January 18 2021: Trifle triple

Blog reader Lance Kidney admits (kindly) that he’s addicted – “particularly on the days when you don’t mention any deaths.” Stephen Brenkley confesses similar sentiments, but says he prefers it when there’s no football.

Save for passing reference to West Bromwich Albion and to North Ferriby United, an improbable combination, today’s edition has precious little football. With half an eye on The Lion and Albert – “no wrecks and nobody drownded, ‘fact nothing to laugh at, at all” – there are no deaths, either.

Where were we?

Only too familiar with Unconsidered Trifles, my autobiography, readers might also recall that the title is a nod to Autolycus, a slightly rogue-ish Shakespearean character in A Winter’s Tale, said to be a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.

There seems almost to be a Trifle tower. Ted Roylance draws attention to the recent apearance of Geoff Kent’s book of the same name – sub-titled “Images of the every day for modellers and artists” (Wild Swan, £14 95) – while Compton Mackenzie’s collected novels with that title have been around sice 1932.

Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie, known to his family as Monty, was every inch a proud Scot.

A co-founder of the Scottish National Party in 1928, Rector of Glasgow University, said to be an ardent Jacobite, he built himself a house on the Hebridean island of Barra – a wild and lobely place, as Pte Fraser was apt to remind us. It’s on Barra that he’s buried.

Among a prodigious output, perhaps his two best known works – Whisky Galore and The Monarch of the Glen – are self-evidently Scottish, too.

What may be less well known is that the man Britannica describes as “a Scottish writer” was born in November 1883 in British West Hartlepool (and why “British” West Hartlepool, anyway?)

Mackenzie’s parents were theatricals, playing at the 1,500-capacity Gaiety Theatre and staying nearby in Adelaide Street, where he made his bow. Whether Mrs Mackenzie was given the night off is not recorded.

The 1887 Gaiety programme, above, comes from the Hartlepool History Then and Now website. The “tonsorial rooms” may be presumed a barber’s while Everton probably wasn’ a football man at all.

In the long life which followed, Mackenzie made little concession to Englishness save for an allegiance to West Brom – see! – said to be a nod to The Hawthorns, their home ground, and to their vaguely Scottish nickname, the Throstles. Knighted in 1952, he also held numerous presidencies, from the Croquet Association to the Siamese Cat Club.

His autobiography alone runs to ten volumes. Mine will remain at just one (buy now while stocks last.)

*The blog a couple of days back enviously compared sales of Unconsidered Trifles, the close-to-home account, with those of Mr Richard Osman’s debut novel The Thursday Murder Club, said already to exceed a million. Readers are again kind.

Tim Wellock had the Pointless host’s book as a Christmas present from his wife, swears that had it not been a gift he’d have given up after 30 pages – “not remoterly in the same league as Unconsidered Trifles.”

Lance Kidney’s similarly dismissive. “Despite being very readable, it’s a very poor book indeed – nowhere near as good as North Ferriby fan Nick Quantrill’s four crime novels.”

See, we said there’d be more football eventually.

*John Rogers’s proposals in yesterday’s blog on how the 2020-21 football season might satisfactorily be ended attracted a lot of interest but not much support. A final genuflection to footy, Phil Bloomfield points out that Stoke Gabriel, beleaguered in the South West Peninsula, isn’t in Cornwall but on the River Dart in Devon. “Nice little place, too.”

January 17 2021: a way out?

His thoughts committed to a page from an exercise book – unlike the immortal Brooks Mileson’s Northern League sponsorship agreement, which was on the inside flap of a Marlboro Lite packet – blog reader John Rogers proposes an ingenious solution to how the ENL season might satisfactoriy, indeed attractively, be completed.

There’d still be a points-per-game element, still the Lazarus-like need to raise a season long since declared null and void, but it could allow a compelling and a crowd-pulling end to the most vexatious of seasons.

John, who hails from Newcastle but lives in Worcestershire, works on the assumption that the 2020-21 season across steps 3-6 will shortly, in turn, be aborted.

So why not, he suggests, combine the tables from the two truncated seasons – in almost every case producing pretty much the total number of games that would have been played in less troubled times – and work out league positions on points-per-game?

