First of all, we would quickly like to take to opportunity to thank everybody that has stopped by at this site during 2010, and to wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2011. To finish off this year, we’re grateful to Michael Hudson, who is reporting for us on the subject of ongoing financial problems at Ryton FC of the Northern League. Hopefully we won’t have too many more of these stories next year!

Things were looking good for Ryton FC. From a village on the westernmost edge of Gateshead, the club had managed to survive a second year in the top flight of the Northern League despite the handicap of some of the lowest attendances in the 42-team league. There was also the excitement of a run to the final of the Durham County Challenge Cup, which they narrowly lost to Billingham Synthonia.

Secretary Ken Rodger used the club’s raised profile to attract several promises of sponsorship over the summer, setting the team’s budget accordingly, but the cash never came.  “We’ve sent letters and invoices to people who promised that they would sponsor the club, but we’ve heard nothing back from them,” Rodger told the Northern Echo in mid-September. Manager Barry Fleming and assistant Paul Brown were the first to go. “Both signified they would find it difficult to continue in their roles because of the financial restrictions,” said Rodger, “and regrettably the committee asked the pair to vacate their positions.”  Every player but one would follow in their wake.

Peter Craggs – an ex-Ashington assistant who was managing a Sunday League side in Wallsend – was brought in to replace Fleming. Only weeks earlier Ryton had been unlucky to lose 1-0 to Scarborough Athletic in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup.  Now, with a squad of players who’d largely met for the first time on the morning of the game, they were thrashed 8-0 at home by league rivals South Shields in the Second Round of the FA Vase. “We’re going to put youngsters in the team, and hopefully that might generate more local interest,” said Rodger. Craggs tried thirty-five players in the next month alone, though none had any previous Northern League experience. It didn’t make Ryton popular with some of the clubs in the feeder leagues, who complained of their players being poached without the required seven days’ notice.

About the only thing that didn’t change was the margin of defeat. A 7-0 loss to second-bottom Esh Winning was followed three days later by an 8-1 mauling at champions Spennymoor.  Newcastle Benfield won 6-0 and 5-2, while title chasers Shildon topped the lot with a 10-0 win at the end of October.  In the first round of the Durham Challenge Cup, struggling Sunderland RCA, fielding an under-strength team, scored six unanswered goals, with Craggs cutting an increasingly forlorn figure on the bench. An 8-0 defeat at Ashington in mid-December left the club rooted to the bottom of the division with only three points and a goal difference of minus-68 from their first twenty games of the season. “Obviously it’s hard to take, a bit weird really, but we’re dealing with it in the right way,” said David Wansell, signed out of Chester-Le-Street’s youth team in May and now the longest-serving player at the club.

With December 31st the last day for clubs to submit provisional notices of relegation to the Northern League, Rodger remains defiant, despite the threat of a £1,000 fine if the club subsequently folds.  “There’s no way we’re going to resign. Our aim is to field a team, and avoid fines for not fulfilling fixtures. We’ll be in a better financial position at the end of the season.”

“Going down wouldn’t be the end of the world,” says Craggs, “but we’re still trying to win every game.” With a fixture backlog looming, his team’s next game, weather permitting, is a trip to FA Vase holders Whitley Bay. Ken Rodger, too, is looking ahead: “There’ll be a Ryton Football Club in the Northern League as long as I’m alive. It may be that we won’t get another point this season but we’ll get to the summer, regroup, and try to get back on track.” For the sake of grassroots football, you can only wish him the very best of luck.

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