From Waste Paper to Northern League Champions: The Rollercoaster Ride of Brandon United
Brandon were originally the works team of a waste paper company named Rostrons, which seems like it could be a spin-off of The Office. Based in County Durham a little way south of Durham, the town of Brandon has a rich coal mining history, which is reflected on the club’s new crest which bears a shovel and pickaxe crossed behind a mining helmet. It’s a village that dates back to medieval times, and what follows is several hundred years of strange and confusing lordships, Royal lessees and something called a whim-gin. Founded in 1968, they have since worked their way through Sunday and amateur leagues and eventually into the Northern League, gaining promotion in 1983 and remaining there ever since.
They have won the FA Sunday Cup, reached the FA Cup first round proper on two occasions – the first coming on their first ever FA Cup appearance where they were knocked out by Bradford City at Spennymoor United – and they also reached the FA Vase quarter finals, all coming during a spell of dominance in the 1980s which also saw them become Northern League Division Two champions. Paul Dalton, a member of that successful Brandon side, went on to be signed by Alex Ferguson for Manchester United and later commanded a quarter of a million pound transfer fee when Plymouth bought him from Hartlepool (my trusty inflation calculator tells me that’s worth over half a million in today’s money). He’s immortalised at Plymouth’s Home Park with an image of him, alongside other Argyle greats, adorning the walls inside the stadium.
Since then, Brandon’s home at Welfare Park has seen some tumultuous times; from the 3000-capacity stadium’s record attendance of 2,500 in an FA Sunday Cup game to relegation to the Northern League Division Two, where they are today. Since their relegation to the second division in 2006 following financial troubles that threatened the future of the club, Brandon have finished in the bottom three 6 times, including a rock bottom finish in 2014/15 and escaping relegation by a single point in 2017/18.
But if there’s a club that knows anything about turning fortunes around, it’s Brandon United. Four years after finishing 6th in the Wearside League in the 1981/82 season, they got promoted, worked their way up through the Northern League Division Two, become champions, got promoted to Division One and finished an impressive 10th, coming in 7th place by the 1988/89 season. 1998 saw them finish second-bottom in Division Two, five years later they were Division One champions after losing just four games all season. It’s been a long slog in Division Two for Brandon having been there since 2006 (their longest ever spell in this division), but if history in this league has taught us anything it’s to never write them off.
Tom Neal, Non-League Snapshots
Non-League Snapshots is a groundhopping video and photo blog that aims to tell the stories of lower league clubs around the country and the world. Tom Neal was raised in Redcar and now lives in London working in sports broadcasting after he realised he was absolutely never going to make it as a professional footballer.
Photo courtesy of Streets Paved With Goals.