Vanarama National League column

Financial reality checks . by Glenn Moore

The collecting buckets are still shaken, with fans implored to throw in their loose change, but like everything else in football fund-raising has moved on. It was a supporter’s JustGiving page which raised the cash to pay off Hartlepool’s tax bill. The deed, announced on Facebook, staved off a High Court winding up order.

Pools are still in trouble though, and they are not alone in the Vanarama National League. At Chester they are preparing for Thursday’s celebrity match with Michael Owen and Colin Murray involved. At Dagenham & Redbridge there is a firesale of players. At Macclesfield the immediate crisis is over, with delayed wages paid, but Moss Rose is rarely flush with cash.

The crowds and headlines may be smaller but non-League football attracts just as much devotion as the Premier League – and without another fat TV deal to attract potential saviours the pain is greater when things go wrong as the likelihood of rescue is more remote. With four clubs facing problems this week’s The Non-League paper had echoes of the London Gazette, where insolvencies are traditionally listed.

It would be wrong, however, to deduce that the fifth tier’s financial model is inherently unstable. As in every division there are clubs living beyond their means as they ‘chase the dream’ of a place in the Football League (or a return to it) but in recent years the league has generally been in reasonable financial health.

Indeed, it can be argued each of the current quartet are a special case, rather than symptomatic of a wider malaise. Hartlepool, the most seriously threatened, are freshly relegated from the Football League. They thus receive parachute payments for two years totalling around £700,000 with two-thirds paid in the first season. That would normally ameliorate the impact but Pools came down carrying a debt burden reported by the local media to be £1.8m. That is more than a year’s turnover in this league and new investment has been elusive.

Chester are fan-owned having re-formed after going bust eight years ago. With the initial rush of triple promotions replaced by an annual slog against relegation interest had tapered away leading to a drop in membership and attendance. That seems to have caused cash flow issues, perhaps exacerbated by management decisions.

At Dagenham the owner, quoting anger at fans campaigning against his managing director, has stopped putting his hand in his pocket. This is not the place to debate the rights and wrongs, just to record the consequence which has a slashing of the squad to cut the wage bill by three-quarters to meet the club’s unsubsidised income. At Macclesfield the owner blamed ‘technical problems’ at his bank, which were resolved after players confronted the club chairman at a local country club.

Macclesfield’s budget is tight at the best of times yet the Silkmen are top of the Vanarama National League. It is some achievement by John Askew and his players. With the wages paid they resumed their winning ways. The dream that drives all these clubs was back on.


Special award at North East FWA Dinner


The friendship between former Sunderland striker, Jermain Defoe, and young cancer patient, Bradley Lowery, touched everyone who saw the pair together.

Bradley, from Blackhall Colliery, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at only 18-months-old and last year his mum, Gemma, shared the devastating news that the cancer was terminal. He passed away in July aged just six.

Jermain’s compassion towards his young friend, and his help raising awareness of neuroblastoma, will be recognised at the North East Football Writers’ Association’s Awards later this month (Sunday 25th February) where he will be named the North East Personality of the Year.

The prestigious award is given in association with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and recognises someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community, and a special trophy has been created by Kalki Mansel, a hot glass artist and designer at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

Bradley’s Mum, Gemma, was proud to personally add the finishing touches to it by blowing the glass.

Gemma said: “It was fantastic that Jermain became such a friend to Bradley and his continued friendship to us now means a lot.

“He had so much to do with us all in the final weeks of Bradley’s life and he hasn’t just left things there. Jermain is a Patron of the Bradley Lowery Foundation and he wants to be involved because that’s where his heart is.

“This award is something to be grateful for and it’s nice that Jermain is receiving recognition, although he said he doesn’t need that. Everything he has done came from his kindness and the goodness of his heart.

“Sadly, Bradley’s not here to help but I hope I’m the next best thing and I enjoyed helping make the award. I’m sure Jermain will love it.”

Jermain first met Bradley when he was a mascot for Sunderland AFC in 2016 and a very special bond grew between them.

Now a player for Bournemouth, Jermain returned to the North East to spend time with Bradley at his County Durham home just before he died. A week later, he returned again, this time to attend Bradley’s funeral. Jermain wore his England shirt in honour of his young friend.

Lady Elsie says: “This award is very important to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and we can’t think of anyone more appropriate to receive it than Jermain. It’s been absolutely fascinating to see the award being made and a great pleasure to meet Gemma. She’s an extraordinary woman and I admire her positivity and strength during such a difficult time.”

Held annually at Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham, the North East Football Writers’ Association Awards night, sponsored by William Hill, raises funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which helps find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

The charity recently made a £1million contribution to fund clinical research and nursing posts at the new Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre at Newcastle University.

