By Paul McGeary
Newton Aycliffe as a town will be divided on Friday 20th July when the Northern League Newtonians face off against Premier League side Sunderland in the most impressive of encounters to have hit the town since the club’s meteoric rise to relative fame.
Playing on the parks of the Durham Alliance League back in 2008, Allan Oliver’s marches have won three promotions in five years, and are now established as one of the best-supported and sides at Step Five of the footballing pyramid, averaging crowds of over 200 for the past two years.
One man who will have a foot in both camps, is 42-year-old Richard Ingman; a lifelong resident of the town, long time supporter of the Black Cats and more recently, an ardent follower of his beloved Newton Aycliffe FC.
We caught up with Richard and asked him for some of his footballing memories, and gathered his thoughts on the huge occasion which will further place the town on the footballing map.
1. How long have you supported Sunderland
I followed Sunderland’s results for as long as I can remember. My Dad and brother are big Newcastle fans, but I always loved red, and so as a little lad I chose Sunderland. No other reason, but it has stayed with me for best part of 40 years up to now.
2. When did you attend your first Sunderland game?
I started going to the games in the 84/85 season when I was about 14. I remember going to the old Roker Park ground and thinking how massive the ground and crowd were. I had only been to Darlington before that, so it was quite a jump. We made it to the Milk Cup (League Cup) Final that year, so it was even more exciting. Many supporters had been hoping for a Wembley return for over a decade after `73, and I managed it the first season!
3. Similarly, how long have you followed Newton Aycliffe?
I began watching Newton Aycliffe from their very first game back at Moore Lane Park, which was the back end of the Wearside campaign against New Marske. It began as a way to spend more time with my Dad, but despite our best efforts we were soon drawn into being committed supporters instead of the casual observers we had set out to be. It offered cheap and accessible football that is closer to home, and we were surprised by the quality of both the set up and the football. We became season ticket holders and travel away when we can.
4. What is your best memory of supporting Sunderland?
There have been many memories with Sunderland over the years, all of which stick in the mind for both good and bad reasons. The play off final at Wembley in ‘98 against Charlton was probably the best game, even though we lost 7-6 on penalties after a 4-4 draw. I think it was the second best game ever staged at Wembley second only to the `66 World Cup final. Despite losing after being so close, nobody could dispute how special that day was. At Roker Park it would have to be the 1992 FA Cup Quarter Final against Chelsea – a winner from Armstrong after a corner pinged in by Newton Aycliffe’s own Brian Atkinson.
5. What is your best memory of following Aycliffe?
I don’t really have a stand out game for Aycliffe, more of a common theme. For away games, when the home side experience the numbers and passion of the travelling Aycliffe fans it’s a real source of pride. We have arrived at some of the stalwarts of the Northern League and held our own, often out numbering the home support, even for midweek games. I guess the game against Seaham Red Star when we clinched promotion to the top flight is a particular highlight if I had to name one match.
6. What do you think this high-profile game will mean for the town of Aycliffe and the football club?
I think the Sunderland friendly will have many potential positives. The interest surrounding the game locally will bring fresh faces along to see Sunderland, but hopefully some will return to watch Aycliffe once they see the set up. In these hard times a lot of people are seeking cheaper family friendly activities. It will also be a good test for the players, and will give them a chance to measure themselves against professional and academy players. It’s got to be a better experience for the lads than a gentle run out against “The Dog and Duck!”
The media exposure will also get our name out there which will further raise our profile. Sky Sports News feature preseason friendlies on their round ups, and that is a worldwide platform for the name of Aycliffe. Finally, perhaps links can be forged with Sunderland for future cooperation – if Sessegnon or Larsson need to work on their match fitness during the year, they could maybe get a place on Aycliffe’s bench if we were short!
7. If you have a message to all the Sunderland fans out there regarding the Aycliffe friendly, what would it be?
Whether you’re a Sunderland fan off the town, or a football fan no matter your allegiance, this is your opportunity to come to support football at this level and to witness Premier League players in the making first hand for a fiver! The stars of the first team may or may not be in attendance, but the fringe players and stars of the future will definitely be there, along with a Sunderland legend in Kevin Ball in the dugout – I only hope he does not try a shot at goal himself, the windows in The Gretna could be in serious danger! A man who could clear the old Fulwell End at Roker will have no problem crossing the A167!
Aycliffe have had two high-profile successes against Darlington in the past – when they were a professional club – and this will be another great spectacle for what will hopefully be another plus-1000 crowd.
There’s also the bonus of it being on a Friday night, so the kids can stop up that bit later and perhaps catch a glimpse of some players who will be making headlines in a few years time.