Vikki Orvice RIP – by Steve Howard

Vikki Orvice, the FWA’s vice-chair and a long-standing National Committee member, lost her long battle with cancer today at the age of 56. She was a much-loved colleague to many of us at the FWA and especially at The Sun, where she covered athletics and football.

Former SunSport chief sports writer and FWA member Steven Howard paid tribute to his colleague on the Sun’s website, and we are honoured to reproduce it here:

Article below via The Sun website.

Images courtesy of News UK.

IT was Saturday August 4, 2012, and London’s Olympic Stadium was a crucible of bubbling, patriotic fervour.

Jess Ennis-Hill had just won gold in the heptathlon and Vikki Orvice and I were furiously putting over our copy knowing Mo Farah was due to start the 10,000metres in under half an hour.

Then from the other side of the stadium came a huge roar.

“What the **** was that?” I yelled at Vikki alongside me.

“Greg Rutherford has only gone and won the flipping long jump,” she shouted back over the din.

Not long after, Farah would make it triple gold – three inside an astonishing 44 minutes.

It was the greatest night in British athletics, perhaps the greatest night in Olympic history.

Certainly, neither Vikki nor I had known anything like it.

At the time, Vikki was in remission from the cancer that had first struck in 2007 – and which, devastatingly, would return in 2014.

For the last four years she fought valiantly – and with no lack of humour – against the odds, her life a strength-sapping treadmill of chemotherapy at London’s Marsden Hospital sandwiched inbetween her jobs as athletics correspondent and football writer for The Sun.

All three Olympic gold medallists later sent message of encouragement and support during her cancer battle.

Fittingly, for a daughter of Sheffield, she had a core of steel.

 

But the long, unequal struggle ended this morning when Vikki died aged 56.

The grief engulfing her sportswriter husband Ian Ridley, her family and her many admiring friends is only partially mitigated by the relief it is finally all over.

If she was a fundraiser, arch supporter and poster girl – her own words – for the Marsden, she was also a massive source of encouragement for every young girl who wondered whether they, too, could make it in what was the very male enclave of sports journalism.

Yes, Julie Welch was the first to start breaking down the barriers on The Observer in the Seventies.

And there were other sports journalists like Hazel Irvine and Kate Battersby when Vikki first arrived in Fleet Street in the Nineties.

But they were few and far between.

The difference with Vikki, though, was she was the first woman to be appointed as a football writer on a red top.

It may have been a decade or so after the worst male excesses of the Life on Mars generation but the profession was still top-heavy with men behaving badly and contemptuous of women in the pressbox.

Working at the coal face of sports journalism, she was not just a pioneer but a suffragette on the slow, back-breaking march towards equality.

At the end, she would stand at the pinnacle, a vociferous defender of women’s rights and ceaseless promoter of their abilities – a director of Women in Football and a significant figure at both the Sports Journalists Association and the Football Writers Association.

At the age of ten, she entered a Daily Express competition, saying she wanted to be a sportswriter.

Her subject? Her beloved Sheffield United.

She would finally achieve her ambition in the face of constant prejudice but it was a long journey.

Recalling her early days on national newspapers, she said: “I went to Arsenal v Norwich on the opening afternoon of the season.

“The main stand at Arsenal had a mural on it and I was basically sent along to write about that because, you know, it was a bit girly and stuff.

“But it actually turned into a good story because Norwich won.

“I remember somebody came over to the sports desk on the Monday morning saying ‘Why did you give that match to HER? I should have been there instead’.

“I would later have lunch with the sports editor who said a woman could never do the job full-time. In those days, you didn’t even question it.”

Then in the summer of 1995 came her mould-breaking move to The Sun.

Her all-round talent was quickly recognised and she would soon become the paper’s athletics correspondent, a role which she relished – covering all of Usain Bolt’s world records – and in which she would prosper.

She would also strike up enduring relationships with many of the sport’s leading lights – chief among them Paula Radcliffe, Ennis and Farah.

She did so because these people trusted her. Many times she was given information she couldn’t write about and didn’t – her scrupulousness being rewarded later with bigger stories she COULD write about.