Should a resumption be possible – mid-March might now be the earliest, but running until the end of May – 2020-21 could be completed with a group cup competition along the lines which the Ebac Northern League may already have in mind.

John has compiled a combined 2019-21 table for the ENL second division, chosen – he says – because he has a couple of cousins who live near West Alliotment Celtic’s new ground and whom he’s trying to interest. Mind, he adds, they’re quite near Newcastle Benfield, too.

The first column indicates what the club’s league finishing position would be on that basis, the second the points-per-game, the third and fourth each season’s total of points gained and games played and the fifth the total.

Where points-per-game is the same, as with Crook Town and Redcar Athletic, goal difference has been taken into account. Five clubs, it will be noted, would ordinarily still have 27 games to fit in before the end of May while poor old Washington, truth to tell, would have 28.

Someone with lockdown time on their hands might like to try the same exercise for the first division.

League placings combined over those two seasons wuld determine the composition of the four groups, playing four games or eight depending on the time available.

First-placed West Allotment Celtic would be in Group A on John’s proposal, joined by Easington Colliery (8th), Ryton and Crawcrook Albion (9th) Esh Winning (16th) and Sunderland West End (17th.)

Group B would comprise Crook Town (2nd) alongside Tow Law – one to stir the blood already – Newcastle University, Chester-le-Street and Brandon United.

Group C would embrace Redcar Athletic (3rd), Heaton Stanington (6th), Jarrow (11th), Willington (14th) and Washington (19th) while Group D would be Carlisle City (4th), Billingham Synthonia (5th), Birtley Town (12th) Bedlington Terriers (13th) and Durham City (20th).

In the quarter-finals – the round of eight – winners of Group A would play runners-up in Group B, Group C winners play second in Group D, B winners play second in A and D winners play second in C.

Semi-finals would be two-legged if time allowed, otherwise on the ground of the team with the better group record. The final would be a single match on the ground of the club with the better group record. A first division competition would operate in the same way.

The two finalists – at least in the second division – would be promoted, while the two teams with the worst group stage records would face possible relegation.

The whole thing would need league support and FA approval, of course – but with a way of vivifying a sadly mordant season, John Rogers could be onto a winner.

January 16 2021: point-to-Pointless

Grass Roots, which should not be confused with any other publication of a humbler though homonymous nature, is the title of a 1985 history of South Shields Cricket Club.

Written by the late and lovely Clive Crickmer, son of Shields and for many years the Daily Mirror’s man in North-East England, it’s jointly the best cricket club history I’ve read – and there’ve been some good uns – alongside Stephen Brenkley’s recent masterwork on his beloved Barnard Castle.

A right-arm fast bowler and “cultured” (he claimed) No 11, Clive also formed a recreational team called Caer Urfa, which might be supposed a bunch of expat Welshmen but was, it’s reckoned, the Romans’ name for Sheels.

I mention it because the blog two days ago noted Unconsidered Trifles’ somewhat sluggish progress. Don’t worry, writes Don Clarke – another South Shields man – Grass Roots took 18 years to sell out, but sell out it did.

Only 17-and-a-half years to go, then.

The same blog mentioned that “one or other” of the Pointless presenters – BBC1, before the news – had written a debut novel which sold 131,000 copies in the second week of December alone. It was Richard Osman – not Andrew Alexander, who’s the guy from Rothbury in Northumberland – and, coincidentally, there was a two-page feature on Osman in The Times the same day.

The pair of them were pals at Cambridge, Armstrong a former Durham Choir School boy and now (among much else) president of the prestigious Newcastle Lit and Phil Society. Osman was the voice of Danger Mouse.

The Times also offers a progress report on The Thursday Murder Club, Osman’s acclaimed novel, for which Stephen Spielberg has already paid a few bob for the film rights.. Not only was it the No 1 best seller at Christmas, but the 787,000 hardback copies already shifted – that’s not including e-books and audio books, of course – already make it the third best-selling hardback of all time, behind The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and (of course) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, by Ms Rowling.

Osman expects the book to be the first of many. So do his publishers. For the first two alone he was paid an advance of more than £1m.

Goodness only knows how many more copies have been snapped up in the two days since the interview promoted yet greater interest, but Unconsidered Trifles has sold one.

January 15 2021: league backs axe

The Ebac Northern League management committee tonight backed a proposal that the Covid-hit 2020-21 season be immediately aborted. It is “the only viable option”, they said.

A range of FA suggestionss, including a second successive “null and void” decision and truncated completion on a points-per-game basis – either 66 per cent or 75 per cent of fixtures – is now being sent to all steps 5-6 clubs for their views.

A further possibility unlikely to gain much support is that the current season remain suspended and then played to a finish from August 2021. The possibility of new players, the FA adds, could “impact the integrity” of the competition.

The FA warns, however, that there is now “severe doubt” that the 2020-21 season can be completed normally and that even an early March resumption would mean clubs playing three games a week until the end of May – even before postponements were factored in.

“This would potentially put a strain on some players and staff,” it adds.

Even if “non-elite” football were able to resume from March 1, the FA adds, it would take “at least a couple of weeks” for players’ “conditioning training.”

The FA doumentation makes no specific mention of the FA Vase, now at the last 32 stage, though it seems certain that the competition would be abandoned if league football were unable to continue. Goodness only knows what happens to the 2019-20 final, Consett v Hebburn.

In offering the “considered opinion” that 2020-21 be declared null and void, the ENL adds that a condition of any resumption should be a mininum permitted ground capacity of 300 and normal income from clubhouses and refreshment facilities – a view with which the FA appears to agree.

Should the situation improve more quickly than anticipated, a league sdtatement adds, the league “would look to offer some competitive football in April/May in the form of a cup competition to enable clubs to recoup some of the missed income and to re-engage with spectators.” Any cup competition would not be mandatory.

The league decision reflects that of the Northern Premier League and the other two other competitions at steps 3-4 which have unanimously told the FA that the stop/start season should be declared null and void forthwith.

It’s believed, however, that some clubs – doubtless including those with promotion interest or aspiration – have already signed an on-line petition calling for the season somehow to be completed.

The FA is also in talks with government about some form of club support – “a winter survival fund”, it says.

That a fresh snowfall overnight Friday into Saturday would have ruled out football in any case is doubtless of no comfort whatever. Clubs at ENL level now have until 23 59 on Friday January 22 to offer a view on the range of possibilities suggested by the FA.

*Until these overnight developments – that is to say, developments after I last checked emails – today’s blog was to have been about something else entirely. Normal service may or may not be resumed tomorrow; perhaps there should be a survey.

January 14 2021: whodunit?

Though she may by now have been overtaken by Ms Rowling, one of the many books which decorated Christmas reckons the world’s best-selling to be Agatha Christie, with around four billion copies. One or two more than me, then.

One or other of the guys who presents Pointless – isn’t one of them from up Consett way? – also has a first book on the market. In the second week of December alone it sold 131,000 copies.

One or two more than me, then.

It’s almost a month since we reported on Unconsidered Trifles, though blog readers still ask about it in the kindly way that you might about an elderly aunt. Self-published and self-marketed amid a pandemic and three lockdowns, it really hasn’t done all that badly.

The pre-plague hope was to shift 1,500 copies of the autobiography by Christmas. It fell short, not by all that many, and still sells a few. Figures at the foot of today’s blog.

Reviewers have been greatly generous, none more practically impressed than BishopAuckland FC supporter Phil Graham. Having read a few pages post-Christmas, he settled down with a good book at 9 30pm on New Year’s Eve and by 7am next morning had finished it.

“Wonderful,” writes Phil, “and I didn’t half sleep well the next night.”

Thus encouraged, I’m exploring the earthworks of a possible second book, envisaged as a microcosm of life past and present in a North-East pit village and provisionaly entitled Prairie Stories. Football folk may even guess the location.

Frustratingly, everything’s pretty much in suspense until the all-clear sounds.The No 1 bus awaits.

*Gary Brand’s lockdown reading has included Soccer’s Strangest Matches, a Christmas present from his daughter, which recounts the misfortunes of Madron.

Madron’s a village in west Cornwall, and should not be confused wth a 1970 film of the same name – a Western filmed in Israel and featuring a nun. Honest.

Back in 2010, Madron played in the Cornish Mining League division one, though whether division one was secondary to the premier and supreme divisions is not recorded. Against Illogan RBL Reserves they could muster just seven men, none of them recognised as much of a goalie, trailed 24-0 at half-time and finally leaked 55 (without reply.)

After several other games in which they conceded 20-odd, they finished with a goal difference of -395 which could have been worse, as Gary points out, had one game not been conceded as a walkover.

So how fare Stoke Gabriel, another calamitous Cornish side whose travails in the South West Peninsula League we’d followed earlier in the season? Though the league’s now suspended until March 6 (at least), after 18 matches Stoke Gabriel had scored seven and conceded 207, the negative goal difference not hard to figure. The pandemic has given them time to regroup.

*Ray Gowan’s long-awaited autobiography is out, too, the problem’s getting hold of it, as might be supposed of something printed in South Africa but with a principal market in the UK. In the meantime Ray’s going scatty, as they may never say in South Africa but would certainly in Shildon, where for 14 years he was team manager.

A 1960s player with Crook Town and others, Ray most memorably managed Shildon but also had spells in charge of Ashsington, Brandon United, Spennymoor United, West Auckland and probably one or two more.

Expensively couriered and with full tracking, my own copy was despatched from Durbanville – where Ray now lives – weeks before Christmas and, when last heard of, had got no further than Johannesburg airport.

Happily, other copies have now reached Blighty and are available for £10, plus £3 50 postage. Details from raygowan@hotmail.com. In the meantime he’s suing the courier company.

*….and finally, a very happy 80th birthday to my old friend Tommy Taylor – former boxing champion, LibDem parliamentary candidate, Durham County Council alderman, good bloke and dreadful dominoes player.

In less straitened circumstances, we would undoubtedly have been across to raise a glass and shuffle a hand. Now it’s impossible.There’s also a very good story in Unconsidered Trifles about the time that Tommy ended up in A&E, having merely been making imagiantive use of a matchstick.

The book, 390 well-illustrated pages, costs £10 plus £3 20 postage for softback or £22 plus £3 80 hardback and now has 62 almost unanimously enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. Details from mikeamos81@aol.com

Books sold (and paid for) 1,438

The little books that Santa Claus forgot 762

January 13 2021: Sinckler feeling

If ever there were a bloke built like the proverbial brick outhouse it’s England rugby international Kyle Sinckler. Rather appropriately, he’s also a Bristol Bear.

Though a referee verbally abused by the gentleman might be forgiven for saying “Quite right, Mr Sinckler, I humbly beg your pardon”, Sinckler was reported for swearing at an official. He has now been suspended for two matches and will miss the start of the Six Nations and the big one against Scotland.

Had something similar happened in football, the referee – or just as likely one of his assistants – would have waved a metaphorical white flag and run a mile in the opposite direction. Mind, it would probably be the same were the abuser a seven stone weakling.

The news is brought to attention by Guisborough Town FC chairman Don Cowan, who suggests that the FA could learn something from the RFU. “Don’t hold your breath,” he adds.

*Yesterday’s blog noted that Newcastle United were last on top of the football world – the English top flight, anyway – on August 13 2007. Probably, we supposed, there’d been just one or two games that season.

One, actually. Two first half goals by Obafemi Martins and another from Charles N’Zogbia gave the Magpies, managed by Sam Allardyce, a 3-1 win at Bolton on a day when goals must have been pretty scarce – though Michael Chopra hit the season’s first, for Sunderland against Spurs.

Unbeaten after four matches, United then lost 1-0 at Derby – County’s first win and, as things were to turn out, their only one. Comparisons with this week’s result at Sheffield United have not gone unremarked.

By January 9, things were so far from topping that Big Sam left by what was euphemistically termed mutual consent, a departure celebrated as wildly as if they’d offered free Brown Ale at the turnstiles.

Allardyce was followed by the return of Kevin Keegan, he in turn by a yet more surprising appointment as director of football, the accustomed order of the Wise man following the Messiah.

United could only finish 12th with a goal difference of minus 20, a point ahead of Middlesbrough despite Boro’s 8-1 thrashing of Man City in the season’s last game. Perhaps the Newcastle rearguard had been weakened by the retirement in the summer of 2007 of French defender Olivier Bernard, who subsequently became chairman of Durham City and realised how cushy life had been hitherto.

The whole thing was a bit like the Parable of the Wedding Feast, where the poor chap wasn’t at the top table five minutes before the host noticed that he was inappropriately dressed. Probably he’d turned up in a black-and-white striped shirt.

The story’s in Matthew: 22, the wretched guy then cast into outer darkness. And there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

*Mention the other day of the 60th anniversary of Sunderland’s FA Cup win over Arsenal – January 7 1961 – stirred particular memories for Tommy Miller, a North-East football scout for 47 years. A trip to the match with his dad had been a surprise 12th birthday present.

“I’ve never seen so many people in one place,” Tom recalls. “Usually I watched Shotton CW in the Wearside League in front of a couple of hundred spectators.”

They stood by the railings at the Fulwell End – “next to the biggest open air toilets in the country” – particularly chuffed because both Sunderland’s goals were scored by Horden lad Stan Anderson, who’d handed out the medals at Tommy junior school sports day back in Shotton.

It was a very happy birthday.

January 12 2021: big bang theory

Before proceeding, a little conundrum. The Times today has a list of when the current Premier League clubs last topped the top flight table.

Of the 20, only Brighton and Hove Albion – mentioned in yesterday’s blog thanks to Newton Aycliffe lad Jason Steele’s penalty stopping heroics – have never done so. Newcastle United, since someone’s bound to ask, were last top on August 13 2007 (when, presumably, just one or two games had been played,)

The least recent table toppers last held that lofty position on October 5 1962. Readers are invited to name them. Answer at the foot of the blog.

*Jason Steele was quick to credit Brighton goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts – Crook lad and former Middlesbrough stopper – which reminded blog reader Martin Birtle that Ben had other admirers, too. For years, says Martin, an underpass en route to the Riverside Stadium carried the huge graffiti: “Ben Roberts: sex on legs.”

*Where were we? Ah, yes. The blog the other day wondered if anyone had a buckshee copy of issue 132 of the Northern League magazine, dated February 2011, in order that my set might be complete. Ken Shaw in Sunderland kindly provides the missing link.

It was the time, ten years ago pretty much to the day, that my computer gave up the ghost with a bang that could be heard in the next village. Just two days to deadline, almost nothing could be retrieved.

All that could be done was to produce a truncated emergency edition on-line and with the confession – blog readers will hardly credit it — that some of the content had been made up.

Ken also forwards the letter which I sent to subscribers. “Due to circumstances largely beyond my control – and wholly beyond my understanding – I regret that there will be no hard copies of NVNG132.”

Via a computer screen pictured on the makeshift cover, the situation was further explained: “All – almost all – was lost.”

So what was afoot exactly a decade ago? Six Northern League clubs – Ashington, Billingham Synthonia, Dunston, Norton and Stockton Ancients, Spennymoor Town and (of course) Whitley Bay – were in the FA Vase last 32, only Shildon, whisper it, having fallen at the previous hurdle.

Long-running referee Terry Farley had been appointed MBE – “when I saw the envelope marked Cabinet Office, I thought they wanted even more money out of me” – American cookie king Bob Rich had huge plans (and a huge scoreboard) for Bedlington Terriers, a dinner to mark Tony Golightly’s 20 years as league secretary was over-subscribed, Billingham Town had been pulled back from the edge of an abyss and Mark Taylor, a member of Whitley Bay’s 2009 Vase winning side, was vowing to fight on despite a motor neurone disease diagnosis.

Mark had been diagnosed 11 years ago this month. He was 26, and was given three years. Before Covid, he held a ten-years-alive party, the room thronged. Under normal circumstances, and despite profound and complex disability he still works at a Tyneside school. Published seven or eight years ago, his autobiography – A Brief History of Mine – is utterly compelling.

The emergency edition of NVNG132 had addressed not just production issues but the difficulties posed by six wet weeks in which hardly a ball had been kicked. “It’s both frustrating and disappointing,” I wrote, “but much worse things happen than losing half a magazine, or even half a season.”

How prescient, how true.

*The Premier League team which least recently topped the top flight? Wolves.

January 11 2021: Steele shutter

Eddie Roxburgh’s grandson, a Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket holder, rang him at half-time of Albion’s FA Cup tie at Newport County last night to report progress – or perhaps, since it was goalless, the lack of it.

Back in Stockton, Eddie decided to watch the second half on television, anyway – and that’s when things got really interesting.

The Premier League side scored in the first minute of added time, seemed to have done enough but conceded an equaliser on 90+6 when goalkeeper Jason Steele flapped at a cross, diverting the ball onto defender Adam Webster’s head and into the net. “A shocker,” says today’s Daily Mail.

Redemption ensued. When the tie finally went to penalties, Steele saved four before Webster – who else? – scored the winner. They’d have loved it in Newton Aycliffe, too.

Jason’s an Aycliffe lad, still greatly familiar and hugely popular at community events around the once-new town. During spells at Middlesbrough and Sunderland he also managed Sunday league sides – initially Newton Aycliffe Workmen’s Club, then the Huntsman, probably the same bunch of lads – trying to introduce a few pro habits into the Sabbath game.

Players could be fined as much as £1, for example, for mucky boots or for turning up late. Mind, it all went into the Blackpool weekend kitty, anyway.

Managing in the Durham and District Sunday League – “it helps me let my hair down,” he once said – may have been a bit more difficult after he became Brighton’s No 2 No 1 in 2018, 20 months between his debut and his second appearance. Both were in cup games.

Interviewed after Sunday night’s nail biter. Jason was quick to credit Albion goalie coach Ben Roberts, born and raised just a few miles from him in Crook and himself a former Middlesbrough keeper – doubtless wholly fed up of being reminded of the 1997 FA Cup final against Chelsea, when Roberto di Matteo scored after 42 seconds.

A persistently bad back forced Ben’s retirement at 29, after which he took himself off to Brazil for six months and then gained a first class sports science degree and other academic accolades with a dissertation on the biomechanics of a goalie’s jumping technique.

Hughie, Ben’s dad, was a Shildon lad – we grew up together – who became a newsagent in Crook and will doubtless be best remembered by Grass Routes readers for Crook’s FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at Doncaster Rovers getting on 20 years ago.

That was the unforgettable occasion that they broke into a chorus of “Hughie Roberts is our friend – he sells papers”, but readers know that story already.

*Right at the end of 2020, we’d cause to recall the Stockton side which reached the English Schools semi-final at the old Victoria Ground in the town. It stirred memories for much-travelled Northern League manager Peter Mulcaster – “a glorious effort by Stockton” – though at the time he was only selling programmes.

Peter had only just taken over at Durham City, probably his 14th or15th club, when Ebac Northern League football was again closed down. He looks back nostalgicaly. “Back then football meant something to the players, unlike today when money has become the be-all and end-all. It would still be lovely to be back.”

*Recent talk of life down the pit – prompted by news of miner’s son Colin Bell’s death – reminded blog reader Alan Cattenach of the occasion in 1968 when as 14-year-olds his class were given a day’s work experience down Wheatley Hill colliery in east Durham.

“Can you believe it? Boys and girls, boiler suits and miners’ lamps, down in the cage and along a coal seam about three feet high. It was amazing, terrifying and definitely made sure that none of us became miners.

“I don’t know how much those blokes got paid but multiply it by a thousand and it was nowhere near enough.”

January 10 2021: Marshall lore

It’s to be another catch-up blog, necessary because of readers’ continued generosity in proving all that’s said about casting bread upon the waters. Firstly, an email from Malcolm Clarke,

Malcolm’s the Durham County councillor for the Annfield Plain area of north-west Durham and a volunteer at the village football club, long in the Wearside League.

Chiefly Malcolm writes about the near-impossibility of finishing the season, but it’s equally impossible to talk of Annfield Plain without recalling the truly extraordinary Marshall Lawson, at 87 still toiling daily for the oft-vandal hit club.

Marshall made his playing debut when just 17, back in North Eastern League days, and was 66 when last he turned out for the Sunday side – “they had me on the wing. I did what I could,” he said at the time. Still he’s daily at the ground, still handling the admin, still welcoming all.

Richard Holden, North West Durham’s newish Tory MP, has proved himself an enthusiastic grassroots football man. Marshall’s medal must surely be in the post.

*Another great Annfield Plain stalwart down the years was Norman Wilkinson, aged 79 when he died in 2011, and still York City’s record goal scorer with 127 in 354 games. Like 1960s Sunderland full back Colin Nelson – yesterday’s blog – Norman remained a part-timer, £6 10s a week, chiefly because his adoptive father was unwell.

“I couldn’t gan gallivantin’ aboot with the old man back home,” he once told me, and worked instead as a cobbler in Crook.

No word yet of Colin Nelson, who’d trained and worked as a pharmacist while making 160-odd first team appearances, though blog reader John Briggs recalls that after a spell with Mansfield Town – where he’d turned full-time – Colin returned to pharmacy and to the Ryhope Wednesday League, no less, where he played for Sunderland Trades.

John was with Sunderland Casuals. “Colin’s inclusion doubled the crowd to about ten,” he says.

Colin later qualified as a referee, lived in the same Fulwell cul-de-sac as Kip Watson, legendary founder and talisman of the Over 40s League. Kip would recall that, after the 1973 FA Cup final, Colin – doubtless after a hard day’s prescribing – invited the neighbours round for a drink.

“I didn’t realise how much I’d been shaking until I tried to hold a glass. I had to use both hands. It wasn’t every year that Sunderland won the cup.”

*Yesterday’s blog noted that Guisborough Town press officer Bill Pefittt’s first house in Guisborough had been named Eggy Bread Lodge, – after his all-time favourite food – but that the name board disappeared when they moved to the posh end.

Bill confirms as much – “it’s in the garden shed” – further confessing that it’s years since he enjoyed a nice bit of eggy bread. “You’ve just given me a taste for it again.”

I’d forgotten the best bit, though. Eggy Bread Lodge was in Fryup Crescent. Honest. As Bill not unreasonably points out, Peregrine Court just doesn’t sound the same.

*Yesterday’s blog supposed that the late Bobby Davison was the only player to win England amateur honours while with Shildon. “What about Billy Roughley?” asks Tony Carney on Twitter.

Though he did indeed play for Shildon almost a decade later, Bill’s sole cap came when he was a 22-year-old with Crook Town – a briliant footballer whose failure again to make the team said everything about the FA’s north/south divide at the time.

“I was many a time in the squad, sometimes the named reserve, but never got another game,” recalls Bill, now in Bishop Auckland. “By the time I got to 30 I’d had enough travelling round the country just to sit in the stand. I told them to stuff it.”

His shirt and cap are now held by the Durham Amateur Football Trust, of which he remains an enthusiastic committee member.

*Don Cowan, Guisborough Town’s chairman, had cause to recall in the blog a few days ago the 1966 Hampden Park international between Scotland and Brazil. John Thornback also has vivid memories of that day.

John’s dad was the late Jack Thornback, a much-loved chairman of Chester-le-Street Town FC. He himself emails from a hotel room in Singapore, formally quarantined for 14 days – and made to pay for the room – after returning from a Christmas break in Indonesia.

Courtesy of Neil Dickinson, one of the linesmen, John was there with his dad. Neil was head of Ouston school, near Chester-le-Street, and a long serving chairman of the English schools’ athletic association.

Don Cowan had particularly remembered Scottish full back Willie Bell. John’s recollections lie elsewhere. “My abiding memory of Hampden Park is of how drunk everyone was, even in the ‘posh’ seats, and the almost complete lack of toilets.

“There were streams of urine flowing down the terraces and onto the stands – even worse than the old Roker End at Sunderland.

“Glasgow seemed a different world in those days, driving through the poverty of the Gorbals, the tenement blocs and the broken windows. It was quite shocking and worse than anything I’d seen, even in the pit villages of the North-East.”

*….and finally, Sunderland fanzine editor Paul Dobson forwards a “friend’s” comment about Newcastle United’s FA Cup tie at Arsenal, to which yesterday’s blog gloomily alluded. The first half, the line goes, was like watching two dogs fighting over a bone – “and the bone won.”

January 9 2021: beans means

Perhaps because it should have been FA Vase day, and a nice away day somewhere, Sharon’s becoming clearly concerned about my wellbeing. Not only are there baked beans for breakfast – a rare indulgence – but eggy bread, an’ all.

Bill Perfitt, Guisborough Town’s top-drawer press officer, was so enamoured of the stuff that his first house in Guisborough was called Eggy Bread Lodge.

Mind, they changed the name when they moved to the posh end. Probably the neighbours wouldn’t have understood. At the posh end of Guisborough they probably call it French toast.

*All safely gathered in, I once attended harvest festival at the lovely little Methodist chapel next to Stanley United’s no-less glorious football ground – sadly both now gone – at which the traditional gifts were laid before the altar.

As well as the accustomed fruit and veg, picked that weekend from the allotment, there was a can of peaches (in light syrup), a jar of home-made bramble jam (with which the saints mayhave wished to preserve us) and there was a tin of Asda baked beans.

No matter that they weren’t Heinz, beloved by a million housewives every day, why can you never find a tin opener – and a primus stove – when you want one?

*It’s coincidental – of course it is – that Vince Kirkup should ring. Now the indefatigable chairman of Crook Town FC, he gave life to Stanley United for almost three decades, recalls that Billy Bell – the unique team manager featured here a couple of days ago – was in the 1957-58 Stanley side alongside Geoff Strong and Bobby Davison.

Geoff, late of Arsenal and Liverpool, has been chronicled here before. Bobby Davison maybe hasn’t.

Smashing feller – good cricketer, too – he was centre half in Bishop Auckland’s losing FA Amateur Cup final sides of 1950 and 1951, more successful when captaining Crook Town – against the Bishops – in the twice-replayed 1954 final.

His only amateur international cap, however, came during a short spell with Shildon – the only Shildon player ever to win England recognition. When the promised wagon works job failed to materialise, he returned to the pit, and to Crook.

From Kimblesworth, between Durham and Chester-le-Street, Bob was also a great talker who, like young Lambton, often felt inclined to go fishing on the Wear. Once, he insisted, he caught the bank manager’s hat. “He’d have given me £1,000 if I’d let him.” Bob died in 2007, aged 84.

*Yesterday’s blog noted the 50th anniversary of the day that a Vulcan bomber came down on Station Town, near Wingate in east Durham – January 7, says blog reader and Newton Aycliffe committee man Paul Trippier, and not January 8 as we’d supposed.

It’s with little concealed relish that Don Clarke points out that it was exactly ten years before that – January 7 1961 – that Sunderland beat Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup third round.

A 58,571 crowd thronged Roker Park, Horden lad Stan Anderson scoring both Sunderland’s goals, David Herd replying for the clearly unfortunate Gunners whose centre forward was Geoff Strong (aforesaid). Sunderland’s team that wintry afternoon was Wakeham, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Hooper, Fogarty, Lawler, McPheat, Overfield, The celebrated Arthur Ellis was referee.

Particularly I remember Colin Nelson, a Boldon boy and even 60 years ago one of precious few top flight players to be a part-timer. He was a pharmacist, doing locum shifts on the council estate at Shildon where I had a pre-school milk round (and no cause to visit the chemist’s)

Comfortable at right or left back, he scored twice in 168 Sunderland appearances, turned full-time and had a couple of seasons with Mansfield Town before dispensing with football and returning to pharmacy. Last I heard he was in Redcar. Anyone know what happened next?

*Clearly one of the great problems of lockdown is boredom, a tedium little dissipated by the first 90 minutes of this evening’s televised FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Newcastle United.

A Northern League club secretary, one of the best of a very good bunch, rings half way through the second half to impart a bit crack – confidential for the moment – and to report that he switched off after 20 minutes.

Two extra-time goals at last bring a smile to the face and the day ends as it began, full of beans.

*