Colin Young, secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, adds: “Our awards night is a chance to celebrate all that’s good about football in this area. Joining with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to honour Jermain highlights the positive things football can do.

“Very sadly, Colin Verne-Jones from Durham Trophies, who supplied our awards for many years, died suddenly from cancer within weeks of last year’s event.

“We had to think of a new approach to the trophies for this year and wanted to make them very special and from this region. Commissioning trophies from the National Glass Centre seemed the ideal choice. And Jermain’s is all the more perfect because of Gemma’s input into it. We’re glad that Jermain will have a lasting reminder of his time in the North East with him when he leaves our awards event.”

The North East Football Writers’ Association Awards will be held on Sunday 25th February at Ramside Hall Hotel.  Other recipients of awards include Men’s Players of the Year, Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie, Young Player of the Year, Jordan Pickford, and Womens’ Player of the Year, Victoria Williams.

There will also be special presentations to Newcastle United manager, Rafa Benitez, and non-league clubs Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor Town and South Shields.

Tickets to the black tie event are available now at £58 per person, which includes a four course meal and entertainment.  Please call Claire Stephen on 0191 375 3080 or email for more information or to book tickets.

Below are pictures of Gemma Lowery, Bradley’s Mum, and one with the glass designer Kalki Mansel alongside Lady Elsie Robson, Colin Young and Gemma Lowery.

For more, please visit:

And also

The Day Two Teams Died

As we remember the Manchester United players and officials who perished in Munich 60 years ago, it is worth recalling the eight journalists who died in the air crash that day.

Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott have written a remarkable book detailing the lives of those men, called “The Day Two Teams Died”, which is available from Amazon.  We caught up with Roy to discuss what was, for a lifelong Manchester United fan, a labour of love:

“I am 70 now so I was ten years old at the time of the crash and had already been supporting United since 1954. I’ve written 20 or so books on football and cricket, but I wish I had been a sports journalist. I often speak at after-dinner events and had the pleasure of meeting the late Frank Taylor, who was the only journalist to survive the crash. He had written “The Day a Team Died” and when we spoke it seemed to be a glaring omission that the eight journalists who died that day had not been commemorated.

“I come from a generation when journalists were treated like gods, in the days before blanket coverage of sport on television and radio. You got all your information about your favourite teams and players from newspapers, and the written word was gospel. So some of these journalists were as famous as – if not more famous than – the players. Henry Rose was the most flamboyant of them and he would drive to games in his Jaguar. Only one of the United players had a car at the time, and that was a Morris Minor!

“Manchester had two papers, the Evening News and the Chronicle. Tom Jackson wrote for the former, Alf Clarke for the latter. I grew up in Salford and we would read the Daily Herald, which was the working man’s paper. George Follows was their correspondent.

“Henry Rose was such a big character that over 4000 people went to his funeral, and taxi-drivers in Manchester refused to take payment for anyone going to or from it.

“Frank Swift, the former England goalkeeper, did not really need to be on the flight because he wrote for a Sunday paper, the News of the World, but he was great mates with Matt Busby, who had done him a special favour by getting him along. The players looked up to big Frank and adored him.

“Eric Thompson of the Mail was another fine journalist, but my favourite was Donny Davies of the Guardian, who had played amateur football for England and cricket for Lancashire. He was a beautiful wordsmith, someone I loved to read.”

Frank Taylor was the only one to survive, and so Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott felt it appropriate to echo his book’s title in theirs.

“We drew together as much as we could find, from their earliest writing up to the last reports they filed, and what followed; the respect and tributes that were paid to them after the crash. In our minds this was always going to be a lovely tribute, and we believe it is.”

David Walker, the Mirror sports editor, FWA member and chairman of the Sports Journalists’ Association, has written the foreword, and half of the profits will go to the Journalists Charity.

This fine book can be ordered on Amazon:

Munich – 60 years on

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich airliner crash that cost the lives of 23 passengers returning from Manchester United’s European Cup quarter-final in Belgrade, FWA chairman Patrick Barclay remembers the journalist victims. Eight of the nine football writers aboard died. Only Frank Taylor, of the News Chronicle, survived along with the photographer Peter Howard and Ted Ellyard, who had wired Howard’s pictures back to the Daily Mail.

These extracts are taken from Patrick Barclays acclaimed book “Sir Matt Busby, The Definitive Biography” published by Ebury Press.

