May 21 2022: whole new ball game

Tyson KO’d…..

Firstly, a bit of overmatter from last night’s 70-year presentation to retiring ref Terry Farley, and a chance to use my second-favourite football picture.

Sunderland lad George Tyson, coming up 83 on Sunday and like Terry Farley a former top-link Football League man, is unlikely to share the enthusiasm.

George was at Thursday’s do, smartest man in the room, still playing golf four times a week. “Ah” he said, “that Everton match….”

It was 1985, the days when shorts were short and accidents would happen. He’d been caught amidships, as they might say, and from about two yards.

Tyson fury? Well clearly, he wasn’t very happy about it, though the feeling seems not to have been shared by the linesman. He doesn’t seem very sympathetic, does he?

*Favourite football pic? That has to be Zak Waters’s shot in Prairie stories of the chap peering over the netty wall at Stanley United, the match officials’ less-than-palatial accommodation behind him.

John Morton, a 50-year recipient at Thursday’s event, remembered the ref’s room well. “They told me they’d got a new bath. I looked in it and there was a slug the size of a dinosaur. The Stanley chap just picked it up and threw it out.”

Particularly, and by no means alone, John remembered the post-match grub at the Little House on the Prairie. “The mince and dumplings were the best ever”, he says – and that I’ve just typed “mice and dumplings” must be supposed irrelevant.

One or two (!) copies of the new book on Stanley Hill Top still remain. Details mikeamos81@aol.com

*Yesterday’s blog also recalled a Durham Challenge Cup match between Ryton and Crawcrook Albion and Easington Colliery, November 2006, in which appropriately named Ryton goalkeeper Jonny Hands had parried a penalty only to see the Tyne Valley mistral catch it and blow it back into the net.

Goal? “Yes” said the match ref, a view which “astonished” Ryton manager Warren Teesdale but with which Terry Farley – consulted for journalistic reasons – had agreed. The ball hadn’t been touched by an outfield player, the wind was “almost incidental.”

“No goal” said Referees’ Association president Peter Willis. The goalie had completed the savem forces of nature didn’t count.

George Courtney had the casting vote back then, agreed that the goal should stand. “Besides” he added, “it never does to disagree with Terry Farley.”

*Then there was the local league match on Spennymoor daisy field, also recalled in my little homily on Thursday evening, at which two referees had turned up.

The solution – that they control half the pitch each – had produced a rare expletive from Terry Farley (“bloody lunacy”) and brought the gentlemen concerned a two-week ban from Durham FA.

Though it must have been about 1990, someone at the refs’ gathering recalled it, too. “”It was Gordon McMillan and Jimmy Hanley. Jimmy booked five and sent one off in his half, Gordon never got his book out.”

*We’ve had a day in London, 6 30am train out of Darlington and still plenty of evidence of Sunderland supporters hoping to make the most of the weekend.

There’s also a woman with a black dog – some mistake, surely? – the woman in a denim skirt and dog wearing a sort of red-and-white striped shirt with the Sunderland crest. Perhaps they don’t allow cats on trains.

By the time that we catch the 18 18 homeward, the city’s overflowing with boisterous Sunderland fans, no bother but at least one Euston Road pub said to have turned them away for being too noisy. Oh gosh, it’s to be hoped it all ends well.

May 19 2022: grey matters

Eminence grise: Terry Farley (left) with John Wilson

A most convivial gathering at Bishop Aucklandf FC tonight acknowledges the wonderful dedication of Terry Farley MBE, retiring after 70 years as a referee.

The very best of men, Terry was also Bishop Auckland Referees’ Society secretary for 54 years – he’s now president – and has held numerous other administrative roles.There are also 50-year membership awards to former Football League ref Robbie Hart and to John Morton, also a long-serving league administrator.

Elsewhere the talk is of Gary Beswick, Newton Aycliffe lad and Premier League assistant ref, who heard today that he’ll part of ref Anthony Taylor’s “team” in this year’s World Cup, Michael Oliver, aniother former Northern League man, heads a second team.

Terry, grey haired for as long as anyone can remember, was for several years a Football League man – his first game in the old top division the match when Malcolm Macdonald hit a hat-trick on his home debut against Liverpool.

Both George Courtney and I are asked to say a few words. “You’re retiring too early” George tells Terry, who’s 88.

