Boyhood Sunderland Fan Set To Manage Non-League Side At Stadium of Light Durham Challenge Cup Final

Written by on 19th April 2024

After 18 years of no silverware Whickham are searching for glory as they take on West Auckland Town in the competition finale at the home of Sunderland AFC – The Stadium of Light.


Boyhood Mackem and Whickham manager Lee Haldane will be on the touchline of the stadium he’s visited so many times as a fan for an occasion he is eager to experience. I sat down with the man at the helm to discuss the occasion and what it means for himself and the football club.



Haldane can’t wait for the moment, but getting there has come with its challenges along the way: “It is what we have worked for, from everyone to the top to the bottom of the club, but we still have a big job to do before, people have got to get themselves inside the squad never mind the side. It’s massively in my mind but I’m trying to take it away from their mind.


“We’ve put a squad together in pre-season, lost four or five with season ending [injuries] and one or two whittled away and one went higher so I’ve had to create a new squad during the season on the run which is not easy and I think it’s starting to come together which could be a good time for us going into the final. On the back of that though I hope it doesn’t give us much work to do next pre-season!


Whickham Manager Lee Haldane Photo: Chris Mills


It’s all business for the Wearside man who believes winning is bigger than anything else on the day when asked about managing at his team’s stadium: “Nothing if we don’t win! But no it’s a personal landmark but it’s not about stadiums and anything like that because I’m not interested in it, I’m not there for a day out I want to win the cup and you have your day out after.”


A win however would be at the summit of the career achievement list: “Top. It’s up there now just getting there but as I say it means nothing, nobody remembers the losers do they.”


Volunteers are at the forefront of any non-league football club and that includes the Lang Jacks which Haldane very much wanted to pay respect to their huge collective efforts: “You’ve got two blokes on the pitch when the weather is horrible and they’re up there doing everything they can to get us on, you’ve got the secretary who’s doing what’s like a full-time job and you’ve got everybody else who muck in and it would just be nice, I can’t remember the last time they won something – maybe over 20 year ago – but I know the promotion was massive but I think that would be given for them to give that back. 


“Everyone wants to win the Vase but what chance have you got statistically in that and then you look at the Durham Challenge Cup, it’s the next one you really want to aim for because of the calibre of teams in it. I think everyone from the league above: Stockton, Dunston and the likes of them are set out to win it so if you win that it ranks as a massive achievement.”


The Durham Challenge Cup
Photo: Alamy, Lewis Bate


It’s been a strong season off the field for the club who have welcomed 5,654 fans through the gate at The First Mortgage Glebe so far this season and the support doesn’t go unnoticed: “They turn up to the home games and you’ve seen them and the atmosphere they create so you just want to give them something back and then say on the back of this we need you all to come back – but to anyone who is not there, have a look at this and get on board because it’s massive.”


Photo: @WhickhamFC


Whickham are also a unique Northern League club who are backed by a large number of local youths who turn up in their numbers to create an atmosphere and get behind the team: “[Laughs] They’re great! When we came there would’ve been four or five of them tops and you’ve seen how many of them there are now. They sing songs about everybody and it makes a difference which is why I make sure after every home game the lads go over and acknowledge them because that sends them home with something that means something to them. They’re the future effectively so we just need to make sure we look after them.”


Whickham Chairman Ross Gregory – who has been involved at the club for 22 years from playing, to coaching, to his current role – paid homage to the enthusiastic teens: “We have a lot of young fans who are enthusiastic – we are trying to attract a new breed of fan if you like, that new generation of fan which is really important for sustainability so to be able to give them a chance to support their at the Stadium of Light at a cup final, it’s a reward to the players but also a thank you to the fans who have supported us for the majority of the season.”

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