As such, she produced a series of old-fashioned scoops during the golden age of British athletics. An era that saw the GB team go from one gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 to an astonishing 27 in Rio in 2016, second only to the USA.

Nor was there anyone more excited about the new crop of outstanding home athletes like Dina Asher-Smith than Vikki.

During all this, she was a sounding board for other members of her profession unfortunate enough to themselves be afflicted by cancer.

She was also fundraising – one reference to a charity event with Radcliffe showing both her unquenchable spirit and humour.

She tweeted: “I am walking 5k with Paula in the Race for Life. She has a personal best for the event of 14 minutes 29.11 seconds but is recovering from a broken toe and hence is not running.

“I have a personal best of 19 months in remission from secondary cancer – hence not running, either!”

I met Vikki twice for lunch in the last few months with former Sun sports editor Paul Ridley, the man who not only brought her to Fleet Street but also gave her the athletics job.

Once when, complete in black wig and showbiz sunglasses, she looked a million dollars – despite the chemo.

Then again just before Christmas in Soho when she was obviously struggling a bit.

Dressed in a stunning, full-length, camel overcoat and carrying an elegant black walking-stick, she climbed into a black cab that was to take her to see a concerned Sebastian Coe.

Noticing the anguish in my face, she said: “Don’t worry, Steve.”

What style. What class. Still thinking about other people to the end.

Vanarama Column – Salford

Vanarama Column December 6th – Salford City, by Glenn Moore

Since automatic promotion was introduced 31 years ago no club has won back-to-back promotions into the Football League. Even meteors such as Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon required a season acclimatising to the fifth tier before climbing out of non-League. This season Salford aim to break the mould.

Since being taken over by the five former Manchester United players from the ‘Class of 92’, as their youth team generation has become known, Salford City have raced from the eighth to fifth tier. As the busy Christmas programme approaches in the Vanarama National League they sit a point and a place off the summit and the promotion spot it brings. This after a slow start in which they took eight points from their opening six matches leaving them in the bottom half of the table.

“We are delighted with where we are,” said Gary Neville, co-owner and in many respects the driving force behind the project. “At present we’re maybe slightly ahead of expectations. We expected a tough start but with the investment we have made, and the managerial appointment [former Scunthorpe manager and Scotland international Graham Alexander] we thought we would be up there challenging.  Our approach has always been to be in contention going into the New Year. We have a tough run of fixtures coming up and if we’re in touching distance in mid-January we’re on course.”

Neville added: “We are well ahead of our initial plans. We have won three promotions in four years, we thought it would be one every two years. The initial aspiration was to get into the Football League because the original idea was to have an academy, to give young players a chance. We realised we needed a team for them to move into, and to have a proper academy you need to be a Football League club.”

Thus the rush, which has provoked resentment from less well-funded clubs. Besides Neville, his brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes Salford are also owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim. Neville points out “until this season we’ve matched Peter 50-50, we’ve put millions into the club. We could have used that money to buy houses, or cars, or leave it in the bank, we didn’t need to do it. We chose to come into Salford. We could have gone into a League One or League Two club, but we wanted to stay close to our roots. I find it hard to understand the negativity about ex-footballers using their own money to invest in a football club.”

Salford have formed an academy, a women’s team and are developing community and education programmes. Moor Lane has been transformed into a covered 5,000-capacity venue. Crowds have gone from 220 to 2,000+ with an emphasis on making it an affordable fun day out – Neville said his family recently chose  a match at the Peninsula Stadium rather than Old Trafford.

The former England international added: “We have retained the original people who ran the club, who made sacrifices and subsidised it. We have the cheapest tickets [£10] and season-tickets, we bring interest to the league and to games, we’re respectful of opponents. How is that ruining non-League?”

Sir Alex Ferguson unveils a plaque to commemorate the announcement that Salford City’s new stadium is named The Peninsula Stadium with Payl Scholes (left), Gary Neville (2nd left) Ryan Giggs (3rd left) and Peter Done (right) Pic PA images.

