Before we head into the 2019/20 campaign, let’s take a look back at the first time Bishop Auckland won the Northern League title, with an unbeaten season, lifting the title in late April 1899, a little over a hundred-and-twenty-years ago…..
120 years have passed gone April since Bishop Auckland not only claimed their very first Northern League championship, but in doing so became one of only FOUR club’s in the league’s esteemed history to do so with an unbeaten season.
Back in 1899, amidst a 16 game season, gone are those days, the Two Blues won nine and drew seven of theirs on their way to winning a league and cup double (they also won the Durham Challenge Cup for the second time this season).
The Northern League had only been formed a decade prior, the Bishops claiming their maiden championship success by two points from second placed Darlington thus equalling the undefeated feat set by Middlesbrough Ironopolis six years previous.
Since the day they first lifted the title, 28 April 1899 following a 4-2 win at home to Stockton on the final day of the season, only two other sides have gone unbeaten – Shildon in 1937 and Blyth Spartans in 1975.
In fact, on the critically acclaimed blythspirit.wordpress.com site ran by Spartans stalwart Graham Usher, he said of the undefeated record that: “It was a remarkable achievement and Blyth became the 1st club since Shildon in 1936/37 to win the Northern League without losing a single league game, it was the 4th time in the League’s long history (founded in 1890 the Northern League is the oldest football league in the world) it had been achieved with Middleborough Ironopolis in 1892/93 being the first to do it then in 1898/99 Bishop Auckland achieved it, however they were with significantly smaller leagues the previous times it had happened.
“There was only 6 teams in the league in 1892/93 and Ironopolis only played 10 games to win the title (winning 9 & drawing 1) and in 1898/99 the league only had 9 teams when Bishops achieved it by playing only 16 games (winning only 9 & drawing 7) in 1936/37 there was only 14 teams in the league when Shildon played 26 games to win the title (winning 20 & drawing 6) so Blyth’s unbeaten title season is a far greater achievement.
“And still to this day some 38 years later it hasn’t been done since, the closest being in 2004/2005 when Dunston Federation Brewery won the title losing only 1 game in a 21 team league.”
In his magnificent centenary history of Bishop Auckland FC ‘The Bishops’ Kings of Amateur Soccer, author Chris Foote-Wood said of the occasion that; “it was 1898/99 before Bishops won their first Northern League title, three after their first FA Amateur Cup success.
“This they did with an unbeaten record, winning nine and drawing seven of their 16 league games.
“Darlington finished second and Middlesbrough third. Captain Tommy Marshall also led Auckland to a second Durham Challenge Cup triumph that year, a league and county cup double repeated in 1939, 1952, 1956, 1967 and 1985 (our centenary year).”
Bishops would add a second league and county cup double the following year (1986), a league and cup double was achieved four times during the club’s fifties heyday as well, in 1950, 1951, 1954 and 1955, with an additional one in 1967.
SNIPPETS FROM THE NORTHERN ECHO REPORT (published 1 May 1899)
“Under the most wretched of weather conditions, militating against the attendance of the public, these teams played out their last league fixture at Auckland.
“The game opened sensationally, for on Rhodes kicking off the home forwards broke away, and Crawford transferring to Gibson, the latter scoring in the first minute of play…..
“Stockton forced the first corner, but Allan cleared, and Gibson breaking away the whole length of the field, appeared to have the goal at his mercy, when he overran the ball in similar manner to Lodge, and Fall managed to clear.
“A minute later the second goal accrued from a scrimmage in front of goal, Allan shooting the ball into the net….
“After Fairbairn had missed at the other end, Allan and Gibson got down, and the latter added a third goal. The interval arrived shortly afterwards.
“Play was quiet on the restart, each end being visited in turn. Then Rhodes and Salmon worked the ball into Auckland quarters, where Salmon scored five minutes after the resumption…..
“Marshall was getting dangerous, when Lokey brought him down inside the penalty line, and from the resultant penalty kick, Lodge notched the fourth point….
“Stockton attacked with vigour at the close of the game and in the last minute of play Halfpenny shot into the net from a scrimmage.”