The start of any season always has its mix of optimism and uncertainty. If you can’t be optimistic at the start of the season, when can you be?
But the feeling of uncertainty is always that bit stronger when your team has just been promoted.
And the feeling of euphoria that came with promotion can quickly disappear if your team gets off to a bad start in its new division, and before you know it you’re looking over your shoulder at that trapdoor that leads back to whence you came.
No! Stop! Optimism! First game! The season starts here! Everyone starts on zero!
Ah, that’s better. So, for their first game back in Division One of the Northern League, Marske United (who started the day joint top!) travelled to the heart of County Durham to face Tow Law Town.
Until the end of March, I’d only watched Marske at home but as their impossible promotion dream started to become a reality, I found myself travelling further and further afield to support my team.
Sadly, the promotion clinching trip to Carlisle for the 2-0 victory over Gillford Park was just a bit out of my range but trips to Northallerton and North Shields showed my commitment to the cause.
And so I found myself at Ironworks Road for Marske’s first Division One game in seven years. I’d raced up from Redcar after a late dash to buy chinchilla food (don’t ask) and got through the turnstile about two minutes before kick-off.
As I usually do when I visit a new ground, I got my camera out so I could walk around the ground and take some pics.
The entrance at Ironworks Road takes you into the ground right behind one of the goals and right in front of me was Marske goalkeeper Jonathan McDonald, who recognised me and politely said hello.
Making my way around the ground, I was able to see what a delight it is. Built on a hillside, the pitch slopes from one side to the other and the ground offers fantastic views of the surrounding hills and fields.
After making my way around three-quarters of the stadium (nearly ending up on my backside after slipping on what I hope was mud), I reached the terracing where many of the Marske faithful were standing.
I was pleased to see the Division One sweets were being passed round. I’m not sure they were any different to Division Two sweets, though they probably taste a lot sweeter. Claims that the Division One sweets had been saved up since 2004 were strongly denied.
Marske started their new Division One life strongly, dominating possession in the first half, and creating several chances but the sides went in goalless at half-time.
The hosts showed a big improvement after the break and were the better side for large spells. During the last 15 minutes they put Marske under constant pressure, winning corner after corner, all from the high side of the pitch and McDonald had to be at his best to keep the Lawyers at bay.
It looked like Marske were going to hold on for a point until a somewhat harsh penalty decision with just five minutes remaining. Veteran Micky Waller, making what was likely to be a one-off appearance, was penalised for handball – the ball striking his arm as he slid in to make a challenge. The referee didn’t blow at first but awarded the penalty after the linesman (who was much further away) started waving his flag like he was trying to guide in a plane for landing.
It seemed Marske’s defensive stand would be for nothing but cometh the hour, cometh the man and McDonald was able to save the spot kick with his legs to keep the score at 0-0.
It was to get even better for the travelling Seasiders in the 90th minute as Craig Skelton, who’d only just come on as a sub, beat the offside trap, found himself in acres of space and calmly slotted home past the keeper (or hit it straight through him, depending on where you were standing) to give Marske a winning return to Division One.
It was a vital three points with heavyweights Spennymoor, Newcastle Benfield, Whitley Bay, Dunston and Bedlington Terriers all on the schedule before the end of September. Perhaps my earlier worries about getting off to a good start make more sense now.
But Marske produced a determined display in holding Spennymoor to a 1-1 draw in midweek. Last season’s top scorer Danny Brunskill put them ahead just before half-time with a spectacular free-kick before the champions equalised just after the break.
What followed was a bombardment with Spennymoor dominating but Marske took everything that was thrown their way and earned a well-deserved point.
Tow Law didn’t fare so well in midweek, going down 5-0 at Benfield, who’ve made a storming start to the season.
Saturday sees me heading to my new favourite away ground again as Tow Law host Marske for the second weekend in succession, this time in the FA Cup. It’s the second season in a row that Marske have faced the same opponents in the Cup the week after their league opener.
A win for Tow Law would kick start their season. Victory for Marske would continue a fantastic start to their campaign and might result in some FA Cup sweets being passed round…