Romantic meals; couples coyly catching glances in each other’s eyes; hands brushing. This was Scalinis in Gosforth at 8pm on a Friday evening. What could enhance this romantic mood? How about Hebburn Town arriving with bunches of flowers…
The team spirit within the Hebburn camp is sky-high ahead of kick-off. Last night it was flowers; recently, when the squad travelled north to play Alnwick Town, it was ironing boards that the players travelled with. Unluckily for Alnwick fans, the ironing boards made the journey back to South Tyneside. For the patrons of Scallinis, the flowers were a welcome gift as the players presented them to different tables.
Cake was dished out as Chris Jewels, captain and defensive tower, and Tony Stephenson, the ex-Gillingham player with pace to burn, celebrated their birthdays. Afterwards, the players took it in turns to stand up, one by one, to introduce a fact that no-one knows about them, almost entirely drowned out in laughter. “I’m John Toomey, 29, I love Saturday and hate Tuesday. And I love Call of Duty”.
Back at the hotel, in one room, the players were watching re-runs of the Radcliffe Borough match. In another room, the management team of Paul Bennett and Andrew Wood had flipcharts out plotting tactics and the final team. That didn’t last long; the strength in this squad is the togetherness.
As the whole squad came together over breakfast, there were no nerves. Phones were going crazy with messages of support from friends, family and the rest of the Northern League.
Chris Tait, who last season was playing for Birtley Town, was in relaxed mood as he went for his morning walk with goalkeeper, Dan Regan. “It’s raining now, it’ll suit us” he said as he passed.
In an era where football players appear to take everything for granted, there’s no such feeling amongst the Hebburn squad. They are focused, they are jovial, but above all else, they are loving it. And they don’t intend to stop now.
Words: Andy Hudson. For more on Hebburn, visit Andy’s world-wide-website Gannin’ Away – and for Swedish football at Blagul Fotboll.