor opposed the proposal and reported him as saying that "if any Spennymoor players come by their death through over-exertion, we will sue the Association for compensation”.


"I'll find you somewhere to play"

Every football club can point to somebody in its history who was both a visionary and a great benefactor, and in Spennymoor United's case, the early development of football can be credited mainly to one man, Thomas Grant.

The roots of football in the town can be found way back in 1888, when churches set up teams. St Paul's played friendly matches on their pitch in Wood View - not to be confused with the Wood Vue where the Brewery Field is now - and in their first season competed in the Durham Challenge Cup, but were outclassed 13-0 by Sunderland Albion on January 19th 1889. Probably as a consequence of this, St Paul's realised that if they were to compete and be more successful they had to expand, so they combined in the summer of 1890 with another club in the town with a church. background, St Andrew's, and called themselves Spennymoor Town.

The Town played friendly matches at first, and in 1896 at a meeting in "Mr Bassett's Crown Hotel" - presumably having decided that religion and alcohol weren't entirely compatible in working class Spennymoor - they set up two teams, one to compete in the Wear Valley League (the Albion) and the other in the Mid Durham League (the Juniors).

The Albion won the club's first honour in season 1899-1900, when on their Green Lane field they won the second division of the Wear Valley League which contained clubs such as Howden-le-Wear and Tow Law Reserves, and in 1902, despite losing 16-0 to Sunderland A in a Durham Senior Cup tie - they were 10-0 down at half time - the Juniors finished second in the Mid Durham League behind Cornforth.

There were several football teams already in the town when the Weardale Ironopolis club was formed out of the Weardale Coal and Coke Ovens company in 1900, with Councillor Thomas Grant, one of the bosses at the factory, the main benefactor. He believed that "young men in offices and shops following a sedentary occupation need some form of exercise at the end of their day's labour, and I can think of no more manly invigorating sport than either football or cricket." The footballers played their games on a pitch where the Leisure Centre is now.

The "Nops" and the Town met in a Amateur Cup tie on Jan 23rd 1904, and the Durham Town won by a handsome 6-2. margin, with forward Alf Smith scoring a hat trick - a feat which earned him a pair of Tylers "TRYKIKS" football boots from a local shop. One of the first sponsorship deals, you could say.

Maybe that game was a catalyst, and discussions followed, presumably with Mr Grant's encouragement and backing, about forming a new, stronger team to represent the town of Spennymoor. But they faced a problem - where would they play as neither of their home pitches was suitable for football at a higher level?

The answer was supplied by the influential Mr Grant. He knew that Tudhoe Rugby Club, which played at the Brewery Field behind Durham Road, was struggling in many ways and was sadly close to extinction, so he used his contacts and after negotiations, arranged for the new football club to move there.

The facilities were much better at the Brewery Field, as during its 20 years' previous existence, the rugby club had erected a grandstand capable of holding at least a thousand spectators. It was called the Brewery Field simply because the field used to belong to the nearby Tower Brewery, and the dray horses used for pulling the beer carts, were stabled on the field. The players used to change in the County Hotel, which was situated diagonally opposite what is now the Moors Tavern pub at the top of Durham Road.

Boosted by the news that Mr Grant had arranged a ground - although there was some money to be paid - the members of the Nops and the Town held a meeting in July 1904, just a few days after the Rugby Club folded, to formally merge into one club which would live for over a century as Spennymoor United. The Durham Chronicle reported that "Mr Grant was heartily thanked for furthering the cause of a united team." Such was the interest in the town at this amalgamation that 60 players wanted to turn out for United, and the club advertised for "guinea and half-guinea subscribers" - the first season ticket holders. (A guinea was 21 shillings, or £1.05p now). The foundations were in place. The generous Mr Grant emigrated to Canada in the summer of 1906, but his legacy was immeasurable. He left the club in very ambitious and enthusiastic hands, and he would have been proud of its progress and glittering history - well, the vast majority of it anyway. 

The first game United played was in the Mid Durham League against Bearpark on September 3rd 1904, Alf Smith scoring both goals - he scored a total of 21 that season - in a 2-2 draw. United finished sixth that season in the league, which was won by Eldon Albions. Gate receipts for the season were £269 2s 11d, which was enough to pay off some of the club's debts when they took over the Brewery Field. The new club rounded off that inaugural season by reaching the club's first ever cup final, causing quite a buzz in the town. 


