From Northern League to Football League

Posted by on Mar 9, 2011 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
In the first of a new series that demonstrates how rich a talent pool the various non-leagues are in helping to sustain football at a higher level, we welcome Michael Hudson, a regular commenter on our posts and head honcho of one of the best travelling blogs on the net, The Accidental Groundhopper. Michael, who on twitter trades under the name of @DolphinHotel, took time out from organising the next football bloggers away day in Ryton on April 9. If you want to take part, do contact Michael.When Notts County midfielder Neal Bishop was recently awarded the E.ON Player of the Round award for his headed goal against Manchester City, he wasn’t the first ex-Billingham Town player to gain plaudits for a performance in the FA Cup. England international Gary Pallister, a product of Billingham’s youth sides before joining Middlesbrough at the age of 19, won three FA Cups with Manchester United, scoring in both games of the 1995 semi-final against Crystal Palace. Pallister and Bishop — who once turned out in the same Billingham eleven as his younger brother and father — are just two in the long list of ex-Northern League players who went on to forge careers in the professional game, including Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Chris Waddle, Frank Clark and Jack Greenwell, who left Crook Town for Barcelona and remains one of the Catalan club’s longest-serving coaches, second only to Johan Cruyff himself.

Founded in 1889, the Northern League is the second oldest in world football after the Football League itself. Unlike most of the region’s other Victorian industries, its export products are still in high demand. Earlier this season, Newcastle Benfield striker John Campbell, once a junior with Manchester City, scored a hat-trick while on trial at Swindon Town, eventually signing an 18-month contract with Conference side Darlington. In 2007, defender Carl Magnay, a product of Birtley Town juniors and previously on the books of Leeds United, won Sky TV’s Football Icon and left Division Two side Washington to sign professional forms with Premier League Chelsea. Hartlepool forward Michael Mackay is another graduate of Birtley Town, while Blackpool’s Chris Basham, signed from Bolton Wanderers in the summer for £1.2 million, started off his playing career with Chester-le-Street Town. Here are three more players who could one day follow in some very illustrious footsteps:Here are three more players who could soon be following in some very illustrious footsteps:

Although he seems to have been around the Northern League forever, Whitley Bay’s Lee Kerr is surprisingly still only 23. A graduate of Bay’s academy, Kerr has scored 157 times for the North Tyneside club, including the opening goal in the 2009 FA Vase final. Following a trial with Newcastle United in 2007 — during which he played in a reserve team that included Albert Luque and goalkeeper Fraser Forster — Kerr was linked to Watford, Darlington and Norwich City. Spennymoor Town fans argue that Gavin Cogdon, scorer of 23 goals for Durham City when they won the Unibond North title in 2009, is an even better player, but Kerr’s age and Wembley experience counts significantly in his favour.

21-year-old winger Jonny Godsmark was released by Newcastle United in the summer and rejected contract offers from several league clubs before signing for his hometown club Ashington, birthplace of the Charlton brothers and Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn. What Godsmark lacks in physical presence he more than compensates for in sheer speed. Last season’s six-month loan spell at Hereford United almost certainly won’t be his last experience with a Football League club.

Lastly, Peter Jeffries joined Bob Paisley’s old club Bishop Auckland from Wearside League team Hartlepool Town in 2008. The 24 year old has now made in excess of a 100 appearances for the Two Blues and along with Spennymoor Town’s Craig Turns is widely acknowledged as the best goalkeeper of any in the Northern League.

The Two Unfortunates
The non-partisan website with an eye on the Football League


  1. William
    March 13, 2011

    I was reading something about the history of the Northern League the other day, in Harry Pearson's book “The Far Corner.” There was a brilliant remark about the complicated issue of incorporating the Northern League into the national promotion pyramid. Apparently the politics surrounding it were so complicated that, if I might paraphrase slightly, “only three people understood it, and two of those had been driven mad as a result.”

  2. Ben
    March 14, 2011

    Can't say it often enough – The Far Corner is a brilliant book.

    Godsmark looked like a decent prospect – clearly the club ultimately didn't feel he could quite cut it, so it'll be interesting to see if he can make it back into league football.

  3. mick thompson
    March 15, 2011

    Lee Kerr affectionetly known amongst the Bay fans as Sparky is a club legend,he has shown a loyalty to the bay which is unknown in pro football these days.I was at that nufc reserve game and Lee was no worse a player than the so called pros around him.Its the toons loss that they did not give him a shot.

  4. From Isthmian League to Football League | The Two Unfortunates
    September 14, 2012

    […] This Post A few weeks ago, that Accidental Groundhopper, Michael Hudson pondered over which Northern League players could make an impact higher up the pyramid. Now, for the second in our series, Barry from the superb site, The Cold End  assesses the […]


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