Vanarama column – Torquay

Vanarama column:  Torquay United, By Glenn Moore

Gary Johnson’s wife was still pondering where they could take a rare holiday following the veteran manager’s departure from Cheltenham Town when his phone rang. Torquay United, slumbering in the sixth tier of English football, were on the line. Would Johnson, who had not worked that far down the pyramid since managing Newmarket Town 30 years ago, be interested in taking over at Plainmoor?

Johnson figured he had nothing to lose by meeting the club’s owner, Clarke Osborne, and business partner George Edwards. “Their outlook was positive, it seemed exciting,” he said. “They are a big fish in a small pond. I have done a lot of firefighting over the years, been at clubs that were not expected to be successful, this was a nice project.

“I haven’t got to manage Manchester United any more, if you see what I mean. So I looked at the players they had and thought, ‘they are only a couple of wins from the play-offs and not a million miles away from being promoted’.

“The supporters’ response had been ‘we won’t get him’, not ‘we don’t want him’, which was positive. It’s a nice stadium. It looked a good future if they could turn the results around. I thought I could go in there and use my experience to pick it up. I just tried to put my personality and philosophy on everything, help the players gain confidence. It helped we won the first match at Hungerford and we’ve been on a good run.”

They have indeed. Torquay were 14th with 12 points and five goals from nine games when Johnson arrived. They are unbeaten in his eight Vanarama National League South matches taking 18 points, scoring 23 goals. The Gulls have soared into the play-off places and lie fourth, four points behind leaders Woking.

Johnson has won five promotions as a manager, taking Yeovil from the Conference to the Championship (over two spells), Bristol City from League One to the Premier League play-off final, and, two years ago, Cheltenham back into the Football League. This matches Torquay’s record since joining the Football League in 1928 with four promotions from the fourth tier and one from the Conference following their first relegation in 2007. They bounced back then within two years but recovering from relegation in 2014 has proved harder with further relegation last May.

Aided by loan signings from Bristol City where his son Lee is manager – “everyone has someone they can call on, a mate in the game, in my case it’s my son” – Johnson is now aiming for automatic promotion. The club are still full-time which helps attract hungry players to this football outpost. “We pay OK. Players might get more [elsewhere] if they have a job and are part-time, but my players are young and want a full-time pro career, they want to improve. Being full time we can work with them on the training field and do extra things off it like video analysis, psychology and evaluation.”

So everyone’s happy, but what about that lost holiday? “Torquay’s a holiday place,” said Johnson. “I’ve taken my wife to the English Riviera instead of the French one.”

ENDS

Jeff Farmer – Funeral details

Update – Jeff Farmer’s funeral details
Here are details for the funeral of our friend and colleague Jeff Farmer, who passed away last week.
Funeral: Monday November 5 at 12.30
Streetly Crematorium, 296 Little Hardwick Road, Straitly WS9 0SG

Reception at Moor Hall Golf Club, Moor Hall Drive, Sutton Coldfield,B75 6LN.

Jeff’s family have requested no flowers please, but welcome donations to Marie Curie.org.uk 

 

