NEWCASTLE BENFIELD F.C. HISTORY
The origins of the club can be traced back to 1988 when, as a result of the Northern Alliance league expanding to three divisions; the club competed as Brunswick Village in the Second Division for just one season. Changing the club’s name to Heaton Corner House also brought about a change in fortunes as the club transformed themselves from the previous season’s 10th place finish by storming to the Second Division championship in 1989/90.
The club moved to its current ground at Sam Smith’s Sports Ground on Benfield Road, and again changed its name to Benfield Park. Following a couple of near misses in the race to gain promotion to the Premier Division, the club succeeded at the third time of asking before stunning the Premier Division big boys by claiming a League and Challenge Cup double at the first attempt at the end of the 1994/95 campaign.
That success wasn’t built upon and the club suffered a few seasons in the doldrums, before an approach by local rivals North Shields St. Columba’s gave the club additional momentum at the turn of the millennium. Having managed to persuade Allan Bell to take the manager’s job just weeks after he had led Walker Central to the Northern Alliance title, Benfield’s second Northern Alliance title was achieved in 2002/03 and this fine achievement was heightened by the club’s acceptance into the Northern League for the first time in the club’s history.
Allan Bell left the club before the start of the Northern League adventure, but his replacement Keith Sheardown started brilliantly, leading the club to immediate promotion into the First Division after a final day 9-0 demolition of Willington, but Nissan’s victory over main rivals Ashington was erased from the record books as the had fielded an ineligible player. Ashington won the replayed fixture and took the title, leaving Benfield to settle for second place.
Expectations were for a season of consolidation in the club’s first season in the Northern League Division One, but no-one seemed to have told the players as they led the table for the first six months of the season before falling away and finishing a magnificent fourth. Benfield have since then enjoyed a successful and unbroken tenure in the First Division.
Former Hartlepool United striker Paul Baker replaced Sheardown in September 2005 and was still at the helm when the club lifted their first Northern League honour, the League Cup, in May 2007, having beaten Nissan 1-0 at Federation Park, Dunston, courtesy of a magnificent Alu Bangura goal. Baker enjoyed particular success in FA competitions, leading the club to their then best performance in the FA Vase in 2006 and a year later reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, narrowly losing 1-0 to York City in front of 927 fans, a ground record.
Undoubtedly, the club’s finest season came in 2008/09 when under Tom Wade, the club enjoyed an incredible run of form in the second half of the season to shoot up the league from a mid-table position to win the title on the final day of the season, thanks to an 88th minute winner by Stephen Young in the final game to be played at Penrith’s Southend Road ground. Newcastle Benfield had never been top of the table in the whole season, until Young’s winning strike. That success was doubled when victory in the League Cup, ironically also against Penrith, was assured by a breath-taking Ian Graham goal, though all those who were present would agree that keeper Andrew Grainger’s performance was perhaps the finest individual display by a Benfield player during the club’s time in the Northern League.
Wade left before the start of the following season, with Baker returning and winning the Cleator Cup, the Northern League’s equivalent of the Charity Shield, in his first game back in charge. The club were unable to repeat their Championship winning form and had to settle for fifth place, which was followed by fourth place in 2010/11. The highlight of that latter season was a third League Cup victory for the club, over Spennymoor United at Dunston, where that man Andrew Grainger was the start of the show, saving a penalty and making several world-class saves as 10-man Benfield prevailed 3-1 after extra time.
Paul Baker resigned for the second time in September 2011, to be replaced by former player, captain and assistant manager Alu Bangura. Sadly the club legend’s time in the hot seat was a short one and he resigned six months later, to be replaced by Perry Briggs as the club limped to a disappointing finish in the league. Briggs himself left the club in the late autumn of 2012, to be replaced by former North Shields manager Anthony Woodhouse. Despite an encouraging 3-0 victory away to Sunderland RCA in Woodhouse’s first game in charge, results did not improve noticeably and he quit the job, citing work pressures, in early 2013. For the second season running, Benfield had the distinction of three managers in a season, this time seeing former Bedlington Terriers player Steve Bowey assuming the top job, but combining it with a playing role.
The end of the 2012/13 season saw Benfield avoid relegation by a narrow margin, having won away in the last league game played at Consett’s venerable Belle Vue ground. This was even more impressive as the fixture was played twice, as the lights failed with less than 15 minutes remaining in the first game, when a Benfield victory would have assured safety. The club made their fourth appearance in the League Cup final, ironically in the last ever game to be played at Belle Vue, but came up short against Spennymoor United, despite a battling performance.
For 2013/14, Bowey’s side put in some impressive league performances, including a superb 7-0 victory away to Bedlington Terriers, but ultimately ended up finishing in 14th place. The real focus for the season was the FA Vase, where a series of excellent results, including victory away to eventual Northern League Champions Spennymoor United at their Brewery Field ground, put the club into the quarter finals of this national competition for the first time. Sadly this is where the story ended with a 1-0 defeat to Leicestershire side St. Andrew’s ending the dream of a Wembley appearance.
Tragically, club founder Danny Gates passed away in November 2013. No-one who has ever attended a Benfield game will ever underestimate the contribution of Danny to the history and development of the club. He will never be forgotten.
At the end of the season manager Steve Bowey tendered his resignation and was replaced by Neil Saxton, who in turn left in October to be replaced by the returning Bowey., with the club languishing near the foot of the table. Despite disappointingly early exits in all cup competitions, including a demoralising 2-1 loss away to Chadderton in the FA Vase, Bowey’s return galvanised the club’s league form. The last 14 games saw Benfield win 11 and draw 1 to top the form table, finishing 10th in the real version. This was helped by Northern League Player of the Season Paul Brayson weighing in with 49 goals in all competitions.
With a settled squad, including some quality additions, the signs were hopeful for 2015/2016 at Sam Smith’s Park. However, after a difficult run of results, Bowey tendered his resignation at the end of October. The club acted to appoint Mark Convery and Paul Brayson as joint player managers in November 2015. After safety was assured, with a paper-thin squad, the club opted for stability by retaining them as managers for the 2017/2017 season.