Before and After North Skelton AFC

by Norman Sturman

My association with the village of North Skelton began on 2nd January 1951. I started employment as Assistant Mines Surveyor for the sum of 1 17s 9d (1.89) per week. The Area Office was an annexe attached to the Pit Offices, which were situated at the top of Bolckow Street.
At this time I was living at Hinderwell and playing football for their village team in the Eskvale League as an inside-forward, or in today’s terms, an attacking mid-fielder. In the 1951-52 season I was (much against my will) converted to a left-winger, being naturally left-footed. At the time I hated playing in this position as you were totally reliant on other players passing you the ball.
The 1952-53 season began with me having transferred my services to North Skelton AFC – they required a left-winger. That season I played for the second XI in the Cleveland League, the first team competed in the Teesside League. Playing for the seconds was very enjoyable as most of the team were teenagers having a lot in common, as against a sixteen year-old playing in a predominantly man’s team. During this season, Derek McLean, who played in the first team, signed professional terms for Middlesbrough.
Along came the 1953-54 season and with it my promotion into the first XI which was managed by George Berwick. This team was a seasoned and very good outfit.
Colin’s description of the playing field had a small omission. Looking up the slope, the right hand side of the pitch was almost ridge and furrow free. On winning the toss we always played up the slope in the first half, the ball being played to Jimmy Hauxwell on the right wing as often as possible. He would then attack the opposition defence and, when nearing the byline, would whip in a cross for Len Douglass or any other forward to get on the end of and score – Len was quite good at the art of goalscoring. My only involvement in the first period of play would be if the ball overshot the penalty area. The second half would become the time I was brought into play to supply the crosses and occasionally score goals.
The ball in those days had a bladder inside a leather casing which had to be laced in. The lacing was checked before the start of the game as a badly laced ball could cause cuts to the forehead. At times in wet weather, the leather ball got so heavy, if you didn’t head it properly you had stars in your eyes!
1953-54 was a ‘silver season’ – the best in the history of the club. Four trophies were won, the most prestigious being the North Riding Amateur Cup, followed by the Teesside League Bowl, or its more general name, the McMillan Bowl. The latter trophy was presented by the then Member of Parliament for Stockton, Harold McMillan, who later became Prime Minister. The third trophy the club won that season was the Cleveland Intermediate Cup, and finally the Junior Priory Cup.
Such was the feat of the club teams that no expense was spared as we were feted around the village with our trophies – no, not in an open-topped bus, but by the Mine’s engineering shop lorry!
Prior to playing the Intermediate Cup Final, I signed amateur forms for Sheffield Wednesday FC. Before the season ended, John Chamberlain, our full back, also signed for Wednesday.
1954-55 was again a good season, but not as successful as the previous one. We again reached the finals of the North Riding Amateur Cup and the McMillan Bowl but, alas, were beaten in both, the NR Amateur Cup after a replay. The club also won through to the first round proper of the North Riding Senior Cup to join the seven ‘seeded’ teams – Whitby Town, South Bank, Middlesbrough Reserves, Scarborough, Stockton, York City Reserves and Billingham Synthonia. Late 1954-55 saw us being beaten at home in this competition before a large crowd. The game was won 4-0 by Scarborough, who, over the years, progressed to Football League status until 1998 when they dropped back into the Conference League. Our cup exploits made us a much feared team and we rubbed shoulders with some of the best players of that period.
Prior to Christmas 1954 I was called away six times to play for Sheffield Wednesday Intermediate team. Nothing further was heard for months and I was resigned to the fact that I had not made it. Then out of the blue, towards the end of the season, I received another telegram to report to play for the reserves in the Central League against Huddersfield. My playing partner on that day was Redfern Froggatt, an ex-England International player. They must have wanted another look at me – this was to be my last appearance for the Owls.
During that same season, our goalkeeper, Colin Rutter, signed forms for Middlesbrough. No fees were involved between amateur and professional clubs, but payment in kind was often made when the Junior Club player made the grade, and Derek McLean had – our ‘payment’ was to be a home game against a Middlesbrough Select XI, all proceeds going to North Skelton. Colin Rutter was supposed to play for North Skelton that day but failed to turn up.
Middlesbrough scored early in the match and then proceeded to play exhibition football but they didn’t score again in that half. The start of the second half saw us going down that infamous slope where my speed was brought into play against a player named Bobby Corbett who was approaching the twilight of his career - Bobby had won two FA Cup Final medals with Newcastle United. What a contrast – from Wembley to our Brotton Road ground! I was very much on form in that second half and goals by Len Douglass and myself saw North go into a 3-1 lead. This didn’t go down too well with one particular senior Middlesbrough player, namely Jimmy Gordon. Prior to the match ending he decided to slow me down by putting me ‘over the ropes’! An altercation then took place with the crowd getting around that player. In the end, an amicable settlement was obtained and relations restored.
