DURHAM County’s cricketers have held their annual reunion. Henry McLaren stirred reminiscences with an aide memoire which some might have preferred to forget.

Henry was 12th man on July 10, 1974, when Durham – then playing Minor Counties cricket – met Kent at Canterbury in the Gillette Cup second round.

One of Henry’s duties, he recalls, was to distribute the completed scorecard to players at the end of the match. Forty years later, those that remained were handed out to players at the reunion.

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Kent, batting first, amassed 287-2 from their 60 overs, Brian Lander claiming both wickets. Colin Cowdrey hit 115, fellow England man Brian Luckhurst 129 not out. The likes of Denness, Ealham, Knott and Woolmer didn’t even make the middle.

Durham struggled from the start, the usually dependable Steve Greensword out without scoring.

None exceeded Neil Riddell’s 29, though 26 extras came pretty close.

Cowdrey, improbably, bagged the wicket of Sam Stoker; Durham were 171 all out.

Henry’s now in Brancepeth, near Durham. “The reactions of those who’d played varied enormously. It was quite amazing,” he says.

THE match umpires were Dickie Bird, he who opined on the sad passing of the Deaf Hill spuggie, and the late and lovely Tom Spencer – a man said by Wisden to have a gummy smile, to be literally toothless but to stand no nonsense in the middle. It recalls one of the most curious episodes in Backtrack history.

Tom, himself a son of Kent, had long lived in Seaton Delaval, near Whitley Bay, and considered himself an adopted Geordie.

A cricketer with Kent, footballer with Walsall and West Ham, he claimed also to have been a professional boxer and table tennis player.

Standing around, as it were, 15 years passed between his first and second test matches as an umpire.

“I was a bit disgusted but determined to plod on and become a bloody good county umpire,” he told the column back in1990.

He was also remembered for his not-entirely-unamused role when a gentleman called Michael Angelow became the first Lord’s streaker and would occasionally show the photograph to the lads at Seaton Delaval Workmen’s. “Gave them a bit of a laugh,” he said.

He died, aged 81, in November 1995. “A charming and generous man,” we wrote in an obituary a few days afterwards.

Seven years later, January 2003, the rest of cricket suddenly realised that the late, late Tom Spencer was no longer with us – having first rung here to check that reports of his death hadn’t been exaggerated.

“It seems almost beyond belief that his death could have gone unnoticed,” said Cricketer magazine.

“His passing has only just come to light,” mumbled Wisden, apologetically.

Almost the opposite of a gestation period, could it have been the longest gap in history between passing and obituary?

As an adopted Geordie might say, Tom Spencer OBE was the man who almost didn’t get away.

BISHOP Auckland’s fabled footballers of the 1950s held their annual reunion last Thursday, the players for the first time outnumbered by those who might best be termed associates.

“The autograph hunters,” someone said.

To ever-decreasing regret, there were no groupies. There used to be at Bishop.

Thirteen of us lunched splendidly in the upper room of the Shoulder of Mutton at Middleton Tyas, near Scotch Corner, the only problem that one or two would have preferred a stair lift.

“Like the Last Supper and with the original cast,” said Derek Lewin, a team member when the Bishops won three successive Amateur Cup finals at Wembley, 1955-57.

The Last Supper only had 12, of course. That someone referred to the 13th as Judith Iscariot may not be supposed a slip of the tongue so much as a time fault. It may also be a sign of the times that they talked more about golf than football.

Les Dixon, now 84, had been in the epic, twice-replayed final against Crook Town 60 years ago; Bob Thursby was but a bairn in the 1957 team which beat Wycombe Wanderers; Mike Greenwood pitched up in 1958 but won seven England amateur caps thereafter.

Peter Cook and George Siddle represented the 1960s sides, current Bishops chairman Richard Tremewan was also there – having been pressed into service as an emergency linesman at the Shildon v Morpeth match the night previously.

“I wouldn’t care,” he said, “I’d just finished me fish and chips ten minutes earlier.”

All agreed that they wanted to do it again next year. Reaper notwithstanding, apologies for absence would not be accepted.

CONSETT’S new football ground now has two families of resident rabbits – two at the last count, anyway. The only problem about that, of course, is that the pitch is what folk call 3G – artificial. “They’re looking a bit thin,” reports Consett chairman Frank Bell.

WHINPARK Park is part of what once called Aycliffe Industrial Estate and is now probably an Enterprise Hub, or some such. There are companies like A1 Muckaway, Fab-tech and North-East Ironing Service – smooth operators, no doubt.

It’s there that the column found itself last Wednesday to talk about Hewin’ Goals, a Backscratch Theatre Company play marking the 125th anniversary of the Northern League. They have a place near Dee Dee’s Cafe.

Backscratch is run by Jack and Tom Burton, raised on Stanley Hill Top – “a diet of fresh air, football and reggae,” Jack suggests.

The play will chart Northern League history in seven episodes – and, of course, in two 45-minute halves – starting with Darlington St Augustine’s improbable first championship in 1889-90 and running through to the league’s recent record breaking run of Wembley appearances. Jack and Tom will be joined onstage by Darlington lad Michael Daynes.

Hewin’ Goals kicks off at Morpeth Town FC on October 2nd, will tour both football clubs and other community venues and end in Crook on November 8. They hope to tour nationally next year. More of all that anon.

ON Saturday to Alnwick v Washington – the North-East’s other St James’ Park, the other black and whites – and news of what Alnwick chairman Tom McKie supposes “a bit of a disaster.”

Unable to find the usual green kit bags for the laundry, a club official packed two lots of strips and training gear into black bin bags.

What happened next, of course, was as sure as night following day – the black bags were left out for the binmen.

Replacements have cost £2,200.

Torn off a strip? “It’s just one of those things,” says Tom, philosophically. “We could probably have done with some new gear, anyway.”