On Thursday lunchtime, Northern League club Billingham Synthonia tweeted out a statement that indicated that they needed to raise £10,000 in order to see out this season after the sponsor / benefactor who had been funding the club walked away.
Like us here at Cables, the Synners have an unusual suffix, Synthonia being a contraction of ‘synthetic ammonia’ which at the time of the club’s formation in 1923 was the main focus of production at ICI Billingham. There are other connections to Knowsley too, not least the fact that when the club moved to their Central Avenue ground in 1958, the impressive facility was opened by the club’s near-neighbour, Lord Derby.
However, Central Avenue – the focal point of which was an enormous, cantilevered stand which, at its peak held 2,000 spectators – was closed in 2017 having fallen into disrepair. Having been an ICI works team originally and linked to the industrial giant until the 1990s, Synners couldn’t count on assistance from their former parent and had to decamp to nearby Norton, where the football pitch formerly occupied by Norton & Stockton Ancients was vacant.
Synners have been based at the multi-sport Station Road complex ever since, but with their local rivals Billingham Town having stayed put at their own ground, have struggled to persuade fans to make the three mile journey south. A return to a refurbished Central Avenue is impossible, as it was demolished in 2019.
Now, I need to declare an interest here; I’d occasionally watch games at Central Avenue when visiting family on Teesside and, for a while, my cousin Jamie Pollock was their Chairman. However, Jamie stepped down last summer, to support his sons, Ben and Mattie as they seek to follow in Dad’s footsteps and forge a career as professional players. Fast forward to Thursday and Synners Secretary Jay Watney told TeessideLive:
“The committee were told last week that the funding was being cut completely out of the blue. We told the players last night who were just in complete silence, a lot of them are still trying to process it but still trained as normal ahead of Saturday’s game against Willington.
“The club has had a lot of stumbling blocks over the years and now we’re looking to raise £10,000 to keep us alive until the end of the season. We’re hoping to get in touch with local clubs to ground share as we’re looking for a new home, and we all are keeping our fingers crossed for potential new sponsors which will benefit us massively.”
For Cables fans of long-standing, and/or of a certain vintage, the developments at Synthonia might prompt thoughts like “There but for the grace of God, go us”. After all, it’s less than a decade since Cables average gate was just over 100 and only in the last three years that the long-term future of the IP Truck Parts Stadium was secured.
So far this season, the average attendance for matches here is 488; a figure I predict will be beaten for today’s crucial six-pointer against Newcastle Town. The club’s fanbase has grown significantly in recent years. Yet had the groundshares at Ellesmere Port and St Helens the club endured in the late 1990s lasted much longer than they did, would we be gathered here, on a ground which has hosted sport since 1906?
Billingham Synthonia have launched a JustGiving appeal and are actively seeking a new groundshare ahead of the 31st March deadline. Whatever happens this afternoon, our football club has a brilliant fan base and a home of our own so, while of course I’m hopeful that the Pesky Bulls can maintain their recent excellent form, I’d still rather be in our shoes than those of the Synners.