Packed programme for Non-League Day
After a three-year hiatus because of Covid-19, Non-League Day is returning on Saturday. There's no Newcastle United game this weekend, but there are plenty of non-league matches in the region for supporters to get their football fix.
Gateshead, for example, are at home to Bradford Park Avenue (kick-off 3pm GMT) and are currently top of Vanarama National League North under the management of former Magpies defender Mike Williamson, with one-time United youngster Adam Campbell one of several ex-Newcastle players in the Heed squad.
Blyth Spartans are also at home in the same division, with Hereford making the long trip to Croft Park, while Spennymoor Town host Brackley Town and Darlington entertain Boston United at Blackwell Meadows, with both teams still hoping to make the play-offs.
The likes of Callum Wilson (Kettering Town, Tamworth), Dwight Gayle (Ryan, Stansted and Bishop's Stortford), Paul Dummett (Gateshead) and Karl Darlow (Newport County) have all played non-league football while Dan Burn represented both Blyth and Darlington at the beginning of his career.
"All my friends for the school played for Spartans and I played there right up until I went to Darlo when I was 16," said Burn, who has been so impressive since joining his boyhood club from Brighton & Hove Albion in January.
"I've had friends who played right the way through (Blyth's) first team. Matty Wade was there for ages; his dad, Tom, was the manager. The last big cup run, where they played Birmingham (in 2015), he played all the way through that. Hartlepool away, my brother was on the pitch! It's a club that's quite close to peoples' hearts in Blyth.
"Robbie Dale (is a) non-league legend. He could have played so much higher than he did. There's a mural just beside Croft Park of him which is fitting, because what he's done for the club over the years is huge. There's been a lot of lads sign for Newcastle over the years (like) Alan Shoulder; I never watched him play because it was way before my time, but my dad told me all about him and how he signed for Newcastle."
Darlington are now managed by former Newcastle prospect Alun Armstrong, but Burn made his name with them under Mark Cooper in the National League in 2010/11, helping the Quakers to reach Wembley in the FA Trophy - although he wasn't part of the team which lifted the cup at the national stadium because his performances had already earned him a move to top flight Fulham.
But he said: "I speak to my skipper at the time, Ian Miller. He speaks to me every now and again with text. Craig Liddle was my youth team manager and recently, I've been looking back and thinking about how big an impact he had on my career, things he instilled in me there.
"Probably at the time, I felt he was harsh on me, but he just wanted the best for you. He made me believe I could play football - not even Premier League football, just football.
"I had an opportunity to go play university in America. (I) went and spoke to him as a friend. He said 'you should stay and give it a go.' He thought I could play league and professional football. I'm so happy I took his advice, because I'd been offered three or four years to study and play away, but he was the person who made me stay."
Asked how much his experiences in non-league had helped him to get to where he is now, Burn replied: "I think everything.
Dan Burn in National League action for Darlington (photograph courtesy of The Northern Echo)
"Everything I've done through my career has led up to this point. From being a kid, going into the men's game, and realising people are playing for mortgages, bills and stuff - it's really important. For fans who have been part of teams relegated, where people are losing jobs around the training ground, you don't realise how much of an effect you out there can have on the club, the city and the staff. So I'm happy I had those experiences. I was very young but they've all helped me.
"I think if you look at the way we're going now, there's a big push for home grown players. Years ago, we were bringing players from other countries, which is great for the Premier League but took away opportunities for those lads. Loads of lads slipped through the net, especially from the North East.
"I have loads of mates who could have played professional, but because it was easy and the infrastructure was there to go and take players from other countries, (clubs) did that.
"But we are seeing more lads come from non-league and make careers for themselves and there's lots of lads in non-league who don't want to make that jump, purely because they're earning good money playing and in a job and it's a risk playing League Two or Conference where you might not earn the money you are now and it's not as stable. I hope it gets better and better and we find more Jamie Vardys and people like that."
Non-League Day is continuing to partner with Men United and Prostate Cancer UK. In addition to the games involving North East teams in National League North, South Shields entertain Stafford Rangers in the Northern Premier League while Morpeth Town welcome Ashton United, Dunston UTS and Hebburn Town are at home to Cleethorpes Town and Tadcaster Albion respectively in Northern Premier League East Division. There is also a full Northern League programme.
For a full list of non-league fixtures near you, visit www.nonleagueday.co.uk.
"Robbie Dale (is a) non-league legend. He could have played so much higher than he did. There's a mural just beside Croft Park of him which is fitting, because what he's done for the club over the years is huge."