A WEEKEND of celebrations have been held to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Northern Football League, the world’s second oldest.
It is a major milestone in the sporting and social life of the North-East, and, of football in general.
Bob Rogers, grandson of Charles Craven, the driving force behind both the Northern League and Darlington FC, flew from his home in Hong Kong to attend the events.
Today (Sunday, March 23) a celebration service took place at Elvet Methodist Church, Durham, 100 yards from the former Three Tuns Hotel, where the league was founded on March 25, 1889.
It was led by league chaplain Canon Leo Osborn and attended by Durham County Council chairman Councillor Pauline Charlton, with pork pies and Bovril served afterwards to mark the football theme.
Later in the day, Ramside Hall Hotel, near Durham, hosted the 125th anniversary lunch where Mr Rogers, 64, proposed the toast to the Northern League.
Mr Rogers, who was born in Stockport and tracked down after many months of internet research by the league, said: “The most significant things to me is that up here, soccer is everything.
“Small town communities revolve around, sport, the church and the pub. “It is great that an organisation like the Northern League can provide sport for young people. It is a fantastic for society that they have something like this.
“For me, it was no brainer, I had to be here.”
The weekend got underway with a service of thanksgiving and wreath laying at Charles Craven’s grave in St John’s churchyard, Felbridge, near East Grinstead, West Sussex.
The eldest of eight, he was born at Staveley in Derbyshire in 1863, moving to Darlington at 16 to serve an engineering apprenticeship with his uncle, Robert Pease, a member of the Quaker family upon whose vision and industry the town prospered.
When the league was formed, Mr Craven was a 25-year-old engineer who six years earlier had been instrumental in forming Darlington FC and was appointed secretary while playing in goal.
Mr Rogers said: “This has opened up a new chapter in my grandfather’s life we were not aware of. I knew he was involved in football to some extent. I didn’t know anything about what he had done up here so this has really opened it up for me. It is amazing to know about it and I am so glad I have come here.”
Nineteen clubs were invited to the first league meeting, but just seven turned up.
A second meeting the following week confirmed the formation of the world’s second oldest league, the season kicking off with ten clubs on September 7, 1889.
Today, the league, sponsored by Ebac, has 45 clubs in two divisions.
They range from Alnwick in the north to Guisborough and Northallerton in the south, and include several alongside the North Sea to Whitehaven on the opposite coast.
On Saturday, Mr Rogers saw Tow Law Town played their 3,000th Northern League match, a league record, against South Shields.
On Tuesday, at 7 30pm, a Northern League XI packed with the league’s top players will meet an FA XI at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland, 125 years to the day since the league was formed.
To complete the 125th anniversary celebrations, Newcastle United has agreed that the League Cup final will take place at St James Park on Tuesday, May 6.
The Magpies were Northern League members, playing at St James Park, when the club was formed in 1892.
Northern League chairman Mike Amos said: “The service this morning has been uplifting and people who don’t normally come to church have enjoyed it.
“The 125th anniversary is a major milestone and it is fantastic to have Bob here.
“Charles Craven would not recognise the league he created, but it was he who had the vision and the determination. He started all of this and we have just picked up the ball and ran with it.”