Among the usual blether I’m also able to recall a column note I’d written five years ago. “The magnificent Terry Farley, still refereeing at 83, was one of those men whose hair turned prematurely grey. They called him the Silver Fox” it began.

“Familiar former Northern League centre half Arniold Alton recalls darker days, however – a match at Bishop Auckland in the 1960s to which Terry turned up with a jet-black mop.

“‘Terry was running upfield so I shouted ‘A minute’s silence for the referee’s hair. It’s dyed.’ He turned around quickly, face like thunder, and booked me. It was the forerunner of many in my career.

“Terry admits as much -‘talk abut vanity’ – blames his wife Marina for seeking to go back to his roots. ;After a while, I decided to let nature take its course’.”

A number of presentations were made by John Wilson, a member of the Referees’ Assocation national board,, and by the Bishop Auckland Society. Goodness knows my dear old friend deserves them.

*Seeking to say something different about Terry, I also came across a November 2006 column in which – once again – I’d sought his advice.

Ryton and Crawcrook Albion had been playng Easington Colliery in the Durham Challenge Cup, the visitors’ penalty parried and seemingly saved by appropriately named Ryton goalie Jonny Hands.

Immediately afterwards, however, the pesky Tyne Valley wind caught the ball, blew it back and succeeded where the penalty taker had failed. To the “astonishment” of Ryton manager Warren Teasdale, the ref gave the goal. Should he have done?

“Yes” said Terry at the time. “The ball’s gone into the net without an outfield player touching it. The wind’s almost incidental.”

“No” said long-serving Referees’ Assocation national president and former Durham polliss Peter Willis. “If he’s completed the save and an act of nature took over, it shouldn’t have counted.”

The casting vote went to George Courtney. His decision, and what last night’s gathering made of it, in tomorrow’s blog.

*Bishop Auckland’s pitch was being watered with a sprinkler. I’m standing talking on the terraces when suddenly it turns itself around and scores a direct hit. A deliberate act is suspected – and if the culprit is identified, he’s dead meat.

*Beergate, the absurdly named carry-on about Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s curry-on in Durham, has spilled over into the Northern League. Today’s Daily Mail carries a photograph of Sir Keir posing with a Consett FC shirt, allegedly taken on the evening when he’d been working all night at Miners’ Hall.

It was a couple of days before the 2020-21 FA Vase final against Hebburn, and he’d been asked to do it by the North West Durham Labour party.

“We couldn’t resist interrupting Sir Keir while he was hard at work ahead of the Vase match” said the local party on social media.

The Mail supposes it proof that the leader hadn’t been working all night, as he had claimed. Sir Keir, a politician, sent best wishes to both clubs.

*Thanks to the many readers who asked for the Northern League spreadsheet featured in yesterday’s blog. The fragrant Pauline Gowan, Raymond’s wife, was particularly appreciative. “It’ll keep you out of my hair for a few days” she said.

May 18 2022: great spread

Geoff Thornton, who lives in the south but clearly has a magnetic attraction to the north, sends an extraordinary, end-of-season spread sheet detailing the playing record – and percentage wins – of every Northern League club since it all kicked off in 1889.

Those who effortlessly can read such things – a category in which I fail to find myself – will find it even more fascinating.

Broadly it’s a record of every club’s performance – number of games played, total points gained, highs and lows, percentage wins, championships and even former names (of which some have had several.)

Among current members, Bishop Auckland still lead the way with a 57.17 win precentage over 4,139 games – odd number, that – in their 104 Northern League seasons.

The “relegation” column remains blank but as Geoff points out, and Bishops followers are hardly likely to forget, it was an awfully close run thing last season.

The spreadsheet will occupy many a leisurely hour during the summer – I’ll forward a copy to any who ask: mikeamos81@aol.com

*So what of doughty little Stanley United, Northern League members from 1910-36 and from 1945-74 and three times league champions? They played 1,249 games – another odd number, for which doubtless there’s a reason – with a win percentage of 43.98 and gained 2,840 points.

The reason for singling out the Nops, of course, is that my book about Stanley Hill Top – by no means only about the football club, though it features both strongly and nostalgically – was launched in the village hall last weekend. It threatens to bankrupt us.

