Supermac breaks into laughter at a wise-crack from the terrace that sums up watching football in the coronavirus era.
As North Shields’ monster No9 target-man Dan Wilson, smacks in their third decisive goal, his second, to win this FA Vase tie, the fans start to dream.
“Wembley, Wembley…” they sing, jumping around with their face masks on.
“How man, nee touchin’” someone shouts, as thoughts of a more raucous hugging celebration, potentially spreading the lurgy, is scrapped!
Macdonald points to the North Shields Quality Butchers Stand offering second half shelter from a squall over the mouth of the Tyne.
“But this place could be packed out today. FA Vase day, always pulls in a big crowd. We could get another 400 in, if the rules allowed.”
Macdonald is club president of the Robins, top of the Ebac Northern League, founded in 1889, the second oldest in the world behind the Football League. “I love it here. Remind me of playing for Tunbridge on my way up…”
Paying punters are still shut out of the pro tiers of football, but they’re back, to vivid effect, low down the football pyramid.
It’s £7 a ticket to get into Daren Persson Stadium – sponsored by the local funeral director – but for that you get football that is very much alive.
It’s half the price of a Premier League pay-per-view game, but worth the emotional investment.
With fans in, there’s noise, commitment, proper tackles and goals.
North Shields won the FA Vase five years ago and they’d love a cup run again. “I lost there with Newcastle and Arsenal and it took until 2015 with Shield to be a winner,” joked Macdonald.
“We’re the only outlet for supporters to watch live games now. I think, if we can do it safely, so can the richer clubs up the pyramid.”
There is also anger and important political points to be made. Supermac adds: “Our maximum gate is 150, reduced by our local FA. Our average gate is 320.”
Chairman of 26 years Alan Matthews says: “We’re £600 down per home game and the bar takings are slashed,” he reveals. And at this level there are no bail-outs from the Government or Premier League.”
Committee man Bob Scott, in the club bar closed off by virus rules, adds: “The inconsistencies baffle us. Why is the Royal Albert Hall opening for 3,500 people indoors while we can only have 150 outside in the fresh air! We are all-ticket now. Every one is traced and traced. It’s taken endless meetings.”
Newcastle midfielders Sean and Matty Longstaff, both local boys and regulars, pay £100 for a season ticket, and Matty is here watching from the grass bank on his weekend off.
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During summer, Mr Scott reveals as he checks tickets on the gate, the players donated their pay pool to the NHS. An unrecognised gesture. And you’re not talking millionaires here.“They’d like to be though!” he jokes.
A win in the bag and it’s soon back down to earth as Scott locks the goal posts to the railings.
A quick inspection of the facilities and the club tweets about a minor setback.
“A huge thanks to the supporter who has broken our brand new water heater in the outdoor gents toilets… More money to be thrown down the drain to repair the heater..!”
Maybe if they get the nod from the Northumberland and Durham FA for a few more fans, they’ll be able to pay for a new one soon.
How they did it….
North Shields have two dedicated “covid officers”, Sean Milligan and Steve Arkle, who police the contents of six documents.
There are almost 50 pages of regulations to keep players, officials and spectators safe.
There are 19 sheets identifying and mitigating risks on game day, 13 pages stopping transmission during training, a six point player code of behaviour, 4 pages on test and trace procedure, and covid safety briefing.
The operation swung into place on August 19 when the government approved fans to return to step six.
It’s not just England players who have a COVID guidelines to follow.
These lads earning a few quid a game can’t even chew gum at the ground, get changed together, share lifts… never mind attend rule of six breaking parties like Tammy Abraham and friends.
The Butchers Stand capacity has been reduced to just 50, and the faithful observe 2m distancing on the next best viewing area, the “hard-standing” and grass bank.
It’s a far cry from the famous day in 1936 when 13,000 packed into their old base Appleby Park to see a battle against the rivals from over the Tyne, South Shields.
Against local rivals South Shield, from over the river, they’d pull in 2,500. They long for those days, of crowds unlimited by covid rules, back.