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Hon Secretary's Report 2011-12


Hon. Secretary’s Report, 2011-12

Northumberland has a proud tradition in providing schools’ football of the highest quality - not only in terms of playing performance but also in terms of organisation, administration and ethos.  As we know, this tradition goes back 100 years - during which time many outstanding teachers have served this association with distinction.  I like to think that those who started this organisation and those who carried it forward across the decades would look kindly on the current colleagues who strive to maintain those standards set so very long ago.

We have celebrated our Centenary Season in style - and thanks must be expressed to all those who made it happen.  The Centenary Handbook is a neat publication that gives some interesting insights to the past while being of a size that is easy to read and refer to.  I suspect that most who have a copy have actually read it as opposed to some weighty tome that might languish on the bookshelf! The Centenary Dinner was well-attended and enjoyed by all - good food, good company and good craic. The ESFA U18 international v Scotland at Newcastle United FC was a truly splendid occasion - made more so by the inclusion of two Northumberland boys in the England team.  In the meantime we delivered our comprehensive programme of football at school, district and county levels - from primary age through to ‘6th form’.  We tried to add some extra Centenary Festivals - those that were played were enjoyable occasions (despite some very wet and inclement weather).  The whole Centenary Season was supported financially by Northumberland County Council, The Sir James Knott Trust, The Joicey Trust and Ernst and Young - we acknowledge our sincere thanks for their involvement.

Our County teams were again successful - though all team mangers would have hoped for even better results.  Andy Costello, ably supported by Chris Anderson, made this his last (and 9th) season in charge of the Under 18s.  Andy approaches this task with calmness and modesty - never flapping when things seem to be going awry (especially when players cry off at the eleventh hour!) and encouraging our senior players to play an attractive brand of passing football.  Results were good again this year - reaching the Northern Counties final and the semi-final of the ESFA National Inter- County Trophy. But I know how bitterly disappointed Andy was that he did not sign off with two further trophies under his belt because this year’s team was good enough to go all the way - but it was not to be.  There was some compensation when we heard the news that Kyle Downey (Ashington HS) and Peter Ravenhill (St Thomas More RC HS) were selected to represent England Schools.  Both had outstanding seasons for the national team, being in the starting eleven for all the Centenary Shield games which England won following victories over Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and, of course, against Scotland - live on Sky TV from our very own St James’ Park (there - I’ve written it - I know I shouldn’t…..).  One other U18 player who deserves a mention this year is Liam McNamara (Walbottle Campus) who was an outstanding captain of the team.  Our thanks go to Andy for his contribution to our County teams - he has maintained our tradition of outstanding results at this level.  The Northern Counties U18 competition has been going for 18 years - Northumberland has won it 7 times.  Next in line is Durham with 3 wins, others have won it once or twice.

We do pretty well at Under 16 too - Northumberland has featured in 6 out of the last 10 Northern Counties finals.  Andy Blight and Chris Bland led the team to the Northern Counties final only to lose in a penalty shoot-out after the game was drawn 1-1.  The team managed to keep one of their worst games for the Round 2 tie in the ESFA National Trophy when they lost a goal after 7 seconds v. Humberside and never recovered.  We are pleased that Chris and Andy will carry on their good work next season even though Andy has further commitments as Assistant Manager of the ESFA U18 national team.  We send our congratulations to him and hope this great honour will be very rewarding.

Nicola Hepworth had her first season in charge of the U16 girls’ County team and she was grateful for the support provided by Kerry Davison and Rachel Smales in running this team.  She arranged a comprehensive programme of trials and coaching and brought together a useful looking squad.  There were good wins against Cleveland and Cumbria and a very narrow one goal defeat against the always-strong Durham girls.  Unfortunately a bizarre result away to South Yorkshire, where the team shipped seven goals, meant that they did not qualify for the later stages of their competitions.  Nicola bought enthusiasm and professionalism to this role, carrying on the years of good work established by June Lomax.  Unfortunately, changes in employment responsibilities mean that Nicola cannot carry on as manager but I’m sure we will see her in the background giving support wherever she can.  A great boost for girls’ football in Northumberland was the news that Holly Jackman (Duchess’s HS, Alnwick) was selected for the ESFA National U15 Girls’ Team.  Regular 7-a-side football is provided for secondary-aged girls through Peter Tracey’s indefatigable efforts and the support of young referees at Cramlington LV.  This programme means that girls’ football continues to develop strongly.

