Published on March 6, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Volunteers help Stan to title success

A Newcastle football club has claimed top spot in a regional competition. Alastair Gilmour reports

Alongside its annual Pub of the Year competition, the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) asseses social clubs to determine which is named Club of the Year. There may be fewer contenders in that category but the competition is no less fierce with worthy winners emerging at the end of the assessment process.

This year, the Tyneside & Northumberland Camra branch has settled on Heaton Stannington Football Club as its winner – toppling regular winner Jesmond Cricket Club in a welcome return to the top of the pile that they occupied more than a decade ago. The local branch’s Northumberland Club of the Year is Haltwhistle Comrades Club – a serial winner.

The initiative is run in conjunction with Club Mirror magazine, with the simple aim of finding the clubs with the greatest commitment to quality real ale served in top condition – and those which also offer a fantastic atmosphere in welcoming surroundings.

All of those descriptions apply to Heaton Stannington – and even the football side of the club is currently living up to its potential, as long as a backlog of fixtures results in a fair haul of points in Northern League Division 2.

In common with the vast majority of sports social clubs, The Stan is run entirely by volunteers, from bar staff to match-day catering, ground staff, turnstile operators, social media, programme editing by Kevin Mochrie – the list is endless. In an era of greed and corruption from our so-called “leaders” it’s a refreshing insight into community life.

Committee member and membership secretary Reg Harris says: “The award is a great honour. Everybody does their bit and we have a rota of bar staff with the likes of Davie Scott looking after the beer in the cellar and club chairman Bill Pitt taking charge behind the counter on match days in great style.

“We have future plans to build a cellar nearer the actual bar. At the moment it’s right at the other end of the clubhouse which is a long pull and makes it awkward for cleaning lines and so on.”

Davie Scott, whose main role is “keeping the beer right” admits he has been coming to the club since he was 17, then reveals “and I’m 65 today”.

“We’ve got around 20 people we can call on for the social club side and about 50 in total for the whole place. It’s about the correct usage of beer. I knew nothing about real ale until a couple of years ago, but have enjoyed drinking it for years. I learnt very quickly and Bob Mooney and myself asked all the breweries loads of questions and locked ourselves in pub cellars to see how they did it. Everybody was brilliant and really helpful.

“We have to make sure the real ale is on top form during quiet times and busy times, judging when’s the best time to change a cask and put a fresh one on. It’s quite a task and it’s about balance.

“The membership has certainly embraced the real ale experience and it outsells all other beers put together. There is no ‘resident’ beer which means we can increase the variety of brews. Obviously there are favourites such as Harviestoun Bitter And Twisted, Allendale Pennine Pale, good old Bass and almost anything from Timothy Taylor or Mordue.”

The club attracts various societies who hold regular meetings there – the 41 Club which is an extension of Round Table and the Allotment Society – proper community organisations – and is popular venue for family parties such as birthdays and christenings, beer festivals and regular live music. An upstairs games room with pool table and darts caters for other sports folk.

Bill Pitt is match-day host and a real character – the type who makes a session worthwhile, even following a home defeat. He played for the club from 1969 and reckons his greatest contribution was when he stopped.

“Away supporters come year after year and enjoy the banter,” he says. “The club has also been named the Northern League’s most hospital club. Most football club bars and lounges open for matchdays only but we’re open virtually every day. Keeping the pitch in good condition is almost a full-time job but everything here is down to volunteers.”

Reg Harris stresses the respect that other clubs in the region have for the hospitality and welcome they enjoy when they visit. He says: “Other teams in the league love coming here – they love their real ale too. Heaton Stannington is actually the second-highest attended football club in Newcastle. Newcastle United can attract fifty-odd thousand but our average attendance of 150 puts us at number two.”

Heaton Stannington Club operates like a big family unit, very much part of the local community, and is an oasis between surrounding venues, the Corner House, the Newton Park and South Gosforth’s range of great pubs. The bar and lounge have recently been refurbished, again by a trusty band of volunteers led by John Ryan.

Regardless of where in the league Heaton Stannington FC end the season, Club of the Year 2018 is one title that will be cherished for years.

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Alastair Gilmour

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