HALTWHISTLE Jubilee’s eagerly awaited return to the Northern Alliance will get under way tomorrow when they welcome Stobswood Welfare to the Burn Field.

And for those who are old enough to remember, it will feel as though the clock has turned back 36 years.

For when the town originally entered a team in the Alliance, back in August 1983, they also kicked off with a home fixture against Stobswood.

That day ended in a 3-1 defeat, but it was the start of a special chapter in South Tynedale’s footballing history.

The Haltwhistle Crown Paints team went on to become a force in the Northern Alliance Premier Division.

They finished mid-table in their debut campaign, and eventually went on to become a top five side, while reaching the final of the prestigious Benevolent Bowl on two occasions.

“It does feel like deja vu,” said Alan Batey, who played in midfield for Haltwhistle in that original fixture against Stobswood. “You would never have thought it, but hopefully this will be the start of another exciting era for football in the town.”

Fast forward to the present day, and Mark now jointly manages the Haltwhistle Jubilee side alongside Cameron Bell. He vividly remembers the rapid progress of the Crown Paints team, and the ambition of its manager, Keith Mulgrove.

“We had previously played in the Carlisle league, but we had a good set up, a great set of lads, and a willingness to do well.”

After Haltwhistle joined the Alliance, a grandstand went up at the club’s ground beneath the backdrop of the now former Crown Paints factory, which backed the team, and employed hundreds of local people.

“There was a lot of interest.” said Alan. “We’d have about 80 or 90 people coming to watch the matches, and within a couple of years the stand went up. The pitch was fenced off with advertising hoardings, and it was an impressive sight.

“The team wasn’t about individuals, but we had Jeff Wright, an ex-professional who had been at Wigan Athletic, whose experience was vital. Michael Wren played up front and scored a number of goals.”

In the 1990s, Alan went on to jointly manage the team alongside Colin Banks, and Crown Paints were a force to be reckoned with.

But unexpected difficulties were to follow. They sacrificed their home ground to make way for the Haltwhistle by-pass, which opened in 1997, and went on to play home matches at Wark.

“It looked like we would get a new home ground,” said Alan, “but it never came to fruition. It was difficult playing at Wark because it meant that all of our fixtures were away from home.”

The opening of the by-pass was followed by the closure of the paint factory in 2002, and the team folded.

For several years, there was no senior Saturday football in Haltwhistle. There was a middle of the road Sunday team, which hovered between the Hexham and District Sunday League’s top two divisions.

In around 2007, Cameron got involved with the team to add some off-the-field organisational skills, before bringing Alan on board.

There was a marked improvement, but Haltwhistle lost three cup finals before securing their first silverware in 2012, coming from two goals down to defeat Hexham Phoenix 3-2.

They went on to win five Sunday league titles and a total of 12 cups, which led the club to consider a switch to Saturday football.

Two seasons ago, Haltwhistle, backed by club chairman and owner of the Jubilee pub Michael Hind, entered the Tyneside Amateur League.

Now on the back of an outstanding season, during which they won a league and cup double, and also reached the semi-final of the Northumberland FA Minor Cup, they are returning to the Northern Alliance, starting out in Division Two.

Having endured poor facilities for several years, and even playing some home games at Bardon Mill to meet requirements, Haltwhistle now have a first class clubhouse and re-surfaced pitch at the Burn Field.

The old scout hut, used for many years as a makeshift pavilion, was transformed with funding from Northumberland County Council, with local county councillor Ian Hutchinson also making a contribution from his council member’s fund for community schemes.

Alan said: “We’re grateful for everything we’ve got now. It wouldn’t have happened without the support of Malcolm and his brother Richard, and a very active committee who do a lot of work behind the scenes.

“We have Mark Dixon, who does a lot of fund-raising. The community supports the team, and we get a lot of backing from local businesses, and an increasing number of people coming to watch our matches.”

Another link between Haltwhistle’s past and present teams is midfielder Ricky Armstrong, who is the son of former Crown Paints star Dessie Armstrong.

Apart from a few new additions, the squad which has brought Haltwhistle success in recent seasons has largely been retained ahead of the new season, which will kick off at 2.30pm on Saturday, at the Burn Field.