Spectating at grass-roots sports

Having previously spent most of my time competing in a variety of sports, I turned to spectating while waiting for my transplant. The different sports I have attended so far are:


Mainly women's football, I started by attending several matches in the FA Women's Cup during 2010/11. This included a great victory for Sunderland over Lincoln, but I wasn't well enough to get to the quarter final match in which Sunderland narrowly went out 3-2 in extra time to eventual cup winners Arsenal. Sadly Sunderland didn't get a place in the newly-inaugurated Women's Super League in 2011 summer, but they did win the Premier League title and are top of that league again this season. In the next tier down, Newcastle United suffered a string of injuries before being relegated in a play-off match to join Middlesbrough in the Combination North, but promotion seems on the cards this season. Lower down the pyramid, some entertaining matches in the Northumberland County Women's League included an impressive season by the unbeaten Lowick United. While I suspect this entitled them to promotion, they have lined up in the same league in the 2011/12 season. Newcastle Medics had a less successful season, with no match points and a goal difference of -99. Their entertaining 4-3 defeat at home to Cramlington was great grassroots sport though.

In men's non-league Heaton Stannington currently lead the 2011/12 Northern Alliance Premier league, and I have so far visited South Shields and Newcastle Benfield in the Northern League. The Northumberland County Women's League now has 15 clubs, and Newcastle Medics have managed a victory. New club Longhoughton Rangers seem didn't start the season too well, yet recent results suggest they are making progress. A victory over Newcastle Medics earned them their first points of the season, and losing 2-1 at home to Prudhoe was a big improvement on their earlier 29-0 defeat at Prudhoe.


Newcastle's men's team gained promotion to NEMLA Premier 2 last season. Not knowing what to expect, I found I really enjoyed watching this sport. A very competitive match against a strong Liverpool team was fast moving and surprisingly physical. It was rather a cold day, and few spectators gathered to see what was going on. The rules of the men's game and the women's game are different, with the men's being more aggressive in nature. There are hopes of Newcastle's women's team joining a league soon, although there is no sign of them having done so for the 2011/12 season.


Rainton Meadows Arena in Houghton-le-Spring hosted the World Cup of Darts during the appalling wintry weather last December. While I didn't make it down to that, I popped along to the same venue in February for the BDO Tyne & Wear Open. Free admission for spectators helped lure me along. This was a real grass-roots floor event, with about two dozen darts boards lined up along the sides of the rooms. An announcer called players to their boards for best-of-three knockout matches, with the loser staying at the board to score for the next match. Not entirely spectator-friendly for the neutral observer, although it may have been better to arrive later in the day for the latter stages of the event.

Roller Derby:

Newcastle v Aberdeen at the Lightfoot Centre in Walker, and I also made it to the Edinburgh v Glasgow match at Meadowbank during last year's Fringe. This is a female-only sport, although male umpires are encouraged, and involves a flat track on which a jammer and four blockers from each team take to the track for each jam. Jammers score points by passing opposing blockers without leaving the track, though only after passing through the pack for the first time. The first jammer through the pack becomes lead jammer, and each jam ends either after 2 minutes, or when the lead jammer chooses to end it sooner. OK, so I don't quite have a full grasp of what was going on yet, but I'm sure I'll pick it up after watching a few more matches.

Cycle Speedway:

Although Newcastle had a track some years ago, the nearest league club I could find now is the Edinburgh Falcons. They compete in the Northern League, and the sport in this country is affiliated to British Cycling. Just as with the motorcycle equivalent, the bicycles used in cycle speedway have no brakes. Races are anti-clockwise round four laps of an oval track, with points awarded being 4 for first, 3 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth. This differs from the 3-2-1-0 scoring used in motorcycle speedway. Crowds were fairly small for some of the league matches at Redbraes Park, which is close to the location of the old speedway and greyhound stadium at Powderhall. However, the club put on a slick show for the British Veterans' Championships in August and a bumper crowd enjoyed the entertainment on a lovely sunny day. Disappointingly the local hero Johnny "The Master" Murphy had to settle for the bronze medal in the Over 60s in 2011, having won the title in 2009.

Recently the Newcastle club has been re-formed with a track in Cramlington, and they have been competing in some challenge matches at away venues. In November I went to watch them compete against Sheffield in a friendly match at Cramlington. It is great to hear that they plan to be competing in league competition in 2013.


In June 2012 I attended a polo match for the first time, at Chester Racecourse. Very entertaining it was too, although with a bit of forethought I may have taken a deckchair and hamper with me. The most interesting rule that I wasn't previously aware of was that play changes ends after every goal.