With regard to relationships, I would like to make mention of Mr Harry Ingleby and his wife Vera, who kindly took me in and gave me regular Saturday lunches. My job at the Mine meant I worked each Saturday morning and, as such, didn’t have time to go home to Hinderwell, have lunch then return in time to play, especially if we were away from home. Harry worked on the clerical side of the mine and later took over the village newsagency.
Still on about the mine, my Dad, Norman (senior) who was an ‘overman’, was being told every week that his lad was fortunate to make the team, being the last one selected. Dad tried to explain that the ‘outside-left’ wore the number 11 – but it wouldn’t sink in!
The 1955-56 season saw me move from North Skelton to play for Billingham Synthonia in the Northern League, Paddy Nash, the ex-Boro goalkeeper, being the manager. Whilst with Billingham, I had a weekend like I had never experienced before. We had been drawn away to ICI Ardeer (Ardrossan) on the west coast of Scotland in some ICI competition. We travelled by train from Stockton to Glasgow on the Friday, having dinner on the train, before staying overnight at the Ivanhoe Hotel in Glasgow. The next morning we had a quick look round the city before going by coach to Ardrossan. Both teams were led out onto the pitch by a Scottish piper. The rain lashed down the whole match but we won 4 or 5-0. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel in Ardrossan to get ready for the reception that had had been laid out – it was free food and drink all night! Most of us then went back to our rooms and played cards until the early hours. After a quick ‘kip’ we were back on the coach to Glasgow for the train journey home.
The weekend had been a marvellous experience as in those days the working class couldn’t afford to stay in hotels – package holidays hadn’t yet been invented. Furthermore, I had not had dinner on a train since, until my wife and I went on the Orient Express for our 60th birthday, a treat paid for by our son and daughter. Prior to that weekend I had not been enjoying my football with Synthonia, so the Scottish game turned out to be my last for them. I finished the season back with North Skelton.
One of the games on my return to North Skelton was against Whitby Town and after the match I was given a lift home on their team bus and dropped off at Hinderwell. They must have been impressed with my play as, in the close season, they came to sign me for the 1956-57 season.
That season saw me once again playing in the Northern League. I was the only local lad, the rest of the team came from Teesside. Perks were abundant playing for the Town, as long as you liked seafood! Fresh fish and crabs were freely offered. Once more I had an enjoyable season, the downside being that Billingham Synthonia finished as League Champions, whilst Whitby finished second bottom!
In April 1957 I reported to Number 1 Training Regiment Royal Engineers at Malvern, Worcester to undertake my National Service. Because of my sporting achievements I played for various Army teams. My final posting was to the school of Military Survey at Newbury, Berkshire. It was whilst playing for my unit that I received injuries which ended my career as a footballer. My left tibia and fibula were shattered in twelve places so it was all over for me at the age of just twenty three. My bones had to be screwed and plated to keep my leg together - the screws and plates are still in my leg some forty two years later. I’d had a great career in a short period and had done more than many other players had achieved over much longer periods.
On returning from National Service my job at the Mine came under threat and I left to start a new career in Civil Engineering with Tarmac Construction, but before departing we set out and started to prepare a football field behind the Mine’s shale-heap. I presume this is/was the pitch that Tees Components played on in recent times.
The injury I suffered did not affect my playing cricket. Prior to Army Service and subsequent de-mob, I had played for the two teams, Hinderwell and Mulgrave (Lythe) in the Whitby League.
In 1964 my work took me to Darlington and the 1965 season saw me playing for Haughton Cricket Club. So now, 36 seasons later, and at the age of 65, I have retired! My retirement has been well documented in the Northern Echo, so there is no way back! The year 2000 saw my book on Haughton CC, embracing my playing years, being printed as a limited edition and very quickly being sold out.
Staying with the theme of new football grounds, one of my last tasks was to take charge of the de-toxification of the then existing Tees Dock Storage area. Whilst carrying out this work we did have occasion twice to suspend work and call out the Army Bomb Disposal Unit to check out ammunition shells uncovered during the excavations. These turned out to be practice shells. Once the site was termed ‘CLEAN’, it was handed over for the building of Middlesbrough’s Cellnet Riverside Stadium.

Norman Sturman

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