It’s been a long, arduous journey but Birtley Town are back in the Ebac Northern League after a two-year absence.
Opposing clubs will face a very different Birtley Town to the one that was relegated into the Northern Alliance in April 2016.
The club are now reenergised, refocused and reinvigorated after a whole host of changes took place during their time at step seven of the non-league pyramid.
A new committee has taken hold of the club and are driving it forwards on and off the pitch.
Their Robinson Heating and Plumbing Stadium home is almost recognisable from the one that last staged a Northern League game.
The pitch looks pristine and sponsor boards are rapidly being filled as the local business community rallies around their local club.
The clubhouse is ready to welcome opposition supporters and the hardworking committee have ensured that every angle has been covered.
The journey doesn’t end with their return to the Northern League; the hard work has only just begun according to club secretary Colin Beat.
“All of the old guard that were here before us did a fantastic job but I think they were getting a bit tired of it all,” explained Beat.
“The place had been let go and it needed pulled around a bit.
“We got a bunch of new people in and it’s been tough but I think we have knocked it into shape.
“You can see looking around everything has been painted, the pitch looks great and sponsors are coming into the club, which helps generate money to keep on improving.
“We are continually looking to improve on and off the pitch.
“We have great links with the juniors now.
“They all come down to watch us and we have mascots at every game.
“It is a massive involvement for everyone and a lot of the volunteers that help on matchday are part of the junior setup.
“It’s a real club effort and we are looking to push on now we are back in the Northern League.”
Beat was open, honest and surprisingly positive when he assessed the impact of the relegation of two years ago.
The 2015/16 season was a miserable one for Birtley Town as they conceded 117 goals in the league, finishing six points behind third-bottom Esh Winning.
That brought an end to their eight-year stay in the Northern League but they underwent rehabilitation during their time in the Northern Alliance and Beat is grateful for the support they received at step seven.
He said, “Relegation could be seen as a good thing.
“It didn’t feel like it at the time but I think we would have been in the same position twelve months on.
“Struggling to keep players, struggling to get points and struggling to stay away from the bottom of the table.
“We have a good group of players now and the Alliance was good for us.
“Our first year wasn’t great and we had to change our manager so Paul Beat came in and he has the support of other people behind him.
“They have supported him and the club and after a tough season we won promotion.
“We have been guided on this process by the Northern Alliance and they have helped massive.
“We owe them a huge debt.
“They have been great for us.”
Preparations for the new season and well underway.
An impressive pre-season win at newly-promoted Division One side Whickham caught the eye.
The green and whites have faced League Cup holders Dunston UTS and will face former manager Scott Oliver and his high-profile Hebburn Town side.
Beat praised the former Town boss for his continued support and believes that he signifies the way people now think of his club.
“We have an exciting pre-season.
“We arranged some big friendlies against teams like Whickham, Dunston UTS and Hebburn Town.
“Hebburn’s manager Scott Oliver used to be our manager and that has been beneficial because he sends players our way.
“He has always looked out for us and he is a big support.
“Things like that help us and it’s not just Scott, the messages we get from people that have been at the club is amazing.
“People want to be part of this club.”
Much-fancied Heaton Stannington will be the visitors on the opening-day of the Northern League season on the first Saturday of August.
The Stan are one of the sides tipped to push for promotion into the league’s top-tier and will provide a stern test of Birtley’s credentials for the new season.
Whilst their opening-day visitors target promotion, Birtley’s targets are more modest.
Consolidation and laying long-term foundations will be the aim according to Beat.
“We want to consolidate, you have to crawl before you can walk.
“We won’t be chucking money all over, that’s not what this club is about.
“Obviously we look after the players and make sure they get little bonuses but we have improvements to do around the ground.
“We need a new hi-tech CCTV installed, we need a fire alarm system and motion-sensor alarms.
“The money we make this year will be put into the infrastructure of the club.
“It is now about looking forward and helping this club become established within the Northern League.”
One journey has ended, but now another one has begun for Birtley Town.
Article by Mark Carruthers: @MarkCarruthers_