February 2 2023: old favourites

Caught by the Henry Halls, Tuesday’s blog recalled both bandleader and racehorse of that name, though Keith Nicholson was apparently mistaken to remember seeing old Henry narrowly second at Thirsk. It was Ripon, next track along.

Another remarkable fact about the horse, says Alan Hamilton, is that he ran as an “entire” – as they say – throughout his career, though “almost inexplicably” the Jockey Cub was told in April 2009, 18 months after he finished racing, that he’d been gelded.

Though Henry may have been getting on a bit, Keith Nicholson once had a third share in Dhaular Dhar – pictured at Ripon after winning his last race. He was 15.

Lewis Edmunds, the jiockey, was just 16. They’d rather hoped he’d become the first jockey to be younger than the winner he rode.

Racing Post (and Keith Nicholson) reckon the oldest post-war winner to be Sonny Somers, an 18-year-old when claiming handicaps at Lingfield and Southwell in 1980. “He was offered the sort of reception usually reserved for a Grand National winner” Timeform observed.

Sadly, his rider’s age is not recorded.

*Mike Carr also enjoyed the Henry Halls but was puzzled, nonetheless. “I couldn’t help wondering how the horse managed to cover 5k in 56.1 seconds at Redcar. No wonder it’s still a course record.” Sorry, we meant five furlongs. Horses for courses, it might be best sticking to the footy.

*Familiar football scout Tommy Miller, he of the magificent memory, recalls seeing Henry Hall playing for St Johnstone in the 1970s – that was Henry Begg Hall, a winger who was a bit of a flyer, too.

Born in 1945, he played for Stirling Albion, St Johnstone, Dundee United and Forfar, twice represented the Scottish League and managed Forfar and Raith Rovers before becoming a PE teacher.

*Harry Whitton ran an electrical business in Thirsk, never missed a race meeting, owned a few himself and was among my most cherished correspondents in Northern Echo days.

Memories of Harry were also prompted by John Rogers’s latest table of porous defences, steps 5-7, in which Whitton United – Ipxwich-based, Eastern Counties League premier division – are up to fifth with 3.739 a game. No relation, of course, to Witton Albion.

Harry, at any rate, was also an incorrigible name dropper, frequently teased in my columns and further recalled in Unconsidered Trifles. “I enclose a letter from Sheikh Hamdam Maktoum” he’d say, or “Here is a photograph of me with Princess Anne.” or “Lord Howard de Walden once told me that his father occasionally dined while wearing a suit of armour.”

Ribbed rotten in my columns, he took it all in the spirit in which it was intended – so much so that he left me £500 in his will. Though many others have subsequently been joshed, the bank balance heads inexorably for a fall.

*Speaking of the incorrigible…..Sylvia and Peter Lax met on a blind date at Saltburn. “If she’d known all his terrible jokes, she’s probably have run a mile” said their children at Sylvia’s funeral, at Stockton this afternoon.

Peter, who died in 2012, was a wonderful stalwart of Billingham Synthonia FC and long-serving member of the Northern League management committee. Sylvia – “quiet and reserved” said Rodney Breckon, the minister – laughed and groaned simultaneously.

We sang Abide with me, played Sylvia out to We’ll meet again. It’s much to be hoped.


February 1 2023: two-for-one (and one for all)

Hackett and Baines is a remarkable family business, a remarkable survivor and serves up a pretty remarkable coincidence.

The shop was opened in Shildon by Jack Tarry in 1898 – the same year that, barely 100 yards out the back, Shildon AFC moved onto the Dean Street ground. Like the football club, it proudly and vibrantly survives.

There never was a Hackett or, indeed, a Baines. Not in Shildon, anyway. Jack Tarry had trained as a pawnbroker in Hartlepool and in Kettering, remembered that “Hackett” and “Baines” were shops in those vicinities and, jumping the broomstick, married the two. At first the shop mainly sold workclothes, pit boots to poss tubs and protection for the wagon workers.

The Durham Amateur Football Trust, acronymically indelible, already planned an exhibition throughout July to mark Dean Street’s 125th,

Why not bring them together – two for the price of one, as they might say in the retail trade? The deal is done over lunch at the Shoulder with Philip Tarry, Jack’s great grandson, and with business partner and family member Roger Blamire.

In truth, there’s a further coincidence. During the depression days of the 1920s a second Hackett and Baines shop, on Mill Lane in Billingham, virtually subsidised the struggling Shildon emporium. It was in 1923 that Billingham Synthonia FC was formed – the centenary another DAFT project in 2023.

Like the dear old Dean Street ground, Hackett’s (above) is much changed but still wholly recognisable. The shop now majors on what Philip calls “big ticket” items – beds, reclining chairs and other furniture, clothing for what euphemistically is called the larger man – and on old-fashioned customer service. Change meant losing the ladies’ foundation department – I didn’t ask – and, more regrettably, the Tri-ang train sets which, as raggy-trousered urchins in different days, we’d covet through innocent eyes.

