It used to be the highest football field in England. That’s the claim. The remote County Durham village of Wearhead, up in the North Pennines, was home to Wearhead United. For more than a century the team, resplendent in Red-and-White, competed on its memorably uneven pitch. The players rarely hit any great heights; this isn’t a tale of stirring cup runs and improbable title triumphs. But, at 1,017 feet above sea level, the team was proud of its geographical claim to fame.
Looking through a fragmented window frame at a glorious view of the Browney Valley, it’s easy to see why Beaurepaire was built. Once this was a monastic manor house, a retreat for the monks at Durham Cathedral. Set in a vast hunting estate, it was a medieval resort: back to nature, a place to set aside the manuscripts and relax the discipline of the great monastery on the hill. On occasion, it was a place to entertain kings; at other times the idyll was shattered by conflict.
Ice hockey action returns to Britain this weekend after being frozen out for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. But with England back in lockdown and fans forbidden, the first steps are cautious as clubs look to find out whether playing behind closed doors is feasible.
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In East Durham, football is escaping from its ‘black hole’. After seeing Saturday football in Shotton once again, another trip brought more Wearside League action, this time in Murton. Once a Northern League ground, Welfare Park suffered more than most from vandalism but even as the off-field facilities disappeared, it retained its impressively large playing surface. And, with Ryhope CW U23s playing there this season, it’s hosting games once again.
For a football fan, there’s something irresistible about a stadium. Whether it’s the grandest of international arenas or the most primitive of fenced-off fields, the very grass seems to resonate with great goals and famous victories. No matter how modest the team, there’s always ‘that game’.