Sub-titled “A view from the Hill Top”, Prairie stories costs £12 plus £3 50 postage where necessary. Details from the email address above.

*Speaking of Bishop Auckland followers, Andy Lister offers memories of the all-Northern League FA Vase final between Dunston UTS and West Auckland played exactly ten years ago and recently recalled hereabouts.

Wearing their 1950s two-blues shirts “in honour of the occasion”, Andy and his mate travelled to Wembley on a bus organised by Marske United supporters. Then what he calls “the madness of London” struck.

Entry to the first two pubs they tried was barred by doormen demanding to know which team they supported. “Neither” they impartially insisted and were refused admission on the grounds that it was for home or away fans (delete as appropriate) only.

Finally finding a pub that would let them in – neutral, like Switzerland (and formerly Sweden and Finland) – they were approached by an elderly chap who took one look and said: “Bishop Auckland shirts, great team. Played against them here in the 1950s.”

Andy remembers it all affectionately. “We avoided fights or whatever was feared by the authorities, and had a great time.” Dunston won 2-0.

May 17 2020: peak performance

Summit special: Stuart Thompson and friends

A couple of times now we’ve recorded the extraordinary lengths – the term’s appropriate, heights an’ all – to which former Northern League footballer Stuart Thompson is going to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Care.

The latest effort was the National Three Peaks Challenge – climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon in under 24 hours, including travelling time.

With friends Andrew Graham and David Duke – the latter once on Sunderland’s books before Football League spells with Swindon Town and Darlington and a Northern League journey very similar to Stuart’s – he did it in 20 hours 30 minutes, a time which Stuart describes as “sweet” and others might suppose phenomenal.

“People said that Snowdon was the easiest climb but without a doubt it felt like the hardest, probably a combination of darkness, fatigue and lack of sleep” says Stuart, whose clubs included Bishop Auckland, Brandon United, Esh Winning, Jarrow Rofing, Newton Aycliffe and Sunderland RCA.

Next up is the Northumbria Ultra Marathon on June 19 – an event for iron men.

Aiming at a £5,000 target, Stuart’s doing it all in memory of two grandparents who died from cancer. His justgiving page now stands at £4,489 – http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stuart-thompson2022

*Yesterday’s list of the dozen Ebac Northern League clubs who survived 2021-22 without a single administrative fine inexplicably excluded Whitley Bay. It may be difficult, indeed, to remember when the Seahorses weren’t included in that annual encomium. Whickham were in turn included in error. As fearfully remembered former Northern League secretary Gordon Nicholson once did, I have fined myself accordingly.

*This morning’s Durham Amateur Football Trust meeting discusses upcoming events at Beamish Museum, where Coronation Park – part of the old/new 1950s village – will officially be opened on May 27.

The village also includes a recreation of pitman painter Norman Cornish’s house in Spennymoor and a rebuild of the Miners’ Welfare Hall at Leeholme, where many years ago I enjoyed a most splendid ham and pease pudding supper as a guest of the Coundon and District Society for the Prevention and Prosecution of Felons. They still dine annually, but may not lock up many wrong uns.

The new museum development will have a “footy shed”, too, and on May 28 DAFT plans an appropriately clad match between Crook Town Juniors and Bishop Auckland St Mary’s, preceded by Wembley-style community singing and followed by an open-top bus parade.

DAFT committee member Peter Clark, once the second best goalkeeper at Timothy Hackworth Junior Mixed and Infants in Shildon, will lead the singing complete with Arthur Caiger white suit.

Spectators are also urged to wear 1950s-style clothing. I won’t have to change, then.

*DAFT chairman Clem O’Donovan is also chairman of Stanhope Town FC, beaten on penalties last Saturday in that memorable Alan Britton Cup final on a 70-degree afternoon at Tow Law Town.

When he got home, however, family members noticed that he’d gone very red in the face and was a wee bit wobbly. “I’d got sun stroke at Tow Law,” says Clem, “a sentence I never thought I’d utter.”

Nothing new under the sun? Appaarently yes there is.

May 16 2022: saints and sinners

It’s the time of year for statistics, and firstly a divine curiosity in the great canon of blog reader John Rogers’s porous defences table. Four of the top ten have “saint” in their name.