Philip thinks they may even have some old caser footballs somewhere in the attic – “16/6d” he effortlessly recalls.

The business prospers and will help sponsor July’s events – more sponsors much welcomed – probably over two or three different venues (and Hackett’s window). Barker’s department store in Northallerton and Fenwick’s in Newcastle both opened for business in 1882 and, still with family connections, are yet more venerable.

In a small and not always affluent Co Durham town, Hackett and Baines is a true treasure.

*No less valued, Shildon are tonight at Dunston UTS, on Tyneside, both teams chasing a third successive NPL East win but still towards opposite ends of the table.

Dunston are a great football club, diligently directed by a loyal and long-serving committee chaired by Malcolm James. How long now, Malcolm? “Twenty-seven years, maybe a few more” he says in the pre-match clubhouse.

The ground’s handsomely upgraded, too – brilliant floodlights – though the pitch is what a racing man would call heavy and a Dunston denizen might simply suppose clarty. Very clarty. They fear the need for expensive rehabilitation.

It’s so welcoming, indeed, that they insist – insist – on letting me in for nowt.

Dunston lead after 37 minutes through Carl Finnigan, the faithful Billy Greulich-Smith equalising from the spot after 57 minutes after what looks like a pretty harsh decision by refulgently named referee Zak Kennard-Kettle.

Trevor Kettle, his dad, was a Football League ref known, perhaps inevitably, as Whistling Kettle. “He was a bit controversial” someone says, but aren’t they all?

An NPL bonus, incidentally – at least for those of us with what might be termed restricted vision – is that the footballs are so much more visible than those dull jobs in the Ebac Northern League. Might the Northern League make sympathetic comparison, too?

Just a couple of minutes remain when Michael Pearson heads Dunston’s winner from a corner. They move into a play-off place but Shildon have much too much quality to go down. Besides, there’s still very good reason to celebrate.

*…and finally, appropriately, I stumble across a Facebook message posted today by Shildon director Wilf Tray. “Today was going to be the day I celebrated completing dry January” it says. “Sadly, my plans fell apart about a month ago.”

January 31 2023: Halls of fame

Henry Hall CBE (1898-1989) was a band leader and composer whose greatest hits included Teddy Bears Picnic (which sold a million), Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf and Here comes the bogey man.

He’d always sign off with Here’s to the next time and is improbably remembered at Frickley Colliery, of which more shortly.

There was also a pretty successful racehorse of the same name, perhaps even named after old Henry himself. So where’s all this leading?

Yesterday’s note on the funeral of John Ingham, the North-East’s No 1 Tranmere Rovers supporter, recorded that he was played out to Another one bites the dust, by Queen.

It prompts Keith Nicholson firstly to recall that he once attended a funeral at South Shields crematorium – “youngish chap, planned it himself” – at which the swansong was Burn Baby Burn, a 1976 number by The Trammps.

Another of Keith’s friends plans to go out to Here’s to the next time by Henry Hall and his Orchestra. “He reckons that we’ll get another go. He may be disappointed, he may not, but we’ll all see one day.”

Then, once mounted, Keith stays in the saddle.

*Henry Hall – the horse, not the band leader – was trained by Nigel Tinkler near Malton and usually ridden by Kim, his wife. He almost always ran over five furlongs, the minimum distance.

Keith once saw him at Thirsk where the course commentator was a chap called Graham Goode and Henry, as Keith puts it, was mugged on the line. “Second by the proverbial midgie’s.”

“Never mind, Henry, here’s to the next time” announced Goode, prompting Keith – “I think I was the only one who got it” – to seek him out and congratulate him on his quick thinking. Sadly, the result of the next time isn’t known.

*There’s more. Henry Hall, says Keith, held the 5k course record at Redcar for many a year and may well still have it. Bit between the teeth, I contact Redcar racecourse historian Stephen Mitchell – a gentleman who proves wonderfully helpful. “He must have been quite a remarkable horse” he agrees.

Henry had 121 outings, just three of them at Redcar, over a ten-year career, winning on his debut as a two-year-old. He came first on another ten occasions, second 11 times and third 16, bagging £139,824 in prize money.

Both his longevity and number of outings were “highly uncommon” on the flat, says Stephen. Kim Tinkler was in the saddle for 100 of his races, including the Pertemps Employment Alliance Handicap, the 4 55 at Redcar on September 20 2006. The 56.01 time was one of four course records broken that day.

Fourteen ran – “Henry was ten at the time and a quite remarkable character” – The Weakest Link narrowly failing to live up to its name in penultimacy. Three days later, says Stephen, Henry Hall finished 15th over the same course and distance.