Going Down in Smoke!

Losing your Social Club can be disastrous for a semi-pro football club. Read on below about a fire that cost Spennymoor dear and plunged the Unibond League in to crisis.

Clubhouse fire has lasting consequences 

Whoever discarded a cigarette end behind a fruit machine at the Brewery Field Social Club on Christmas Eve 2003 has a lot to answer for. They began a chain of events that were to wreck a long established north east Club and left the Unibond League in chaos by the following spring.

The Brewery Field is - perhaps was - the home of Spennymoor Utd and they had been playing there since 1904, latterly in the Unibond League. North East sides, at that time had not had much luck in the Unibond League. Gateshead became close to extinction the previous summer, Blyth Spartans we’re experiencing financial difficulties of their own and Bishop Aukland were homeless and had incidentally shared the Brewery Field the season before.

At the time Spennymoor seemed one of the more stable outfits, with a tidy ground, decent crowds and an income from a social club that was well placed for local housing. They even won promotion to the Premier Division on 2002-03.

Then early on Christmas Day in 2003, a serious fire gutted the building. Five fire appliances took two hours to control the blaze, which the police and fire investigators blamed on a discarded cigarette. Extraordinarily the building was not insured and only the shell of the clubhouse, covered in graffiti remained a year later.

The loss of the social club’s facilities was a sever financial blow and was probably a factor when, in January 2005 the clubs owner, colourful local businessman, Benny Mottram announced that he was going to stand down.

His decision followed a long running row with council. Mottram claimed the lease on the ground was illegal because a former member and clerk signed it; the council said the contract was held in escrow, which made it legal. Supporters not up on the fine print of property law were left scratching their heads. For their part, the council stated they had put £200,000 of grants, sponsorships and loans into the club, and charged a nominal rent of £20 per week.

As the club’s problems mounted, crowds dwindled from three figures to two. An altercation between Mottram and some supporters during a defeat by Bamber Bridge in February saw the owner storm out of the ground, only pausing to pop his head into the dugout to advise manager Graeme Clarke of his early exit. Within a month, Clarke had gone, too, resigning after a 5-1 Good Friday defeat at Gateshead.

That defeat was one of Spennymoor’s final games, already in trouble for failing to fulfil fixtures, with Mottram blaming one non-appearance (a rearranged Sunday fixture with Witton Albion) on the religious convictions of two of his players 🤔. The Moors were left in the impossible situation of having to play 19 games in 23 days with a wafer-thin squad.

By mid-April it was clear that Spennymoor would be unable to complete the season. This left the Unibond League in a quandary and they eventually decided to expunge Spennymoor from the season’s records and annul all points won by teams against them.

This was hard luck indeed for Workington Town, who lost six points and thus missed out on being league champions. In the revised table, the title would have gone to Farsley Celtic. Not surprisingly, Workington appealed.

A further complication arose from the fact that the meeting that took the contentious decision was not quorate. The Unibond League were left in the embarrassing position of having to postpone the semi-finals of the Premier Division play-offs, which would decide promotion to Conference North and having to publish two different league tables - one with Spennymoor United’s record included and one with it expunged - until a further meeting could be held.

When the fresh meeting took place, it reached the same conclusion. A further appeal to the Football Association followed and it was finally decreed that Spennymoor’s unplayed matches would be treated as 0-0 draws but with all 3 points going to their opponents. This meant the league had still another set of champions - Hyde United. Farsley Celtic and Burscough (who missed out to Prescott Cables on the play-offs in the final version of the league table) made a joint legal attempt to overturn the ruling, but were unsuccessful.

For Workington at least, there was a happy ending. While not promoted as champions, they made safely through the play-offs, eventually beating Farsley 6-5 on penalties. Another happy club were Rossendale United reprieved from relegation from the Unibond First Division.

And what for Spennymoor? They were formally expelled from the Unibond League on May 24, but a few days later it was announced that Northern League second division strugglers Evenwood Town are to relocate to Spennymoor and rename themselves AFC Spennymoor United. The move brings to an end 70 years of football at Evenwood’s scenic Welfare ground, which has been beset by vandalism. But for Spennymoor it means they could start again, back in the league they left in 1990.

*This Feature has been published with kind permission from WSC magazine.

Spennymoor Utd compete with Bishop Auckland

Spennymoor Utd compete with Bishop Auckland

Created by Gary Campbell
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