Hallowed turf of the shipyards

SOME of the country's best known soccer stars played on it at one time or another, including Bobby Charlton.

And that's not to mention at least one MP, and even the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The old shipyard of Hawthorn Leslie's at Hebburn is in the process of being demolished.

With it goes a tradition of some of the finest shipbuilding in the world but also - and less well known - the record of a really rather amazing sports ground.

The origin of Hawthorn Leslie's football teams, made up of journeymen and apprentices who worked for the firm, can be traced back to 1916, to a field at the foot of Hebburn's ballast hill, just a stone's throw from the yard.

Quite a number of talented players went on to play football at the highest level.

"And although not former Leslie's players, it's amazing the number of famous ex-footballers who played on Leslie's sports ground," says John Diamond.

"They include Newcastle United legend Hughie Gallacher, former South Shields lad Stan Mortensen, who played alongside Stanley Matthews for Blackpool and England, and also England's most famous player, Bobby Charlton."

John is the author of a smashing new book, Hebburn Leslie's Football Teams, which has been published by Jarrow & Hebburn Local History Society.

It traces the origins of the shipyard teams to those early days, when they were members of the Tyneside Munitions Works League.

It was the First World War, and it's interesting that there was anger in some quarters that what were perceived as fit young men should be playing football instead of fighting, though in reality some were too young to join up, while others were essentially employed in a reserved occupation.

They played on the old Hebburn Argyle ground at the foot of the ballast hill, Argyle having had to abandon their football club because of the demands of the war.

It was known as the Ellison ground, and the ballast hill afforded a marvellous vantage point for spectators.

Over the years, former Leslie's players who became well-known professional footballers included Chris Waddle (ex-Newcastle UTD, Spurs, England etc), Gerry Young (Sheffield Wednesday), George Armstrong (Arsenal), Tommy Dodds (Aston Villa), Dave Hubbick (Ipswich Town, Wimbledon, Colchester), Ian Handyside (Birmingham City, Wolves, Walsall) and Alan Guy (Newcastle Utd, Peterborough, Shrewsbury Town).

Other well known local lads also turned out for Leslie's Juniors, including Jarrow's now MP Stephen Hepburn, who still enjoys a game of football for charity with some of his Parliamentary colleagues.

Also Brendan Foster, former world class athlete and BBC athletics commentator, as well as Jarrow artist Jim Lishman and South Tyneside businessman Paul Hedley.

Says John: "Steve Cram's father, Bill, also used to play on Leslie's ground. A policeman, Bill regularly played for Jarrow Police, who played their midweek afternoon matches there.

"We can also claim that royalty played on the ground in the form of Lord Louis Mountbatten.

"When visiting Leslie's shipyard, which he did many times, he would head along to the ground to take in a game of bowls with a few of the directors and managers of the shipyard."

In all the teams survived for more than 70 years, meeting their demise at the end of the 1988-89 season when Leslie's Autopoint Juniors, as members of the old Jarrow & District JOC League, disbanded.

By then they weren't even playing on their famous old ground, but were fulfilling their fixtures elsewhere.

Today, the entrance to where the Leslie's teams played, just off Victoria Road East, can still be seen, being the entrance to the Sullivan Walk housing estate.

Even today, says John, you can walk through and virtually pinpoint where the clubhouse pavilion was situated, the two main pitches, tennis courts, bowling greens and even where the old wooden cricket pavilion was situated - all now long gone.

The book includes more than 80 photographs, as well as player profiles, league tables, match reports etc.

Priced 8.99, it is now on sale at Donohue's newsagent's in Station Road, Hebburn, but also look out for it in local libraries.