Mark Carruthers: This is why Hebburn Town's former management team can hold their heads up high

Life could not have been much better for Mick Mulhern and Kevin Bolam as they sat in the Green Man pub in the aftermath of Hebburn Town’s FA Vase Final win against Consett.

By Mark Carruthers
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 3:57 pm

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The latter of that duo said as much as he watched on as his squad, club officials and volunteers basked in beer-soaked glory outside a famous haunt of North East clubs visiting Wembley.

Selfies were aplenty, champagne corks were popping and the Vase was at the heart of it all as it all after the Hornets had seen off then-Northern League rivals Consett in a thrilling final just two hours earlier.

Even the light drizzle that enveloped much of London that Bank Holiday Monday afternoon could not dampen the spirits as everyone at the club looked forward to a bright future.

Non-league verdict.

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After all, with the Vase safely in the trophy cabinet and promotion into the Northern Premier League secured, an exciting journey into the unknown lay in wait for a club very much on the up.

What would follow - in the words of Lemony Snicket - was a series of unfortunate events as Hebburn’s plans for their first ever season in step four of the non-league system were thrown into disarray.

It has been well-known that top goalscorer Graeme Armstrong would bring down the curtain on a goal-laden career last season - but that did not detract from the impact his absence would have on the Hornets side.

Inspirational captain Louis Storey was tempted away by a move into full-time football and he has not looked out of place in Gateshead’s bid for the National League North title.

Further cruel blows were to follow as experienced duo Michael McKeown and Darren Lough suffered serious injuries that have ruled them out for the vast majority - if not all - of a historic season.

When the new campaign got underway, the reality of life in the Northern Premier League hit home as the Hornets collected just one point from their opening four games.

Success and progress was found in the FA Cup with impressive wins at Yorkshire Amateur and Ashton United - but a first league win evaded them until a balmy night on South Tyneside.

The aforementioned Yorkshire Amateur were the visitors and new signing Connor Bell’s brace inspired his side to a 4-2 win - much to the relief of everyone connected with the club.

Bell had been one of the highlights of a challenging opening to the season and scored nine goals in his first 13 goals for the Hornets - but Bolam was robbed of his services when the striker decided to move to Australia for work and family reasons.

Despite all of the issues mentioned so far, and the fact Hebburn have spent a large part of the season, it still came as a shock when Bolam and Mulhern were “relieved of their duties” by the club this week.

Looking from the outside, I had thought the Vase and promotion wins would leave them with enough ‘cash in the bank’ to see the season out at very least.

But the club have moved swiftly and it seems their decision was made to give a new manager a chance to play a full part in seeing out the current campaign and play a lead role in planning for the new season.

Bolam and Mulhern can leave with their heads held high.

The difficulties of this season should not be allowed to detract from what has been a truly historic two and a half years for Hebburn Town.

Their promotion - although far from conventional - was reward for two curtailed seasons full of quality and consistency and they earned their place in the new look Northern Premier League East Division.

Then there was Wembley.

It seems remarkable that a club that looked on the brink of going out of business as recently as four years ago should take their place on English football’s grandest scale.

Much was expected of Hebburn and Consett as they looked to showcase the North East non-league scene under the famous arch.

They certainly delivered with a game that to’d and fro’d before Olly Martin wrote his name into Hebburn folklore with a late goal to give his side a 3-2 win.

Having first come across Kevin Bolam during our time coaching in the Russell Foster Youth League almost 20 years ago, the somewhat surreal sight of seeing him meet the national media with the Vase in his hand was a special moment.

We have spoken on a regular basis throughout his time in charge of Hebburn and our personal and professional relationship means that I have been able to deliver an open and honest opinion on his side’s performances in person and in print.

Hebburn have - as Kevin would admit - struggled to find consistency and quality at key moments of the season and the recent home defeat against North East rivals Shildon summed up their plight.

After falling behind to an all-too-easy goal from Michael Sweet, the Hornets recovered and got back on level-terms with a very well-worked goal from Amar Purewal.

Chances to take the lead and earn a valuable three points were squandered throughout the second-half and the inevitable happened when Shildon grabbed a late winner when Sweet headed his second goal of the day in injury-time.

It felt like the defeat summed up the season so far.

Plenty of promise, a touch of positivity - but ultimately, they was an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration.

But when the dust settles, and Bolam and Mulhern reflect on their tenure, moments like Martin’s Wembley winner and the confirmation of a historic promotion should be their focus, more than any lingering disappointment from the end of their reign.