Their halos (haloes?) may have become a little tarnished, the saints – as that great hymn Ye holy angels bright has it – who toil below.

John has monthly been compiling his table of most goals conceded per game across steps 5 and 6 of the pyramid. Durham City, sadly, have featured permanenty and finish in third place – 4.90 goals per game – despite the morale boosting 1-0 win in the final encounter.

St Martin’s, they of the North West Counties League first division south, maintain the unwanted top spot with an average 6.42 goals conceded each game, having scored just 21 in their 38 matches and leaked 244. They gained two points.

They’re followed by Bridport of the Western League (5.14) and, after Durham, by East Preston (4.24), Bourton Rovers (4.19), Stoke Gabriel and Torbay Police (4.16), St Dennis (4.06), Amesbury Town (3.93), Ottery St Mary (3.88) and St Helens Town (3.83). Wisbech St Mary’s were 13th.

Like Easter, the apostrophes may represent a moveable feast.

Most, of course, picked up precious few points from their labours. Ottery St Mary – F66 A151 – somehow amassed 36 from their 38 United Counties League fixtures.

The saints go marching on.

*From saints to the other sort, and the Ebac Northern League has released its list of club fines during 2021-22.

Only 12 of the 41 clubs escaped without some sort of censure, usually for what clever folk call peccadilloes (and yet cleverer folk can spell without consulting the dictionary.) They share a substantial prize pot, usually about £300 apiece.

Many of the fines were just £10 but, of course, they can quickly accumulate. Six clubs had just a single £10 fine but still miss out on the booty.

One second division club – no names, they’ve suffered enough – was fined £505, two others more than £300. The total fines was £3,184.

The doughty dozen who maintained a financial clean sheet were Ashington, Consett, Crook Town, Newton Aycliffe, Northallerton Town, Seaham Red Star, Sunderland RCA, West Allotment Celtic, West Auckland, Whickham, Chester-le-Street and Jarrow.

Very well done to all of them.

*For so celestial a competition, it may be unsurprising that the Northern League has jad its share of saints, too – not least in 1919-20 when Auckland St Helens United, Grangetown St Mary’s and West Hartlepool St Joseph’s all contested the single division. For St Helens and St Joe’s it was their only season.

Darlington St Augustine’s – left footers, like several of the others – were the inaugural champions in 1889-90 while Stockton St John’s won the short-lived second division in 1898-99.

Then, of course, there were Benfield Saints, Benfield Park in the Northern Alliance until amalgamting with North Shields St Columba’s around the turn of the century. These days they’re plain Newcastle Benfield but virtuous, nonetheless.

May 15 2022: drop in the ocean?

Striker gold: George Camsell

Technology being what it is, Shaun Wilson – a Saltburn lad when on dry land – orders and pays for a copy of Prairie stories from an oil rig somewhere in the middle of the North Sea. In former times he’d have had to send a message in a bottle.

There’s more. Last Monday’s blog talked of an 8 30am meeting with former Middlesbrough and Engand central defender Gary Pallister at the Mocking Bird deli, a footballers’ favourite, in Yarm.

It’s owned, says Shaun, by Helen Camsell – whose grandfather, George Camsell, was a bit of a footballer, too.

A 5ft 6in former miner from Framwellgate Moor, near Durham, Camsell was a truly remarkable little feller who played Northern League football for Esh Winning Rangers in the early 1920s – as did the legendary Raich Carter – joined Football League club Durham City, 20 goals in 21 league games, and in 1925 was transferred to Middlesbrough for £500.

For the Boro between 1925-39 he scored 325 goals in 410 Football League matches, including 59 in 1926-27. Only Dixie Dean, with 60, has ever scored more in a season. Camsell’s nine hat-tricks that season remains (and is likely forever to remain) a Football League record.

Capped just nine times by England, he scored 18 goals – at least one in every game and including four against Belgium in 1929.

After the war he became a Middlesbrough scout, coach and eventually assistant secretary. He died in 1966, aged just 63, and has a suite named in his honour at the Riverside Stadium.

His granddaughter serves a very good cup of coffee, and a mean sausage sandwich, an’ all.

