Ferryhill Athletic are dead, Richie Norman among the chief mourners. "They were a tremendous side and a lovely club," he recalls. "I never quite knew why I went there, but I never regretted it for a moment."

Among the region's best known amateur clubs, Athletic won the Northern League in 1938, 1948 and 1958 - the season when Richie pulled on the black and amber before a long and luminous career with Leicester City. "One of the club's great legends," says the Foxes' website.

Now he's 71, physio at Nuneaton Borough and still lives in Leicestershire - down the road from his 92-year-old mum.

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Impoverished, vandal-hit and homeless, Ferryhill left the Northern League in 1997, re-formed as a Wearside League club the following season before dropping further down into the Durham Alliance. Now the club has folded completely.

Richie, Newcastle lad, joined after a letter of recommendation from Bob Denison, manager of Middlesbrough, where he'd been on amateur forms.

It was the season they beat both Bishop Auckland and Crook - "in those days it was like beating Manchester United and Chelsea" - won at Pegasus in the Amateur Cup and lifted the league title by six points.

Though the standard was high - "they could certainly have held their own in the Conference today" - Richie never made the England amateur side.

"I was once asked down for a trial but almost all the rest were from these snooty southern clubs.

"At the hotel, a snobbish chap with a blazer and a posh accent asked me which club I was from. He'd never even heard of us."

Vincent Johnson, still in Ferryhill, recalls that the Latics' usual team half a century ago was Roly Robinson, Jackie Hunter, Richie Norman, Albert Snaith, Billy Nesbitt, Harry Bell, Ronnie Heslington, Bobby Kilcran, Terry Leach, Neil Howie and Geordie Broom.

"The facilities might have been quite basic, there was a bit of a slope and the money wasn't very good, but I had some great times with Athletic," says Richie.

"I was playing quite well at the time and it wasn't long before the Bishops came in. They offered much better money - they'd just had three successive Wembley wins - but I was quite happy where I was. There was just something about Ferryhill, it was part of the community. The crowds were fantastic."

Maybe it was also lunch at Bobby Kilcran's. "They were brilliant. I remember they always had huge Yorkshire puddings, served before the main course. I've never known that before or since."

He also recalls an Amateur Cup tie with Barnet, 2-2 in the home game but down 3-0 in the replay. "There must have been six inches of snow on our ground, but hundreds turned up with their shovels. It showed the spirit there was; it would never have gone ahead today."

Though other interested clubs included Sunderland, Newcastle and Arsenal, he signed for Leicester after being courted by North-East scout and former Sunderland centre forward Ronnie Turnbull - who himself had scored four on his Roker debut, against Portsmouth in 1947.

Under manager Matt Gillies, little known youngsters like Gordon Banks, Frank McLintock and Colin Appleton joined City at much the same time - City's swinging sixties. Richie, ever present for four seasons, made 365 senior appearances, helping City to two FA Cup finals and a League Cup triumph.

He scored just twice in the league - at the Stretford End at Old Trafford and at Filbert Street, against Chelsea.

His debut, by splendid coincidence, came in City's 2-0 win at Newcastle - January 23 1960. "I think the whole school turned out," he says, though the Echo's reporter missed the local angle.

Though "Tynesider" thought the Magpies "pathetic" - a view doubtless shared by most of the 31,650 crowd - young Norman never got a mention. Banks, added our man, had a great game - "his hands appeared to be magnetised."

That winter's day in 1960, Middlesbrough maintained their unbeaten second division record with as 3-3 draw with Liverpool, Sunderland went down 3-1 at Bristol Rovers despite a goal from singing winger Colin Grainger and in the Amateur Cup second round, Shildon won 7-2 at Erith and Belvedere and Crook Town 6-2 at Hallam.

Ronnie Heslington, still kicking about Ferryhill, scored Athletic's only goal against Marine - watched by a 2,445 crowd at the now abandoned Darlington Road ground.

After a decade at Leicester, Richie had a few games at Peterborough, became manager of Burton Albion, youth coach at Coventry City - under Bob Denison - and then youth team and reserve team manager at Derby. "It coincided with us winning the championship," he says, modestly.

At Northampton Town, strapped for cash, he was assistant manager, youth manager and physio - off on a treatment of injuries course to Lilleshall. "I thought that way I might stay longer in the game and so it's proved," he says.

When Northamptonshire Cricket Club's physio was himself unwell for a Sunday game, Richie was asked to stand in - and stayed for nine years which embraced four Lord's appearances and a team which included Geoff Cook, Wayne Larkins, Curtly Ambrose, David Capel and, for a season, Dennis Lillee.

"I still have a photograph of my helping carry off Dennis at Lord's," he says.

He still gets up to see his mates in Newcastle, still considers himself a Geordie, hardly seems to have aged - "I've always been a lucky beggar" - in the 50 year mission to the Midlands.

Nice feller, 72 in September, he could probably have talked all afternoon but for a pressing engagement. "She still looks after herself, but I promised to pop down the shops for me mam.


A rare meeting of football minds is in the offing when West Auckland play a friendly at Glasshoughton on Friday evening. The Yorkshire club's new goalkeeping consultant is Bruce Grobbelaar, 50 in October; West's assistant manager is Phil Owers, formerly of Darlington and Hartlepool. Both, shall we say, are men of firm opinions.

"The prospect's awesome," says Glasshoughton director of football Ray Gowan, Shildon's manager for a decade. "I don't yet know if Bruce can make it, but I'm doubling the admission if he does."

Grobbelaar will appear when available. "He's an absolutely smashing feller , you'd never think he'd won all those honours," says Ray. Really, he's just one of the lads."

The Zimbabwean has decreed, however, that he's too old to play. At 52, young Owers has no such reservations.

Recently elected to the national FA Council, Durham FA secretary John Topping has landed himself yet another new role. Once a bit of a goalkeeper, he's to be a referee when the Over 40s league kicks off on August 18. League secretary Kip Watson is delighted at the new signing. "They're really going to have behave themselves now," says Kip, "otherwise he'll do them at Durham as well."

Recent columns have been back on the beat with the Durham police teams of the 1950s, including recollections last Tuesday from 85-year-old former referee Stan Evans, in Hartlepool.

The most problematical of all the pollisses, said Stan - and he'd known a few - was the luminously named Chesney Brighouse. "Robust, a real handful," said witness for the prosecution.

Ches, now 70, is happily alive and well and able to plead his own case. Football was one sphere, he concedes, in which he took no prisoners.

"It was a very hard league, a lot of big fellers, not like all these dwarfs you have in the police force nowadays," says Ches, now in Spennymoor - one of many stations at which he served.

He was right back, helped his side win the Ainsley Cup, played alongside well-remembered men Terry Eales, Bob Hope, John Davison and Billy Hall.

Though his memory's excellent, he doesn't recall Stan Evans. "The police league certainly wasn't for the faint hearted. Probably he's right."

Alex Agnew, top Belgian comedian and son of 1950s' Darlington winger John Agnew, has a new television show called "Morimos solamente." Via a Spanish website, John Briggs in Darlington has now provided the translation. It means "I die alone", the perfect epitaph for a stand-up.


In seeking the names of two teams in either the Football League or Scottish League with each of the alphabet's first five letters in their name, Friday's column confounded most of the North-East - but not 2012 Olympics supremo Ralph Ord.

Ralph, Crook lad by browtins up, correctly identified Wycombe Wanderers and Cowdenbeath.

Alf Hutchinson in Darlington today invites readers to name the first cricketer - hugely well known - to hit a century and 99 in a test match.

A run short of a hundred, the column returns on Friday.