June 25 2017: Elvis discovered

Essential holiday reading: Good Beer Guide, Ordnance Survey map, the lady’s new novel. Again I’ve forgotten the Oxford Dictionary of Saints: in Pembrokeshire, where we’re staying, St Jude the Obscure seems A-list by comparison.

The cottage is at St Twynell’s, which is next to St Petrox. Further west, most memorably of all, is St Elvis. That the Preseli Hills are nearby is, presumably, coincidental.


The admirable David McKie included St Elvis – “Parish in west Pembrokeshire, population 10” – in his delightful 2008 volume  McKie’s Gazeteer, wondered why it was so unexploited,. “If I were the Pembrokeshire tourist board, I’d think it was worth a punt.”

We also have a dander around the ruins of the old Bishops’ Palace at Lamphey. The wine cellar, says an information board, was three times the size of the chapel. Those guys knew how to live.

The Rev Canon Leo Osborn, the Northern League’s long serving and greatly valued former chaplain, probably isn’t a saint. Charlotte, his wife  of many years, certainly deserves to be.

We’re headed homewards via Peterborough, last visited on the occasion of Dunston’s unforgettable FA Vase quarter-final in 2012, where Charlotte is being ordained a deacon in the Church of England and with the expectation that this time next year she will become a priest.

The great cathedral took 120 years to build and is where Katharine of Aragon lies interred. An information board records her part in Henry VIII’s “Great matter”, pointing out, perhaps mischievously, that the king had developed scruples.

So it has often been supposed, of course, and in those days they hadn’t even discovered penicillin .

The cathedral’s thronged, another nine to be ordained deacon and to serve in gloriously English parishes like Woolaston with Strixton, Bozeat and Easton Maudit or Higham Ferrers with Chelverston or Pottersbury with Furtho and Yardley Gobion with Cosgrove and Wicken.

We have a printed invitation, are directed by a steward to seats fairly near the front, and are thus a little discomforted when, 15 minutes before the start, we’re asked to move again.

We only have white invitations. These are folk with blue invitations. Those who know their Bible will recall the parable of the wedding feast, in which a humble guest is bidden “Go thou higher.”

This is the very opposite: “Go thou lower.” Even when viewed from outer darkness, it’s a wonderful and a joyful occasion, nonetheless.


We’re finally home by 6pm. Even before the PC’s coaxed back into action. I’ve consulted the Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Poor old St Elvis warrants not so much as a mention.



June 16 2017: a compromising situation

Just when they’re blaming the North Koreans for damn near paralysing the NHS, so hundreds of people last night received a Dropbox message purportedly sent from my email address.

It’s s scam. For heaven’s sake don’t open it. So far, no one appears to have done.

“I thought that it must be a hoax but I’d been celebrating World Beer Day so I wasn’t quite sure,” writes Paul Wilkinson.

Escape hatch, we in turn go to the pub for lunch. “Just the man,” says Tom the landlord, “what’s this email I’ve just had from you….?”

Many recipients hadn’t been heard of for months, often years. Though his byline had been conspicuous by absence, I’d not realised that Steve Brown – who covered North-East non-league football so brilliantly for the Newcastle papers – had taken voluntary redundancy in February.

“I call it a career break,” he says.

The technological term for what’s happened is apparently that the account has been compromised, though most would simply say that it’s been hacked. Might hacking have the same root as that well known Geordie term howking?

It recalls a late night burglary at a North Shields pub when the intruder got in through the back, groped his way through to the bar, pushed open the door and was somewhat taken aback to find about 20 hefty locals engaged in what apparently is known as stoppy-backs.

“They gave us a good howking,” he told Newcastle Crown Court, a somewhat unlikely mitigation faithfully reported by The Journal.

“They gave me a good hiding,” translated The Northern Echo, 40 miles further south.

Whatever the etymology, it’s left me feeling pretty hacked off. In order to recover, I plan a week off – the next blog will be dated June 25. Thanks for your support.

June 15 2017: Temperance Seven up


The Temperance Seven are in the bar even before the show starts: they appear not to be drinking sarsaparilla.

Once there were nine of them, the rather clever joke that they were one over the eight. Now there are eight, dressed up to the nines, though such my photographic cack-handedness that some body parts may have been omitted.

The Temperance Seven-and-a-half doesn’t really have the same ring.

Younger readers, such as there are, will doubtless be scratching heads in bewilderment. The Temperance Seven, it should without further do be explained, were a group of eccentrically clad musicians who in 1961 topped the charts with You’re Driving Me Crazy, followed with Pasadena at No 4 and had a couple of lower chart entries thereafter.

They had a season with Shirley Bassey at the Palladium, appeared on the Royal Variety Show, toured the world. The Beatles came later; weeks later.

The best remembered is “Whispering” Paul McDowell, the singer, 84 when he died last year and who had previously worked as a road sweeper and left luggage attendant.

“We behaved in the same silly arse manner as those who had employed people like my mother as their maidservants,” he wrote in his autobiography.

On what’s claimed to be their diaond jubilee tour, though none of the originals remains, they’re playing Middlesbrough Theatre tonight. “The only orchestra to have made a comeback without ever having been there in the first place,” says the singer.

The theatre, which outgrew the original Middlesbrough Little Theatre, is itself marking its diamond jubilee, opened by Sir John Gielgud in October 1957.

“Where’s Middlesbrough?” the great man is reputed to have asked, when invited to do the honours.

Mostly jazzy, the music’s from the 20s and 30s (“20s and thirsties” says the singer.) The audience is so generally elderly that one or two even wear ties; the Seven are clad like an illustration from a Just William story (though younger readers won’t have heard of those either.) The evening’s greatly enjoyable.

Afterwards the theatre bar’s closed, which seems inappropriate. The Temperance Seven, when last seen, are heading in deserving search of another.


June 14 2017: heaven and hell

Goodness only knows what Sisyphus had done to offend the Corinthian gods, but his punishment in Hades was particularly mean.

Maybe he’d jumped in front of them in the queue at the bar, perhaps just eaten the last Rolo. The gods, at any rate, decreed that poor old Sisy must forever roll a damn great boulder up a damn great hill.

Within a few feet of the top, task almost completed, the uppity boulder would head back down to the bottom again.

Writing a daily blog’s a bit like that, especially in the summer when there’s no football. As soon as you’ve hit “publish” key, another day looms large.

Save for yet another Wetherspoons breakfast – one of the two outlets in Durham, can’t remember its name – nothing really happens today.

We hadn’t planned a Wetherspoons at all. My mate Hodgy insisted that it was the morning of the Age UK men’s breakfast – held in the Market Hall – and despite being tellt and better tellt (as they say in Shildon) remained adamant.

So I’m on  the 7 27 bus from Scotch Corner, the eight o’clock train from Darlington, mooch around Durham for a bit – the city skyline seems full of cranes – and am there at the appointed hour. Save for Hodgy, the place is deserted.

Fair play to the lad, he insists upon buying large Wetherspoons by way of atonement. It was either that or a giant boulder up Gilesgate bank. Thus we are able to reveal – you read it here first – that the pub chain appears to have changed its black pudding supplier, and for the better.

Now where’s that little key? As old Sisyphus might have said, publish and be damned.


June 13 2017: Scargill Castle

Home from the cricket, of which more in a moment, to the good news that third bottom Guisborough Town have won their appeal against relegation from the Ebac Northern League first division.

It’s also good news for the league, which had expressed a clear preference for the first division to have 22 clubs next season and the second 21, only for FA officialdom to decide the opposite.

Now, of course, having unwittingly become entangled in the piece of all-considered FA machinery, the league will have to redraft the entire fixture list for both divisions.

But for an FA appeal board to overturn an FA decision? Isn’t it time for a root and branch review of how that oft-archaic  organisation works?

The cricket’s at Barningham, on the Durham/North Yorkshire border in Teesdale. A delightful five-mile walk beforehand leads through the hamlet of Scargill, which even has a castle.

And to think that most people assumed Scargill Castle to be Barnsley.

To the south, the lonely moors lead to the hamlet of Marske, 40 miles west of Marske United and thus not to be confused. It is, from time to time, of course.

Old lads in Scargill still recount the tale, rather as Private Fraser would have done, of the lead miners heading from Marske to Scargill whose horse and cart was swallowed up by the Great Grimpen moor, neither cart nor occupants ever to be seen again.

Some may suppose it apocryphal, but they might also find a couple of team buses down there.

Barningham are playing Oxbridge, a Stockton side, in the semi-final of the Darlington and District League B division cup. The home side is captained by 56-year-old Colin Blackburn, whose Northern League football career incuded spells at Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor United and, most memorably, six years at Shildon under Ray Gowan.

He’d also made a single appearance for Middlesbrough – away to Nottingham Forest, the European Cup holders, in the old first division.  “I was up against Frank Gray and John Robertson,” he recalled.

“Robertson looked more like a duck than a footballer, but what a player. I couldn’t get near him.”

He’s adjudged run out for a dozen or so, singularly disappointed with the umpire’s decision. I tell him that he never heard such language at Dean Street.

Afterwards we head to the Milbank Arms, a lovely old pub without so much as a bar, with fellow player Graham Newton – whose late dad, Derek, was Shidon’s goalie in the early 1970s and was in Evenwoon Town’s title winning side a couple of years earlier.

The Guisborough news simply rounds off a very good evening.



June 12 2017: World exclusive

With the possible exception of “exclusive”, a sports desk term meaning “rumoured”, the most overused phrase in modern life may be “world class”.

“World class” translates as “probably a bit better than you’d imagine.”

This evening I’m in Bishop Auckland for a book launch, possibly even a “glittering” book launch – that’s another one – or as glittering as you can get with crisps, twiglets and a glass of Aldi plonk.

Bishop’s much in the news of late, chiefly because of a superbly produced historical pageant called Kynren – one of many outside-the-box regeneration initiatives dreamed up by Jonathan Ruffer, an engaging multi-millionaire.

A cafe in the market place even offers a Kynren burger, but since Kynren is a dramatised history of England and the Kynren burger is effectively Mexcan, they may have missed the point.

The long main street, meanwhile, is dying on exhausted old feet. Even Pound World has shut up shop. The night-time economy appears to comprise a takeaway outside which the owner stands gloomily and a savage-amusement arcade which appears no more overrun.

A couple of shop windows have displays of what JR envisages. “World class” it says of the tired old town. Somethings may take a little longer.

*Ah yes, Bishop. Word whispers of significant developments at Heritage Park – not world class, perhaps, but very interesting, nonetheless – and then there’s the matter of Eric Henderson’s funeral service.

Eric was a former president of the Football Leagues Referees’ and Linesmen’s Association and chairman of Consett FC, though he’d long lived in Marske.

On the cover of the order of service for last month’s funeral was a picture of Eric in all-black action –  almost certainly a Northern League match but none, not even the most venerable, could identify the ground.


Eric’s son Paul, himself a former ref, has now retrieved the photograph from the undertaker. Would you believe that it was Kingsway, Bishop Auckland – Willington 4 West Auckland 2, Northern League Cup final 1948-49?

It’s the absence of that once-familiar stand that seems to have thrown everybody.  Probably it had been stolen by a ladder gang. You read it here first.

June 11 2017: Top shelved

You’ve heard of top shelf publications? The Non League Paper’s at ground level in W H Smith’s at Scotch Corner services, half-hidden between the Racing Post and the Financial Times weekend edition.

We live in rural tranquility just a mile down the hill from Scotch but up there on summer weekends it’s like a small town. More people appear interested in buying dunkin’ doughnuts, mind, than in forking out £1 50 for the NLP.

These days I don’t regularly buy it myself, but we’ve been promised a two-page special on why – as they generously put it – the Northern League is a football powerhouse.

Elsewhere in today’s issue it seems like deja vu all over again. Even the headline “Norton forced to quit” may seem sadly familiar, though this time it’s Hook Norton – reduced to one committee member – in the Hellenic League.

Eton Manor of the Essex Senior League are “taking a break from the game”, London Colney have declined promotion because they simply can’t afford the time and travel involved. Sound familiar?

There are clubs like Grays Athletic for whom a sugar daddy proved soluble – that sounds very close to home, too – or like Worcester City (to step 5) or Westell and Willerby (to Step 7) who’ve insisted upon relegation.

The splash, as we say in the inky trade, is that the Vanarama National League is to have six-team play-offs next season. The Diary of a Ground Hopper turned up at the Wearside League’s Sunderland Shipowners’ Cup final, greatly impressed (as well he might be) by the scenic setting of Richmond Town’s ground but appalled by the behaviour of Cleator Moor Celtic fans, over from Cumbria.

The Ebac Northern League’s well represented. There’s news of an England C shirt for David Ferguson, at Shildon just six months ago – “they treated me very well,” he says – of Paul Chow pitching up at Hebburn and half a page of stats from a century ago.

Matt Badcock has done a good job on the “special”, quoting me accurately with the possible exception of the line about the NL being put into “a wooden box of the FA’s creation.”

Make that “little” box. A wooden box in a coffin. The FA wouldn’t want us in one of those, would they.

There are thoughtful and wholly fair comments from Tom Wade, now joint manager at Ashington, from South Shields joint manager Graham Fenton and Spennymoor Town boss Jason Ainsley.

The best thing about this week’s Non League Paper, however, is that there’s not a single word about the general election – and the NLP lasts an awful lot longer than a blooming dunkin’ doughnut, too.