Image via WikipediaI listened to reports on television before the FA Cup 3rd Round matches today: whether or not York City were going to arrive in time to play Stoke, and the story that Man City fans on the way to Middlesbrough were advised to turn back because of the weather. Both matches involved the fans travelling across the Pennines. I haven't done the Pennine crossing for many years but it certainly could be difficult driving through fog and ice at this time of year.
These reports reminded me of an experience when I was a child still at primary school. Kirk Merrington Home Guards F C were due to play Mainsforth Colliery, away, on a particular snowy Saturday way back in the time of the Second World War. (I have mentioned elsewhere that the teams of the Ferryhill and District League at that time were mainly young miners whose work earned them exemption from military service). The players gathered four hours before the kick off in The Three Horse Shoes Inn together with members of the committee to decide what to do as the bus service to Ferryhill, the first half of the journey, was cancelled because of the snow.
(The photo of the river Wear at Durham with the castle in the foreground and the cathedral tower beyond is a wonderful view freely available to shoppers and visitors crossing the bridge. I cannot find the photographer's name to give him credit unfortunately. I hope he will get in touch so that I can fulfill the conditions of the GND Free Documentation Licence and the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike scheme, see Wikepedia)
The road involved was notorious locally for trapping the snow. It ran along an escarpment with open fields on either side and the ground dipped down to the south with a view to Aycliffe and beyond. To the north the cathedral of the city of Durham (see photo) seven miles away was visible.
The club committee decided that the team and themselves would walk to Ferryhill at the other end of the escarpment where it overlooked the A1 road, the main road between London and Edinburgh. From Ferryhill market- place the party would take another bus to Mainsforth. They set off with a few fans including myself. It was only a mile and a half to Ferryhill, maybe 2 miles, according to my Uncle Bill. He was on the committee and I was going with him all the way. My hero, our goalkeeper, George Howe, who was also captain of the Three Horse Shoes darts' team would be walking with us.
We walked along the middle of the icy road in bright sunlight reaching the retired miners' bungalows at Dean Bank, the outskirts of Ferryhill, in good cheer. Passing over the bridge we looked down on the A1 road, wet and black after the salt and gravel had melted the ice, but there was no traffic on this main route for lorries. (locally only successful business people and bank managers had cars in those days). Arriving in the market place there was ominoualy nobody waiting at the bus stop there.
A visit to the Wheatsheaf Hotel, just a pub despite the name, revealed that there were no buses going anywhere from Ferryhill. Not surprising now when I recall the routes. There are hills on all sides except to Merrington. The members of the committee returning from the pub suitably fortified had decided to press on undaunted to Mainsforth and the match.
From Ferryhill market-place the road descended gradually but substantially for more than a mile to Ferryhill station, the LNER mainline station for trains between London and Edinburgh and places between. We walked mainly on the icy pavement where some householders had cleared the areas in front of their own houses. The downward slope was no help to stability. We had to watch carefully where we trod in case we slipped. Some of the men tried sliding across the ice when there was an unbroken patch. This was fun but my Uncle Bill wouldn't let me do it at first. Then he had a try at it and I was allowed. Crossing the wide bridge over the railway, the road left the built-up area and wound through the countryside. We passed several small farms by the road (swallowed up now I should think by the A1 Motorway and access roads) and we smelled journey's end as we passed a large farmyard. "That's Joe Vaulks's farm," one of the men said. "Tha's knaws, the brother of Billy Vaulks". It was true, even I knew that Billy Vaulks the farmer in Kirk Merrington was the younger brother of Joe Vaulks, farmer, auctioneer and valuer. And we all knew that he lived in Mainsforth. We had arrived! We found the pub and were directed to the football pitch in a field outside the village. It was a sheltered, hedged field from which the snow had been removed and the surface was judged to be playable. The long grass had prevented the soil surface from freezing, I imagine, and most of the snow had been swept aside with brooms. The match slid, tripped and finally languished to its end.
It was almost dark; still no buses, and we knew that everything starts freezing again when the sunlight goes. There was nowhere to go in Mainsforth. The pub didn't open for almost an hour but there were hints that it could be available. It didn't do food.
I cannot recall walking back up the long hill from Ferryhill station to the market place, or the final stretch along the windy escarpment to the protection of the churchyard wall as you arrive back home in Merrington. Maybe Uncle Bill helped me...or even George Howe did! It cannot have been short but I do not recall distress.
Anyway I am sure that the Home Guards won, that George saved every shot and that it was all worthwhile! The score I reckon was 10. That's five miles there and five back!
Back in recent times the matches mentioned above scheduled for January 2nd, 2010 did take place. The Stoke match started late but the York players and fans didn't have to walk there. The stadium at Middlesbrough did have lots of vacant space despite the Premier League opponents - it looked like the home fans had stayed indoors from the falling snow.
Not at all like the undaunted spirit of the Kirk Merrington Home Guards squad.