Mark Carruthers: The arrival of any new year should be cause for renewed hope but clarity is needed
The arrival of any new year should be cause for renewed hope, a raise in expectations and genuine excitement over what lies ahead.
But there are some all-too-familiar emotions creeping in as the mood music that formed the soundtrack for the early days of 2022 seems to follow a similar pattern to the one experienced 12 months ago.
The opening weeks of 2021 brought talk of curtailed seasons, postponed matches with Covid cases on the rise and genuine fears over the future of football clubs around the country.
Uncertainty continues to reign and that is always unhealthy for football clubs at any level.
Over the last two years I have witnessed volunteers go above and beyond to keep their beloved clubs going as Covid brought an early end to two successive seasons.
The return of supporters to grounds around the North East in August brought renewed hope that a return to some sort of normality was close.
There seems no reason why supporters can’t continue to make their way through the gates and, based on the attendance levels around the region so far this season, it looks like there is a big appetite for the game at this level.
Long may that continue because clubs have suffered throughout the last two years.
This is not an attempt at spreading concern or worry - this is a call for clarity, a call for a clear plan and for clubs, players, supporters and volunteers to be given an idea of what lies ahead.
Constant speculation over what route the current Government will take next fuels nothing but doubt and uncertainty in every walk of life.
The importance of football - or any sport for that matter - in people’s lives has been debated continually over the last two years.
The period where our lives have been impacted by Covid has been a dark time - but football has brought light to the lives of those that hold the game close to their hearts.
The North East Non-League scene is entering an intriguing second half to the season with several of our clubs looking to secure success over the coming months.
Gateshead’s push for a return to the National League shows little sign of slowing even after last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at local rivals Blyth Spartans.
Mike Williamson’s men remain just two points shy of league leaders Brackley Town and hold two games in hand over the front-runners.
Spennymoor Town are entering a new era with Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley in the dugout and Darlington can push for a play-off place if they can hold on to the prolific Luke Charman.
After a challenging introduction to life at Croft Park, Terry Mitchell seems to have Blyth Spartans moving in the right direction with derby wins against Spennymoor and Gateshead opening up a six-point gap to the National League North relegation zone.
South Shields are still in the hunt for the Northern Premier League Premier Division title despite enduring a spell of inconsistent form.
Consistency has not been an issue for Premier Division rivals with Craig Lynch’s side now tipped as dark horses for a play-off place after a run of just two defeats in 21 games under the charge of the former Sunderland forward.
A run to the last 32 of the FA Trophy has only enhanced the enthusiasm at Craik Park.
The East Division is a major source of excitement for the North East with Marske United in what looks like a two-horse race for the title with current leaders Liversedge.
Shildon, Stockton Town and Dunston UTS all have an opportunity to secure a play-off spot - although the latter are still recovering from a poor run of form during December that has left them playing catch-up.
Our fifth and final club in the division - Hebburn Town - have struggled to adapt with injuries hampering their efforts during the first half of a historic season.
There are signs of life with wins against Dunston and Frickley Athletic rounding off an eventful 2021 in fine style.
The FA Vase remains high on the agenda - as always - with North Shields and Consett preparing for fourth round ties over the next week.
The two clubs are also competing for the Northern League Division One title, with the surprise packages Ryhope CW and Thornaby also threatening at the top of the table.
Heaton Stannington look well on their way to the Division Two title after an excellent opening to the season - although the likes of Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Easington Colliery and Newcastle United will hope to reign in the Grounsell Park side over the coming weeks and months.
So after two years of difficulty, there are promising signs for Non-League clubs across the region, which is why it’s time for clarity over what lies ahead.
Non-League clubs deserve better, supporters deserve better, we all deserve better.
Thursday morning brought the sad news that Newcastle Benfield stalwart Derek Gair has passed away.
A familiar face around the North East non-league scene and a much-loved figure at Sam Smith’s Park, Derek’s passing was unsurprisingly met with heartfelt emotional tributes from players, supporters and clubs alike.
Benfield summed it up better than anyone via their Twitter account saying: “Derek will be sorely missed by everyone at our club and to the wider @theofficialnl family who knew him.”
My thoughts are with his family, friends and everyone at Newcastle Benfield.
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