Snow, ice, a waterlogged pitch and Covid have beaten me before so this time a visit in September to the Iron Works ground to see Tow Law Town play seemed sensible.
I wanted to go for different reasons, I had heard it to be one of the most picturesque grounds in the country, which I knew through driving along the A68 in the past, some say it is the second highest ground to Buxton in the UK and I enjoy the competitiveness of Northern League games.
Whether this competitive spirit is because there is still fierce rivalry between what is often very local ex pit villages/town’s, that the Northern League is cocooned in a distinct area, the fan base is pasionate, the players are local and not mercenaries looking for the highest payment, I’m not sure, but I know that there is a difference.
Tow Law set up high in the Durham hills is named from the Old English ‘tot hlaw’ which was the name of a house meaning ‘lookout mound’ and you can soon get the reasoning behind this by taking in the view. The clubs Ironworks Road ground is named after the the works that was important in the area until the mid 1800’s which was replaced as the main employer by coal with the mine finally closing in the 1960’s. Today the population is about 2000 but the club took double that to Wembley in1995 for their unsuccessful appearance in the final of the FA Vase.
Tow Law Town FC were founded in 1890 and played in local football until joining the Northern League in 1920. Their most famous ex player is Chris Waddle who played as a teenager before being prized away to the professional game. The club has gone through ups and downs in its history with miners originally fashioning the club and then again during a Miners strike in 1923 were instrumental in creating the grounds contours that we know today. There have also been some financial problems and the generosity of Sir Bobby Robson (born in a near by village) was needed at one point to keep the club afloat. More recently in April 2020 the club was threatened with folding due to a large sink hole appearing on the side of the pitch and terracing along which an old railway line used to run. A football foundation grant , donations and the help of a YouTuber in the south of England all meant that they were able to raise the money for repairs.
There has been a team in Birtley since a year before the formation of Tow Law but a few reformings in the early years has led to the current team that was established in the early 1990’s. They progressed to the Northern League in 2007 were relegated back to the Northern Alliance in 2016 and were promoted back to the Northern League in 2018.
The day itself was dry, the sky was grey and the car said 20 degrees as I was dropped off. As you walk through the turnstile the lush green grass hits you and there is the whirring sound of a small wind turbine sited in the car park. The pitch unusually slopes end to end and side to side and you soon spot the view over the hills.
Tow Law Town 3 Birtley Town 1
The lawyers v The Hoops
This was a battle between two mid table teams and Birtley chose to play down hill which immediately proved a good move scoring in the first minute when Ben Garrity made space on the right and crossed for James Norton to tap home at the far post.
This was soon countered 4 minutes later when Drew Lake made room to squeeze a strong shot past everyone to go in off the left post. The Tow Law pressure continued and they were ahead a few minutes later, this time through Lewis Teasdale.
The game continued at a competitive furious pace and Tow Law were awarded a penalty for what seemed a very soft challenge and it seemed justice that Birtley’s goalkeeper Isaac Robinson saved it diving to his left. Birtley continued to be in the game particularly due to crosses from the right but a fight back grew harder as a second penalty was awarded to the home side. This time there was no dispute to the penalty awarded for a reckless tackle with the resulting spot kick dispatched to the centre of the goal by Lewis Teasdale for his second of the game.
The first half ended with Tow Law well on top and after such a breathless first 45 minutes it was anyone’s guess how many goals would be added in the next. But there were no more goals from either side despite Tow Laws continual pressure. Birtley did hit the apex of the crossbar and upright but they were well out fought by a stronger more committed team.
A great advert for the League that was spoilt in the first half by some obscure decisions by the referee who was influential in the result. The crowd of only 80 should have been higher considering the skill and value for money of the game.
A really good day out and well worth the wait. The whole set up was much better than expected with the stand and terracing in fine condition. The club house was spacious and comfortable with a large TV at one end showing the Liverpool v Crystal Palace game and another at the other end showing the horse racing. The only disappointment was the chips, at £1.50 they were only warm, squashy and a bit greasy, a score of only 50, I’m sorry to say.