Sunderland’s FA Cup final in 1973 and Jackie Milburn’s first-minute Wembley goal in 1955 are among the North East’s greatest sporting moments.
But while the region revolves around the highs and lows of the giants of Wearside and Tyneside, from time to time communities within those areas have their own moment in the limelight.
The much vaunted ‘Magic of the Cup’ can materialise at any club however big or small.
Half a century ago this week it was the turn of Ryhope Colliery Welfare when they reached the first found proper of the cup. Drawn at home to then fourth division Workington, cup fever hit Ryhope.
As a nine-year old Ryhope lad who had started going to Roker Park the previous season I was desperate to go. I’d been to watch Ryhope a few times and had been allowed to go on my own but this was different. Such a big crowd was guaranteed they were even selling tickets for the match. Tickets! At Ryhope! And they were four shillings, which was a fortune even though it was only 20p in today’s money.
Ryhope Colliery in those days was dominated by ‘The Store’ – the Co-op which consisted of a row of what I remember as grand shops including a draper, a shoe shop and a grocers. My mam had worked in the office and her, ‘Hello Ryhope Home Stores’ posh telephone voice was one she felt in keeping with the stature of the place. ‘The Store’ was grandly bedecked in red and white bunting in the run up to the cup-tie and there can have been little else talked about in the many pubs and clubs that served a community whose pit had closed the previous year.
Ryhope had a great team. They had won the Wearside League four times in the previous six seasons, along with four cups during the same period. Charlie Grose, Jackie Wilkinson, Jackie Cope and goalkeeper Colin Lemon are names that in one corner of Wearside still hold the sort of cup reverence normally reserved for the likes of Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery and Ryhope born Ritchie Pitt.
Evenwood Town, Stanley United, Durham City and Bishop Auckland had been beaten in the qualifying rounds and the prospect of taking on a Football League side at home was the icing on the cup cake.
Ryhope CW’s ground is little changed now from 50 years ago. Basically it is a pitch with a fence surrounding it and a couple of changing rooms. Known locally as the cricket field as the cricket field is the central part of a recreation ground that includes a bowling green and tennis courts. It does have floodlights now but there were none in 1967, meaning that the game on December 9 kicked off at 2.15pm.
On the big day it was extremely frosty and – probably also because of the cost of the tickets – I got to sort-of see the game. I wasn’t in the ground but was stood on the dining table of my nana’s friend Mary Keith who had a bungalow backing on to the ground. All I could see of the ball was when it went higher than the heads of the four thousand or so people packing the place. I was far from the only spectator who couldn’t see. Behind the goal to the right of my vantage point were the Workington supporters.
Ryhope, of course, played in red-and-white but normally Workington were The Reds as well and their considerable travelling support sported red-and-white banners and flags. It was almost as if The Kop had come to Ryhope. Certainly ‘the cricket field’ had never seen anything like it.
Bad weather is meant to be a cup leveller and it possibly was but to Workington’s advantage. Ryhope were a footballing side but good football was impossible and the league side ran out 1-0 winners, the goal coming from former Manchester United man Tommy Spratt, a Northumbrian from Cambois.
Ryhope’s most glorious day had been and gone. It would be a dream to get to the First Round of the cup again. Ryhope CW are now in the Northern League, and are run by passionate people such as secretary Dougie Bennison and still supported by a number of die-hards bigger in quality than quantity. Amongst them is former Ryhope goal-machine Joe Dixon who as a hobby runs his own treasure trove of a website of local non-league recollections at www.joedixonsfootballmemories.co.uk
Ryhope CW are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. Without doubt their appearance in the first round of the FA Cup half-a-century ago this week was the greatest moment in that century and a quarter.
Come May when the final of the world’s oldest football competition takes place wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a North-East team in the final but whoever lines up at Wembley it’s worth remembering that for some of the teams at the grass roots of the game their final comes in the first round.