Willing Quay Saints 2-3 Rothbury
It’s just a game. Sometimes we all need reminded of that, and the sight of Rothbury’s players in black armbands with heads hung low in quiet contemplation during a minute’s silence before kick-off brought it all home with force.
The shockwaves from the sudden loss of former team-mate and friend Tom Sutton have had a profound effect at Armstrong Park – and Coquetdale as a community – which made the result something of an irrelevance.
It certainly wasn’t a day to be pondering Championships or promotion, but to take in the bigger picture, to wonder just what it is to be a young man today; to be with your memories, whether on the pitch, in the schoolyard or the street.
‘Do it for Tom,’ was the subdued rallying cry in the dressing rooms beforehand – and whatever was going on in the player’s individual heads once that whistle blew and the studs were tearing up turf, they got through one of the toughest 90 minutes they’ll ever have to endure.
And do it for Tom they did, fighting back to turn around a 2-1 deficit and maintain their three point lead at the top of the table.
For while it is just a game, it’s a constant in many lives counted in seasons, not years. A place to forge friendships, to laugh, joke and, ultimately, cry. Together, as a team, united. The game can give hope and purpose. The game is a place to dream; something to talk about when the words just won’t come. Football is a common bond, and the whole Alliance family felt Rothbury’s pain.
So playing against all that emotion was always going to be a difficult task for Saints and Tony Brown got the Reds off to a flying start, netting after just eight minutes.
The magical midfielder made no mistake from the penalty spot after Dan Thompson was brought down in the box, but at the other end the Saints drew level after 30 minutes with a spot-kick of their own which was dispatched by Brandon Williams.
Ten minutes after the break Williams crashed a second in of the underside of the bar from the penalty spot to give Willington Quay the advantage.
“Today was all about getting the win in memory of Tom and to keep chalking up points until we can’t be caught,” said Brown.
“We should never have to play under those tragic circumstances and, although I didn’t really know Tom personally, I know the lads are absolutely distraught about what’s happened. It’s really moving to see how much everyone in the Rothbury community has come together in hard times and it’s a testament to how much Tom meant to everyone,” he continued.
“The lads really dug in brilliantly to get the win. It wasn’t a classic but we got over the line getting the goals at crucial times in the game. At this stage of the season it’s about grinding out results by hook or by crook.”
It was another Tom – Macpherson, the Hillmen’s mercurial skipper and coach – who got Rothbury level on the hour, heading in from a Brown corner. Just two minutes later Michael Old grabbed the winner, looping a header from another Brown centre over the keeper and into the net.
“It was a very well contested game,” said manager Dan Herron afterwards.
“Both teams hit the post/bar at least twice and good saves were made by both keepers. Saints are a very, very good side, especially the front three, and they really tested us. Credit to them and all the best, they were great with the minute’s silence too.”
“It was another great win from the lads and a very emotional one at that. I’m pleased that the result has done their efforts proud, and the emotion from the minute’s silence was converted into positive energy.”
“The team dedicate the win to Tom,” continued the boss.
“The fact that the lads are so devastated by the tragic news, and we rallied together to get the win, that really shows a team bond, as one, hurting and getting a positive from it.
“That’s what Rothbury is all about in times like these, whether on or off the pitch.”
The Reds have no match on Saturday as they join Tom’s family in putting their friend to rest at All Saints Church in the village.