Tribute by Paul McCarthy
Executive Secretary
For those of us who have been amongst the last stragglers to leave an FWA Footballer of the Year dinner, it was almost guaranteed to be in the company of Jeff Farmer.
Jeff loved being amongst his pals and colleagues for as long as possible, chatting about the game, recounting old stories of the legends he was happy to call friends, not wanting the night to end.
And what a story he had to tell. Of Cloughie. Of Big Ron. Of Jimmy Hill. And of countless West Brom heroes who he idolised.
West Bromwich Albion was never far from his thoughts. Jeff cut his teeth in journalism back in the late Fifties and early Sixties when players and managers would very probably have been arm-in-arm with Jeff at the end of those nights safe in the knowledge he would never have betrayed any of their secrets.
Inspired by the film ‘Ace In The Hole’ starring Kirk Douglas as an intrepid reporter uncovering a a huge scoop, Jeff turned down a job in a bank to join the Midland Chronicle in his beloved West Bromwich before moving to the Wolverhampton Express & Star where he became the paper’s first West Brom correspondent.
It was the start of a love affair with the Hawthorns that saw Jeff join the West Brom board, leaving his imprint on the club that lasts to this day.
The nationals beckoned for Jeff and after two years he became the Midlands correspondent for the Daily Sketch before the paper merged with the Daily Mail in 1970. Jeff was part of a formidable Midlands pack covering the area but he was always the leader and his front page exclusive of Brian Clough quitting Derby County was one of the highlights of Jeff’s career.
He crossed from newspapers into television in 1981 when Gary Newbon enticed him to Central TV as sports editor. As befits an outstanding journalist, Jeff’s news sense and insight marked him out as a television powerhouse but it was his people skills which marked him out.
He was a natural leader, somebody who could always inspire his team and made him one of the most respected sports executives of his generation.
Jeff became ITV’s football editor in charge of their coverage including World Cups and Champions League and in 1998 oversaw the production of England v Argentina which pulled in an incredible 27 million viewers.
The natural move was to ITV’s Head of Sport, a position and role Jeff filled with energy, talent and exuberance. But he never lost sight of his roots within newspapers and was always quick to credit his colleagues on both the local and daily papers for a great story or interview.
He fell ill with cancer two years ago but nobody ever heard him complain or bemoan his lot, he faced the fact stoically and continued to live life to the full until the last few months when the horrific disease took its toll.
Jeff’s advice was always well-intentioned, his praise meant everything and for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy his company on those late nights either at home or abroad, his wisdom and humour was unsurpassed.
It’s been a dreadful few weeks at the FWA and the loss of another great Midlands journalist so soon after the passing of Ralph Ellis leaves a huge hole.
But like Ralph, we can be grateful for the time spent with Jeff and the incredible impact he had on so many during a stellar career.
Everybody at the FWA sends their condolences to Jeff’s family and countless friends.

FWA chairman Patrick Barclay on Diversity within the FWA

The FWA’s commitment to diversity in the media was reflected in a strong turnout at the third D Word conference – superbly organised as usual by FWA member Leon Mann – at BT Sport’s headquarters near West Ham’s London Stadium this week.

At least a dozen FWA members were spotted in the packed-out hall and both Carrie Brown and I took part in panel discussions, watched from the front row by fellow national-committee member Philippe Auclair.

The subjects covered were, as you would expect from a diversity event, wide-ranging, but familiar themes inevitably emerged. Figures produced by Leon and his team showed that, while the rise of women in the sporting media continues encouragingly, those who happen to be black and minority ethnic have fared far less well over the two years since D Word 2.

Indeed BAME progress in our field of work, male or female, has seemed to be confined mainly to former sports stars. It is an unhealthy situation and according to some attendees the remedy was for employers to cast their nets wider. From both BBC and ITV came promises to maintain progress in this respect.

Meanwhile there were calls for more widespread mentoring and on the FWA’s behalf I mentioned our efforts, which include a scheme open to all student members overseen by Jim White, and stressed that impressive candidates of any background, once introduced to a newspaper or broadcasting environment, would make enough of an impact to be invited back.

I also outlined the process by which we recently improved the diversity (gender, ethnic and age-wise) of our national committee, while making clear that this was only a start and that we had to be open to the world of blogging – by a happy coincidence, this is one of the ways BAME aspirants can make their own luck, and we look forward to welcoming them into an ever-more-diverse FWA.

Partick Barclay – FWA chairman

FWA student member lands dream job at Fulham

FWA Student member’s remarkable story – by Brendan McLoughlin

Adam Micklewright, an FWA student member, has landed his dream job at Fulham – less than a year after being in a coma fighting for his life.

The University of Gloucestershire BA Sports Journalism graduate recently landed the role of academy communications executive with the Cottagers – just weeks after securing a first-class degree on his course.

It is an all the more remarkable achievement given the serious medical condition he found himself in only last autumn.

While socialising with friends, he suffered a blackout, collapsed and cracked his head on the corner of a pavement. It left him with a triple fracture to his skull and a severe bleed to the brain.

Medical staff put him into an induced coma for two weeks and, miraculously, he was discharged from from hospital just four days after waking up.

After a period of rehabilitation, Adam resumed his studies four months later and went on to pass his course with flying colours.

He is now pinching himself after beating off fierce competition for a job with Premier League Fulham – the club he has supported since he was a boy.

