Some of the strongest traditions are the ones with beginnings that have been blurred.
Christmas is for reflection, for prayers, and for time with family. (It used to be for football, too.)
But on the 26th of December, make no mistake, Boxing Day is for the beautiful game.
On every corner of the country, it’s not hard to find twenty-two men gliding across a pitch. However, at this time of the year, treacherous conditions can always make things a bit more complicated.
We were in The North for the holidays. Just outside of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The fog rolled in, took a seat, and stayed all weekend. Heavy rain and flooding quickly followed.
This year, for many non-league clubs in the region, Boxing Day football was ruined. Pitches were unplayable. Matches were postponed. There were only a select few that played through the grey skies and liquid surface.
Our choices became limited. See Consett Football Club host Durham City AFC, or go to St. James’ Park and watch Newcastle United inevitably lose 1-0 in the 90th minute to Everton. Given that the latter option would have cost us about £40 and we don’t normally appreciate being robbed in broad daylight, we opted for a trip to Belle View Stadium. We’re always up for a non-league day anyway.
The crowd was closer to 250 than 50,000.
The bovril was flowing freely and the umbrellas were aplenty.
On this occasion, even a small group of dogs came to show love for their local club.
Consett Football Club, the Steelmen, were the home side. Founded in 1899, the club were known as Consett Celtic back in the day. They are a member of the Northern Premier League, which was founded in 1889 and is the world’s second oldest surviving football league. The oldest is the English Football League (1888).
With nothing but gritty stereotypes to go by, we genuinely had no idea what to expect when it came to the standard of play. Both squads were primarily filled with talented twenty-somethings who were either trying to make a final push to a higher level or proudly playing a role in this annual tradition.
Artificial turf isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when the setting is non-league football in the north of England, but this was the main reason the match was still on. The wet, rubbery surface led to an impressively smooth, passing-filled style of play. There were deft touches and one-time finishes, and it quickly became clear that Consett were a class above their competition. We even witnessed a Xabi Alonso-esque strike from 60 yards out go straight past the keeper and into the top corner.
We left with our cameras wrapped in plastic bags, blown away partially by the quality of play, but mostly by the wind. To all at Consett Football Club, thanks for having us. If the fog ever clears up, maybe we’ll see you next year.
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