Consett have been members of the Northern League for 50 years, but the one thing which has eluded them so far is the league championship.
Not that we haven’t come close; we would have been champions in 2009 if we had collected a point in our final game at Whitley Bay, and finished runners-up three times in four seasons around that time.
But older supporters will remember that back in 1977 we came even closer, and actually contested a championship play-off after finishing level at the top with Spennymoor United.
Moors were one of the Northern League powerhouses at the time, with top-three finishes in each of the three previous seasons. Consett, on the other hand, gave no indication of the season they were about to have after finishing 9th in 1975-76 and 6th the season before.
However coach Brian Suddes had assembled a powerful squad, bolstered by the return from long-term injury of striker Alan Dodsworth – who went on to be the club’s leading scorer in 1976-77 – and a mean defence featuring the likes of Peter Bragan, John Swinburn and club captain Brian Richardson.
Consett and Spennymoor set the pace right from the off, and by mid-January Moors led the league, but Consett sat in second place, three points behind with a full SIX games in hand. By mid-March, the Steelmen had overtaken Moors, although with both sides dropping points the chasing pack had closed up somewhat.
Consett then faltered with three consecutive away defeats at Blyth, Horden and Crook, to allow Spennymoor to regain top spot, but the loss at Crook was to be Consett’s last league defeat of the season as they chased the leaders down. With two weeks to go the top of the table looked like this:
A midweek 5-1 win at Evenwood brought Consett back to within two points, but the title was still Spennymoor’s to lose. On the penultimate Saturday of the season Consett were at home to title outsiders Blyth Spartans, whilst Moors travelled to mid-table South Bank.
The Steelmen kept up the pressure by winning 1-0 at a windswept Belle Vue, Dave Darwin getting the all-important goal six minutes from time. Meanwhile Spennymoor were being held to a goalless draw, and the sides were level on points with two games to play.
Both teams won their midweek games – Consett 2-0 at home to West Auckland, and Spennymoor 5-0 at home to Whitley Bay – as the title race came down to the wire on the final Saturday.
Once again there were to be no slip-ups as, despite both sides facing tricky away trips to top-five opposition, maximum points were bagged. Geoff Hart scored both goals in a 2-0 win for the Moors at North Shields, whilst the Steelmen put three past Whitby Town – Bobby Parkinson (2) and Kevin Ross the scorers.
So the teams finished level on points, and although Moors held the advantage on goal difference, such matters were rendered irrelevant, as Northern League rules at the time dictated that a play-off would determine who would be champions – something that had been called for six times previously. The most recent play-off had been three seasons earlier, when Spennymoor won their previous title, beating Blyth at Ashington.
Spennymoor went into the championship decider, played at neutral Willington, having been beaten three times during the season by Consett – twice in the league and also in the semi-final of the Durham Challenge Cup. However, they won the one that mattered in convincing style to collect their third title in six years.
The game at Hall Lane was played on a Monday night, and Consett weren’t happy, as three of their players – Alan Porter, Peter Bragain and Brian Richardson – had played the previous afternoon for the Ram’s Head in the all-England FA Sunday Cup final, which ironically was played at Spennymoor’s Brewery Field ground!
Both teams settled well and the game soon developed into a real battle. The first chance fell to Consett full-back John Swinburn, who was up with the attack. A free-kick was flicked on and he headed narrowly over the top.
Then in the 11th minute Consett suffered a real body blow when they fell behind to an own goal by skipper Brian Richardson, regarded as one of the most reliable defenders in the league. He seemed to have the situation under control when he collected a through ball and turned back towards his own goal, but he did not see Moors striker Kevin Reilly speeding in on the blind side. When he realised the danger his hasty backpass was too strong for keeper Alan Porter, who got a touch but could not stop the ball going just inside the post.
Consett soon picked themselves up, and with top scorer Alan Dodsworth troubling the Spennymoor defence with his pace they looked dangerous. However, they found goalkeeper Steve Rowell in top form when they did get through. He was at his best to touch a curving 25-yard shot from Kenny Walker for a corner.
Consett were producing the neater build-up, with Spennymoor relying on more direct play. But those tactics were also paying dividends, and Kenny Banks volleyed over the top with Porter stranded.
Spennymoor led by the only goal at the break, but the second half exploded into action in a five-minute spell when the Moors scored twice through full-back Geoff Simpson, the first coming in the 65th minute. David Curry’s header was tipped over the bar by Porter and, from the resulting corner, Simpson got in a header which beat Porter. Although Richardson headed off the line, the linesman was right on the spot to signal that the ball had crossed the line before it was cleared.
Five minutes later Spennymoor went further ahead when Simpson beat Porter at the near post to a chipped free-kick from Reilly and glanced his header home to make it 3-0 and kill the game.
Afterwards Consett secretary Alan Shearer blamed Sunday soccer for his club’s defeat, causing key players to be missing through injury. That said, Spennymoor had been on a 22-game unbeaten run in the league which stretched all the way back to early November, and were without doubt the stronger finishers.
It was to be another 32 years before Consett were to get as close to winning the Northern League, and that first title still remains elusive.
- No one connected with the club can ever remember seeing a programme for this game. Can anyone say definitively if such a thing exists – or even a teamsheet?