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Hon. Secretary's Report, 2010-11

Hon. Secretary’s Report, 2010-11

It seems the needle may have stuck – last year I wrote, “It never seemed to end but we got there eventually!  A difficult winter meant that the end of the season did not reach the well-organised finale that we all like”.  But ‘difficult winters’ are not unusual are they? And we tend not to play a lot of football in December and January anyway, so why is there still the scramble to reach our planned finals?

What is certain is that, without our planned deadlines, things would drag on even further.  So, we DID meet those deadlines and once again staged some splendid finals evenings.  If deadlines earlier in the season regarding ‘play by dates’ are adhered to, the end of the season could be much less frenetic.  It seems even harder to talk to teachers in schools these days so some competition managers were left frustrated by the lack of communication when trying to ascertain why matches were not being played.  We will look forward with interest to the coming season when all contact will be by email and via the website.  There will be no excuses for not knowing exactly how competitions are progressing.

Our website continues to be a valuable resource that is used by more and more people – in the period November 2010 to June 2011 there have been well in excess of 16,000 visitors.  At the recent Northern Counties AGM the new secretary of Cleveland County SFA jokingly told me that when he wants to know what is happening in Cleveland he looks at our website!

So – to the football.  Once again we had 3 very successful County representative teams.  Our U.18s, under the leadership of Andy Costello and Chris Anderson, actually only lost one match all season, the ESFA Inter County Trophy semi-final away to Lancashire – a game that could easily have seen them 5-0 up at half-time.  But, rueing those missed chances, they lost 1-2 to the team that went on to become National champions.  In the Northern Counties championship they did not lose a game in the East Division league but, very unusually, this did not allow them to qualify for the semi-finals because they just had too many draws.  Notably against Durham and Cleveland they had good leads but allowed their opponents back into the game.  So there will be regrets about a season that could have been so much better.  Our thanks go to Andy and Chris for their commitment to County football.

In their second year of managing the Under 16 boys’ team, Andy Blight and Chris Bland went one better than their successful inaugural campaign by delivering the Northern Counties trophy.  They too will regret, to a certain extent, a “what might have been” moment in their ESFA Inter County Trophy first round match.  They made the long journey to Humberside to face a side packed with Academy players and lost 3-4 after extra time – needless to say, Humberside went on to become National champions!  In the Northern Counties championship they scored goals for fun and topped their league, completely outplayed Cheshire in the semi-final at Ashington and then, after some hasty end of season re-arrangements, travelled to Turf Moor, Burnley for the final.  An exciting and even contest, at an excellent venue, saw them win 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.  At one stage it looked as though Andy would not be able to continue with the County team next season but we are delighted to congratulate him on his appointment at the Northumberland Academy and look forward to him working with Chris to bring home the ESFA Trophy next year! No pressure… …

June Lomax too was under pressure at the end of the season because of her employment situation and we are very sad that she will no longer be working in Northumberland and so cannot continue in her role with the Under 16 girls’ team.  Our County girls’ team has made amazing progress under June’s leadership and we can now compete with the best - which is what we seem to do in the North East!  Our nemesis again was our nearest neighbour Durham, whom we congratulate on being National and Northern Counties Champions.  So, all three of our County teams were defeated by National champions.  After some interesting mathematical calculations our girls did qualify for the Northern Counties semi-finals where they were defeated by Lancashire in a pulsating game played in Blackpool.  June was ably assisted by Michael Hutchison and we thank them both for all their hard work on our behalf and wish them well as they move forward in their careers.

Inter Association competitions saw some slight improvements in the number of matches played – there was 75% completion this year as opposed to 68% last year (see below).  Most worrying is the lack of games at Under 11 level – do we still think gifted players should be playing 11-side at this age?  Surely we DO!  Congratulations go to South Northumberland who have seen a resurgence results-wise and were also able to complete all 17 of their planned games in our competitions.  East Northumberland were not far behind (17 out of 20 completed) and their Under 15s also had a very good run in the ESFA Trophy, reaching the last eight.

As we turn to individual schools’ football, once again we must send congratulations to Monkseaton High School who finished runners-up in the ESFA Under 18 Schools Trophy.  They were successful in our domestic competitions too but were pushed hard by some excellent teams in our Under 19 section.  I need to repeat (I say it every year but it bears repetition) that senior football in Northumberland is the envy of the country.  You will not find a more competitive, well-organised and demanding competition anywhere. We have proud traditions in this area which are being maintained by the excellent crop of team managers in our schools and the organisational abilities of Peter Tracey whom we thank wholeheartedly.

Congratulations too go to all our County champions.  Results are shown below and, of course, are always available on the website!  Thanks go to all staff who make sure so many of our pupils enjoy a good football education.

For the second, but sadly, last season I have enjoyed the support of Michael Oliver in appointing referees.  Michael is furthering his career as a Premier League and international referee and also embarking on a degree course.  We wish him well.  Happily he has been replaced at NFA by his father, Clive Oliver, and I am sure we can maintain the same close cooperation.  We have now developed a good list of young referees who are happy to officiate in school games.  Four of them – Liam Bell, Laura Graham, David Jones and John Harper – were invited to referee at the ESFA National Primary 7s Finals at Watford FC in June.  Of course we still are grateful for the support of more senior referees and were delighted to make a presentation to Andy Mitchell to mark his participation in over 1,000 school matches.

In his introduction to last year’s AGM our Chairman, Ray Smith, bemoaned the fact that so few new faces were emerging at Executive Committee level.  That has largely remained the case but at least Sam Donovan from Newcastle has brought down the average age markedly!  Teachers throughout our three authorities should be very grateful for the work undertaken by the Executive Committee which meets regularly to oversee the Association’s activities.  Despite being in considerable pain for much of the year, Ray Smith has carried out his Chairman’s duties with diligence and enthusiasm.  We hope that he may soon get the medical care he deserves and return to full drinking health!  As Secretary my task is made so much easier by the support of others – in particular Chris Newman and Peter Tracey, backed up by Andy Littleton and all those who organise competitions.  The team ethic that we have in the Association serves us well and ensures that jobs get done well and (usually!) without too much stress.

We will need that team in the season to come – a season that is our 100th.  We are rightly proud of the history of our association and all that it stands for.  I am confident that we can build on the past and can move into a bright future.

Neil Pont
June 2011