IT was not the be all and end all of a footballers career, whether amateur or professional, to win an international cap for your country.

Having said that, if you show, or possess a very good level of ability, exhibit self-discipline on the field and achieve a certain level of success, then an international cap is a just and fitting reward to the dedication and work that is needed to achieve all that was mentioned.

The problem for amateur players in the North-East, particularly Northern League players, was that there was a Southern bias when it came to the distribution of England Amateur International caps.

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It was an issue and argument that raged throughout the 20th Century and was evident as far back as the 1920s.

Only three Northern League players had won caps since 1926, Ralph “Bullet” Smith, Ernest “Skip” Preston and goalkeeper Harold Lodge, when Lodge (Stockton) and Jack Shields and Harry Mitton, both from Bishop Auckland, were selected for an Amateur International against Wales in January 1937.

The Northern Echo:

FINAL STARS: Jack Shield, far left middle row, and Harry Mitton, fourth left middle rowm who both won FA Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland when the Two Blues beat Wimbledon 2-1 in an Amateur Cup Final Replay at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge on Saturday, April 20, 1935, before a crowd of 30,000. Both also won an England cap in a 9-1 win over Wales in January 1937, but never played again

Shields and Mitton had both just won Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland in 1935 (Bishop beat Wimbledon 2-1 in an Amateur Cup Final replay in front of a 30,000 crowd at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea on Saturday, April 20, 1935.

In the international against Wales Lodge, Mitton and Shields all had good games and England won 9-1, but three weeks later all three were scandalously left out of the next International and never played again.

Even in the halycon period, from 1950 to 1964, when the amateur clubs from South West Durham won eight out of 15 Amateur Cup finals at Wembley Stadium, an England Amateur cap was hard to come by.

Some of the Northern League’s best players who thrilled the Wembley crowds were only given a handful of caps, some not even that. Consider the following:

  • Jimmy McMillan 4 Amateur Cup winners medals with Crook Town – 1 cap
  • Harry Sharratt 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland – 6 caps
  • Seamus O’Connell 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland and Crook Town – 4 caps
  • Ray Snowball 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Crook Town – 0 caps
  • Derek Lewin 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland – 5 caps
  • Dave Marshall 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland – 1 cap
  • Jimmy Nimmins 3 Amateur Cup winners medals with Bishop Auckland – 0 caps

Compare that with the distribution of Amateur caps to some players from the South:

  • Mike Pinner 0 Amateur Cup winners medals – 52 caps
  • Laurie Topp 1 Amateur Cup winners medal – 32 caps
  • Jim Lewis 2 Amateur Cup winners medals – 49 caps

We have three Southern players with only three Amateur Cup winners medals between them, yet they have 133 England caps – while seven Northern League players with 22 Amateur Cup winners medals have only 17 caps between them, it was totally unfair.

Consider the interesting case of Ian Reid. Ian was a steady and cultured full back with a touch of class who joined Crook Town in the 1962-63 season from Bishop Auckland. He won one Amateur Cup winners medal with Crook in the 1963-64 season when the Black and Ambers beat Enfield 2-1 at Wembley in April 1964. (Allan Brown and Jimmy Goodfellow the scorers).

Ian won two England caps while at Crook, but when he moved South to work as a schoolteacher he won a further eight England caps with Enfield and then18 caps with Hitchin Town, a total of 28 caps.

Bobby Hardisty only won 15 England caps – there’s the problem in a nutshell.

Derek Lewin said: “The England Amateur selection problem was further exacerbated by the England selectors who often played you out of position.

“At Bishop Auckland, Bobby Hardisty played at right-half and I played inside right. When we both played for England, Bobby would sometimes play at inside right and I would play at inside left. It often knocked you off your game and you were not seen at your best.”

The Northern Echo:

BOB'S THE JOB: Bob Thursby, who won an Amateur Cup winners medal with Bishop Auckland in 1957 when they beat Wycombe Wanderers 2-0 at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 fans on Saturday April 13, 1957. Bob was luckier than most Amateur players from the Northern League, as he won 17 England caps, seven as captain

Bob Thursby who won 17 England caps, 7 as captain said: “One of the problems we had in the North was that one of our FA representatives lived in Northumberland and liked to watch Newcastle. He only came to a Northern League game if it was a big Amateur Cup match, like a quarter-final with a Southern club. I only saw him twice in 10 years at Bishop Auckland.”

Perhaps a happy solution to this problem would be to award our Northern League Amateur players who thrilled the thousands at Wembley Stadium with a New Years Honour. They did after all play in some fierce conditions at places like Tow Law and Stanley. Who would fancy breaking a bone, taking a goalbound shot in the midriff with those old leather balls, or suffer a dead leg, in sub-zero temperatures and three inches of snow?

Our Northern League Amateur footballers were real heroes and should be rewarded as such.