*At Frickley Colliery in Yorkshire, says Wiki, the unpopular 6pm shift was known as the Henry Hall’s – or sometimes just the Henry’s – because it started at the same time as the band leader’s radio show. After his death, it’s said, the Frickley Athletic FC programme carried a tribute headed “No more Henrys.”

Might this have been disingenuous? Worldly wise blog readers will know that the phrase “a load of cobblers” is a slight shortening of “cobblers’ awls” and that “cobblers awls” is rhyming slang for something spherical….here’s to the next time, anyway.

January 30 2023: better late

Many point out, without hint of criticism, that Grass routes has recently resembled an obituaries column. Sadly, it is so.

Last Monday’s blog mourned the passing of John Wren, a lovely chap long familiar in south Durham football. West Auckland FC secretary Dave Bussey sends a team picture, probably early 80s when his dad Derick was on the committee, with some greatly familiar names.

John’s fourth left at the back, between Bob Tookey – perhaps better remembered at Evenwood Town – and John Lang, a very good goalkeeper and a bit of a character. Billy Heron had his moments, too.

On the right at the front is the late Jackie Foster, in whose memory a terrace at Willington was built and named, a delightful man from Witton Park in whose company it was almost impossible to buy a drink.

The full line-up – with thanks to Dave and fellow West stalwart Cliffy Alderson – is: Eddie Sharp, George Richardson, Bob Tookey, John Wren, John Lang, Howard Murray, Robin Gill, Dennis Foster. (Front) Colin Mills, Robert Beacham, Billy Heron, John Richardson, Jackie Foster.

*Still out West, we’d recalled a couple of weeks back the great flood of 1963, when a beck outside the ground mysteriously overflowed towards the end of an Amateur Cup tie with Blackpool Rangers, submerging the pitch and causing the match to be abandoned when Rangers were ahead.

Dam disgrace? Still there are old men in West Auckland who’ll tell you that it was they who blocked it or, if they didn’t, that they know fine well who did. Former West Auckland lad Terry Lewins, long in Coventry and periodically puzzled by the blog’s use of “long” words, is again indignant.

“I used to play in that beck and it could wash you away” he insists. “It was a force of nature, no wonder if burst its banks. Fancy suggesting it was a put-up job.”

The FA ordered the game to be replayed, at Bishop Auckland. Postdiluvially, West won.

*So life, and death, go on. Today’s the funeral at Mountsett crematorium in north-west Durham of my dear old friend John Ingham, the North-East’s No 1 Tranmere Rovers supporter.

They carried him in to The carnival is over, at the close heard Queen – Another one bites the dust.

There were also several readings from Shel Silverstein, a poet said to be Milligan-esque, including something called Stacy Brown got two. Suffice that a) Stacy Brown appears to be male b) “got two” doesn’t refer to goals and c) as valedictions go it’ll never usurp Abide with me.

Born in Birkenhead, long on the road, John had a short spell in the police force, became manager of the Portobello Road market in London, markets manager in Newcastle and then held a similar post in Co Durham.

Still he frequently returned to Prenton Park, or followed Rovers on the road, particularly happy if someone else drove and there was a pub or two on the return journey. For John, it might be said, where there was Wirral there was a way.

He was 70, broke his arm before Christmas in a fall down four or five steps out the back but after surgery went home. Then complications, the ineluctable complications, set in. He died on December 29. The Tranmere programme paid tribute the following week, we affectionately paid tribute today.

*Among the mourners, a friend from Newcastle market days, is former Premier League referee Ken Redfearn, coming up 80 in October and still happily whistling.

Probably wearing his trademark tights, he likes to do two matches on Saturdays and another on Sunday. After health issues of his own, all fees now go to cancer research.

Sometimes, says Ken – North Tyneside lad – players hear about it and chuck in a fiver of their own. “Not very often, mind” he adds.

*Readers have been wondering what’s happened to the blog, or indeed to its author, not having seen it for several days. The short answer is nothing.

Daily, almost dutifully, it has been posted. That it sometimes fails to appear seems to affect those who read it via Twitter, though – goodness knows – these things are the biggest mystery since Sherlock Holmes escaping the Reichenbach Falls.

The technical department, bless her, is engaging with someone described by the internet provider as a happiness engineer. It’s hoped there’ll be smiles again soon.

January 29 2023: off the rails (again)

“For the first time, but by no means the last, the arrangement for passenger traffic proved to be utterly inadequate for the number of people who wished to travel. Three hundred tickets had been distributed to those who had signified their intention of going down the line and each ticket holder was supposed to know his place. The crowd, each member of it fearing lest he should be left behind, rushed into the waggons and in a moment there was no standing room left. All the railway men were there.”

Back on January 18, it may be recalled, we had the most fearful experience on returning with TransPennine Express from a meeting with the Professional Footballers’ Assocition in Manchester.

