Friday, 13 November 2015

THE UNMARKED FALL OF THE FELLMEN

Today I'm giving a talk at the British Society of Sports History symposium at Teesside University.
Here's a bit of what I'll be gabbling on about.





No matter how many lives it touched, football was always denied a place in general history.  Even in the North-East where the game was so firmly imbedded in the culture you couldn’t have removed it safely without a general anaesthetic, the guide books and the tourist maps generally turned a blind eye, as if to some marginal and slightly unsavoury ceremony partaken of only by the devout or the intellectually unhinged.

In a volume of the villages of Durham in a short section on Cockfield you’ll find a description of the geese once raised on a nearby fell and a brief biography of Jeremiah Dixon, the locally born surveyor who co-drew the Mason-Dixon Line. But you’ll find no mention of the team of unemployed miners from the ‘two street pit village’ who reached the FA Amateur Cup semi-final in 1923 and, five years later went one better, losing heroically 3-2 in the final against holders Leyton in front of 12,200 people at Ayresome Park, nor of the twenty-two League footballers that Cockfield produced during a three year spell in that same period.

To football fans in the 1920s Cockfield was known as ‘The Wonder Village’. The team and players had brought the village nationwide renown. Had they been artists, politicians or music hall acts, this might have warranted some symbol of remembrance, a celebration even. But they were merely footballers, their triumph over the adversity of long-term unemployment and cruel working conditions unworthy of even the briefest mention.

Instead The Fellmen’s skill, creativity and briefly flaring genius were destined to be recorded only in the memories of those that watched them play, and in time, as memories faded and died, everything of the hard brilliance of these men, save the skeletal facts of scores and line-ups, would be erased.

Road signs in County Durham direct you to Roman Forts, Saxon Churches and public artworks of dubious distinction. None point the way to Cockfield FC’s ground at Hazel Grove.

Nor will they now. This week it was announced in the Teesdale Mercury that Cockfield FC had folded, owing £200 in pitch rental to the Parish Council.
 
 

 

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