Archie Ledbrooke, a former chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, was among a group of journalists who regularly covered Manchester United at home and abroad. But according to my late friend Peter Thomas, who was the northern sports editor of the Daily Mirror in 1958, Ledbrooke might have been a notable absentee from the trip to Belgrade via Munich.

Thomas had been pestering Ledbrooke for delivery of a long-promised series on Joe Smith, Blackpool’s veteran manager, and had given the writer an ultimatum: finish it or be replaced on the flight by Frank McGhee. With only a couple of days to spare, Ledbrooke had filed. McGhee stayed at home.

Frank Swift was another member of the press gang who might not have boarded United’s Elizabethan at Ringway Airport, Manchester, one cold and misty Monday morning in February 1958. “Swifty”, a genial giant and goalkeeping great who had played alongside Matt Busby for Manchester City, had been originally assigned by the News Of The World to Wales’s World Cup play-off second leg against Israel in Cardiff the same day. But Busby arranged a free trip on the United plane for his old friend.

There was a certain irony in this, for Wales were managed by Busby’s assistant, Jimmy Murphy, while Busby himself had agreed to manage Scotland in the World Cup that summer. Busby had insisted Murphy see his national team safely through to the tournament – having won 2-0 in Tel Aviv, they were duly to achieve the same score at home – rather than accompany United to their European Cup quarter-final second leg against Red Star.

At any rate Swift had gone to Belgrade, where United had extended a 2-1 lead from the first leg to 5-1 before the interval. In the end they had to cling on for a 5-4 aggregate but it was a happy party who gathered the next day: Thursday, February 6. The journalists had an extra reason to be in good spirits. They were looking forward to that night’s Manchester Press Ball.

On the first leg of the trip, Belgrade to Munich, Frank Taylor was teased as he stood in the gangway, big Swifty shouting out orders for cigars and brandy. “You shouldn’t look so much like a waiter,” the rotund, twinkling Eric Thompson of the Mail told Taylor, who had slicked-back hair and a little moustache.

The Daily Express’s flamboyant Henry Rose – such a showman that, when he went to Anfield, he would doff his hat in appreciation of the Kop’s taunts – fretted because he had to finish his precious “postbag”, a column of candid answers to readers’ letters, before going to the Ball. The Manchester Evening Chronicle’s Alf Clarke was snoring. “He must have been reading one of his own stories,” observed the Daily Herald wordsmith George Follows.

The other local-paper man, representing the Manchester Evening News as usual, was Tom Jackson, and the contingent was completed by the Manchester Guardian’s much-loved and highly literate H. D. “Donny” Davies, whose work appeared under the byline “An Old International” in recognition that he had been an England amateur.

When they landed for refuelling and refreshments in the terminal building at Munich, the weather had worsened. There was snow and slush on the runway. Two attempts to take off for Manchester failed and the mood on the Elizabethan became sombre. It lightened when Alf Clarke, who had gone missing in order to telephone a story about the delay to his paper, was ferried by jeep to the plane; his colleagues pretended to be observing two minutes’ silence for him.

As we know, the third take-off attempt was to fail disastrously. Peter Howard and Ted Ellyard emerged from the wreckage virtually unscathed, but Frank Taylor suffered multiple injuries and, like Matt Busby and others, underwent prolonged treatment in hospital in Germany. Even he was lucky compared with the other journalists, all of whom died. As FWA Life Member David Meek, who replaced Tom Jackson at the Evening News, was to observe later: “They were from the cream of the sporting press, and very close to Manchester United because of the journey into Europe. Matt must have been devastated to lose them as well as the players.”

Below is the team-sheet from United’s game in Belgrade.

