Shakhtar Sunderland win the Season 22 February Tournament at Downhill.

Sassco ended as a regular league on a cold, wet and generally miserable day back in 2011 at the Downhill Complex, which was falling apart. However, contrary to popular belief, the Sassco Leagues have been going on since then. Season 16, back in 2011, was the last hurrah for the regular weekly league, but a hurried 3-team, Season 17 tournament in 2015 was the last to be played at the old turf, before it closed down a week later.

Real footballs. Not your Mitre or Nike Premier League shite. Vintage balls as used in the 70's in foggy Eastern European, Iron Curtain countries.
Real footballs. Not your Mitre or Nike Premier League shite. Vintage balls as used in the 70’s in foggy Eastern European, Iron Curtain countries.

Since then, Sassco switched to the excellent facilities at Washington Galleries with Season 18 to 21 happening as tournaments rather than leagues.

However, it was never home. Memories of 18 teams in two divisions at Downhill, before a slow decline until 2011, were always recalled with nostalgia by fat lads and former druggies and drunkards.

Then the new Downhill Hub opened, so it was an opportunity to get the old guard back together. The venue is superb and rules were decided on the night with the box being way too big, therefore the players were allowed in, but back passes still banned. The Sassco balls were back on show (and not a single complaint about them during the night due to the 20p fine for any negative mention of them) and the camera was fired up with a packed sideline waiting for opportunities to laugh at the fat lads on the pitch. The entire tournament was superbly officiated by Ian Stewart.

The bulk of the teams in the Season 22 February Tournament were formed from players who played from 1999 to 2011. The average age was boosted by Sporting Redhouse, who returned with a truly vintage side. Great names such as Kelsey, Hunt, Robson, Williamson, Wilson and Sangha all returned. But, the once great giants were suffering arthritis, cramp, etc. And no alcohol was resting in the goalmouth, or golf swings as warm ups on the hill.

The legendary Sporting line up
The legendary Sporting line up

The legendary Sporting line up deliberately had the Alpha and Omega from the 1999 to 2011 Leagues. Chris Garrett, who played in the very first Sassco line up at Downhill was joined by Paul McConville, who played in the last. In between they had Tyson, McDermont, Sangha and Nelly Richardson. One legged Muers was freezing on the side line.

Shakhtar Sunderland and Redhouse Fusion were the favourites.

Fulwell - pre-tournament favourites
Fulwell – pre-tournament favourites

Since the Sassco League had ended in 2011, Murton had been prostituting his team around a number of leagues, and joining and re-joining social media channels. Since his peak (?) in the Sassco Leagues, he had gained personal respectability, but failed to adhere to the strict team name code and decided to call his team “Shakhtar Senseless” – a mistake which he is just beginning to understand after returning to the Sassco fold. However, the Sassco Technical Committee refused to allow him to use the name and forced him to use his previous franchise name, Fulwell Buccaneers, but this has been subsequently arranged as Shakhtar Sunderland.

Redhouse Fusion were regulars and were the link between the last Downhill Leagues and the modern tournaments. Having won the two penultimate titles at Downhill (Season 14 and 15). Josh Lay put together the strong sides from the post Downhill tournaments, including McClelland in goal, Michael Parkin, Curt Foster, George Young and Steven Herkes, but missed some of his other superstars.

Finally, we had Velocity FC from Neil Middlemiss. A team formed from non-Sassco League players, with Middlemiss as the only veteran from his previous Lance Roberts and Wearview Elite stints.

Velocity FC - the youngest team of the night, despite Neil Middlemiss's age.
Velocity FC – the youngest team of the night, despite Neil Middlemiss’s age.

The opening game and historic return to Downhill Football Hub saw the old and the getting older back on the pitch. Sporting Redhouse, packed with superstars (of the past) faced off against Redhouse Fusion (superstars of the recent). Highlights of this resounding win for Josh Lay’s team included John Hunt being battered in the opening minutes and generally having a miserable return. Plus the aforementioned Josh Lay missing a sitter in the opening seconds.

The veteran Sassco team.
The veteran Sassco team. For once they didn’t finish bottom.

For the second game, David “Bunta” Murton, in a mad panic, ditched veteran Michael Conlon, claiming he failed a fitness test, and paid a high price in recruiting Liam Wooton. He was busy dithering over his side, with Billy Harrison stepping in and Carlos Middlemiss in goal. However, the debt he acquired for Wooton paid off with a resounding 5-0 win over Neil Middlemiss’s young Velocity team. returned to the fold with an opener against Fusion (playing their second game) but were caught cold and suffered a heavy defeat. Fusion subsequently beat Velocity in a game which was expected to be closer. It was then back to Sporting, now being a shadow of themselves, suffering defeats from Velocity and Shakhtar Sunderland – who also defeated

The Velocity and Sassco game saw a horrendous own goal by Sangha, which strangely wasn’t caught on camera due to a glitch. Neil Middlemiss’s young stars were too strong for Sassco, despite Sassco adding to their tournament goal tally. So strong that one of the Velocity players asked Sangha if the team were a man down, to which Sangha replied, “No, it’s just Mac – he’s shite.”

Murton makes it clear that the fruit bowl is his, after the third goal is scored v Fusion.
Murton makes it clear that the fruit bowl is his, after the third goal is scored v Fusion.

By this time, it was clear Fusion and Shakthar Sunderland were the leading teams. Both had defeated all their opponents, but Murton’s gang had a superior goal difference. The decisive game saw a nervous start for Shakhtar Sunderland, but with Bunta hollering at his defence and team it wasn’t surprising. After the camera had been battered in the opening minutes, it was Liam Wooton, supposedly playing in defence, who opened the scoring. But, because he’s the real daddy in the Wooton-Murton relationship; he played where he wanted.

Another two goals settled the game and Murton grabbed his first silverware as an independent manager in the Sassco League with a team which didn’t concede a goal.

The mighty John Hunt, bruised and battered out of the tournament like Pele was in 1966.
The mighty John Hunt, bruised and battered out of the tournament like Pele was in 1966.

As the venue cleared, the final game was Sassco and Sporting, which was an open encounter won by Sassco, as both were now playing with five players. The previous encounter was in Washington in 2018, where Sporting, after racing into a 3-0 lead were pegged back to 3-3 before scoring a later winner. This time, it was Sassco who were 3-0 up and it was ironic that this was also 5-a-side (same as in Washington). John Hunt, bruised and battered from the previous three games, was off, so Sassco dropped McDermont and played like they had six men. Sporting kept clawing goals back, but Sassco were always ahead with breathing space.

A superb tournament, which was enjoyed by everyone. The next one is in April and 6 teams have signed on, with the infamous Redhouse Youths (with Chris Taylor) making a return. The format is the same, but will be spread to two pitches.

Rank Teams Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Goal difference Points
1 Shakhtar SunderlandShakhtar Sunderland 4 4 0 0 21 0 21 12
2 Redhouse FusionRedhouse Fusion 4 3 0 1 17 5 12 9
3 Velocity FCVelocity FC 4 2 0 2 9 11 -2 6
4 4 1 0 3 9 18 -9 3
5 Sporting RedhouseSporting Redhouse 4 0 0 4 3 25 -22 0