September 7 2017: Laffey matter

Regional television has been busy all day with tributes to the truly legendary Mike Neville, whose death was recorded in yesterday’s blog.

Don Clarke liked the chap on the BBC who said “He was just like one of the lads, wannee?” – no better epitaph than that, Don supposes – while Lance Kidney recalls a song called “Mike Neville said it, so it must be true”, from an album called Bede Weeps by Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies.

Tyne Tees played but a snatch. The internet says that the video isn’t available. Anyone know the words?

After the Look North eulogy, there’s a piece on 48-year-old Hebburn Town committee member Michael Laffey — son of Big Bill Laffey, the club chairman – a first-time entrant in the wheelchair event in Sunday’s Great North Run.

Michael was affected by a paralysing illness when just 19, while watching Newcastle United at Wimbledon. “It was a disaster, we lost 4-0,” he tells the telly

Bill says he’ll be there to catch him at the end. Great good luck to them both.

There’s also time to catch up tonight with the appearance earlier in the week of familiar former Northern League goalkeeper Dan Molyneux on the Channel 4 programme Come Dine With Me.

The idea is that five folks take it in turn – apparently on consecutive evenings – to host and cook a dinner party for the others.

Dan, who retired four years ago after suffering a serious head injury while playing for Newton Aycliffe at Tow Law, has a James Bond themed menu – Licensed to thrill (which is vegetable soup), the steak that loved me (which is more or less self-explanatory) and Live and let pie, the pudding.

“I’ve got a man crush on Daniel Craig. I think he’s dishy,” he tells the world. He’d never have told Tow Law.

Dan, who now runs a goalie academy, will learn on Friday evening if he’s won the £1,000 prize. He came over pretty well on television, to be honest, but will never be another Mike Neville.

No one could fill Mike’s shoes, not ever.



September 7 2017: Corner kicked

Jeff Brown’s brilliant new play about David Corner – “born in Sunderland May 15 1966, died at Wembley March 26 1985” – opens tonight at the Customs House theatre in South Shields.

Better yet, I get to sit next to the delectable Dawn Thewlis, her off the telly, while Sharon’s next to a fat bloke in braces.

David Corner, as many indelibly will recall, was the young Sunderland defender blamed – nutmegged – for the deciding Norwich City goal in the 1985 Milk Cup final. Steve Arnott, who plays him with edgy panache, says that folk always wonder how often he’s asked about it.

“Every sodding day for the last 32 years.”

The play’s a great idea – carefully crafted  ingeniously executed and played both for laughs, lots of those, and for reflection. It is only a game, after all.

Davey Corner, Sunderland lad, became a polliss when injury ended his football career, tells of a shout in Seaham when a guy had been potentially fatally assaulted but was reluctant to go to hospital.

He’s out of it, bleeding profusely from a head injury, stares bemused at the first officer on the scene. “Is that you, Davey? Davey Corner?”


“Davey, man, you should have kicked the bugger oot.”

He’s now medically retired from Durham Constabulary, same old knee injury, looking for work. Few on Wearside will need to see his cv.

The play’s a double header with Wise Men Say, agreeably built around the 20th anniversary of the Stadium of Light. It’s at the Custom House on Thursday and Friday (7 45), the Gala Theatre in Durham on Saturday, Washington Arts Centre on September 14 and the Peacock (formerly the Londonderry) in Sunderland on September 22. Details and tickets at

*Most North-East-based readers will know Jeff as an anchor and sports presenter on BBC Look North. It’s thus sadly coincidental that word’s whispered during the interval of the death at 80 of Mike Neville, the greatest anchor of all.

Like Jeff, Mike was an old mate. The story may have previously been told of the day in 1973 when I was asked to open a village carnival in Teesdale. The chairman said how pleased they were to welcome Mike Amos but that I hadn’t been the first choice.

They’d wanted Mike Neville but Mike Neville was £50 and Mike Amos was nowt.

A subsequent Northern Echo column dubbed me “The poor man’s Mike Neville”, enough to draw an invitation to co-present the programme that evening. Neither of us ever forgot it, though probably for different reasons. Like the 1985 Milk Cup final, indelible, anyway.

September 5 2017: Brayson favour


The guy atop the blog is Paul Brayson, back in his Cardiff City days. The technical department couldn’t find anything more recent. Hardly changed has he?

The insatiable old lad’s in action for Newcastle Benfield at Newton Aycliffe tonight and has particular reason to look forward to Benfield’s FA Cup tie at home to Ashton United on September 16. It’s his 40th birthday.

“We were hoping to get the BBC along but then Darlington drew South Shields,” says Benfield programme editor Ian Cusack.

Though renowned as what folk these days call a fox in the box – and has anyone noticed that Shildon now have a striker called Reynard? – Bracer scores some spectacular efforts, too.

His goal in Saturday’s tie at Whitley Bay, at which the crowd was 608, would have been shown forever on Match of the Day, they reckon.  Tonight’s accustomed effort is from  three yards; he’d have been proud of Alex Nisbet’s 30-yard thunderbolt, Benfield’s fourth.

Benfield also have Steve Bowey, who’s 43, and top goalkeeper Andrew Grainger who seems to have been around for ever but is but a bairn of 34. He’s on holiday – not even old enough for Saga – so Dan Nimmins makes an impressive debut between the sticks.

All, of course, must bow to the marvellous Derek “Darkie” Gair, still kitted out and in the Benfield box – though not, it should be said, as a sub. Derek age is exactly the same as tonight’s crowd. The crowd’s between 79 and 81.

Aycliffe’s disappointing start to the season is compounded when Stuart Banks puts a late penalty astonishingly high and wide. Before last Saturday he’d never been known to miss from the spot. Now there’ve been two in successive games.

“If the Oak Tree was still open it would have knocked a pint off the bar,” says Aycliffe chairman Alan Oliver. The Oak Tree was getting on half a mile away.

Benfield win 4-1. Afterwards I spend half an hour in the Tuesday evening folk club in the clubhouse. A chap’s singing “You’re only as old as the woman you feel.”

Theme song, anyone?

September 4 2017: slip sliding away

It’s the elder bairn’s birthday, 36. For once I don’t have to try to remember the date before starting the blog.

Three generations gather for lunch at the Campaign For Real Ale’s national Pub of the Year, next to which is a children’s playground – though, happily, the age at which users may no longer be considered a child isn’t stated.

Wasn’t is Grandpa Broon who always liked a hurl on the slide? Now he has Grandad Mike for company. and flying in a heap off the end.

What else? Well, Darlington RA secretary  Alan Hamilton is getting quite excited about this Saturday’s FA Vase meeting with Harrogate RA – the only two RAs in England, Alan thinks. though he reckons there’s another in Ireland. Perhaps he means the IRA.

Entrained, as always, we’d also been wondering about the origins of Besses o’ the Barn, formerly on the national network and now a station on the Manchester Metro. The question’s answered by Stewart Taylor, who lives over there, but incorrigibly it leads down other lines, too.

Besses o’ the Barn is also the name of a well-burnished brass band, celebrating its bicentenary next year. The best bet, says Stewart, is that Bess was a lass who thereabouts kept a pub which looked like, and quite possibly was, a barn.

Then the correspondence diverts to Oldham, Shildon’s opponents in both the 1959 and 1961 FA Cup first round, and to the recollection that that Lancashire mill town formerly had a station called Oldham Mumps.

Come to think there was also Oldham Werneth, though that sounded like a denture fixative.

Mumpers, explains Stewart, were tramps or beggars – of whom there’d be rather a lot when the station was named in the mid-19th century. That part of Oldham also had a mumpers’ lodging house.

Begging the question, do folk still get mumps, or it one of those things which has been eradicated?

Memory also suggests that road signs at the entrance to Oldham proclaimed it “Home of the tubular bandage.” Chapel-en-le-Frith, similarly, was “Home of the brake lining” while Droylsden was “Home of Golden Shred” and Horbury, near Wakefield, “Home of Onward Christian Soldiers.”

At West Auckland, of course, the signs proclaim “Home of the First World Cup”, and that one’s pretty unbeatable.

September 3 2017: Sunny Scunny


Brian Luke, Jarrow lad and former Durham police inspector, sends a report and images of Shildon’s FA Cup trip to Bottesford last Saturday. Bottesford’s in Scunthorpe, where really ancient Shildon followers may recall that the Railwaymen played a first round proper tie at the Old Show Ground on November 19 1955.

Three other NL clubs were in first round action that day. Times change.  Crook Town held Derby County 2-2 before 9,818 at the Millfield while Bishop Auckland saw off league colleagues Durham City 3-1, more than 7,000 at Kingsway. Shildon lost 3-0.

For me, however, talk of Scunthorpe particularly recalls Bedlington Terriers’ FA Cup second round game  – December 5 1998 – when the Terriers were at their wuff-wuff finest and had thrashed Colchester United 5-1 in the first round at Dr Pit.

West Auckland had also been in first round action that day, a no-less memorable (or creditable) draw at Yeovil Town (and an even more unforgettable return coach journey.)

The Old Show Ground had disappeared in 1988, sold for a reputed £2.5m to Safeway – the cheese counter marks the centre spot – and replaced by a flat-pack place called Glanford Park. Brian also sent an image of the stone marking the Old Show site.


Football folk will also know that the Old Show Ground had the country’s second cantilever stand. The first, of course, was at Billingham Synthonia.

Glanford Park was (shall we say) more prosaic, described in Simon Inglis’s classic Football Grounds of Great Britain as “a collection of anoymous, shed-like stands. If not hideous, then certainly dull.”

1,200 Terriers supporters followed their trail to Lincolnshire. fair weather fans on a perishing cold aafternoon, many gathered beforehand in the inevitably named Iron Bar. So was I.

“If they think that Glanford Park’s flat and featureless,” my Northern Echo column observed, “they should try the beer.”

Terriers fielded the likes of the prolific John Milner, of Tommy Ditchburn and the ineluctable Dean Gibb, a man described in the programme as bustling, the sort of all-purpose euphemism used to described Attilla the bustling Hun.

Deano bustled his way into the ref’s book after just four minutes, a tackle so late it might have been in the In Memorian column. Terriers held their own in the first half, lost gallantly to two second half strikes – one a penalty.

Back then there were four qualifying rounds. Now there are six, so that last Saturday’s “first qualifying round” was effectively the third. Shildon, of course, were the last Northern League club to reach the competition proper, in 2002-03.

Brian Luke reports that the team was impressive and the fans a credit to themselves and their club, though many – he suspects – were still in the clubhouse when Billy Greulich-Smith hit the winner just after half-time.

“Let’s hope they make excellent progress in the Cup,” adds Brian. A revenge match against Scunthorpe United would be nice.

*Yesterday’s blog invited readers to name the only one of England’s cathedral cities whose name is comprised entirely of letters from the first half of the alphabet. Penrith FC secretary Ian White was the first of several readers to know that it was Lichfield, though only Keith Bell added that City of Lichfield was “a fine Stanier-designed Pacific (steam engine) used by the LMS.”

Ian’s also a Sheffield Wednesday fan. In town the other day he spotted a car with an OWL registration and asked the returning driver if he were similarly a fly-by-night.

Indeed he was. Not only was the gentleman a Wednesday season ticket holder but the Archdeacon of Carlisle. Ian’s invited him to a game at Frenchfield. “We need all the help we can get.”




September 2 2017: bride and doom


When Saturday comes, there seems always to be a hen party. There’s one on the train to Newcastle, another in the Mile Castle – one of four or five Wetherspoons in the city – a third in the Centurion bar on the station.

The bride – how may this be put? – looks a little unusual, however.

Then a familiar face approaches. It’s Bishop Auckland chairman Nick Postma, the “bride” is James Denholm, his prospective son-in-law and they’re all off to a stag do in Edinburgh. Readers must decide for themselves why James has his eyes closed.

My little gang are off for a first visit to Jarrow FC  – “Only one team in Jarra” says the cheeky banner behind the goal – playing Billingham Town.

Sad Hopper, who writes a very readable column for Non League Paper, had been there earlier in the season, reiterated how much he loves the Northern League but that the quality of tea hut provision lets it down.

Mr Hopper and I have exchanged correspondence about this before, and with a degree of agreement. At Jarrow the Bovril’s fine, someone else reckons the coffee to be the best he’s had on a football ground but the pies are, as they say, nowt ower.

The league’s best pies are at West Auckland and Darlington RA – both from Taylor’s of Darlington – at Penrith (of course), at Hebburn and at Sunderland RCA.

The Perth Green pitch is immaculate, the programme very canny and happily quirky, the game appears tight. The crowd’s 150. It has to be admitted, however, that for the entire first half I’m distracted by a question posed by Nigel Brierley, a ground hopper from Huddersfield.

Which of England’s cathedral cities, Nigel has asked, is the only one whose name is composed entirely from letters in the first half of the alphabet?  It takes me until the start of the second half – readers may have all day. An answer tomorrow.

Ashley Lavan, said in the programme to be in his somophore season – don’t ask me – hits the only goal, for Billingham.

Meanwhile up in Edinburgh, the admirable Nick Postma may be pleased that he can drown his sorrows. Bishops’ dismal start is the season’s big surprise, another six-goal defeat at 100 per cent Marske adding to their woes. Great good luck to them all.

September 1 2017: kith and Kynren

Many will know of Kynren, the spectacular historical pageant intended as a catalyst for the revival of Bishop Auckland’s fortunes – the town, that is, not the football team. At Heritage Park, the catalyst’s called Colin Myers.

Kynren’s necessarily open-air,  inspired by something similar in the south of France. Down there things tend to be a bit more clement, especially in September.

Long serving former Northern League chaplain Leo Osborn and his wife Charlotte have been tonight – love the show, remark upon many empty seats, land back here nithered. Good word, nithered.

*Talking yesterday of familiar former Northern League goalkeeper Dan Molyneux’s appearance next Tuesday on Come Dine With Me, on Channel 4, the blog recalled his career ending injury at Tow Law.

Memories were faulty, however, in recalling that he was playing for Esh Winning. It was a Durham Challenge Cup tie against Newton Aycliffe, a nine-goal thriller well remembered by Aycliffe press officer Bob Wood (if not, for concussive reasons, by poor Dan.)

The injury, resulting in a bleed on the brain, came when Dan – “great bloke, fantastic keeper” – tried to prevent Mark Young’s early own goal, the game held up for 36 minutes until an ambulance’s arrival.

Mark Young later scored two at the right end in Aycliffe’s 5-4 win. Does that make it a hat-trick, asks Bob (but no doubt knows the answer already).

Both Bob Wood and Keith Stoker recall that, exactly a month earlier, Dan had himself scored from 75 yards in an FA Cup tie against Darlington RA. The Aycliffe website recorded it as a “wind-assisted punt”; Newtonians’ manager Alan Oliver was more generous.

“Danny picked his spot from 75 yards. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

*Neil McKay thought yesterday’s suggestion that station names on the Tyne and Wear Metro are dull “a tad unfair.” What of Bede, St James’s and Meadow Well (alight here for North Shields), he asks?

Neil also recalls – almost recalls – a gloriously named station on the Manchester Metro called Besom o’ the Barns. It’s actually Bessies o’ the Barn, but wonderful, nonetheless. Anyone care to explain?

Tyne and Wear’s great exception is the verdantly named Brockley Whins, around the corner from Jarrow FC – home to Billy Town on Saturday.  Canon Osborn and I will be among those in attendance. Blow the forecast, we’ve suggested he wrap up warm.