Adam said: “My first few months at Fulham have been fantastic. I’m learning a lot about the industry. There is always a new challenge to take on every day which suits me perfectly. I’m learning something new most days whether that’s technically or personally – I’m loving the job.

“I have several match days under my belt now, which filled me with a lot more confidence with new systems and styles. The hotels we stay in at away games aren’t bad either!

“The accident did hit me hard, although I didn’t really know too much of what was going on, it’s like being trapped in your own brain. The hospital staff in Bristol were great with me and I can’t thank them enough from getting me through a potentially life-threatening injury.

“The only side-effect I’m having is slight concentration issues, which considering the extent of my injury is something I’ll take every time.”

Adam was selected to represent his course at the Midlands FWA Lunch last spring and was among students invited to attend an FWA Live event in London in May. He has also received mentoring from FWA chairman Paddy Barclay.

“Paddy and the FWA have been more than accommodating with me,” Adam added. “Whenever there have been events or guidance opportunities they have offered them up to me.

“My time at uni has put me in fantastic stead to fit in seamlessly through video, interview, reports etc. The lecturers have been great in easing me back into studying as well as guiding me through industry practices.

“It seems surreal when you’re walking around the training ground, saying hello to Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic, but it’s something you get used to and certainly with the U23s, they become your colleagues.

“As a first job out of uni, it is demanding. To be in charge of the academy coverage alone is a big task, but very rewarding which is something I’ve picked up even as early as now.”

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AMMicklewright

ENDS

Vanarama column – Dagenham & Redbridge

October 10: Dagenham & Redbridge – By Glenn Moore

The cavalry are coming, the only question is whether they have arrived at Victoria Road in time. A fourth successive Vanarama National League defeat on Saturday, by 2-0 at Gateshead, left Dagenham & Redbridge 22nd, already four points from safety.

Relegated from League Two in 2016 the Daggers have had a tumultuous period back in non-League, twice facing financial difficulties and now twice rescued. Local car dealer Glyn Hopkin kept them afloat for a year, during which John Still’s team missed out on an instant return when they lost to Forest Green Rovers in the play-offs. However, amid disputes with supporters Hopkins ceased covering the losses midway through last season prompting a firesale of players and the dissipation of a promotion bid.

At the end of the campaign the veteran Still, having said it was his hardest season in management, quit to join Barnet. The peripatetic Peter Taylor, once an England manager, five times a Football League promotion winner, took over.

The popular Taylor has had some tough jobs but few like this. The budget was cut by a third meaning fixtures like Saturday’s 560-mile round-trip to Gateshead are done without an overnight stay and the players packing their own lunch. For the next away game, at Dover, players will be driving themselves.

“People think I am mad doing this at my age,” said Taylor, now 65. “but I love the challenge. The only frustrating part is matchdays. We have a very young team – we did not have the budget to bring in players with experience at this level – and this is a tough league. They are getting better but they make mistakes.”

However, there is hope on the horizon. Somewhat improbably the Daggers have been acquired by an American consortium fronted by Tim Howard, the former Everton, Manchester United and United States goalkeeper. While the focus is on Howard the key figures are Peter B Freund and Craig Unger. Each have a record of investing in sports franchises with both involved with Memphis 901, a new club in the US second-tier United Soccer League, and minor league baseball team Memphis Redbirds. Freund has become executive chairman with Unger also on the board.

The pair flew over for a meet-and-greet with fans this week and have promised Taylor they will back him. There will not, however, be a quick fix. Taylor said: “They are serious and want to help but as I told the meeting, it is a shame they did not come in in June, then we could have recruited differently. The experienced players we need are either not available – or available for a reason.”

