This year’s transfer window has seen many ins and outs, unexpected signings, even more unexpected shows of loyalty, and the truly hilarious sight of no-one wanting to sign Joey Barton.
The transfer departure that has most caught my eye however comes not from the Premier League, nor the Championship, not even from professional football altogether. It comes from the Northern Football League Division One – the ninth tier of English football.
A little history of me to precede this. I grew up in the north-east (no I’m not a Geordie. Actually I sound worryingly like George Osborne). My local team, as in the team that had their ground at the end of my road, was Whitley Bay FC. I was a season ticket holder in my teenage years, and would trot along to Hillheads Park every Saturday for some good old-fashioned entertainment watching men who were superior to pub footballers mostly through physical fitness, boot each other, and occasionally a football.
The Bay were extremely successful in my time. Three successive trips to Wembley in the FA Vase final, three straight trophies. The second semi final against Barwell, where Whitley, after a 3-3 first leg draw and going a goal down inside 30 seconds in the second, won the game 6-5 on aggregate with a 94th minute winner, will forever be ingrained in my mind. That second leg is the greatest game of football I have ever seen, and until England win the World Cup (so never) probably will be.
The thing about the Seahorses, for that is the nickname, is that they have always had superb strikers. Lee Kerr, then Paul Chow – you can keep Henry and Owen, they were the striking stars of my youth.
Last year, as I slaved away in Sheffield for a Masters degree, I sadly missed every Whitley Bay game. Keeping up with reports on their website, I noticed one name keep popping up, as Whitley endured an unusually tepid mid-table season, with the manager sacked halfway through.
Peter Watling was the name, and goals were his game. No longer, though.
Whitley Bay will be losing striker Peter Watling next month when he moves to the Middle East. Is he following the mercenary Asamoah Gyan path of giving up a successful goalscoring stint in north-east England for oil-soaked riches?
He is not. Watling is taking up a teaching post. He has been given a two year contract teaching PE in a brand new school for English speaking pupils in the United Arab Emirates, an opportunity he described as “too good to turn down” to the club website.
He arrived at Hillheads from Team Northumbria last summer and was Whitley’s top scorer last season with 29 goals. He has been available for the first two league fixtures – he scored in the last of them against Durham City in midweek – before flying out later in August.
This illustrates non-league football to a T. Be as successful as you like, but life does have a habit of getting in the way. Good luck Peter.
by Matthew Smith