Referees are, of course, an indispensable part of our football structure.  We thank all those who give so willingly of their time on football fields far and wide and a special ‘thank you’ to Northumberland FA’s Referee Development Officer, Clive Oliver, who makes appointments for all County matches and County finals.  There is a very good group of well-mentored referees who enjoy and benefit from officiating in schools’ football where they know they will receive the respect they deserve. Long may this last - with all those involved in running school teams ensuring that this is the case.

District football is a concern at a national level and here, locally, there is a very mixed package.  There are pockets of strength and even within the local associations themselves there are different strengths and weaknesses.  West Tyne maintain their local football and have county champions in Queen Elizabeth High School and St Joseph’s Middle school - but they are not yet able to return to running representative sides.  Berwick - one of the smallest associations in the country - struggles with the geography of playing inter-association football; but they provided a finalist in the U16 Diball Cup and certainly had a telling presence at the Centenary Dinner to support ‘old boy’ Trevor Steven, who was our guest speaker.  South Northumberland and East Northumberland are doing well - playing nearly every inter-association game for which they are scheduled. Thanks go to secretaries Nigel Shields and Neil Robinson for their sterling work.  Our two biggest associations, Newcastle and North Tyneside, still provide plenty of football and our congratulations go to Newcastle’s Under 15s who reached the final of ESFA’s oldest competition, the Inter Association Under 15 trophy, only to lose an agonising 7-6 penalty shoot-out after the game had been drawn 1-1.  But it was a shame that this team did not play one fixture in our own NSFA Inter Association Young Cup.  Well done to John Farnie and his Wallsend ‘worthies’ who clinched a memorable win in the U11 TUC Cup - small can be strong!

Our list of winners and finalists in County competitions shows an encouraging geographical spread and shows both old winners and new.  The standout local team is Seaton Burn U13s who travel to Ipswich Town to play the final of the ESFA Small Schools Trophy on Friday 18th May.  The following day, at Watford FC’s training ground, Valley Gardens MS and Hirst Park MS will feature in the national finals of the ESFA U11 TESCO Cups for School Teams and Girls respectively.  Three national champions in our Centenary season would be nice!  All of our county competitions came to a satisfactory conclusion - and nearly to schedule!  Thanks go to the competition organisers - now aided by email and our successful web-site - over 50,000 hits in the last year or so. League football is co-ordinated and well-organised at U14 and U15 level across the 3 Northumberland districts by Paul Steanson in order to give a good structure for participation in these smaller associations and, of course, there is our well-established U19 league that flourishes under Peter Tracey’s guidance.

This season has been a very busy one for me personally - and one that I am very pleased with because of all that we have achieved.  Those achievements have been as a result of team work and of teams being well-led.  The group tasked with the organising the Centenary Dinner did a wonderful job - as did the sub-committee set up to arrange the international match.  When asked, many individuals willingly chipped in to support the organisers.  However, I do need to pick out Peter Tracey and Chris Newman for a special mention.  Peter involves himself in many activities of a volunteering nature but has still maintained his commitment to schools’ football and he has been rightly proud of what the Association has achieved this season under his Chairmanship.  Chris Newman does so much more than the title ‘treasurer’ would suggest.  He is always a great support to me in the arrangement of County matches and County finals and he put in many hours when dealing with the ticketing arrangements for the international.

So, I look back on this season with great satisfaction and look forward to the next one with excitement and a little trepidation as I take on the role of Chairman of ESFA.  It will be the time for others to step forward and share the work so willingly undertaken by a few.  I am confident this will happen and that NSFA will start on the road to the next hundred years with a sure and steady step.

Neil Pont

May 2012