The train upon which we had reservations – very considerable reservations, it might be said – was one of many TPE cancellations that day. The one onto which we finally forced access was so dangerously overcrowded that, had we been cattle, the RSPCA would surely have started legal proceedings.

The passage above could have described it all pretty perfectly but was written, not of Manchester Victoria station in 2023, but of the scene at Shidon when the Stockton and Darlington Railway began its inaugural journey on September 27 1825. It comes from a 1912 history of the world’s first steam-hauled passenger railway found on these shelves.

TransPenninse Express has much marshalled the headlines since that dreadful day at Manchester Victoria – but how little seems to have changed in 200 years.

*While I was kicking about with the PFA, Sharon – it may also be recalled – was taking in the People’s Histry Museum and the Manchester City Art Gallery, and was disappointed by both. It brought a sympathetic response from Stewart Taylor, Respect officer of the North West Counties League, who talks of pandering to modern day sensitivities.

“I’ve been visiting the art gallery quite regularly over the last 50 years and always found something new and, in many ways, inspiring. My most recent visit was a few months ago and lasted ten minutes. It will be my last.”

Among those to whom Stewart believes the People’s History Museum devotes too little attention is Daniel Adamson, the force behind the Manchester Ship Canal, which takes us back to the start.

Adamson’s father, another Daniel, was a farmer who also kept the Grey Horse pub in Shidon, so excited at the opening of the railway in 1825 yhat he hired an itinerant fiddler and (it’s somewhat optimistically said) left a barrel of beer in the hedge for the refreshment of passing strangers.

The following year he began a stagecoach service over the S&D tracks, keeping both coach and horses in a building over the road built for that purpose and pictured above. It also became a ticket office, allowing Adamson to be described as a travel agent. They Grey Horse is long closed, the coach house forlorn and for sale.

Daniel Adamson also found time to father 15 children, three of them christened Daniel and two Elizabeth. It was the youngest of the Daniels – a third Dan, as the martial arts fraternity might have it – who was educated at a Quaker school in Shildon, became an apprentice to Timothy Hackworth on his 13th birthday and subsequently made a very large fortune, living with his family in a “palatial” house in Didsbury.

He it was who pioneered the straight and narrow. a minumental feat of engineering. Stewart Taylor believes that the Shildon lad is under-represented, too.

*The front page of today’s Sunday Times reports a sickness rate among TPE drivers of 14 per cent – almost seven times the national average of 2.2 per cent and equivalent to 30 sick days a year. At LNER’s Newcastle depot, it adds, 20 per cent of drrivers are off sick.

The paper suggests that the sedentary nature of a driver’s job predisposes them to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Long suffering passengers may thus count themselves lucky after all: They almost always have to stand.

*Name and nature, blog reader Ian Helps kindly sends a link to a BBC website report on TransPennine’s latest travails. Grateful as always, I reply that I’d read it on my phone the previous evening while homeward on the bus and that, compared to TPE, Arriva is a model of efficiency, dependability and punctuality.

That very morning the bus from Scotch Corner fails to arrive, potentially throwing the day into chaos. Sharon’s taxi once again comes to the rescue. That message to Ian Helps? It’s what’s called tempting fate.

January 28 2023: stars and stripes

With the probable exception of the Rev Thomas Henry Espinell Compton Espin, pictured above and of whom more shortly, few may suppose Tow Law to be heaven on earth. They’re great lads, nonetheless.

Such the plethora of postponements – and it can get quite fresh up there – that today’s Ebac Northern League first division match with Newton Ayciffe is the first at Ironworks Road since Bonfire Night.

The No 1 bus is late, partly because someone takes bad – or moderate, at any rate – and partly because they spend ages changing drivers. It offers the opportunity of two naps or, truth to tell, two-and-a-bit.

The day’s cold, the welcome warm. Faithful blog reader Keith Nicholson is paying his first visit for 35 years, on which earlier occasion he’d run the line. “I’ve never thawed out since” he says.

I’ve brought the Newton Aycliffe hat, kindly given by club vice-chairman Peter Young, and am at once presented with the Tow Law equivalent by Steve Moralee, the Lawyers’ secretary. “I’m not having you wearing a bloody Newton Aycliffe hat up here” he says.

The millinery collection’s growing. Wasn’t it the hydra who was many-headed? I may have to become the Northern League equivalent.

The club has also gained a PA system, another job for Steve, so effective that he might as well announce the teams for Crook v Ashington, a few miles down the hill, while he’s about it.

Mind, there are those who would suggest that Steve at his most disputatious (shall we say) would never need a PA system in the first place.

Aycliffe lead through Liam Jarvie’s 38th minute penalty. He always scores when I’m there. The goal’s announced as dispassionately as if on the Ten O’Clock News, though it’s always possible that, sotte voce, the PA man might have added that it was never a penalty in a million years, referee.

It ends 2-0, crowd 128, Aycliffe top of the league perhaps for the first time since joining. Good luck to them, of course, and as the league’s senior vice-president I shall remain strictly neutral. Been there, done that, got the beanie,

*The Rev Thomas Espin became Vicar of Tow Law in 1888, stayed for 46 years until his death and is rather unfairly included in a chapter headed “Nutty professors” in a book called A Field Guide to the English Clergy.

Made a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society when just 19, possessed of a huge telescope which stood in the vicarage garden observatory, he discovered and measured thousands of red stars and double stars, sometimes spending 13-hour night shifts in the garden but never (it was said) neglecting the day job.

Contented bachelor, he also had a “complex” tropical fish aquarium, a rifle range, a gymnasium – where his predecessor’s copious wine cellar had been – a hard tennis court and a sanatorium, all for the mutual benefit of his flock.

Espin also built a fire-breathing x-ray machine choir boys – there were no girls – persuaded to swallow small change by way of guinea-piggery. “A good deal of benefit was accomplished” said The Northern Echo in 1911.

A 1992 biography published by theTow Law Local History Society – foreword by Patrick Moore – also noted that he was masgistrates’ chairman at both Stanhope and Wolsingham, president of the Newcastle Astronomical Society and enjoyed a six-week foreign holiday each year, welcomed home by a fusilade from the Church Lads’ Brigade cannon.

He was pianist, organist and composer, microscopist, geologist and botanist – and after his death had a crater named in his memory on the dark side of the moon.

These days he’d simply be called a star man. These days the equivalent are the stellar few who keep Tow Law Town FC so vigorously punching above its weight.

*Though inexplicably omitted from the Field Guide to English Clergy, the Rev John Garnage finds a place in Tales of Old County Durham.

He was the pickled parson of Sedgefield, anonymously recalled in yesterday’s blog, after whom one of that Topsy-town’s pubs is now named.

Back in 2019 the pub’s Facebook page had recorded a visit by five “professional” gentlemen, aggrieved to have been asked by a member of saff if they might not feel more comfortable elsewhere.

That one of them was imminently expecting first-time fatherhood, and was himself dressed as a dum-struck baby, may have had something to do with it.

Or perhaps it just wasn’t nappy hour.

*A final note for what hereabouts has become Burns Week. After Monday evening’s Scottish Cup defeat by sixth-tier Darvel, the Aberdeen board had “demanded a reaction”. Today they saw the reaction for themselves, stuffed 6-0 at Hibs. Just 19 minutes after the final whistle, Aberdeen announced that manager Jim Gordon was no longer with the club. As the poet himself observed, man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.

January 27 2023: parson’s knows

The pickled parson wasn’t all that he might have seemed. That he wasn’t under the influence is probably best explained by the fact that he was dead.

Legend has it that the parson was a 17th century Rector of Sedgefield, Co Durham, who rather inconsiderately passed on shortly before the annual collection of tithes – one tithe fitted all – from the locals.

Reluctant to relinquish that annual source of income, his wife embalmed him in salt, propped him up in the parsonage window, explained that he wasn’t feeling too clever but that he would still be delighted to receive their contributions.

These days the Pickled Parson’s a pub and it’s there that, wearing a DAFT hat, I have a most enjoyable lunch with Graham Craggs, who spent 30 years as Billingham Synthonia secretary and still keeps every one of those team sheets – “next to the Christmas stuff” in the loft.

Formed as an ICI team, the Synners mark their centenary this year. The Durham Amateur Football Trust plans an August exhibition in the town library.

Graham keys, or means to key, “Synners” on his phone. Inexplicably he keys “stunners.” He daren’t look at what comes up, he says.

The meeting’s both greatly enjoyable and greatly useful. Parson to person, the ball rolls.

*Shildon will mark later this year the 125th anniversary of their occupancy of the Dean Street ground, nuch modernised of late but reasonably described as “historic”. DAFT envisages an exhibition about all that, too, planning apace.

To that end I’ve an evening drink in the Railway Institute with Shirley Quinn, one of the Durham County councillors for the town, which also proves most helpful.

A buckshee half of Diet Coke, it’s concluded, is unlikely to breach the local government code of conduct.

A bit earlier in the day, invaluable Shildon director Norman Smith had sent the splendid picture above – an exhibition piece if ever – with particular reference to Brough Fletcher, the player on the extreme left.

Fletcher was born in Mealsgate, near Workington, and before joining Shildon played for Chilton Colliery. A website suggestion that he played for Chiltern Colliery may be discounted, there being precious few pits in Gloucestershire.

Shotly after the team photograph was taken, however, he joined Barnsley – at much the same time as the club’s mascot was that donkey Amos – and enjoyed a 28-year Oakwell career as player and manager, scoring 83 goals in 332 appearances and achieving what the webside calls “solidly legendary status.”

He subsequently managed Britol Rovers and Walsall and died in Bristol, aged 79, in 1972. If any has Synners or Shildon memorabilia, or knows those who might have, it would be great to hear further.

*As with Messrs Wetherspoon, the blog has been celebrating not so much Burns Night – the Pickled Parson offered both scotch pies and cullen skink on Wednesday – as Burns Week. We’ve been dancing with Darvel and small changing with Jingling Geordie, as tartan as a pipe major’s plaid.

Even Brough Fletcher had 14 games for Partick Thistle while serving as a gunner with the Royal Field Artillery during World War I.

Jingling Geordie, said to have been a nickname for King James VI of Scotland, is also the name of a pub near Waverley station in Edinburgh. Blog reader and Hibernian fan Steve Young recalls that, during his time at Hibs, it was also George Best’s local – where often he’d be joined by team mates -“perhaps too frequently as they were soundly relegated that year” says Steve.

It was 1979-80, Best – “out of shape and out of options” says a Sky website – seeking a last big payday. Hibs put him up at the North British Hotel, though Jingling Geordie’s became a favourite haunt. “Lonely nights in the country’s capital were not ideal for a man with a disease (alcoholism) and a low boredom threshold” says Sky. One pub crawls once said to have included the the singer Debbie Harry.

Steve Young recalls a planned photo shoot at Geordie’s which had gone wrong – “probaby a combination of drink and money” – the crestfallen photographer about to leave when a Hibs’ team mate grabbed his camera and captured Besty in “classic” mode, behind a table of empties. The tabloids got their tale.

I’ve a good George Best story, too, but that’s on page 362 of Unconsidered Trifles.

January 26 2023: baubee dazzlers?

Still folk talk of Darvel and of other Scottish matters (like pies). Though none doubts that money also talks – “Darvel probably have a League One budget and a playing squad to match” writes Chris Sanderson – equally none supposes that the sixth tier club’s win over Aberdeen on Monday evening was remarkable.

“Scottish football is notoriously weak, mostly because of the Premier League’s desperate self-preservation” says Geoff Thornton. “The big two need to be taken down a peg or five.”

Particularly the result chimed with Brian Hird, who’d watched Darvel’s first round match back in September – an 8-0 victory over Tynecastle, eight differet scorers – and who kindly sent today’s pix.

Brian was impressed by the set-up, the “excellent” standard of football and the playing surface – “one of the best I’ve seen anywhere.” The “famous” Kilmarnock pies went down well, too.

“Being a veggie I can vouch for the macaroni pie and the sweet potato and korma pie. Both were very canny” he says.

Brian, who lives in North Yorkshire, also sends the pic (below) of the bust of Sammy Cox, aka the Darvel Marvel, which stands in the Sammy Cox Memorial Garden at the ground.

Said by Sir Stanley Matthews to be the most difficult opponent he ever faced, the Marvel began with Darvel Juniors, eventually joining Rangers, a virtual ever-present in the “Iron Curtain” side of 1948-49 which became the first Rangers team to win the domestic treble.

The first of his 25 Scottish caps came in 1948, a late replacement for Billy Campbell who, says Wikipedia, had broken his boots. How you break a pair of football boots is, sadly, not explained.

*Darvel, population 3,900, is known as the Lang Toon.Tuesday’s blog said as much. “Residents of Kirkcaldy will be miffed that you have given their world famous nickname to a small town in Ayrshire” writes Chris Kipling.

Wiki (again) supposes that Scotland has at least three Lang Toons, the shortest of which may be Auchterarder in Perth and Kinross. Kirkcaldy, of course, is also the home of Raith Rovers – as in “they’ll be dancing on the streets of Raith” – but that, memorably, was Sam Leitch on Grandstand.

Chris also notes that it’s not Darvel’s first day in the sun. “I had the privilege of watching them at Hampden Park in the 1976 Scottish Junior Cup final when they lost to Bo’ness United. Darvel took 8,000 fans that day.”

Clearly the Lang Toon had stretched to the limit.

*The BBC website supposed that Monday’s triumph was “arguably” the biggest shock in the Scottish Cup’s 149-year history. Arguably, as yesterday’s blog supposed, Berwick Rangers’ 1-0 win over (Glasgow) Rangers 56 years ago on Saturday is up there, too.

Keith Bell recalls that Rangers fielded a full-strength side – “no fringe players” – and that their wives were particularly disappointed. “Apparently the debacle crimped the finances of several whose wives had been eyeing bonuses from a cup run to pay for house furnishings.”

Guisborough Town vice-chairman (and Motherwell lad) Don Cowan reckons the Berwick result the greater shock – “when you consider Rangers standing at the time”. Karl Crawford, who may be Cleveland’s only other Motherwell fan, recalls a 1983 League Cup match at Berwick to which he went on the train with his dad.

“I was darts mad at the time and before the game bought a set with green feathered flights at Woolworth’s. There was a search at the gate and a lot of humour.”

Karl also recalls two of life’s great characters, one of whom answers to Surreal Neil, collects telephone exchanges – Darvel has a telephone museum – and was once greatly familiar at Marske United.

The other was Stan Wilson, who taught Karl at Trinity Methodist Sunday School in Redcar, tilted at Caerphilly’s windmills for the LibDems and, in the 1950s, played a few games on the wing for Shildon – a first Northern League experience.

After the first, he liked to recall, he joined the queue for “expenses”. Asked his claim, Stan honestly asserted the three bob (or whatever) train fare from Redcar and was paid out.

The next-in-line reckoned to have come from Spennymoor (or somewhere) on the bus and that the fare was £3. He also received his claim. After that, said Stan, the train fare from Redcar to Shildon very substantially increased.

*….and finally, a quick mention that the “radio play” Bishop United, recalling the events around the Munich air disaster after which three Bishop Auckland men boosted Manchester United’s ranks, takes to Bishop Auckland Golf Club at 7pm this Friday, January 27. Admission’s free, all welcome, and there’s also a free buffet courtesy of David Bayles. Is that the same David Bayles who scored with a header to give Shildon a “golden goal” victory in the Northern League Cup final at Feethams? Can’t be.

It really is time for a catch-up blog – tomorrow, with luck – though not everything may make it. Darvel take the hindmost once again.

January 25 2023: border lines

Arguably the biggest upset in the Scottish Cup’s 149-year history, said the BBC website of Darvel’s 1-0 win over Aberdeen on Monday evening.

The cup qualification was prudent. What, ask Neil McKay (who was there) and John Briggs (who wasn’t) of Berwick Rangers 1-0 win over the other Rangers, 56 years ago this Saturday?

No matter that the Scottish League had only two divisions, they may have a point – and as they may say in east Ayrshire, the Darvel’s in the detail.

For the real detail, however, I turn to Tony Maxwell’s brilliantly (if idiosyncratically) written The Lone Rangers, a Berwick history published in 2011. Maxwell, in turn, quotes John Raffery, chief football writer of The Scotsman:

“It was Arnold Palmer missing a six-inch putt. It was Arkle tripping over a matchstick. It was Walter McGowan knocking down Cassius Clay….It was the most ludicrous, the weirdest, the most astonishing result ever returned in Scottish football.”

What made victory yet sweeter was that, just three years earlier, the Glasgow club had led a campaign to restructure Scottish football into two divisions of 16 clubs, meaning that the five least well supported – Berwick, Stranraer, Stenhousmuir, Brechin City and Albion Rovers – would have been consigned to life among the stiffs.

It went to court, the minnows – supported by Celtic – victorious.

The crowd at Shielfield that January Saturday afternoon was 13,500, far more than Berwick’s entire population.Sammy Reid, scorer of the 37th minute winner, was one of ten Scots in the English side, 19-year-old Alan Ainsley the only Berwick boy.

It didn’t, of course, deter the travelling faithful from dubbing the victors “English bastards”.

Ainsley was unequivocal: “With the money in the Premier League what we did will never be repeated”, he said at the time. And now….?

Back in 2011, Tony Maxwell had remained cautious. Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s 3-1 win over Celtic in the year 2000 had also caused “a bit of a stir”, he conceded.

It also gave birth, in The Sun, to what unequivocally remains the greatest sports headline of all time: “Super Cally go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious.”

*Neil McKay, lifelong Newcastle United fan, had been at the Berwick match with his father and grandfather – “sitting on a bench by the touchline, so close I could almost have touched Willie Henderson, the Berwick winger.”

At the time they lived in the west end of Newcastle. “On the way back we stopped at Morpeth for fish and chips and to buy a Pink, finding that Newcastle had beaten Coventry City 4-3 in the English Cup with Wyn Davies scoring a hat-trick. It was the perfect day.”

*Forfar fan Kevin Ross, among our more regular contributors on matters Scottish, lives in North Yorkshire but emails from Grenada, where things are probably a bit more clement. He’s unsurprised at Darvel’s success, especially since they signed Forfar skipper Ross Meechan at the end of last season.

“That opened my eyes to their ambition. Ross isn’t stupid and left us for a club that is going places. The under-achievers at the bottom of the Scottish League – I include ourselves – would do well to look over their shoulders.

“Darvel are one of many who are intent – like Kelty and Cove – to make it. Observers of the lower reaches of our game will have been surprised but far from shocked at their triumph;”

*Like yesterday’s blog, The Times carried a substantial piece on Darvel, recording both that someone had left an inflatable sheep behind after the match – its purpose uncertain – and that chairman John Gall, who chiefly funds the club, had had to be elsewhere on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.

The previous engagement was close to my heart, closer yet to other parts of the anatomy: Mr Gall owns Brownings Bakery in Kilmarnock and was at the World Scotch Pie contest, a farinaceous fiesta at which last year Brownings were champion of champions.

This time, for the fourth year in six, the honour was claimed by James Pirie and Son, based in Angus, perhaps proof for the Darvel chairman that you can’t win them all.

Among many others the competition also has a “football pie” section, in which Abdreen’s “famous” Pittodrie Pie also came second. Some, alas, can’t win any.

*It’s Burns Night, of course, though Messrs Wetherspoons have declared a Burns Week with deals on haggis, neeps and tatties and a drink. We toast the Immortal Memory at the Ironstone Miner in Guisborough – once the town’s register office – with Guisborough Town vice-chairman Don Cowan, a son of Motherwell.

Two further plus points for Spoons: firstly the meticulous way in which the barman ensures the pint pot is filled to the brim (others please note) and secondly that a lime and soda costs just 35p. (Ditto).

There’s also an elderly Scot in red tracky bottoms who appears already to have had a good swallee (as they over the border) and who’s sipping cider through a straw. Wasn’t that Nina and Frederik? Weren’t they Danish?

Don and John Briggs appear to have a mutual friend, the one who noted the proximity of Burns Night and the Chinese New Year and invited them to a Chinese Burns Night party.

Neither was keen to go but they had their arms twisted.

January 24 2023: Darvel of the age

“There’s death in the cup – so beware!” – Robert Burns Inscriptions on a goblet (published 1834)

Wednesday is Burns Night. The quote above could hardly be more appropriate to last night’s events in Darvel, population 3,900, in eastern Ayrshire.

I’d not heard of the epic Scottish Cup victory over Aberdeen, or indeed of Darvel, until an email from blog reader John Maughan who lives in Wolsingham bur who spent several childhood holidays with family up there.

“I remember being introduced to tattie scones, which I hated and Irn Bru which I loved” he says.

That apart, the front page of today’s Aberdeen Evening Express – the “Late final” published in mid-morning – pretty graphically sums events at the Recreation Park, the fourth round tie watched by just 400 fewer than Darvel’s entire population. The BBC website supposes it “arguably the biggest shock in the Scottish Cup’s 149-year history.”

Known sometimes as the Lang Toon and not to be confused with the Martian crater of the same name – though one is named after t’other – Darvel was the birthplace of Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, but (sadly) has no obvious connection to the rapscallion Rabbie.

The football team plays in the West of Scotland League premier division, Scottish football’s sixth tier, that of Kirklintoch Rob Roy and Cambuslang Rangers, of Auchinleck Talbot and their friends at Cumnock Juniors.

Last night it was Jordan Kitrkpatrick’s 19th minute goal which ensured immortality. How soon Burns’s warning is borne out at Pittodrie remains, just now, to be seen.

*Jackie Hather died in 1990. Had he still been with us, he would have told of happier days at Aberdeen.

Born at Anndield Plain in Co Durham, he was a miner at Horden – known thereabouts as the Horden Flying Machine – until signing for the Dons as a 20-year-old in 1948.

He didn’t understand a word they spoke, said Jackie (above) nor they him. John Maughan had the same problem at Darvel, though Irn Bru was universal.

Jackie, a 5ft 8in left winger, scored 78 goals in 265 appearances, met and married a local lass called Reta – pronounced as in “letter” – was known to team mates as The Hare and to his father-in-law as the Durham Heelander. For much of his 12 years he was Scottish soccer’s sole Sassenach.

Ever-present in Aberdeen’s 1954-55 title winning side, he also helped them to four cup finals. “In 1955 there is no doubt that Hather was the fastest player in the game” says the Aberdeen website, adding the somewhat surprising fact that throughout his career he played with just one kidney.

Folk talked of a place in the Scottish League side, an honour which memory suggests went only to two Englishmen – Joe Baker when with Hibs and Queen of the South’s legendary goalkeeper Allan Ball, another former Durham miner.

“Well it was talked about” Reta once said, “but he was English, so that was it.”

In 1960 they moved back to Peterlee, a new town which Reta loved – Jackie would happily have stayed over the border. He joined Blackhall CW, ten shillings a match he reckoned, at one stage alongside the man all Hartlepool knew as Five Goal Folland.

Bobby Folland, local lad, had hit all five against Oldham Athletic in April 1961 – the first and last Pools player to record the feat. Still familiar around the town, he died in 2021, aged 80.

The way things are going, it may be some time before his record is threatened.

*….and finally, Burns Night cannot pass without recording that it’s the birthday on which Peter Mulcaster – the Northern League’s most ubiquitous and longest-serving manager – joins the Trombone Club. The old lad is still available for engagements, as they say. Perhaps there’ll be a vacancy at Aberdeen.