*No need to be all at sea to order a copy of Prairie stories, my new book on the life and times of Stanley Hill Top and in particular of Stanley United – they of the Little House on the Prairie. Though Saturday’s village hall launch went very well indeed, rather a lot of copies remain. Details from mikeamos81@aol.com

*Among George Camsell’s scout’s honours, says Wiki, is that he discovered the young Brian Clough. It’s a claim likely seriously to be contested in some celestial boot room.

Clough, it’s more widely acknowledged, was spotted by Middlesbrough headmaster Ray Grant playing for Great Broughton, a village team south of the Boro.

Ray remembered it well. “There was a river alongside the pitch. They had a bucket on the end of a pole for when the ball landed there.”

Lovely man, he is also credited with discovering Alan Peacock, Mark Proctor, Stan Cummins – on a school field at Ferryhill – and Tony Mowbray, another Mocking Bird regular. “He even looked like a scout – brown Allegro, sheepskin coat, flat cap” Tony once told me.

He lived at East Rounton, near Northallerton, and died in 2006, aged 97.

*Technology also being what it is, yesterday’s blog proved uncommonly tricky to key. Sharon – the brains of this organisation – emailed WordPress who replied that a “happiness engineer” would be in touch shortly.

So, almost immediately, one was – offering a clear and carefully explained reason for the problem and a simple solution.

Happy? Absolutely ecstatic. And, says Sharon, compare and contrast with Amazon.

May 14 2022: poverty lines

Launched: DAFT president Bob Thursby with an anxious author

The Prairie stories launch at Stanley Village Hall goes wonderfully well, not least as a community occasion for the former hilltop mining village.

I also shift well over 100 books – two or three people buy six – but an awful lot remain. As my old mother used to say, we’ll soon be in the poor house.

Folk travel from afar. Whitley Bay FC gateman David Bagg is down from the seaside while, much further down the coast, Whitby Town fan George Osborne and his wife are there not least to watch the game at Tow Law which follows.

“We only got there once in Northern League days and it was perishing” says George. More of that below.

Though the book’s title acknowledges The Little House on the Pairie, Stanley United’s wondrously quirky dressing rooms and tea hut, it’s by no means only about football but rather a microcosm of changed times in a North-East pit community.

One chapter remembers the1930s murder of Sarah Simpson, whose husband then kiled himself by drinking bleach. A lady buys a copy. “I was named Sarah after my aunt” she says.

Another chapter dwells upon – among? – Co Durham’s other Stanley, a much bigger brother 20 miles north, prompting Crook Town chairman Vince Kirkup to recall that his first taste of under-age drinking was in the back room of the Commercial up there.

There, too, is Durham Amateur Football Trust president and former England amateur international Bob Thursby, who made his name with Bishop Auckland but swears that the happiest season of his football life was that formative year with Stanley.

“The grub after the match was brilliant” Bob recalls. “If you played well, you got seconds.”

DAFT stage a photographic exhibition – with thanks as always to Geoff and Barbara Wood – as does village school caretaker Shaun Hope, a brilliant bloke and the world’s No 1 Chuckle Brothers fan. All that’s in the book, too.

It costs £12, plus £3 50 postage and both life and author would be poorer without it. Details from mikeamos81@aol.com

*Quite a number head from Stanley a couple of miles west to Tow Law Town, where the Alan Britton Cup final – Barnard Castle v Stanhope Town – kicks off at 2pm.

Possibly the last time I saw Stanhope was against Wearhead United in 2001, when foot and mouth disease had deemed both clubs’ grounds out of bounds and – thanks to Sunderland chairman Bob Murray – they played a Crook and District League second division match before a crowd of 900 at the Stadium of Light instead.

The Alan Britton is also a Crook League competition, the temperature somewhere around 70 degrees – you read that correctly – and the crowd of around 400 positively basking in the sunshine.

Many have beers from the clubhouse. At Tow Law Co-op, ice lollies seem to have been selling like hot cakes, too.

Though Barney have got their excuses in first – several of the team are off playing cricket – they lead 3-0 before an astonishing fightback sees Aidan Bowers equalise with a terrific game’s last kick.

None is quite sure if it’s extra-time or straight to penalties. “I hope it’s extra-time, we’ll make more in the bar” says Lawyers secretary Steve Moralee.

Straight to pens, and Barney win the shoot-out. A great occasion to end a memorable day.