Taylor, a well-regarded coach, will thus focus on improving the youngsters he has, and adding experienced players of the right calibre if and when he can find them. “I’m used to coming into a club and aiming for promotion, but the target this year is to finish fifth from bottom. We’d take that. Then give it a real go for promotion next season.”

ends

Vanarama National League Column – Tim Flowers

Tim Flowers going against tradition and succeeding in management as a goalkeeper, by Glenn Moore

The most eye-catching result in the Bank Holiday Vanarama National League programme was at Damson Park where Solihull Moors became the first team to defeat early-season front-runners Wrexham.
In front of a bumper 2,412 gate, three times last season’s average, the West Midlands club won with Alex Gudger’s late goal. That delighted Tim Flowers whose first season at the Moors helm has begun promisingly.
Goalkeepers have traditionally not become managers. While there are some notable historic exceptions such as Raymond Goethals, Dino Zoff and Tony Waiters those that did – even outstanding players such as Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton and Neville Southall – were rarely successful. Perhaps the most celebrated ex-English keeper with a management role was Brian Clough’s assistant, Peter Taylor. Goalkeepers, it seemed, were regarded by chairmen, media, fans, and maybe themselves, as too detached from the outfield players, too individualistic, to be managers.
That view, though, may be changing. The current Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui was a ‘keeper along with Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santos, Nigel Adkins of Hull, former Hull and Russia manager Leonid Slutsky, now at Vitesse Arnhem, and David James, currently of Kerala Blasters.
Flowers, like Shilton, Clemence, Waiters and James, is a former England No.1. The 51-year-old was the most expensive goalkeeper in Britain when Blackburn paid Southampton £2.4m in 1993, a move that paid off when Rovers won the Premier League title. Flowers won 11 caps and made 500 league appearances before moving into coaching. Initially, like so many former keepers, he was a specialist teaching his old role, but he became assistant to Iain Dowie at Coventry, QPR and Hull.
He took his first crack at management in October 2010, at Stafford Rangers, then of the Conference North, but resigned after nine matches. He returning to coaching and pitched up at Moors last November as assistant to Mark Yates.
At the time Moors looked doomed having taken 11 points from 19 matches after a rapid turnover of managers. As late as Boxing Day Moors were bottom, 12 points adrift of safety. However, the pair oversaw a revival that garnered 37 points from the last 20 matches enabling Solihull to stay up in comfort.
This revival prompted Macclesfield to hire Yates for their return to the Football League, John Askey having moved onto Shrewsbury Town after leading the Silkmen to the Vanarama National League title. Flowers, who had been interviewed for the post separately from Yates, before the board suggested they work as a pair, stayed at Damson Park. 
“The great escape ranks as one of my biggest achievements in football, and now to have the opportunity to build on everything we achieved last season is the icing on the cake,” said Flowers. “This club’s got ambition, make no mistake.”
These are heady times for Moors. Formed by a merger of Moor Green and Solihull Borough in 2007 neither the club nor its predecessors have never finished above 16th in the fifth tier. With Moors currently in the play-off places history beckons
 
ends

Vanarama National League Column – Gateshead

Gateshead’s miraculous start following a summer of upheaval

By Glenn Moore

 

Four matches into the new Vanarama National League season the table has a surprising look. Pre-season favourites Salford City are lower mid-table, having not won until their fourth match. Last season’s play-off finalists Boreham Wood are only a point higher. Three other fancied clubs, Leyton Orient, play-off regulars Aldershot, and newly relegated Barnet, have also been slow to settle.

Meanwhile, in second, level on points with early leaders Wrexham, are Gateshead, which is remarkable considering the Heed nearly folded in the summer and were without a contracted player two months ago. When a takeover failed to materialise chairman and then-owner Richard Bennett considered closing down the football club, already the third such incarnation in the Tyneside town.

Instead the budget was slashed and the club reverted to part-time with an emphasis on building a squad of young, local players. Steve Watson, the former Newcastle United defender who had returned to the area to manage the Heed, agreed to sign on for another year. However, at best it looked as if it would be a season of fighting relegation, with a view to buying the club time.

Then, ten days before the season started, Dr Ranjan Varghese, a Hong Kong-based businessman with a background in ship-building design, bought the club. He has since installed a locally-based operations director, Michael Williams, and a London-based sporting director, former agent Chris Hawes. Watson retains control of playing matters and, in a major coup, has signed former Newcastle centre-half Mike Williamson, a veteran of more than 400 senior appearances, 134 of them in the Premier League.

