Dunston UTS FC Club Legends.
An interview with John Thompson. The man who dreamed of bringing Northern League Football to Dunston.
John Thompson is a pioneer; the man dreamed of giving Dunston a Northern League club. He, along with others on the committee, delivered that through sheer hard work and sacrifice.
As a player and manager at Dunston his trophy haul was only bettered by legendary Dunston Manager Bobby Scaife some twenty years later. Thompson led the club to 11 Trophies during their time in The Northern Amateur League and then The Northern Combination League.
As Club Chairman from 1985- 1995 he presided over a period which saw Dunston Federation Brewery, as they were then, rise through The Wearside League and then onto The Northern League. Still to this day John is relentless, committing countless hours of his time ensuring that the ground and pitch are in immaculate condition. He is regularly found behind the bar on match-days pulling some of the best pints in Dunston.
Laid back and humble, he’s given so much to his local community and put Dunston on the non-league footballing map. Without his vision and endeavour the club would never have come into existence.
Go back to 1975, what was the plan and why did you decide you set the club up?
It started at HMSO, me and Billy Montague were both working there and Alan Stott was playing for us. They said the works football team wasn’t going to go on anymore as it was going to close down. We were there from 1971 to 1975.
We all drank in The Bay Horse and a lot of the lads all drank in the Rose & Crown at Whickham. We just asked the Manager at the Bay Horse if he’d be interested in running a team out of the there and he was absolutely over the Moon, he couldn’t get us in quick enough.
We started a pint draw on a Sunday night, he used to give us so many pints for the draw and we used to make about £15-£20 off that and that’s what we used to run the with club for a few years until we started getting sponsors in.
Who was involved in the club at the start?
Me, Monty - who has always been Club Secretary, Alan Stott played for HMSO and he’s been involved the whole time. That was the main three. Then Ian McPherson joined us from Redheugh and played for us, there was about six or seven of them come in from Redheugh in about 1976 and they’ve just stayed on since.
You started out as a player and Club Manager, how did the club develop in those early years?
I think we started out for 1 season in The Northern Amateur League, then we went into the Northern Combination League, which was a big League back then, you had the likes of Swalwell, Whickham and all them and once we got into The Combination League, that’s when we started to bump our players up a bit. Better players started coming in the higher up the leagues we got. The likes of Paul King, Ian McPherson, Alan Stott, then we got the likes of Colin Wright, lads from Low Fell came down to us and that’s when we kicked on really. Then we decided to move down to The Mechanics in Dunston.
We were playing out of Dunston Park as Whickham Sports FC at the time, there was no changing rooms at Dunston Park back then, so we had to move up to Marley Hill for half a season. There were that many teams playing at Dunston Park on a Saturday and Sunday they used this pitch (The present day site of The UTS Stadium) as an overflow. As soon as a seen it, on the corner of Dunston, I seen its potential for us to move onto into our own ground. So we moved to The Mechanics and developed the ground side of it, we got a 25 year lease off the Council for it and then we obviously started to develop it.
There was no fences round it, it was just a car park at the top, no outside fences, no inside fences, no changing rooms, we still got changed at Dunston Park and walked down, boots on and everything.
From then we got the dressing rooms built, spectator fencing round the pitch, that got done in about 3 or 4 seasons and we just begged, borrowed or stole the stuff, it was all done with second-hand gear and that’s how it was for years and now we’ve we got it all developed again.
The move to The Mechanics was about the early 80’s, I think we were Whickham Sports for about 5 years, then when were at The Mechanics, The Federation Brewery came in a sponsored us.
How did sponsorship with The Federation Brewery come about then?
The Federation Brewery was just down from the ground, when we were based in Dunston Mechanics I just decided to go and ask them. Jimmy Ramshaw was the Chairman down there back then and there was absolutely no problem. Jimmy took it to the Board meeting and back then nearly everyone on The Board meetings at The Brewery were Chairman of Clubs, they were all involved in Football clubs and that really started us on our journey when we got that sponsorship. Then we moved into The Wearside League, started to get better players in and then it was just a gradual improvement every year.
The local non-leagues back then were arguably a lot stronger than they are now. How much of a challenge was that progression?
There were some really good sides in the Northern Combination League, teams like Westerhope, Swalwell, Lemington, there were 4 or 5 sides in that League who could’ve been in The Northern League. The Wearside League, compared to what it is now, was a really strong league. The Northern League didn’t have a 2nd division back then. The Wearside League was a really, really strong league and you had to be a decent side to win The Wearside League. Then of course they started the Northern League 2nd Division, when you won The Wearside League you went into the Northern League 2nd division.
We won every league we were in, we very rarely got beat. There was one season where we went through undefeated and got beat in the last game. Then as I said, the Combination league was strong, but once we moved into The Wearside League, the likes of Swalwell and all them folded up and then all of a sudden The Combination League wasn’t as strong. Then you had The Northern League 2nd division and that was our next target, we won that as well and obviously the rest is history.
