The Non-League Football Paper
TIME TO TURN UP THE HEAT
SOMETHING is stirring in black and white up on Tyneside – but there isn’t a hint of a Saudi Arabian investment fund in sight!
Just three miles from the bright lights and hallowed turf of Newcastle United’s St James Park lies the wholesome setting of Grounsell Park, home of Northern League Division One club Heaton Stannington.
A place where an award-winning selection of real ales, longstanding and wholeheartedly committed volunteers and, perhaps more surprisingly, tales of an unexpected friendly with a Gabon Olympic side containing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are commonplace.
Although their Premier League neighbours are embarking on a somewhat unexpected push for a Champions League place, the Stan are making waves of their own.
On a drizzly Wednesday night in this suburb of Newcastle, long queues snaked their way around Newton Road as a Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final clash with National League North club Blyth Spartans is only minutes away from getting underway.
By the time the final supporter has paid their way, a club record crowd of 1,339 have ventured through the Grounsell Park gates and delivered an attendance and atmosphere befitting of a monumental occasion.
The coffers has been swelled, an already strong reputation as truly hospitable club has been further enhanced and the promise of continued support from some hardy souls have been made.
“I think this club never stops surprising people and I include myself in that,” explained club chairman James Colwill in the aftermath of a narrow 1-0 defeat against Graham Fenton’s men.
“We tried to prepare for four figures, it has been discussed on many occasions, we had four figures here one and with the anticipation of the big semi-final, a final at St James Park, we expected a big crowd.
“But it’s taken me by surprise and it’s great for the community and it’s great for the club. The strides we have made in the last couple of years, we are really struggling to keep up with it, but it’s an excellent problem to have.”
Progression has unquestionably been made and, as Colwill stated, challenges lie in wait. Just 12 months after securing a first promotion into the Northern League’s top tier with a play-off final against Tow Law Town, the Stan lie inside Division One’s top eight and are already viewed as a credible challenger for a play-off place next season.
Further developments to Grounsell Park are already being planned and manager Dean Nicholson will get an opportunity to further enhance his squad in a bid to make further progress on the pitch during the summer.
The job Nicholson has done over the last two seasons won praise from Spartans manager Fenton, who described the Stan as ‘a fantastic club’ after watching a Darius Osei goal send his own side into a County Cup Final with Northern Premier League side Morpeth Town.
Colwill also reserved praise for his manager, and admitted he is putting pressure on the club by moving them forwards at an unexpectedly rapid pace.
He said: “Dean is certainly giving us some hard work with the improvements he’s made on the pitch, he’s done an amazing job with a promotion, a big semi-final and being at the right end of the table.
“He’s putting pressure on us to keep up off the field but it’s a great challenge to have.”