BY MICHAEL HUDSON

This is the club that Richie McLoughlin built, the ground he assembled, the players he trained. Offered an overgrown field and old, tarmacked car park on condition they wouldn’t cost the owners a penny to develop, McLoughlin used spare time and materials to create a handmade, homespun venue fit for Northern League football and beyond. Just 18 years after the team he founded first entered the South Tyne Senior League, 1,100 spectators crammed into the Boldon CA Sports Ground for a game that could have taken Jarrow Roofing all the way to Wembley.

“I went and got some machinery, cadged wagons and diggers and made a start,” he recollected to the Northern League magazine. “Wherever I went, I’d collect some more gear. The floodlight pylons were a bit of a problem but Brian Marshall (the club president) worked at the pit, so we were all right when it closed. We’ve just pieced everything together.” The Observer, visiting for an FA Cup preliminary round tie in September 2007, found him working as “coach, chairman, owner, scout, secretary, treasurer, groundsman and chief sponsor“, their headline lauding “Jarrow’s mini-dynamo.” The intervening years have seen him slow down a bit – these days he’s no longer secretary.

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He’s still got his eye for a player, David Carson going from a Roofer last May to a Blackburn Rovers contract in March. The 18 year old is one of many professional footballers to pull on the blue-and-yellow shirt. Ex-Sunderland first-teamers Kevin Arnott, Tony Cullen and Craig Russell – a £1 million signing for Manchester City – have all later played for or alongside McLoughlin. So too Wes Saunders – brought up in neighbouring East Boldon, promoted together with Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle at Newcastle United and later Paul Gascoigne’s agent and manager of Torquay – and Paul Robinson, the striker Ruud Gullit preferred to Shearer and Duncan Ferguson in his valedictory gesture as manager at St James’ Park. Three-time FA Vase winner Paul Chow was a teenage member of the forward line when Roofing made the semi-final of the same competition in 2005, while McLoughlin himself – manager since the club was founded in 1987 – has a claim to be the oldest man to play an FA Cup tie, lasting the full 90 – in his late, late 40s – during a preliminary round game against Bootle in 1999.

Final preparations for the Northern League’s 125th anniversary groundhop – Roofing matched against promotion rivals Heaton Stannington in an 11am Easter Saturday game – meant an early start on Wednesday morning, McLoughlin at the ground from 5 o’clock to midday then returning for training at 6.30pm to find a storeroom broken into and an intruder attempting to wriggle under a fence. “We spotted someone lying on the ground. We went over and apprehended him until the police arrived,” secretary Bryn Griffiths told The South Shields Gazette. Thursday morning was spent fixing the damage and painting out lines on the pitch, McLoughlin having to wait for police forensics to finish before starting on a roofing job at noon. After checking the ground on Friday, he was back at five on Saturday morning, four hours before his wife Jan arrived to start opening up the eponymous tea hut in a corner of the ground. Andy Hudson, media and communications manager, comes at the same time with bundles of The Roofer, the Northern League’s newly awarded programme of the year. The groundhoppers follow an hour before kick-off. “Quirky ground,” tweets one first-time visitor. “Very unique,” thinks another.

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A season-best crowd of 350 watches Paul Gardiner – who made bench at Carlisle United as a 16-year-old – set up ex-Hartlepool United forward Andy Appleby’s 29th goal of the season with just under a quarter of an hour played. With Wes Saunders, assistant-manager Ian Davison and striker Justin Perry – a Champions League player with Barry Town – having joined McLoughlin in preparing for their biggest game of the season, the Roofers efficiently close the game out, nullifying the 40-goal threat of the visitors’ former Hibernian junior Jonathan Wright.

Richie celebrates the victory by getting a round of drinks in for the players and staff. While Hudson, Griffiths and a group of players in team tracksuits head to the Nissan plant in Washington – where the home side’s 1-1 draw with Seaham Red Star means Roofing will return to the first division with three points from their final two league games – the McLoughlins drive up to a caravan in Northumberland for a well-deserved break. “I’m here first thing in the morning, go to work and then land back at the ground,” Richie said in an interview to mark the club’s 25th anniversary in 2011-12. “I can’t tell you how much time I spend here, and I’d better not tell you how much money.”

Jarrow Roofing’s dynamo just keeps powering on.

YOU CAN FOLLOW MICHAEL ON TWITTER @DolphinHotel

YOU CAN VIEW MICHAEL’S EXCELLENT BLOG HERE theaccidentalgroundhopper.blogspot.com

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