May 13 2022: learning curve

Ryton home: Albion celebrate with the Ernest Armstrong Cup

Ten years to the day since the unforgettable all-Northern League FA Vase final between Dunston UTS and West Auckland, it’s good at tonight’s Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup final to bump into Paul Foster, West’s joint manager with Peter Dixon.

After a long time out, Paul’s just been announced as Birtley Town’s co-manager with Paul Bryson, greatly familiar at Chester-le-Street and elsewhere. Robin Falcus, once Whickham’s manager, will be their assistant.

“We’re determined to get Birtley into the first division next season” says Paul Foster.

The match in memory of the former Northern League president and deputy Speaker of the House of Commons is between Newcastle University and Ryton and Crawvrook Albion. Birtley’s an excellent venue, facilities immeasurably improved in recent years.

The pitch is in excellent fettle, the clubhouse commodious and welcoming, some of the lads at the ground since 6am to ensure that all goes well on their big day.

Albion have much the greater following among the 452 crowd, three coaches down from the Tyne Valley and a fluttering of banners perhaps more familiar at St James’ Park. One’s dedicated to Dawsa – “cadging pints since 1986.”

Ryton secretary Stevie Carter’s still a worried man, though: their supporters tend to go Awol. “I went to Easington on a 53-seat coach and came back on a 22” he says.

The students lead inside two minutes, Finn Hebron – almost biblically named – firing unstoppably home. Thus it remains for a further 87 minutes until sub Oliver Symons’s deflected effort brings a rather unexpected equaliser and the match goes soon afterwards to penalties.

Callum Turnbull, Rees Greenwood and Rhys McLeod calmly despatch Albion’s spot kicks. The students miss two and see one saved. When last did a penalty shoot-out end 3-0? Back on campus, the poor lads might do worse than study the art of penalty taking – and, while they’re about it, of legitimate throw-ins, too.

No word about when the Ryton lads got back, but it’ll have been a very happy valley.

*Ernest Armstrong also played for Stanley United, remembered as a combative if allegedly short-sighted centre half. Was myopia really to blame for that shocking tackle on the referee?

It’s at Stanley village hall – the one a mile and a half above Crook, DL15 9SN, be careful – that this Saturday (May 14) between 11am-2pm my new book about that wind-blown Co Durham cmmunity is launched.

The Durham Amateur Footbll Trust is simultaneously staging an exhibition of Stanley United history while village school caretaker Shaun Hope will be showing some of his nostalgic images of life on the hill top. Free light refreshments, including Bovril, will also be provided – and, of course, absolutely no obligation to buy the book.

It’s called Prairie stories, a nod to the wondrously unique changing room and tea hut building known thereabouts as the Little House on the Prairie.

By no means only about football, the book’s a microcosm of changed times, happy and otherwise, in a former Co Durham pit village.

It costs £12 plus £3 50 postage where relevant. Further details from mikeamos81@aol.com – but it would be great to see Grass Routes readers up there. A couple of miles west, the Alan Britton Cup final between Barnard Castle and Stanhope kicks off at Tow Law Town FC at 2pm.

*The great people at Chester-le-Street FC mark the club’s 50th birthday on May 14 with a day of football at Chester Moor – youth teams at 9am, ladies at 11am and men at 3pm, doubtless finishing in time for the FA Cup final on the clubhouse telly. Admission’s just £3, juniors free, and all gate receipts going to the If U Care Share Foundation, which primarily addresses men’s mental health issues.

*Reporting the new, FA-directed make-up of the Ebac Northern League first and second divisions, yesterday’s blog noted a relegation reprieve for Esh Winning and after rumours of the club folding had they been relegated to the Wearside League, hoped for better days ahead.

They started at once when long-serving chairman Charlie Ryan announced the permanent appointment of Bobby Coltman as manager and Ally Baird as his assistant. They’d been acting in that capacity since February.

“We want to leave the turmoil of recent seasons firmly behind us” says a club statement.

Bobby has twice managed the Team GB squad to gold at the Special Olympics and coached Spennymoor Under 23s in the Warside League. Ally has been a successful coach with Co Durham Under 23s.

Former Newton Aycliffe FC press officer Paul McGarry joins Esh Winning in a business development role.

“We’re excited to be given this chance” says Bobby. “With the greatest respect to the division, we firmly believe that we can give it a go next season and give Charlie fewer sleepless nights.”

