SATURDAY, February 23, 1957, brought Arctic conditions with sub-zero temperatures and frequent snowstorms. Most town centres were deserted but in Crook there were unprecedented levels of activity as scores of people stepped off a steady stream of United buses which arrived every half hour, while more stepped off the two early afternoon trains.
Their destination was the Millfield Ground in Crook which, at 3pm, would stage the last great Amateur Cup tie between those two giants of amateur football, Crook Town – Amateur Cup winners in 1901 and 954 – and nine-time winners Bishop Auckland, holders of the Amateur trophy for the previous two years.
Thousands milled around the main gate, two Crook committee men cried "Programmes, programmes", while a man selling rosettes shouted "Wear your cups and colours"
Loading article content
Inside the ground both sets of supporters indulged in snowball fights, and burst each others' balloons which they had planted on the centre spot. The loudspeaker system blasted out Frankie Vaughan singing 'The Garden of Eden,' hardly appropriate in the cold and snow, before the band marched round followed by a charity using a large blanket to collect coins thrown by the crowd,
Classy Bishop Auckland had at least half a dozen players of First Division (Premier League) or Second Division (Championship) class, namely Sharratt, Hardisty, Bradley, Lewin, Oliver and O'Connell. The rest, including Bert Childs at left back, who did play a couple of games for Liverpool, were of Third Division (Division 1) and Fourth division (Division 2) class.
From their 1954 Amateur Cup Cup winning team Crook were without Riley, Davison, Taylor, Appleby, Thompson, Harrison and Williamson. "Fearless Fred" Jarrie though was still in goal. Fred, would have dived head-first at a Sherman tank if it broke into the Crook box. Steward, a rock in defence, was still at left back and Jeffs, remained at right half. Bill would run all day and often had to change his sweat-soaked shirt at half time, though probably not on this day.
Wearing the number 11 shirt was Jimmy McMillan, the jewel in Crook's crown, a Northern League player with feet like Tom Finney. At the time he was actually doing his National Service and Bobby Dixon had been playing outside left, but on the verge of signing for Arsenal Dixon had been clobbered by a Willington defender in an earlier round and was out of the game.
The teams were, Crook Town:- Jarrie, Gardener, Steward; Jeffs, Bainbridge, Boyle; Hopper, Wilkie, Coatsworth, E.May, McMillan. Bishop Auckland:- Sharratt, Marshall, Childs; Thursby, Cresswell, Nimmins; Bradley, Lewin, Oliver, O'Connell, Stewart.
At 2.50pm the 11,843 crowd went quiet as leather footballs could be heard bouncing off the concrete floor in the players tunnel, the two teams were lining up, and when they ran out the mixture of 11,843 roaring voices, corncrakes, trumpets and bells produced such a cacophony that it was heard in Frank Hogans store on Stanley hilltop.
Lewin scored early for Bishop, then five minutes later the ball ran to Childs standing on the halfway line. Crook fan Michael Manuel recalled, "My two memories of the game were Bert Childs launching the ball into the Crook box where Fred in goal left it for Derek Gardener to clear while Derek left it for Fred and the ball ended up in our net. My other memory was the 6 inches of snow on the top of my cap." Crook fought back and Hopper scored to make the interval score 1-2 to the 'Bishops.'
At the interval Bishop supporter Arnold Alton nearly fainted with the cold. "A Crook fan gave me a coffee laced with rum which saved me," said Arnold.
Conditions worsened in the second half where Jimmy 'Mac' equalised for Crook in the 59th minute and then it was just a battle of strength and stamina against the blinding snow.
Oliver missed a simple tap-in and O'Connell shot wide for Bishop. Right on time Coatsworth had a glorious chance for Crook but his shot lacked power and Sharratt saved. Final Score 2-2, and a replay at Kingsway, Bishop Auckland at 2.30pm the following Saturday.
n Many thanks to Arnold Alton, Michael Manuel and Dick Longstaff for their help with this article.