One of my biggest regrets since starting ‘NE Non League’ was my struggle to get down to a Sunday League game. Whether it was due to work commitments, or weather related postponements, I’ve not been able to get to a Sunday game. A lack of social media presence from a lot of the teams, and somewhat outdated league websites, made finding a game to get to all that more difficult.
So, when I saw Spennymoor Voltigeur (Volti) tweet they had a home fixture against high flying Barnard Castle, I knew I had to get down to it. The third of three games in three days, this was the fixture I was most looking forward to. A step into the unknown for myself, Sunday league is something I’ve never ventured into.
Maybe the only downside to this fixture, and indeed a lot of Sunday League fixtures, was the 10:30am kick off. But the excitement definitely made up for the 20 mile, or so, each way journey over the Tudhoe Playing Fields, home of Spennymoor Volti.
As we arrived (myself and my groundhopping counterpart / fiancée), we went for a little walk around the field. I often observe the pre-match warm-ups of both sides, and it was clear that everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed what they were doing. Something I feel I often don’t see in the Saturday leagues, everyone got along and knew what they had to do.
At around 10:20, I heard a shout of ‘ready when you are, Ref’. This was something I obviously had never seen before, but I loved the relaxed approach to the game. Everyone involved was keen to get started, and it was clear from the off that every player on the pitch was determined to get the best possible result.
Usually, as I prepare to do a write up for a game, I’ll have a scan on Twitter, or do a rough headcount, to get a figure of the game’s attendance. Well, there were three people watching. Myself, my fiancée and a lovely gentleman, who I managed to have a lovely chat with about the team and the local area.
Unaware of the league positions of the two teams involved, I had a look at the thoroughly updated Wear Valley Sunday League website. The away side, Barnard Castle, were sat pretty at the top of the league, having played 16 games and having a goal difference of +53. Spennymoor Volti, also sitting in the top half of the league, were forth in the league with a -5 goal difference.
Knowing we could be in for a goal fest, we took our places on a fence closest to the home side’s goal. Unfortunately for the home team, Barnard Castle started the game very confidently, and took the lead after a minute. The away side had obviously come here with a plan and put it into operation straight away. Their pressure also continued after the first goal as they peppered the home goal with shots from any possible angle.
It’s very rare that you’re able to hear the communication between the players, but it was refreshing to know what they were thinking. Obviously the home side were getting frustrated, but they continued to play quite well, having chances of their own. Barnard Castle also kept their attacking up, ending up putting the ball in the back of the net two more times before half time, ‘going in’ 3-0 up.
I quotation marked ‘going in’ simply because the players just had a drink, got some words off of their managers, and got back to it as quickly as they possibly could, which I admired. It caught me off guard though, as I’d gone back to my car to get a drink, and missed the start of the second half, just. Looking for a different angle to watch the second half, we picked the swings at the back of the field, right next to the now away team’s goal. This put us in a good position to watch the game, close to a break in the fence to return the ball if it rolled under, and it unleashed the child in me as I attempted to swing as high as I could.
As I was swinging though, I thought to myself that there can’t be too many places where you can sit on a swing and watch a great game of Football for free. Kind of another reason why I’m leaning more towards Sunday League than Saturday, more of the community turned up for the second half. Ranging from talking to the manager, to practicing fly fishing (yes, really), it seemed everyone in the surrounding area had ventured down to watch the Football.
Early in the second half, Barnard Castle struck a fourth goal, and it looked like there was no way back for the Volti. Getting caught up playing with a local’s dog, I missed a fifth Barnard Castle goal, but did manage to watch them miss a penalty soon afterwards.
As I resumed my focus on the game, I watched the Volti have some real chances on goal, but nothing fell kindly for them, and Barnard Castle capitalised on this by scoring a sixth goal with more or less the last kick of the ball.
A great advert for Sunday League, however! Obviously not the result Spennymoor Volti wanted, but an entertaining game for the neutral. I met some lovely people, watched a game with six goals, a penalty miss, didn’t pay a penny but petrol, and I watched it all whilst sitting on swings. This one experience alone is more than enough to convince me that Sunday League definitely deserves more of a chance than its getting.
I just want to say thank you to Spennymoor Volti for having me, and offering me a team sheet before the game. I thought, with it all being new to me, I’d go with a different style of writing to accommodate it. I’ll definitely do my best to get down to Tudhoe Playing Fields again, and a few other fixtures in Wear Valley Sunday Leagues. I’m definitely a bit more determined to give the Sunday League the coverage it deserves!