By Scott Messenger
Ashington AFC and Sheffield FC are probably the two most historic clubs in the Northern Premier League East Division. Ashington, formed in 1883, are one of the oldest clubs in the North East and spent eight seasons in the Football League during the 1920’s after being founder members of the Third Division North. Sheffield FC are the world’s first football club, formed way back in 1857. In 2004 they were awarded the FIFA Order of Merit. Only one other football club holds that honour…..Real Madrid!
Despite the long history of both clubs, they had never met until the League clash in December when Sheffield ran out 4-0 winners at the Home of Football Ground. Although the two clubs haven’t got any footballing links between each other, the town of Ashington and its football club, the Colliers, have a number of links to Sheffield’s two professional clubs, United of the Premier League and Wednesday of the Championship.
The most famous person linked to Ashington and Sheffield Wednesday is former England World Cup winner Jack Charlton. After his long playing career with Leeds United and England ended, Big Jack went into management. After four years managing Middlesbrough, Jack was appointed manager at Sheffield Wednesday in October 1977. The Owls were bottom of the Third Division (League One these days) when he took over, but he steered them to midtable safety by the end of the campaign. After his second season saw the Owls finish once again in midtable, Big Jack’s Wednesday secured promotion to the Second Division (todays Championship) in 1979/80 with a third place finish. After finishing tenth in their first season back in the second tier, Wednesday went agonisingly close to promotion to the top flight in the 1981/82 season, missing out by just 1 point. After another midtable finish the following season, and an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion (2-1 at Highbury), Jack announced that he would be leaving Hillsborough despite pleas from the directors to stay. Jack would return to Middlesbrough in 1984 as caretaker manager, before taking over the managers job at Newcastle United in 1984/85. He would then go on to manage internationally, transforming the Republic of Ireland and leading them to qualification for Euro 88 and World Cup’s Italia 90 and USA 94.
During Big Jack’s spell as manager at Hillsborough, one of his key signings was an Ashington lad from Newcastle United. Charlton signed full-back Ray ‘Bomber’ Blackhall for around £20k in 1978. Ray was an integral part of Wednesday’s promotion winning side and played in the famous 4-0 Boxing Day win over local rivals Sheffield United in 1979, later named the ‘Boxing Day Massacre’. Bomber would make 115 appearances for the Owls, scoring once, before moving to Swedish side IK Tord. He would later play for Mansfield Town, Carlisle United and Blyth Spartans before retiring from football, later becoming a Police Officer in the Metropolitan Police.
A more recent Ashington born footballer to represent the Owls is goalkeeper Chris Adamson. After starting his career at West Bromwich Albion, during which he had loan spells at Mansfield Town, Halifax Town and Plymouth Argyle, Chris made the move to Hillsborough in 2005 and made 12 appearances during his two seasons with the Owls. He would later move on to Stockport County and Hereford United, before retiring to become goalkeeping coach at his former club Mansfield.
After beginning his footballing career at Ashington AFC, defender Dave Walton made the switch from Portland Park to Bramall Lane in 1991, signing for Sheffield United aged just 18 years old. Unfortunately he never managed to break into the first team, and after two seasons in the reserves he moved to Shrewsbury Town. After over 120 appearances, scoring 10 goals, he joined Crewe Alexandra for a then club record fee of £500k. He would go on to make 155 appearances for the Alex before joining First Division (now Championship) side Derby County. Unfortunately his time at Pride Park was ravaged by injury and he left after one season to join Stockport County. He then returned to Shrewsbury Town before retiring.
Other ex-Ashington AFC players that went on to represent one of Sheffield’s professional clubs include Peter Spooner, who played for Ashington in their final season in the Football League in 1928/29, before joining York City and Bradford Park Avenue. He made the move to Sheffield United in 1933, playing 17 games and scoring twice for the Blades.
Forward Brian Joicey started his footballing career at Portland Park, moving on to Blyth Spartans, North Shields and Tow Law Town before joining Coventry City. He moved to Hillsborough in 1971, scoring 48 goals in 145 games for the Owls over five seasons.
Another famous footballing name linked with Ashington and Sheffield Wednesday is Irish international Patrick O’Connell. He made 18 top flight appearances for the Owls between 1909 and 1912 before moving on to Hull City, Manchester United, Dumbarton and finally Ashington. He made 19 appearances in the Football League for the Colliers in the early 1920’s, and ended up becoming a coach at Portland Park. He would later famously go on to manage Real Betis, Sevilla and FC Barcelona!