By Andrew White

A CHANCE sighting of an ancient newsreel on an otherwise unremarkable television programme has sparked memories of what was once a popular event in the North-East sporting calendar – and uncovered details of the remarkable sporting career of a forgotten star.

The footage, from 1932, was of a chap named TW Green winning The Northern Echo's annual Easter Monday walking race from Sunderland to Darlington.

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The race, a lung-busting 31-and-a-half-miles long, took place on March 28 and was won by Green for a record third time.

The Echo recorded that his winning time was four hours, 48 minutes, 51 seconds – a disappointing three-and-a-half minutes outside his own course record.

But Tommy Green – known universally it seems as TW – was satisfied with his performance, given the competitors had to put up with a "strong, cold wind".

The race, which had attracted a record entry of 80, turned out to be what the Echo described as "a stirring battle" between Green and 50-year-old veteran Tom Payne, from South Shields, who was making his comeback after 20 years out of the sport.

The pair were neck-and-neck until they reached Ferryhill, where Payne, the Echo wrote, "experienced difficulty", allowing the younger man to forge ahead.

Although Payne drew within 500 yards of the leader in the stretch between Chilton and Aycliffe, Green's victory was never in doubt and he crossed the winning line to a cheering crowd at Feethams football ground a full six minutes in front.

Green acknowledged the effort from Payne, telling the Echo his opponent had put up a "wonderful performance", adding: "Considering his age, I did not think he had it in him."

To recognise his achievement in winning three successive races, the newspaper reported that it intended to present him with a replica of The Northern Echo Cup.

But Green was not finished yet.

The following year he returned to defend his title, claiming a fourth successive win – this time setting a new record time of four hours, 41 minutes, 51 and two-fifths of a second.

The race had turned out to be another thrilling tussle with Payne – and again Ferryhill proved to be the breaking point for the veteran, as Green took the initiative.

"The victory smile seldom left his face at any part of the journey," reported the Echo. "And no sooner had he crossed the finishing line in Feethams field than he broke into a trot towards the hot bath awaiting him."

This was the best supported race yet, with 92 competitors and "thousands of spectators watching the race in every town and village along the route".

The mayor and mayoress of Darlington, Sir Charles and Lady Starmer, presented the prizes to Green, which included a special medal for breaking the course record (Sir Charles was the managing director of the Echo).

There was one final surprise, when gallant runner-up Payne announced that, at the age of 51, he had just become a father.

TW Green was a remarkable character who dominated competitive long distance walking during its heyday between the wars.

A true sporting great, he was unchallenged over long distances for five years, which included winning gold in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles – the first time the 50k walk was held at the Games. At 38, he is still the event's oldest ever champion.

Green's achievements were even more remarkable given his start in life. He suffered rickets as a child and was unable to walk a step until he was five-years-old.

He was over 30 when he started competitive walking and only took up the sport after accompanying a blind man on a race in 1925. His successes included multiple victories in the London to Brighton – probably the most famous of all the walking races – and an international 100km race in Milan in a record time of just over ten-and-a-half hours.

And, of course, there were his victories in the Sunderland to Darlington, a race – as far as we can tell – which was run every year from the late 1920s through to the late 1930s.

It wound its ways through many towns and villages – including Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, Ferryhill and Aycliffe and it is thought medals were given to every competitor who completed it.

If you have any information about the walk, or a medal tucked away in a drawer, please let us know: email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk