The United Counties League is this year celebrating its 125th anniversary, having started out as the Northants Junior League back in 1895.
The first season saw 11 clubs take part, with Wellingborough Reserves becoming the first champions, and aside from breaks for two World Wars, and the current COVID-19 crisis, it has been going ever since.
League celebrations involving get-togethers have obviously been put on hold and ‘are all a bit up in the air’ at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the occasion can’t be marked with a bit of style.
Northampton resident Andy Goldsmith has ensured the milestone is celebrated with the publication of a new book entitled From The Nene To The Wash – The History Of The UCL.
It is a lovingly put together and fascinating season-by-season account from the day the league was set up in a room at the Granville Hotel in Wellingborough, right up until the completion of the 2018-19 campaign, and a reborn Daventry Town’s Premier Division success.
The UCL has a very long and proud history, and among the clubs to play their first matches under its umbrella are both Northampton Town and Peterborough United.
Goldsmith himself has a lengthy history with the league, having spent 35 years with Northampton Spencer, as programme editor, youth coach and finally president.
He now helps out at another Northampton UCL side, ON Chenecks, and admits doing the book, which he finished in February and was published last month, was something he really enjoyed.
“I wanted to write the book for the league, because it is a massive achievement for it to be in existence for 125 years,” said Goldsmith.
“They have had some tough years, and they have had some big years, like when King’s Lynn came in, and we had AFC Rushden & Diamonds come in with the big crowds.
“But there was a time in the early 60s when the league was down to just eight clubs and nearly folded.
“Then you have a team like Desborough, and for them this is the only league they have ever played in, a one-league club.
“It was interesting doing the book, and I really did enjoy it. The feedback I have had so far has been very good, and I am proud of it because I had never done anything like this before.
“There’s that saying that there’s a book in everyone, so here is mine.”
And he added: “I have done the book as a season-by-season account, so I wanted pictures from every season, and I wanted the league tables fromevery season.
“I wanted the book to be a one-stop shop of the UCL, from the Northants League days to now.
“That’s why the title is From The Nene To The Wash, because it started off in Northampton, and ended with with King’s Lynn being the most extreme place in the league on The Wash, down the other end of the river.
“The league certainly covers a big area.”
So how did it come to be that Goldsmith was given such a big challenge?
Sadly, the two people who urged Goldsmith to get writing have now passed away.
They were Jeremy Biggs, who was known as Mr UCL and put together a book marking the league’s centenary in 1995, and also former league chairman John Weeks.
“John and myself were very passionate about the history of the UCL and the clubs, and seeing as I was at Spencer for a long time I had a lot of stuff, said Goldsmith.
“Jeremy had done plenty of stuff prior to that, so the bones of the book were there.
“I wanted to do a good job for Jeremy and John, because they were both very passionate about the league and very knowledgable.
“It was something I wanted to do, and I was keen to get other people involved.”
As mentioned earlier, there are pictures marking every season played, and Goldsmith says he is grateful to photographer Gordon Whittington for that.
“Every Saturday from the mid 1990s he was out taking pictures, and they weren’t really shared around,” he said.
“I phoned him up and he said ‘I have got millions of photos’, well I said I don’t want that many, but could you send me pictures of two or three games from each season, that means something.”
He was delighted to do that, and then there was Bob Perkins, who went through all of the league tables to ensure they were correct, while Goldsmith also leaned on fellow author Ian Addis, who has previously written books on Northants football, and also penned former Northants and England cricketer David Steele’s autobiography
“I had never written a book before, and even though I had done a programme for 35 years, I didn’t know where to start,” admitted Goldsmith.
“Ian was a big help over two or three meetings, but he was a mentor I could turn to if I needed to.”
More help came from Goldsmith’s old Spencer pal Andy Wrighting, whose Futureprint company have printed the book, as well as local magazine publisher Paul Desmond, Paul Desmond who designed the front and back cover.
The book is of course full of football facts and figures, historical pictures and tales of on-field success.
But Goldsmith was also keen to incude stories and anecdotes of off-field interest.
So, included in there are instances such as when the Barton Rovers team bus got stuck in the river ahead of an FA Vase clash at Buckingham Town, with the players having to climb out of the windows in the roof to play.
Then there was the occasion a sink-hole opened in the Finedon Town pitch on the opening day of a season, and the take of a former Cobblers player being enticed to play for Rushden Town – by being given a new house as a signing on fee!!
This season is of course already over due to the coronavirus crisis, with the Football Association calling a halt to all leagues below National League level.
It is something that has not been ideal for Goldsmith or his book launch either, although he is staying positive.
“It has done quite well so far, but it is getting out and distributing it now,” he said.
“The place we were going to have it on sale in Northampton was the library, and they can’t give any guarantees as to when that will be.
“I know there are a lot of people who do buy stuff online, but this book will appeal to a lot of older people who don’t use that market.
“If you have somewhere locally you can go and pick it up, I think that is a benefit to the older generation. But that’s where we are.”
The books is priced at £15, and can still be ordered from the UCL office via [email protected] or telephone 01733 330056.
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