May 12 2022: joust-so story

Rock of ages: Lord Cobbold at Knebworth House

Though born into the Suffolk brewing family who took over Ipswich Town – and about whom Sir Bobby Robson spoke so entertainingly – David Lytton-Cobbold had no great interest in football.

Later Lord Cobbold, he became owner and custodian of Knebworth House in Hertfordshire and the visionary behind its legendary open-air rock concerts. He was also a jousting man and, says his obituary in The Times this morning, a well-known ladies’ man, as well.

Though our backgrounds might be supposed a little different, we became mates. Thereby hangs a tale.

In the 1974 general election, the Liberals (as then they were) fielded a local councillor in the Bishop Auckland constituency and, predictably, came third.

When another general election was called in October that year, the party was caught a bit short in the constituency which included Shildon, Spennymoor and West Auckland. David was a last-minute choice, if not quite a knight in shining armour.

Usually accompanied by his wife Chryssy, who reminded me of Marianne Faithfull, David happily slept on another local councillor’s floor, the sort of privation to which Chryssy in particular may have been accustomed.

Knebworth was crumbling. Once, says The Times, she woke up to find mice nibbling at her toes.

The local press loved him, of course. Election fought and battle lost, Auckland Chronicle reporter Peter Bibby and I were among a quartet – the others local councillors Arthur Nye and Tommy Taylor, the latter also to become a parliamentary windmill tilter – twice invited to weekend house parties at Knebworth.

I slept in a four poster. “That’s where Mick Jagger slept last week” said David

“He tells everyone that” said Chryssy.

Rock concerts had just started and were to become legendary, not least the two-night Oasis gig in 1986 for which 250,000 tickets sold out in eight hours. “The first lord of rock” the Daily Mail called him after his death on Monday.

David also loved his parties, on one occasion towing a Londun Underground carriage into the courtyard for a fancy dress do where guests were asked to dress as Tube stations, the gentleman who came as Cockfosters said to be “borderline pornographic.”

In all the circumstances, we won’t mention Arsenal then.

David had been a banker – his father was Governor of the Bank of Eng;and – but left to devote more time to Knebworth. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008 but continued jousting into his 70s. “I still have plenty of living to do” he said when last we spoke, and so he had.

He was 84, a wonderfully charismatic and greatly generous man, and was buried in Knebworth’s grounds without priest or undertaker, barely 24 hours after his death.

His final journey through Knebworth village was accompanied by the sound of the Pink Floyd album Dark side of the moon, his favourite, his cardboard coffin painted with the album cover.

*October 1974 general election, Bishop Auckland: James Boyden (Lab) 27,181, D W Etherington (Con)_ 16,086, David Lytton-Cobbold (Lib) 8,168. The Liberal share of the vote fell by 1.9 per cent.

*Jim Boyden was succeeded as Bishop Auckland’s MP in 1979 by Derek Foster, a uniformed member of the Salvation Army. It’s coincidental because John Raw points out that it was 40 years yesterday that Derek and others led a march through Shildon in protest at the proposed closure of the town’s railway wagon works.

It ended at Shildon FC’s Dean Street home where speakers included Sid Weighell, the Northallerton-born general secretary of the NUR, a man familiar with Northern League grounds.

After a couple of years with Sunderland Reserves – “the North-East’s best inside left except for a gentleman called Raich Carter” he’d insist – he joined West Auckland.

*The FA has this evening announced next season’s constitution of steps 5/6 leagues, including the Ebac Northern League, after a season in which all that anybody seemed to know was that no one knew what on earth was happening.

North Shields and Consett are, of course, promoted to the NPL East. Pickering Town are relegated from the NPL, Billingham Town relegated to the ENL second division and Penrith, second bottom in the first, reprieved.

In the second division, Carlisle City and Heaton Stannington are promoted, Durham City relegated and Esh Winning reprieved – and, it’s to be hoped, with brighter times ahead. Prudhoe Youth Club Seniors, Chester-le-Street United and Boro Rangers – who’ll play at New Ferens Park, Durham – move up from the Northern Alliance, Wearside League and North Riding League respectively.

The ENL first division will have 20 clubs the second 22.

