Arngrove Northern League 1st Division
15th February 2008
The final historic match at Portland Park, Ashington’s home for over 100 years, the game against Seaham Red Star was more of an occasion than another football match, I was honoured the be amongst the near 2,000 in attendance in a final farewell to this former league ground.
Ashington is 15 miles north of Newcastle, in the Wansbeck district of Northumberland, with it’s many collieries the towns main export was coal, known as the “world’s largest coal-mining village” but it’s became more nationally know for it’s production of footballers than coal, namely Wor Jackie, Big Jack and Bobby Charlton, if you wanted a good centre-forward, you just needed to shout down a coal mine in Ashington and one would appear.
Northumberland’s oldest club were formed in 1883, they joined the Northern Alliance in 1892, then on to the East Northumberland League until returning to the Alliance at the turn of the 20th century, winning the title just before World War One. After the war a spell in the North-Eastern League lead to the Colliers election to the Football League as founder members of the Third Division North in 1921.
Having played at the Recreation Ground for 25 years and then a year at Station Road, it was in 1907 the club moved to Portland Park, named after landowner the Duke of Portland, major development coincided with their Football League involvement, 2,000 shares were issued to help finance the upgrading of the Main Stand with concrete terracing added at a cost of £6,000.
The Football League years were brief, eight seasons with a highest placing of 8th in 1923-24 with frequent five figure attendances, the club became one of the first to miss out on re-election after finishing bottom in 1928-29, the Colliers returned to the North Eastern League, where they stayed until 1958, the ground recorded it’s highest attendance during this era, 13,199 for a 2nd Round FA Cup tie v Rochdale in December 1950, a narrow 2-1 defeat in front of a passionate crowd.
The club went through a itinerant phase, a name change to Ashington Wanderers would have been appropriate, as the club played in six different leagues culminating in becoming founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. Life in the new league proved difficult and costly, the club ran up debts and were close to going out of business, so after only one season the club were relegated, finishing eighteenth of the twenty clubs and returned to the Northern Alliance.
As well as football, Portland Park has played host to Greyhound Racing, the ground was redeveloped during the 1940’s, adding an oval track to accommodate the dogs for over the next 20 years, speedway racing arrived briefly in the ‘70’s and stock car racing, it was at one of those meetings that the grandstand and dressing rooms were destroyed by fire after a crash in October 1971, the ground was redeveloped with new floodlights and the greyhounds returned in 1984.
When entering Portland Park, it’s evident there was once a surrounding track, as the ground still has an oval appearance, the terrace behind each goal is build up on top of a grass bank with the main standing area on the south side, a covered terrace with a corrugated iron roof giving shelter along one third of the pitch, the large clubhouse is behind this stand which houses an impressive array of Colliers memorabilia.
The Grandstand which was rebuilt in the 1980’s has a seating capacity of 300 made up of six large steps painted black and white, there’s a built up terrace in front with the changing rooms inside, the outskirt of the ground has a wooden fence which is on it’s last legs, splattered with a wide range of graffiti slogans.
The club have played in the Northern League since 1970, the only honours coming in 1999 and 2003 winning the Craven Cup during a spell in the Second Division, their first game at Portland Park as a Northern League club was a 2-0 win v Blyth Spartans, but hopes of signing off with a win wasn’t to be, as Red Star came intending to spoil the party.
After a quite start, the game came to live after 25 minutes a cross come shot rebounding off Hutchinson’s knee and into the net, Red Star levelled before half time, a clear cut penalty converted by Byrne. The home side restored the lead on 53 minutes, a scramble in the box ended with a stooped header from Bainbridge, but the visitors finished strongly, equalising on 68 minutes with Byrne getting his second, playing a one-two before hitting a cracking shot into the corner of the net, before the winner coming from a great cross and header from substitute Burns, a fine goal to take the honour as the last ever goal at Portland Park.
I cadged a lift to Ashington off squad no.76 El Queso Grande, we arrived early and after a walk around the empty stadium heading into the clubhouse, I was surprised to find squad no.69 and Matlock Pieman John Lawton there, taking advantage of work commitments in the area to visit another ground, he was in the company of a couple of ground hoppers from Norway, one a Scarborough fan, the other a follower of 'Dirty Leeds'
The evening was more of a get together of fans from the Northern League, with supporters from other clubs coming to pay there last respects to the old ground, I met some members of Non League Zone, finally able to but faces to names and by half-time the clubhouse bar was dry, with only bottled beverages left, so the bar staff cheekily took advantage of the ASDA across the road for more supplies.
As the bulldozers and ASDA move in, Ashington will play the remainder of their home fixtures this season at Bedlington’s Welfare Park and hopefully their new home at Hirst Welfare will be ready in the summer, so the dawn of a new era begins. The night was an enjoyable one, with a great atmosphere, top vocal support (and that bloody drum!) from the Ashington Barmy Army and a grand final match, and so a fitting end, a send off Portland Park deserves.
Portland’s Last Stand – The Aftermath
Skif(squad#14) previous visit last month
Portland Park last game - Matchday Web Album(14 pictures, sorry about the quality)