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Local North-East football club just one win away from first trophy in nearly two decades

Whickham FC will play in the Durham Challenge Cup final in hopes of winning the competition for the first time in 18 years. Lewis McGarry speaks to Whickham Chairman, Ross Gregory, about the final, the fans, and his memories of winning the trophy.

Eighteen years on from the only other time they’ve won the competition, Whickham FC are heading to the Stadium of Light for the final of the Durham Challenge Cup to take on West Auckland Town.

The main entrance to the Stadium of Light. Image credit – Lewis McGarry

The occasion is not lost on Whickham’s Chairman Ross Gregory who told me “It’s huge for the club. We’ve not been in this particular final or many other finals recently.”

Whickham may not have made many finals recently but this season have held their own across their competitions. Having good runs within cup competitions and being in the hunt for a top half league finish has culminated in a positive season for the North-East side.

“The clubs had a really good season in terms of cup runs and cup competitions. We’ve done well in the FA cup, I say well relatively speaking. We’ve done well in the FA Vase, we were the last North-East representative in the FA Vase,” Ross added.

The fans at Whickham have not disappointed this season with their support, putting in some serious miles to follow the players home and away. Forming ‘ultras’ groups and making the noise to help push the team on the pitch.

Ross told me “The atmosphere that they have helped create and helped generate at some of our games this season, the semi-final against Newton Aycliffe, the atmosphere we got was incredible. We had a game last week against Birtley, last Friday night, and they were fantastic. We’ve got a really young group of fans now a hardcore kind of under 16’s. They call themselves the Whickham Ultras and they’re brilliant. 

“They come with their drums and their flags, and their passion, and noise and it has been great to see. They’ve put some hard yards in as well like I say going to Emerly earlier in the season in the Vase. It would be great to reward them. It would be great to see them making the noise and filling the Stadium of Light with noise and hopefully we give them something to shout about.”

I also spoke with Chris Mills, Head of Media at Whickham, about the support from the fans.

Well the clubs been very well supported this season and also for the final. We’ve got a set called the Wickham Ultras that are around 14-15 years old and travel home and away. 

“For this game a young lad whose head of them, Freddie, has put on a 90 seater bus for him and his friends to get to the final. They’ve also done it for Emerly in the FA Vase, which was a four hour round trip. So, that support has been unbelievable.”

Whickham could be just 90 minutes away from bringing some silverware to the club for the first time in over a decade. Ross may be chairman of the club now but the last time they won the Durham Challenge Cup he was part of the coaching team and told me how he would love the current group to experience what he did that day.

“Like you say, it was 2005/6 the last time we won that trophy, and I was in the dugout that day, I was part of the coaching staff, so I’ve got really good memories of it I still remember the celebrations afterwards on the pitch and in the changing rooms back at the club in the afternoon and through into the night. 

“You want to be able to give that experience to the rest of the club and to the rest of the players. There are a lot of local lads in the team now so hopefully they’ll remember some of the good times we’ve had as a club, and they’ll be inspired to bring home the trophy for the local town and for the fans and the club.”

Scott Robson, Whickam’s number nine, has scored over 50 goals for the club this season, an impressive number at any level of the game. His goals have helped to guide Whickham to this final and I spoke with Ross about the impact of having such a prolific player in the side.

“He has been great for us this season, for two or three seasons to be fair. This season in particular and probably the last six weeks two months or so he’s been on fire; everything he has touched has turned into goals. 

“It’s like any standard of football if you’ve got someone at the top end of the pitch who is going to put the ball in the back of the net it sometimes doesn’t matter how well you’re playing or if you’re on top or struggling. If you’ve got someone who can turn a half chance into a goal, if you know you’ve got a threat at that top end it’s massive for any club.”

Scott Robson in action for Whickham. Image credit – Anna Bondarenko

Playing in a final, especially in a ground with the pedigree of the Stadium of Light, will be a first for many of Whickham’s players but Ross hopes they use the opportunity to enjoy the game and occasion. 

“It’s [the final] being played at the Stadium of Light, a fantastic venue for the club and fantastic for the players to experience playing in a professional stadium, a Championship stadium and Premier League stadium in all but name.

So, it’s a fantastic occasion, it’s a fantastic achievement for the players and they’ll hopefully savour the occasion.”

A group of Whickham’s players during a match. Image credit – Anna Bondarenko