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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Crook Town AFC

The Millfield Ground, West Road, Crook, County Durham DL15 9PW
Telephone: 01388 762959
Nickname: The Black & Ambers
Northern League
Website

Note For anyone with an interest in the history of football, it is difficult not to be taken in by the atmosphere that pervades a ground like Millfield, with it’s pitched roof stand and grass banks. The club has had a couple of name changes during its long history, although not in 1889 when the original Crook Town FC joined forces with Crook Excelsior FC to form a new club. 

In those days home was the Peases West Welfare Ground at nearby Bankfoot. In 1898 however, the club acquired a new ground for the princely sum of £625 on the site of an old mill which served the local Iron Foundary, hence the name. A new 300 capacity grandstand was built, and survived until 1925; whilst two cottages were acquired as changing rooms. Over the next few years, the tipping of ash created the massive banks which were grassed over, and survive today on three sides of the ground. The banking gave the ground a considerable capacity, with the record of 17,500 being set for the visit of Walton & Hersham for an Amateur Cup tie in 1952, although unofficial estimates have the figure in excess of 20,000.

Between 1913-22 Crook toured Spain three times, playing Barcelona no fewer than ten times. Jack Greenwell, who organized and played on the first tour went on to become the first English manager of Barca until the mid-1930s when he took over the Spanish national side, an appointment ended by the Spanish Civil War; before later managing the Peruvian national side.

In 1928 the club became infamous when several officials were suspended for making illegal payments to supposedly amateur players: a scandal known as the ‘Crook Town Affair’.  The club’s record for 1927-28 was expunged as a consequence, but it did officially turn semi-professional during the 1930-31 season (as Crook FC) and reached the third round of The FA Cup for the only time the following year. Eventually, mounting financial problems saw Crook sell the ground to the local Council and revert back to amateur status in 1936 and became Crook Town once more. There was another name change in 1945 when the club amalgamated with Hole-in-the-wall Colliery FC and Peases West Welfare FC to become Crook Town Colliery. This however only lasted until 1949 when the original name was restored once again.

During the decade 1954-64 Crook visited Wembley Stadium four times in the final of the FA Amateur Cup and lifted the trophy on each occasion, although it took them three attempts to finally defeat neighbours Bishop Auckland in 1953-54. In the early 1950s gates of 10,000 were the norm for cup ties, and in 1976 Crook became the first English club to tour India playing six games, with a gate of 100,000 watching them lose one-nil to the Indian national side. In the 1980s however, the club’s fortunes declined markedly, and by the early 1990s it came perilously close to folding altogether.

The splendid pitched roof grandstand that is the ground’s jewel-in-the-crown replaced its predecessor in 1925, and cost £1,300 to build. During the club’s darkest period in the late 1980s it was condemned as unsafe and spent a number of years covered in scaffolding. Thankfully, and some would say remarkably, it was successfully renovated and was re-opened during the 1994-95 season. As always with such stands the view is far from ideal, but who cares as long as these terrific structures are preserved.

Adjacent to the stand is an area of terracing laid down in 1960, and covered by an unusual angled roof which looks rather incongruous alongside its more traditional neighbour. Shortly before my visit in October 2005, high winds lifted the roof off its supports before dumping it back down again, and the damage is clearly visible in the photograph below. Floodlights (upgraded in 1993) were first erected in 1968, and were christened in a game vs Manchester City on 16 December. DB