Pele Tribute night

The Football Writers’ Association paid tribute to Pele in a star-studded evening at the Savoy Hotel in London on Sunday.
Although the great man was suffering from exhaustion and unable to travel to the event as planned, a host of star names from the world of football and football writing paid tribute to the Brazilian legend, arguably the greatest player of all time.
Gordon Banks, England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper from 1966, spoke about ‘that save’ from the 1970 World Cup, when he kept out a header from Pele that the player – and the watching world – thought was a certain goal. It is still regarded as one of the greatest saves of all time, and Banks said: “When I saw Pele in London some time ago, he said: ‘Gordon, I go all over the world and people talk about the goals I scored, but when I come to England, all they talk about is that save!”
Gareth Southgate, in his toast to the FWA, said Pele had created so many iconic moments in football history. “To have watched his performances, to see the impact he had on the world stage was incredible. You could see the enjoyment he took from the game, as well as
the ability that he had.
“To have gone on to have been an incredible ambassador for the game in the way he has as well speaks volumes for the impact I think he has had, not only on football community, but right across the world as one of those rare iconic figures. You can travel to any part of the globe and people know who he was.”
Cliff Jones, the former Tottenham and Wales winger, talked about facing Pele in the 1958 World Cup, when the Brazilian was an unknown 17-year-old. “Our manager Jimmy Murphy had warned us about the great players we’d be facing, such as Garrincha. But we had no idea who this 17-year-old kid Pele was. We soon found out. He scored the goal that beat us, three in the semi-final and two more in the final. We knew then we were watching someone special.”
And Pele’s former New York Cosmos team-mate Steve Hunt spoke about playing alongside the great man in the final year of his illustrious career. “I was 20 years old and playing for Aston Villa reserves when the chance came to play in America,” he said. “When I was told my team-mate would be Pele, I said ‘Where do I sign?’ When I met him the first day, I was greeted by a huge smile and the biggest hug imaginable. He was the warmest, friendliest guy I could have hoped for.
“I played in his last competitive game ever, and after we won 2-1, we carried him on our shoulders, which was the greatest moment of my life. He was a genius as a player and also one hell of a human being.”
Hugh McIlvanney, who covered the great Brazil sides when Pele was at his peak, made an eloquent case for the 1970 World Cup winning team being the greatest side in the history of football and said: “There can be no failure to recognise that the very incarnation of the glories of Brazilian football then, and forever, was and is Pele.”
Patrick Barclay, FWA Chairman, paid tribute to Paul McCarthy and the national committee for their work in organising the evening, thanked our title sponsors William Hill for their support, and gave thanks to Boadicea the Victorious for their table gifts of luxury perfume.
We were also joined by members from the National Football Museum, who brought along some precious artefacts from their Pele exhibition, including the shirts he wore in 1958 and 1970.

Pele – important notice

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion. He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion and everybody at the Football Writers’ Association wishes Pele a swift and full recovery.

Understandably, his medical situation prevents him from travelling to London for the Football Writers’ Association Tribute Night on Sunday evening at The Savoy. But after discussions with Pele and his team, he has insisted the event should continue, not least because many of Pele’s friends are travelling from overseas to be with us on Sunday.

While it is incredibly sad Pele cannot attend the function, the FWA are grateful that all those who have been asked to pay tribute on the night – Gareth Southgate, Cliff Jones, Gordon Banks and Steve Hunt – are determined to help make the evening a memorable one.

Pele’s team have also asked that we film the event and send a copy to Brazil in the knowledge it will lift the Great Man’s spirits to see his friends are thinking of him and sending their best wishes. With that in mind, we want to do Pele proud and make Sunday night as memorable as possible.

It goes without saying, Pele has an open invitation to any of our functions once he regains his health and we are already discussing the possibility of him joining us in May for the Footballer of the Year Dinner.

Paul McCarthy
Executive Secretary

Chairman’s message

Dear Member,
I’d like to wish you a very happy 2018, and to pass on a few personal – and private – thoughts from the Football Writers’ Association chair.

We promised to increase the FWA’s size and diversity and, while the latter was always going to be the greater challenge, the growing influence of women is reflected in Vikki Orvice’s election as vice-chair and the lively committee presence of Carrie Brown. I would still like to improve the racial balance of the committee and hope that before the AGM in May we will do that.

Numerically we are up 50 per cent over three years but, having sailed past the 300 mark, are now set on 400. In addition the new category of student member has seen around 40 of the next generation of football writers sign up. One of their number, Luke Coulson, has already qualified as a journalist, but let’s hope his career stays on hold for many years, as he is currently starring for Ebbsfleet United in the Vanarama National League.

Luke, along with Glenn Moore, contributes a column to our website, which Gerry Cox and his team have revamped. All shares, likes and retweets are appreciated. Your committee are grateful to Gerry, and to John Ley for dealing with the extremely welcome influx of new members. But you can help to make John even busier by encouraging non-members to join; all they need to do is go to the MEMBERSHIP section of the website. The more there are of us, the more we can do for all football writers.

Speaking of which, what do we achieve? More than put on our two gala dinners – even though the work Paul McCarthy has put into this month’s Tribute Night in honour of Pele has been phenomenal. Probably our most important function is the largely unseen negotiation with the football authorities and clubs over facilities and access to players. Too often it is an uphill task – but it must be done.

We also, with the extremely generous assistance of our main sponsors William Hill, held a sell-out event after the Grenfell Tower fire which raised £10,000 for the victims of the disaster and I’d like to thank everybody who helped make that event such a success.

