Up north this weekend? Get along to Ashington FC!

England and Durham cricket star Steve Harmison will talk about his other great sporting love – Northern League football – when the world’s second oldest league launches a drive to attract more spectators by offering free admission.  Steve, his Northern League pedigree almost as long as his fast bowling hit list, will front the League’s unique Just Give it a Go campaign at the media launch when he will be happy to conduct press and broadcast interviews.

This will take place at Ashington FC, Woodhorn Lane, Ashington, Northumberland NE63 9FW at 2pm on Saturday January 30. The match against South Shields kicks off at 3pm. The ground is near Wansbeck District Hospital. Refreshments will be served.

Steve Harmison’s brother, James, is expected to be in the Ashington squad after two years out through injury. Previously he had played a key role in several of Bedlington Terriers’ title winning seasons. Steve’s uncles Mel, Jimmy and Kevin have also been around the Northern League for many years, always with Northumberland clubs.

Steve himself was a promising centre half but decided that cricket should come first. “I’ve always loved the Northern League, our family grew up in it,” he said. “To me it’s about all that’s good in grass roots sport – camaraderie, friendship and real community involvement. The standard of football is excellent and for a tenner you can have a great afternoon including a pie, a pint and a programme.”

Ashington AFC were founded in 1883, and joined the Northern Alliance at the start of the 1892-93 season. At the end of the season the club dropped out of the Alliance and joined the East Northumberland League, which they won in 1898. At the end of the 1901-02 season the club rejoined the Northern Alliance, and in 1909 moved to their current ground, Portland Park. The club won the Alliance in 1913, and moved to the North Eastern League.

In 1921, the club was elected to The Football League and became one of the founder members of the Third Division North. They recorded their best FA Cup performance during the 1926-27 season, when they reached the 3rd round. However, they were voted out of the league in 1929, and were replaced by York City.

After a year’s hiatus, the club rejoined the North Eastern League. In 1950, the club recorded its record attendance, when 13,199 saw them play Rochdale in the FA Cup. The club moved to the Midland League in 1958, but the league folded in 1960. Two seasons later the club moved back to the North Eastern League. Unfortunately the North Eastern League also folded within a couple of seasons, and the club spent a season in the North Regional League before becoming a founder member of the Northern Premier League in 1968. However, they dropped out after one season, and moved to the Northern League at the start of the 1970-71 season, where they have remained since.

The Northern League scheme, backed by the FA, will offer free admission to up to three games at any of the League’s 42 grounds across the North-East and Cumbria. It’s aimed at those, including families, who are football enthusiasts but rarely or never watch the grass roots game. “Regulars” will be expected to pay as usual.

“It’s a hugely welcoming fraternity. We’re confident that if people give it a go they’ll want to come back,” said NL chairman Mike Amos. “We hope to attract both those who never watch football and those who might follow professional clubs and have a free afternoon or evening when their team’s away.”

 Although Northern League gates have risen this season, league officials are anxious to build on the trend and to encourage greater involvement with community clubs.  Coincidentally, Ashington FC had already decided to give half the gate money from the South Shields match to the Haiti disaster appeal and are planning a number of other fund-raising initiatives. “It’s a brilliant gesture and speaks loudly of where the Northern League’s heart is,” said Mike Amos.

Welcome Packs, including a three-match complimentary ticket, will be available at any sNL ground on match days, from any league official or by emailing mikeamos81@aol.com

Further information: Mike Amos 01325 377463 (home); 01325 505085 (office); 07787 568181 (mobile.)

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