Once we got into The Northern League, obviously we stopped winning as many things as The Northern League was very strong.
You’d gone from being player and manager to then taking the role of Club Chairman. What was the reason for your move from manager to the clubs first Chairman?
We probably needed somebody with a little bit more savvy to come in as manager when we moved up the leagues and we needed a Chairman, somebody to run the club. I dropped out from that role when Malcolm James became Chairman and I actually said that I wanted Malcolm to take charge of The Club.
One of my main things about football was, right from when I was a young’un, I used to go on the bus with “The Clava” to watch them play and they all had Northern League players. Then I used to go into The Northern League in the 60’s and I’d say to the lads “Why are we coming here?” As soon as we got this ground, that’s always been my aim, to get a Northern League Club into Dunston and a Northern League ground and I’ve done it.
You look at what you have managed to achieve over all those years, you look back to when you were at HMSO or running out of The Bay Horse, you fast forward through to the days in the Northern League where you’d done the double twice then you’ve got to a point where you’re all in The Royal box at Wembley, did you ever think at any stage that that could ever happen?
No, but you always dreamt about it. You probably never thought you’d do it but once you got into that situation in The Northern League there was always a chance where you were in a situation where you could do it. I never thought we ever would, but we used to dream about it. We used to say if we could get to The Vase Final, what an achievement that would be and it still is to this day. If we could get back to Wembley again it would be another achievement totally, but that’s going to be even harder, maybe get there through to The FA Trophy Final, I couldn’t see that happening but you never know.
The club had moved up to the next level two season ago, winning The Northern League in 2018/19 and gaining promotion to The Northern Premier League. You’ve achieved everything you set out to achieve. Considering how much the clubs developed and progressed where do you think the club could be in 10 or 20 years times?
I honestly haven’t got a clue. I didn’t think we’d be in this League now. I’m a bit of a Northern League freak, I love the Northern League. This Leagues been a bit of a challenge to me in a lot of ways; with all the travelling, having to be a bit more perfect with the pitch and everything.
I wouldn’t like to say where we could be but it won’t be with me, I might be an Honorary Chairman, or Vice Chairman or coming down in my wheelchair on a Saturday afternoon.
Over the decades, I’d imagine that you’ve probably seen almost every game Dunston have played. Out of the players you’ve had, players you’ve played alongside, who are the ones who’ve really stood out for you?
There’s so many. In our Whickham Sports day Paul King was a 30 goal a season centre forward, Mack (Ian McPherson) and Stotty (Alan Stott) were great players. Mickey Storey was my mate, he was a cracking keeper and played for us for about 10-15 years.
We got the likes of Keith McNall who was brilliant player. Stevie Kendall who in my mind was probably the best player we’ve ever had at the club; Stevie was at Nottingham Forest when Brian Clough was there, he was a class player and a bit of a rogue. When I played for Kibblesworth on a Sunday, his Mam and Dad lived in Kibblesworth and his brother in law played with me. I read the letter they got from Brian Clough, asking them, begging them to send Stevie back to Nottingham Forest and then we got him.
We had players like Matty Hillary, Micky Farrey, we started getting the better quality of players coming to us. We had a player called Tommy Ditchburn who was fantastic, he could play anywhere. Then when we got into the Northern League, we had Nigel Walker, Steven Fletcher. Then last year we had class players.
The best all round side we had would’ve been the one that won the double back to back (pictured below). The FA Vase side was an excellent side but the double winning side was just brilliant; they went unbeaten until the last game of the season so for me that’s probably the best side we’ve ever had.
How would you sum the club up and what makes this club so special?
A set of mates who’ve grown up with the club for 40 odd year, played for the club, been on the committee for the club and done everything for the club.
Everywhere you go, out of all the leagues we’ve been in, everybody comments on how many committee men we’ve got and that for me is a lot of hard work and dedication from a lot of people. As a unit we’ve been together for 40 years and that for me is the ultimate thing. Now you’ve got the likes of Billy Irwin, Tony Cleugh and yourself who’ve come on and it’s a new generation. If you all take it on as far as we have then who knows?
The support and sponsorship we received from The Federation Brewery really helped to push us on into The Northern League. Without them we would’ve never achieved what we have managed to achieve. They backed us for 20 years until they closed.
Obviously when they did close it had a huge impact on the club, but we have some business savvy committee men and then when Shaun Sadler and UTS Engineering came in, their support has really helped to push us onto the level we’re at now, without them and a lot of other sponsors, supporters, friends and businesses who’ve help to support the club for years we’d not be where we are now.
My family have been involved in the club, Wor Lass used to work behind the bar, our Helen works behind the bar, our Matty comes down anytime we need plumbing done and if it hadn’t been for them turning a blind eye to what I’ve done, then who knows? It’s taken my life over and if it hadn’t have been for them, most Women would just said “Get oot” you know.
Images courtesy of Ken Fitzpatrick Dunston UTS FC archives.
Interview by - Dan Whalen