Finally to one of our most enjoyable duties; may I remind all members to make their recommendations for Football Book of The Year? Our selection committee is chaired by Mike Collett and he wants to hear from you at

All the best,

Patrick Barclay

Cliff Jones to join Pele celebrations

Cliff Jones, the legendary former Tottenham, Swansea and Wales winger, will join us at the Savoy on Sunday to pay tribute to Pele.

Jones was in the Wales team beaten by Pele’s goal as Brazil won 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, but the flying winger insists it would have been closer if the great John Charles had not missed the game through injury. He said:  “I still say to this day if John had played in the quarter-final it could have been a different result because he would have caused Brazil problems they’d never faced before.”

Jones was part of the famous Spurs side that won the first League and FA Cup Double of the 20th Century and became the first English team to win a European trophy, lifting the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963.  He retired after scoring 159 goals in 378 games for Tottenham and is still a match-day ambassador at the club’s games.

Gordon Banks to attend Pele celebration

The Football Writers’ Association is delighted to announce that World Cup winner Gordon Banks will be among our special guests when we honour Pele at the FWA Tribute night on London on January 21.

Banks will join us at the Savoy Hotel in London to pay tribute to Pele when the great Brazilian flies in to receive his lifetime achieve award from the FWA. The former Chesterfield, Leicester and Stoke goalkeeper played 73 times for England and was in goal when Sir Alf Ramsey’s men beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

Arguably his greatest save came four years later, in the 1970 tournament, when he defied the laws of physics to keep out a goalbound header from Pele as England lost 1-0 to Brazil in Mexico.

“From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in,” Pele has said.

“After I headed the ball, I had already began to jump to celebrate the goal. Then I looked back and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in. I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn’t score.”

Former International soccer players England goal keeper, Gordon Banks (left) with a picture of his famous save from Brazil striker Pele (right) attend a news conference in London where they announced the 100 all time greatest footballers chosen by Pele for the celebration of 100 years of FIFA the wiorld governing body.


Vanarama National League column Dec 20 – Gateshead

The Vanarama National League column – Gateshead by Glenn Moore.


Gateshead International Stadium will stage a very local affair on Boxing Day, and enjoy an unusually vibrant atmosphere. The ‘Heed’ host Hartlepool in a rare Vanarama National League north-east derby with every expectation of a substantial four-figure gate.

It will be a significant match for Steve Watson, the former Newcastle United player who was lured back to his native north-east in October to take on his first managerial job. Watson, who made more than 350 Premier League appearances, for Everton, Aston Villa and West Brom, besides the Toon, has declared it his mission to take Gateshead into the Football League.

Watson, 43, had been assistant manager at table-topping Macclesfield, but seized the chance to replace Port Vale-bound Neil Aspin and come home. He returned to a region that, while noted as a football ‘hotbed’, has made little impact in the country’s premier non-league competition.

This is only the third season in the National League’s 39-year existence that there have been two clubs from the north-east in the league and there have frequently been none. The Northern League’s reluctance to join the original Alliance Premier League in 1979 meant several of the area’s bigger clubs were left behind as the football pyramid was formed. Blyth Spartans, of FA Cup giant-killing fame, were then dominant in the Northern League, but by the time they switched into the pyramid were playing catch-up and are yet to progress beyond Vanarama National League North.

Gateshead, who were formed in 1977 after the eponymous former Football League club, and its successor club Gateshead United, both folded, have the region’s most regular National League club with 20 campaigns in four stints. They were briefly joined by Darlington from 2010-12, and now by newly-relegated Hartlepool.

The holiday fixtures – the return at Victoria Park is on New Year’s Day – will be a good test of both teams’ progress. Watson has improved Gateshead’s results, but they remain lower-mid-table, eight points off the play-offs. Pool, anxious for an instant return, are one point ahead but have lost four on the spin. They play Saturday, at home to Maidenhead, while Gateshead have the weekend off.

It will also be a measure of the effect Watson’s arrival has had off the pitch. In many respects playing in a smart stadium refurbished as recently as 2011 has its advantages, but unfortunately the International Stadium is both designed for athletics and too big for non-League football.

At 11,800 its capacity is only exceeded by The Shay at Halifax. However, an average gate hovering between 750-850 is matched only by Boreham Wood. With only the two covered stands each side of the ground usually opened for Vanarama National League matches, and an athletics track around the pitch, fans often complain about a lack of atmosphere.

Proposals to build a new ground have been floated but Watson’s short-term solution is to copy the philosophy of his former manager Kevin Keegan. “We have to entertain, to get out on the pitch and play good football, to get positive results,” he said. “Then before you know it, there are more on the gate.”

For more on the Vanarama National League, visit:
For great leasing deals on cars and vans, visit: