February 13 2019: doughty dozen

What do you do when you’re leading 12-0 away and only a few minutes remaining? In the case of the mighty Bishop Auckland, back in 1954-55, the answer was “Let the other lot score a couple.”

We’d recalled the game at Kingstonian a day or two back, promising flesh on the bones. It comes from former England amateur international Derek Lewin, who hit a hat-trick that day, from Durham Amateur Football Trust secretary and Bishops supporter Dick Longstaff and from Lance Kidney, who sends the match programme.

The crowd was nearly 10,000, participant for 30 minutes before kick-off in community singing led by Arthur Caiger, who’d been conducting affairs ar Wembley for years. Therafter it was the Bishops who called the tune.

The previous week they’d gone out of the FA Cup fourth round, narrowly beaten by York City, having won at Crystal Palace in the second and beaten Ipswich Town in a replay in the third.

For the KIngstonian match they had Seamus O’Connell back from Chelsea, where he’d scored a hat-trick on his debut.

Ray Oliver hit five, O’Connell and Lewin three apiece and Corbett Cresswell the other. After the 12th, skipper Bob Hardisty suggested that they ease up a bit.

“We all stopped playing,” Derek recalls. “From the kick-off they went through unchallenged, found (goalkeeper) Harry Sharratt leaning against his post and scored. We kicked off again and it was repeated.

“Bob then said that was enough but we were still half-switched off and they scored a third, even though Harry tried to save it.”

Dick Longstaff quotes Dave Marshall, one of the full backs. “Harry left his goal to try to get onto the score sheet. For the last ten minutes I was the only man in defence.”

The programme recalled that Geoff North, the unfortunate Kingstonian goalie, was the son of Teddy North, who’d been Bishops’ keeper in the 1921 Amateur Cup final win over Swindon Victoria.

It also advertised a snuff parlour (“50 varieties, straight from the mills”), a cafe selling fish and chips, tea, bread and butter for half a crown, a grand supper club dance for three bob and red and white cigarettes – “for the man who inhales.”

Kingstonian may simply have breathed a sigh of relief when the final whistle put them out of their misery.

*Based upon information published in good faith, as they say in all the most grovelling apologies, Monday’s blog said that the funeral of long-serving Tow Law committee member Dave “Darlo” Henderson would be at 11am today.

It explains why long-serving Lawyers’ secretary Bernard Fairbairn, his wife and son were all outside Duham crematorium, but not why none other from the club could be seen.

Dave’s funeral is, in fact, next Wednesday, February 20.. Much to his credit, Bernard takes it with a smile – but, again, apologies to all.


February 12 2019: free passage

At one end of Bishop Auckland’s long main street is an area called Cabin Gate, so named, memory suggests, because a toll booth once stood there. You had to pay to get in.

It’s also where the bus from Darlington stops. From there to West Auckland’s ground is a 2.5 mile walk which in fairly recent memory would have passed – or not, as the case may have been – seven pubs.

Now there are seven takeaways and three gyms. Why on earth would anyone want to pay good money to a gym when the joys of walking are free? Why would they want a takeaway when West sell Taylor’s pies?

Framed in the guest room – I’d never noticed it before – is one of those lovely old match posters, this one a 1935 Durham Amateur Cup 5th round tie between West Auckland Wanderers and Waterhouses Rovers. “Admission 2d,” it says. “All pay.”

That’s changed, too, of course. Today the standard Ebac Northern League admission is £6, £4 for freewheeling old codgers like me, though that won’t explain why, on a pleasant evening, the paying gate for the Brooks Mileson League Cup tie with Tow Law is a disappointing 85.

Mind, they probably hadn’t invented white passes in 1935.

West’s minds may be turning to Chertsey but the team puts in a wholly competent performance, comfortably to win 3-0.

Word arrives that assistant secretary Dave Bussey has left me a pint behind the bar. What’s that about the best things in life?

*Back home there’s an email from long serving Brandon United committee member Bill Fisher announcing his retirement at the end of the season. It follows club secretary Barry Ross’s sudden resignation, but Bill insists there’s no connection.

“There’s no fall out, just a tire out,” he says.

Bill began supporting Brandon in 1970, joined the committee in the mid-80s, has been chairman and still filled numerous roles, most familiarly – such the dearth of volunteers – on the gate.

“I’ve learned much and forgotten most of it,” he says. “It’s time for a new generation to step up to the mark.

Goodness knows that Brandon, like very many clubs, desperately need new blood behind the scenes. Bill’s earned a rest – great good luck to him.

February 11 2019: the bell tolls

Flight of fancy, yesterday’s blog reckoned the Sunday Sun must be mistaken in supposing that Chertsey – West Auckland’s quarter-final opponents in the FA Vase – are nicknamed the Curfews. It must surely have been the Curlews.

It’s not. As Gary Brand, Dave Bussey, Richard Huitson, Tony Jones and Keith Stoker all point out, they really are the Curfews – and thereby hangs a tale.

Chertsey’s in Surrey. Since the 13th century, it’s reckoned, a curfew bell has been rung from St Peter’s church – originally to tell folk to get their fires covered and away to bed.

During the War of the Roses, so the story goes, a Yorkist soldier called Neville Audley was sentenced to hang when the curfew bell sounded.

Believing that a messenger would soon arrive with a pardon, Blanche Heriot, his lover, fastened herself to the great bell’s clapper in order to deaden the sound.

Probably she should have been called Knell, or Nell at any rate. Probably she was wearing a sort of medieval fleece, in which case she’d have been a woolly muffler. Before she was discovered, news of the reprieve arrived.

A statue of Blanche, with the bell, stands on the south side of Chertsey bridge. The local hospital’s genito-urinary medicine clinic – get this for a claim to fame – is named in her honour.

There’s just one problem: unlike every single word you read in the Sunday Sun, the legend of Chertsey’s great heroine is actually a load of cobblers.

*Lance Kidney was brought up near Chertsey, though his football loyalty’s with their neighbours Kingstonian – beaten 7-1 last Saturday and subsequently parting company with the manager.

It prompted debate on the fans’ forum about the Ks’ worst ever defeat – quite likely the 12-3 thrashing by visiting Bishop Auckland in the 1954-55 Amateur Cup.  Thereby hangs another tale – but more of that one very shortly




February 10 2019: Doctor who?


Erik psyched, Friday’s blog confessed being deterred from attending that night’s match between Esh Winning and Crook Town by the prevailing and newly named storm.

It proved a double disappointment, partly because there were eight goals and partly because of a rare appearance on Northern League territory of the unforgettable Graeme Forster, aka The Doc.

Graeme’s doctorate was in metallurgy, not medicine, though it didn’t stop an elderly lady banging on his door to ask if he could do anything about their Ernie’s back.

To say that the lad was colourtful was like saying that Mount Everest’s on the biggish side.

The Doc has long lived in Quebec, in west Durham, one of those many North-East places – Philadelphia, Toronto, New York, Washington, at least one California – with apparent North American roots.

He managed Hamsteels, the local Durham and District League side, until Evenwood Town had one of their managerial crises and I persuaded him to help out.

Dr Forster worked wonders, on and off the field, brought in several former Football League players and, perhaps more importantly, brought a smile to formerly forlorn faces.

Subsequently he managed West Auckland, Crook and Tow Law, never more memorably than when leading West to the FA Cup first round at Yeovil, a 2-2 draw in Somerset followed by a replay defeat on penalties.

Lovely bloke, he came with neither volume nor temperature control – unusual for a metallurgist – which probably explains why a vocal chord operation ended his managerial career.

These days he’s much more into the horses, and working with Esh Winning chairman Charlie Ryan to restore a village pub in Quebec. That’s why it would have been so good to see him and why it’s thoughtful of the stormproofed Pete Sixsmith to send the picture. The Doc’s on the left, Crook chairman Vince Kirkup on the right.

*Speaking of Tow Law, it’s a sadness to learn of the death of long-serving committee member Dave Henderson, known thereabouts as Darlo though no one appears to know why.

“I think he must originally have come from Darlington, thuogh he seems to have been in Tow Law for ever,” says Lawyers’ secretary Steve Moralee.

Dave’s funeral is at Durham crematorium at 11am on Wednesday.

*And speaking of West Aucklkand, it’s possible that Chertsey – opponents in the Vase quarter-final on February 23 – are known as the Curlews. It’s unlikely that they’re called the Curfews, which is what it says in today’s Sunday Sun, unless the team’s so youthful that their mams insist they be in bed by nine o’cock. We shall shortly see.

February 9 2019: paradise lost

Hebburn Town v West Auckland, FA Vase last 16, and if the Hornets go much further we’re going to run out of celestial plays on words – Hebburn scent, Hebburn on earth, Hebburn and hell. They’ve all had wings of late.

Little wonder that a website promising “Ten best things to do in Hebburn” includes the Angel of the North – and nothing, absolutely nothing, in Hebburn itself.

The football club is reborn, facilities and fortunes transformed these past two years. These days they have almost as many kids’ teams, and almost as many youthful mascots, as they used to have spectators.

Today’s gate is put at 1,310, though that may more closely reflect the number of tickets sold. Among those with whom it’s good to catch up is fortmer Jarrow Roofing supremo Richie McLoughlin and his smashing wife Jan. Richie, unshackled at last, looks more relaxed than I’ve seen him for years.

It’s good to chat to the West lads, too, though concerning to learn that long serving former secretary Allen Bayles – forever the Midnight Cowboy – is in hospital, and not for the first time of late.

West have twice been in the Vase final in recent years. Though Erik, unabating, dominates the game, there’s little question that they’ll again be in the last eight after Jack Donaghy’s unfortunate own goal gives them an early lead.

It ends 2-0, meaning that West have yet to concede a goal in four rounds of the competition – nor have they had a home game, though that will change against Chertsey on February 23. The game won’t be all ticket.

General manager Stuart Alderson, who remembers the Amateur Cup final defeat back in 1961, is still excited about the chance of another crack at Wembley glory – “but tonight,” he says, “I’m going to have a drink.”

*Harvey Harris, on the homeward train from Newcastle, has been to West Allotment Celtic v Billingham Town, reports a shock 2-1 win for West Allotment, that Town had two men sent off and that the home side still missed a penalty. As recently as January 27 the blog – headed The Invincibles – noted that Town could become the first Northern League side since Blyth Spartans in 1974-75 to go through a season unbeaten.

This was their first game since and seems squarely to have put the mockers on the job. Sorry, fellers.

February 8 2019: truth Rendel

Erik’s a funny name for a storm – funny spelling, too – but the bloke on the telly reckons it’s going to be so severe that the temptation to head for tonight’s match at Esh Winning is reluctantly resisted. So let’s go back to history.

Recent recollection of the North East Counties League, that one-season wonder which kicked off on the same day as the Northern League, mentioned Rendel – a team from Benwell, in the west end of Newcastle, about which little else was known. The redoubtable Ray Ion is on the case.

George Rendel was a director of the huge Armstrong engineering works, which sprawled from Elswick into Benwell. Already there was a Rendel Street and a Rendel Cricket Club, from which the football club was formed way back in 1881.

Ray also sends a letter from the Newcastle Daily Journal, July 1 1890, concerning a jolly little dispute between the cricketers of Rendel – who by that time had become Elswick Works – and of Medomsley, a few miles down the road.

John Phelan’s history of south Durham clubs in the FA Cup notes a couple of early doors meetings between Rendel and Auckland Town, both defeats for the Tynesiders. Pioneers of the North, by Paul Joannou and Alan Candlish, takes the story further.

The team, they say, quickly became one of Tyneside’s most prominent, rivals to the likes of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End (soon United) whose teams were full of Scottish professionals.

Rendel, the book notes, were purely amateur – “and not all Scotch men.”

The team reached the Northumberland Challenge Cup final in four successive seasons, 1890-93, losing the first three amd throwing away the fourth. The first game, against Shankhouse at St James’ Park, had been a draw.

When Northumberland FA ordered the replay to be at Blyth, Rendel protested at the venue, the date and (of course) the referee and simply refused to turn up. NFA ordered them to pay the costs of the match and suspended them for the rest of the season (which wasn’t very long.)

After the North East Counties League’s demise, Rendel became founder members of the Northern Alliance, which still operates. They appear not to have survived into the 20th century.

Anyway, all that’s been written by the fire while Erik did his worst – but a definite blow around Hebburn on Saturday.


February 7 2019: mad in England

Durham has some very good pubs, the best of which are the Victoria and the Colpitts, an utterly unspoiled Sam Smith’s house where excellent ale’s £2 a pint and the only real noise is of conversation.

In early, I ask the young landlord if he can remember the name of the world hot water bottle blowing champion who in the 1970s had his breathless base in the pub and his picture in the Guinness Book.

The landlord looks at me as if – well, in a way suitable for another thread of today’s blog. “George will be in at one o’clock, he might know,” he says and is probably relieved when the chap I’m meeting arrives.

Stan Abbott, a former Northern Echo colleague  who now runs a public relations consultancy in Durham, has completed an epic novel only semi-detached from his terrifying time as a patient at Lanchester Road psychiatric hospital on Durham’s outskirts.

It was what the medical profession calls a manic episode and what Stan unequivocally calls going mad.

His descent into delusion in 2010 was so extreme that he believed he was heading the consortium buying out Mike Ashley at Newcastle United, euphohria perhaps fuelled by a 6-0 win over Aston Villa.

He’s fine now, though it seems prudent not to talk too much about the Mags. He talks about strolling round the grounds, I’m singing Mrs Robinson.

George comes in, remembers that the hot water bottle blower’s name was Stuart Hughes, now dead. The internet notes that the record for bursting a British Standard hot water bottle is now 6.25 seconds, but that there are other records for inflating it through the nose, for doing it while riding an exercise bike at a minimum 20mph and, of course, while standing on one’s head.

“It’s usually performed to impress a crowd,” says Wikipedia, though that might perhaps have been imagined.

Stan’s fearful experiences can’t be. The book’s simply called The Episode and is available through Amazon.