Like Watson, who quit promotion-bound Macclesfield to join Gateshead last season, Williamson wanted to move back to the north-east. With the rest of the squad an average age 24 the 34-year-old brings valuable experience. Williamson made his debut in the 2-1 win over Dover Athletic that completed an impressive opening trio of victories with successes at Maidstone United then at home to Salford City. Gateshead then took home a point from them 500-mile midweek round-trip to Boreham Wood with a late equaliser from Steven Rigg.

The new owner, Williams told supporters, has a five-year plan to establish Gateshead as ‘an established, self-sustaining League Two club rooted in the community’ and maintaining the focus on recruiting young players from an area with a notable football heritage.

The 2,264 that turned out for last season’s FA Trophy semi-final home leg with Bromley indicated there is some potential on the east bank of the Tyne, but it will not be easy to realise. That was an unusually big match with the crowd boosted by neither Newcastle nor Sunderland playing that weekend. Gateshead International Stadium, built for athletics rather than football, with a running track and rarely fans behind the goals, is usually less atmospheric. Attendances averaged just 853 last season, less than ten per cent of capacity.

Nevertheless, at a time when so many of the area’s passionate football fans are feeling frustrated by their clubs Watson’s young team could offer a refreshing alternative.

For more on Gateshead, visit: https://www.gateshead-fc.com/

For more on the Vanarama National League, visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on car and van hire, visit: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/

Vanarama National League column – April 18

The National League run-in by Luke Coulson, Ebbsfleet United and FWA member

Crystal, blue sea accompanied by soft, white sand and blanketed by a clear, blue sky. That will no doubt be the thought on many players’ minds with only ten days of the season remaining. However, in our minds, the thought of sand doesn’t compare with the grass of Wembley.

Two weeks ago, we were unbeaten in seven games and moving up the Vanarama National League table. Yet, our fine form nearly came to an end at the hands of Macclesfield, live on BT Sport. Despite a commanding first 30 minutes, a scrappy away goal for the league leaders killed our momentum and early in the second half, their lead was doubled through a well executed training ground corner. It was hard to see a way back against such an organised team, however, a Danny Kedwell penalty restored our hope and two minutes later a straight red card for Macclesfield’s striker, Nathan Blisset, gave us the advantage. With ten minutes to go, the comeback was complete thanks to a curling Dean Rance strike. Although, it looked as though we may go on to find the winner, Macclesfield defended well with ten men and we had to settle for a share of the points.

On the following Tuesday night, when Roma scored three goals to knockout Barcelona from the Champions League, we scored three goals against Wrexham to close the gap in the National League. Yet, the only difference was that our result was expected. We exploded into the game from kick off, creating countless opportunities. However, we only capitalised on our superior display in the 50th minute when Corey Whitely scored a low strike at the near post. The opening goal seemed to ease our nerves and our relentless pressure allowed us to score two late goals. With ten minutes to go, Kedwell found the bottom corner with a low strike and I found the top corner in stoppage time to claim an emphatic win and a huge three points against another playoff rival.

Following the dismantling of Wrexham, we travelled the dreaded 325 mile trip to face Barrow, a team trying to climb out of the relegation zone. At this stage of the season, a team at the bottom of the league can be the worst team to play as they desperately need the points, however, we stood up to the challenge. The match wasn’t filled with quality, yet it was abundant with resolute defending and a determination to claim all three points. In the 32nd minute, Dean Rance scored his third goal in ten games and the only goal of the game with a brilliant reactive finish into the top corner. A late onslaught was inevitable from the home side but the dedicated 76 Ebbsfleet fans who made the tedious trip, witnessed a strong and professional defensive performance to keep our clean sheet.

If the journey to Barrow wasn’t enough, last night we travelled to Eastleigh to play our fourth game in eleven days. The result and performance was symmetrical to the weekend, a narrow 1-0 win backed up with an impressive and unyielding defensive display. In the second half, Nathan Ashmore saved a penalty to keep the score level and in the 82nd minute, Kenny Clark rose highest to meet a Jack Powell corner and score the winning goal. However, although the goal has been awarded to Clark, apparently Harry Kane may be contesting the decision.

The victory last night has not only extended our unbeaten run to eleven games but has moved us into the playoffs with a game in hand. If our unbelievable form continues throughout our remaining three fixtures, the palm trees and cocktails will just have to wait a little longer.