Football fanatic’s new book tells the history of the sport in Coquetdale

A blast from the past.
A blast from the past.

A football fanatic with a passion for the grass-roots game has published a book chronicling the fascinating history of local sides.

Jon Tait has written Hillmen: A History of Football in Coquetdale, which is a painstaking study of Rothbury Football Club and the fortunes of other teams in Northumberland from the earliest days of the game into the modern era.

A blast from the past.

A blast from the past.

The book features some famous names of the local game and Jon recalls tales of sodden leather balls knocking people out and funny fan chants.

Jon, who has written football reports for the Northumberland Gazette, said: “Eleven years ago, I was working full-time as the press officer at Gretna Football Club as they embarked on a journey to meet Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final and into Europe to take on Derry City in the UEFA Cup after the summer.

“It was a busy, hectic time, but I used my spare hours to compile a history of Rothbury Football Club from when they’d re-joined the North Northumberland League in 1968 following the collapse of the Coquetdale League to the then 125th anniversary of the club’s formation.

“The book was well received, but a number of people who bought it told me that I’d missed them out, their playing careers having ended before 1968. I told myself at the time that I would have to remedy that at some point and put together a full history from 1876.”

The front cover of the book.

The front cover of the book.

So that he did. And Jon was able to draw on old friends and stories about some well-known names to compile his new book.

He said: “I’d lived next door to the great Percy ‘Pinder’ Fairgrieve in Central Buildings in Rothbury as a child and knew Tommy Ballantyne, the captain of that great 1930s side as well.

“Tommy used to give me his flat cap and a golf club to play with at his house on Haa Hill and was a real gentleman.

“I’d also heard tales of how great players such as Jimmy Anderson and Willie Mills had been during the 1940s. They were elderly men when I knew them, but Jimmy and Willie would always ask who we were playing as myself and my mate Michael Hutchison went down the hill at Addycombe with our boots in bags on a Saturday dinner time.

“My father had played for the club in the Sixties and early Seventies and reckoned that Alan Arkle was one of the best that he’d played with, his passing perfectly weighted every time.

“I’d grown up with his son Philip and nephews Paul and Darren, kicking a ball at every opportunity, and their grandfather Thomson Rutherford, who’d been manager at Rothbury in the early 1980s, was a great inspiration to us all; as was Michael, their father, who’d coached us as kids.

“Goody Armstrong was another who gave up his spare time to encourage and coach us, as he’d been a striker at Rothbury in the 50s.

“I worked with Eddie Tully as a young YTS joiner and enjoyed our bait-time craic about the Rothbury and Thropton sides that he’d played in, the tales of sodden leather balls knocking people out and of the old hobnailed boots.

“As we were growing up in Rothbury in the late 70s and early 80s, we watched Nick Gutherson hitting the net alongside other local legends like Rex Ballantyne and, our favourite, the young Eddie Sutton.

‘From the sidelines we sang ‘six-foot-two, eyes of blue, Eddie Sutton’s after you’. Kevin Coe, Graham Foggon, Mark Bruce and the Appleby and MacKenzie brothers were breaking into the team at the time and local football was exciting to watch.

“Sure, we went along to St James’s Park (and sometimes Roker!) as well, but got as much enjoyment at Rothbury’s Armstrong Park. We were just football daft.

“When I left the professional game, I returned to covering the Northern Alliance for the media as I retained a strong interest in local football. It’s the same game whatever the level; football people are football people.

“Then I started digging, going back through the archives, finding match reports and photographs, results and tables.”

And it proved to be a winning outcome, leading to a comprehensive piece of work.

He added: “If anyone or their family has played for Rothbury, there’s a massive possibility that they’ll be in it at some point. Rothbury, what a place. There is some history!”

Hillmen research is fascinating for Jon

The book is a fascinating read. And for Jon, the research proved just as interesting.

He said: “It brought back the youth of men I’d known in the village, back onto the green of the pitch, the smell of Deep Heat in the dressing rooms, the laughter and camaraderie.

“Bobby Cairns, Billy Miller, Bill Snowdon, John Angus and others appearing on the page. Generations of families, fathers and sons, all the way back to the start.

“The Laidlers, the Arkles, the Cairns, my own grandfather’s brother and two of his uncles. There were gaps, of course, season after season going through dusty pages and finding nothing, but then a report would appear, a team sheet and some surprises – ‘I never knew he’d played’.

“It’s only a book, just words, but if they can stir up some magic and make those matchday memories live once again, then I can sleep easy. I’ve done my job.”

The book is available from www.tinyurl.com/zrsmegq for £10, plus £2.99 postage/packing.