IAN HERBERT: Man United icon Sir Bobby Charlton saved his hometown club Ashington once… now they need help again, and fast
- Man United icon Sir Bobby Charlton helped keep Ashington in business in 1989
- The club in Charlton’s hometown has now launched a crowdfunding campaign
- It’s a three-team title race… Toney could lead Arsenal to glory: It’s All Kicking Of
The volunteers had not yet got around to shifting the mud from the corridors of Ashington Community Football Club — a remnant of a 4-0 win over Carlton Town — and waves of unremitting rain rolled in from the sea. But the images on the walls still radiated an extraordinary light.
There was Sir Bobby Charlton and brother Jack during the 1966 World Cup, dominating the club’s central staircase. There were the two of them with their mother, Cissie, hanging on the wall of a modest dining room called the Sir Bobby Charlton Suite, overlooking the pitch.
Another of Sir Bobby juggling a ball amid the local back-to-backs — to which he returned in search of sanctity after the Munich disaster — was among a black and white montage laid around the home dressing room wall.
The brothers define this mining village almost as much as the colliery whose workers it was built to house. ‘Born in Ashington, made in Manchester,’ runs the legend about Sir Bobby, who was raised in Beatrice Street, one of the terraces built in distinctive sandpaper-coloured Ashington brick, fired at the colliery.
But they are also cherished because they understood the modest local football club’s struggles and did what they could to keep it afloat.
Sir Bobby Charlton (in car back left back in 1966) saved his hometown club Ashington back in 1989 when he offered to bring a Manchester United team up there to play
Ashington have launched a £50,000 crowdfunding campaign as they seek support for urgent stadium improvements, travel costs and equipment.
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The 139-year-old club was at risk of going out of business in 1989, a year after Ashington’s colliery was closed, when Sir Bobby offered to bring a Manchester United team up here to play. The proceeds of that game, and a Q and A session he gave upstairs at a local social club, helped keep the club afloat.
‘We might not be here today without Sir Bobby,’ Brian Bennett, the club’s chairman, tells me as we look out over the pitch. ‘The town was in a bad place at the time. It reflected the decline when the mine had first gone.’
When that mine was at its peak, Ashington FC reached their own heights, winning promotion to the Football League in 1921 and staying there for nine years, with a crowd of 9,000 at their first game. And though it is a measure of the affinity the place has for the club that 500 people still turn up for games, there is a real need once more for the kind of help the Charltons offered.
After 53 continuous years in the Northern League, Ashington won promotion to the eighth tier of the pyramid last May — the Northern Premier League East, no less. But that elevation has meant a need to provide an ‘infilled fence’ to prevent the ball escaping and to erect two rotating turnstiles at the stadium, which the club was forced to move to 15 years ago when the local council sold their pitch to Asda. Groundswork and travel costs have also gone up.
‘Promotion costs you,’ says Bennett, who left the match against Carlton with an acute awareness of the need to fix the floodlights, too.
A couple of bulbs in the 15-year-old floodlight at the ground’s Welfare End blew at half-time and the referee expressed some concern. Bennett has a friend who is an electrician, but it wasn’t really the time to shin up the 60ft column.
Ashington have shown a zeal that the Charltons would have been proud of, in their determination to continue pitting themselves against Grantham Town, Hebburn Town and Pontefract Collieries and stay at their new-found level. They raised £8,500 through a fundraising campaign last year and are attracting some of the biggest home crowds in their division, despite a cost of living crisis which makes this the second most deprived district in Northumberland. Manager Ian Skinner does not take a salary.
Their utilities and insurance costs alone have increased by 120 per cent. The sparse number of advertising hoardings tells the story of the struggle to persuade local businesses to invest. The club is community-owned and has no benefactor. Fail to meet the league’s requirements and the club will be relegated, as North Shields were last season. To that end, the club have now launched a £50,000 crowdfunding campaign.
Jack and Sir Bobby Charlton in Ashington just days after they won the World Cup in 1966
Sir Bobby Charlton’s funeral was held on Monday following his death at the age of 86
They don’t tend to go in for ostentation here — a quality for which Sir Bobby was remembered at his service of remembrance on Monday — though the modest celebration of the Charlton brothers makes Ashington a special place.
A few hundred yards from the Hirst Park fields where they kicked a ball stands a discreet bronze statue of Jack. Nearby, a series of information boards tell the story of the brothers’ journey ‘From Hirst Park to Wembley’.
Echoes of that same history are all around the club’s Woodhorn Lane ground. Skinner was Sir Bobby’s second cousin. Brian Bennett’s father was Cissie Charlton’s milkman. ‘She liked to watch Ireland games at our house because she knew we had the channels,’ Bennett says. ‘It’s forgotten what a force of nature she was. She coached football at local schools.’
You could fill a museum with the stories of the Ashington FC Sir Bobby knew and spoke of. He always recalled an FA Cup tie at home to Rochdale, in pre- floodlight days when midwinter games were played in the afternoons. Two thirds of the miners were above the surface and 12,000 packed the old ground, some sitting on the roof of the stand to watch the local team lose by one goal.
There was no lucrative FA Cup run for Ashington this year, only a preliminary round exit at Stockton on Teesside. But the continued right to compete in the eighth tier would be more than enough for this club. Sir Bobby would have appreciated that.
‘There was always a cut-price thrill to be had at home, watching Ashington,’ he once reflected. ‘Even when they lost, there was such a passion there.’
Ashington are seeking community support for urgent stadium improvement, travel costs and equipment. Visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ashingtonafc to donate.
Mott’s risible response to humiliation
Has there been a more risible response to a national team’s humiliation than the one offered by Matthew Mott, evidently one of sport’s more sensitive individuals, after the England cricket team stank out the World Cup?
Asked to offer an assessment, he responded: ‘It’s probably not for me to share with you guys. That’s for you guys to work out.’ Could he suggest two things he had learned? ‘No.’ Didn’t he have a duty to share those lessons with the supporters? ‘Not really.’ No public duty? ‘Thank you.’
This excruciating exchange also included the assertion: ‘I’m pretty comfortable in my skin.’ Easy when that skin is as thick as elephant hide. Mott will remain in post until the end of next summer, at least. Beyond parody.
Matthew Mott has given a risible response to England’s Cricket World Cup failure
Hollywood injects optimism into Wrexham
There’s been plenty of sneering about Wrexham, my hometown team, because they have two Hollywood actor-writers, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, at the helm. The club and town are a content farm, the doubters argue, offering disapproval about what they see as an appropriation of our national game.
I didn’t see any such high-minded souls at the inaugural Wrexham Business and Community Awards, part-organised by the local council, last Friday night. There was no mention of Reynolds, McElhenney, Hollywood or Disney as a succession of brilliant companies stepped up to take acclaim.
But there was an unmistakable sense that they have put a spring in the place’s step and injected optimism into a place which was simply never granted the promised ‘levelling up’.
Ryan Reynolds (left) and Rob McElhenney (right) have injected optimism into Wrexham
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.
It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify
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