Once again the national game seems to be run like the National Lottery, balls thrown into the air to see where they might land. It’s a strange and unsatisfactory state of affairs.

*Back up to Crook tonight for a chat about Saturday’s launch of Prairie stories at Stanley Village Hall DL15 9SN. The book signing, 11am-2pm, will now be accompanied by both a Stanley United exhibition staged by the Durham Amateur Football Trust and a more general exhibition of Stanley memories, put togetehr by Shaun Hope.

The book costs £12, richly and nostalgically illustrated, and there’ll be free light refreshments. It can, of course, be ordered by other means – details from me at mikeamos81@aol.com

Shaun Hope, village school caretaker and peripatetic DJ, has on his phone a picture of himself with former England man Steve Hodge, taken at a sportsman’s dinner a few weeks ago.

It’s Steve Hodge, of course, who last week sold his Diego Maradona shirt – the Hand of God one – for £7.1m. He may need to sing for his supper no longer.

May 11 2022: Sunlight hours

Old soap: a wartime advert for Sunlight

The third day of North West Rail Roving begins on Tuesday morning at Kirkby Stephen, thence along the Settle and Carlisle line to Skipton and across to Bradford.

Last time I was in Bradford, September 2017, was to watch the fragrantly named Campion FC play Bedlington Terriers in the Vase, Jack Foallie’s last minute goal – whatever happened to him? – giving the visitors a 2-1 victory.

On an earlier visit, Christmas 1990, Ian Botham had been starring alongside George and Zippy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Alhambra. Suffice that his subsequent knighthood and ennoblement may have had little to do with his acting ability.

Thereafter a short dander around Halifax and three hours in Hebden Bridge, a greatly pleasant place once nicknamed Trouser Town because it was the kingdom’s corduroy capital. The town is also said to be home to more gay women – pro rata, understand – than anywhere in the land, though this may not strictly be relevant.

Childhood home of Ed Sheeran, Hebden has an attractive old railway station and a top-notch bar called the Old Gate selling Bread and Butter, a brilliant golden ale made locally by Vocation. Went down well with the beetroot, haloumi and roast chick pea wrap (honest.)

A direct train takes us on to Chester, where the week previously a room at the Leonardo Hotel would have cost £260 without breakfast – it coincided with Chester Races – and this week was £111, including breakfast. Market forces, no doubt.

Sharon plots the mile route from station to hotel on her smart-ish phone. “Estimated walking time 18 hours” it says, and is pretty much spot on.

*Though it could hardly have been called Port Peeingdown, it seems slightly ironic that the following morning, wettest for months, we should head on Merseyrail from Chester to Port Sunlight.

Port Sunlight was the garden village created for his workers by William Hesketh Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, who gave the world – and the World War, by the look of the advert above – Sunlight Soap.

A discussion ensues about whether the Trades Descriptions Act might apply, though it apparently never did when the commercials claimed that you’d look a little lovelier each day with fabulous Camay.

We had it at home in Shildon. It didn’t work.

Once there was a Port Sunlight Football League, one of 28 organisations which included a horticultural society whose dance was the first gig the Batles played after drumming up Ringo Starr. There’s now a garden in memory of the Hillsborough dead, the first memorial on Merseyside.

Via Liverpool and Manchester Vic, the weather slowly improving, we head on to the glorious buffet bar on Stalybridge railway station – ten pristine hand pumps, excellent pork pies – where a family legend is enshrined.

About 20 years ago, when the elder bairn was at university in Manchester – the word studying in Manchester would not be appropriate – Billingham Synthonia were drawn in the Cup at Mossley, change at Stalybridge.

My train from Darlington and his from Manchester were due in at much the same time. The deal was that the first one there would buy the beers. He made it a few minutes earlier, already occupying a bar stool and with a pint in front of him that closely resembled the contents of a sewage works sump.

“It’s diesel” he announced – a gruesome concoction, apparently of cider, lager and blackcurrant. The subsequent blood tests proved the worst. He was still genetically mine. The Stalybridge station buffet is wholly unchanged; the elder bairn is.

Back to Leeds, the evening now sun-blessed, we head over the top to Kirkby Stephen via a pleasant stroll around Settle and in time to post yesterday’s blog before it’s timed out and turned into a frog.

It should be directly below this one and is quite important to me. Please read.

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