Making yourself at home
West Allotment Celtic's first game at the old Wheatsheaf ground in Newcastle
West Allotment Celtic, a non-league football team from North Tyneside, announced over the summer that it was moving back to its roots to play Northern League football at Palmersville Community Centre. Three years ago, I saw the team play its first game at Druids Park, making an emergency landing near Newcastle Airport after a rent hike forced it out of the Northumberland FA ground at Whitley Park. This text first appeared on Groundhoppers.blog. More images of West Allotment, at Druid Park and Whitley Park, can be found here.
Last season was a struggle for West Allotment Celtic – on and off the pitch. The team finally succumbed to relegation from Northern League Division One, but there was a bigger threat behind the scenes.
The club’s landlord, the Northumberland Football Association, imposed a rent hike that put the club in danger of folding and the future looked bleak. On the verge of its 90th anniversary, Allotment seemed set to close its doors.
Salvation came from the opposite end of Newcastle. The old Wheatsheaf Ground, once home of Newcastle Blue Star, had not hosted football since that famous name made its ill-fated move to nearby Kingston Park. With the pub that gave the ground its name current under large-scale redevelopment – and the surrounding land taken over by a hotel – things had changed. Wheatsheaf no more, this is now Druid Park, primarily home to the arcane rituals of rugby union and seasoned with a side order of American Football on a new artificial surface. Hearing of Allotment’s plight, the ground owners invited the team to play there. Under the flightpath of Newcastle Airport, Celtic’s potential plunge into oblivion was averted.
This was the first league game, and there were nerves in evidence. The team had made a slow start – two losses and a draw, with goals conceded all too easily. Nobody was quite sure whether the night would go off without teething troubles, committee men busied themselves welcoming everyone from the crowd of 53. In the public bar, the food was a class above: no polystyrene trays here, chips came on proper plates, borne to the table on a substantial wooden affair. Servings were generous, the welcome warm.
At first, the team extended a similarly warm welcome to visiting Thornaby. Inside the first 10 minutes a free header from a corner put the away team in front, and the opening exchanges were a struggle for the hosts. The visiting groundhoppers busied themselves with discussions about what was new – the playing surface (complete with gridiron markings); the paint job on the stands (but not, after careful consultation of old photos, the stands themselves); the frequency of flights taking off next door – and what was familiar (the clubhouse buildings, but not the quality of food).
Fittingly, on a ground next to an airport, the aerial presence of a marauding centre-half made all the difference – Elliot Mitchell’s three first-half efforts all came from routine corners that were too much for Thornaby to handle. By half-time, the mood was transformed: club officials wearing broad grins, home fans encouraged by what they were seeing. Victory secured, the first of the season, and Allotment were cleared for take-off.
Aug. 16, 2017
Druid Park, Newcastle, England
Northern League Division Two
West Allotment Celtic 3 Thornaby 1
West Allotment and the Northern League feature in ‘Ancients & Mariners’, my E-book about the 2016/17 Northern League season. It’s available to download from Amazon for just £0.99.