IN the mind-your-head cellar of Wolviston post office and shop, now converted into a cosy little office, Graeme Hedley paints a picture of contentment.

On one wall hangs a montage of his professional football career, on another memories of cricket. A third collection frames his hole-in-one at the seventh at Royal Birkdale. “You wrote about that one yourself,” says the postmaster, now 60.

Doubtless it is so, though the last time his name appeared hereabouts was in 2003 after he’d caused £4,500 damage to his new diesel BMW by filling it with unleaded petrol.

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He’d claimed on the insurance for accidental damage. “I certainly didn’t do it deliberately,” he said at the time.

In 2003 things might have remained, save – as last week’s column noted – for two coincidental elbow nudges within a few days.

Firstly, former Middlesbrough FC junior Oshor Williams, now a top man at the Professional Footballers’ Association, had recalled Craig Johnston’s autobiography in which the Aussie supposed Hedley to have been the best of a very good bunch.

A few days later, someone at a Bernie Slaven talk-in in Darlington had offered an identical opinion. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, it was time to renew his acquaintance.

Graeme and his wife Pauline took over the Wolviston business 14 years ago, have faced several health issues – both for themselves and for daughter Katie, her life saved by the Great North Air Ambulance after an horrific road accident – but have come through.

“It’s just fantastic here,” says the man who was also a tennis champion and might have been a professional singer. “I’ve no regrets at all.”

HE was a butcher’s son from Blackhall Colliery, worked a bit in the shop – “the turkeys at Christmas” – was signed by Middlesbrough FC as a curly-coiffed 15-year-old who appeared also to have huge potential as a first-class cricketer.

He’d scored an unbeaten 75 on his debut for the English schools Under-15 side, opening the batting with fellow Boro junior Alan Ramage and with a promising youngster called Mike Gatting at No 3.

He was courted by Northamptonshire, chosen by Durham for a friendly match in Scotland but unavailable because of football commitments, went on to score five NYSD League centuries for Blackhall, opening the batting with Desmond Haynes, the effervescent Barbadian who played 116 tests for the West Indies.

These were the days when senior North-East cricket offered a summer refuge to other international stars like Lance Cairns, Lance Gibbs and Rohan Kanhai, though it took a while for them to acclimatise.

In Blackhall in April, the incomparable Harry Pearson once wrote, they brought on the roller with huskies.

Haynes was just a year older than his partner. “I learned all sorts from him,” says Graeme. “If Durham had been first class at the time, I might have tried to play both games, but I was very happy being a footballer.”

AT Middlesbrough he scored six goals in 50 midfield appearances, had loan spells at Jack Charlton’s Sheffield Wednesday, at York City and at Darlington and followed with a lucrative year in King Kong.

Big Jack also wanted to sign him for Newcastle, so legend has it, but the move was blocked by Boro chairman Mike McCulloch.

After spells in the Northern League with Horden CW and Whitby, he scored nine times in 32 appearances for Hartlepool United before retiring at 29. “I was going from one-year contract to one-year contract.

“ I needed some longevity,” says Graeme.

He’d attended grammar schools in Hartlepool and Peterlee, might have gone on to further education, believed there was plenty to learn elsewhere. “I had friends who went to university but a lot more who were still down the pit.

“Middlesbrough was the university of life. Jack liked me, took me on tours when I wasn’t even in the team. By 19 I’d seen the world.”

He tells the story of a jaunt to Portugal, meant to be an end-of-season holiday but turned into a penultimate experience because opponents Arsenal were in the cup final.

“We still treated it like it was pretty much the end of the season. Arsenal needed to beat us to qualify for Europe but we won 5-0 and I scored. That couldn’t have happened today.”

Wasn’t the relatively small number of games disappointing for a player of such acknowledged talent? “You have to look at a Boro squad that had men like Armstrong, Souness and Murdoch and try getting into that midfield.

“They were seasons when there was only one sub, and they had a brilliant team. I still think I might have played more games; I was pretty skilful but I wasn’t the strongest. They were still times that money couldn’t buy, just marvellous.”

The Northern Echo:

Graeme and Pauline when they ran the Bay Horse at Middridge

SOON after retirement he suffered back injuries in a fall which left him unable to work for a year. He became manager of the Bay Horse pub in Middridge – “it was what ex-professionals did, though it wasn’t much of a career path” – where he also played tennis for Shildon.

They won the league and, with partner Ian Wilkinson, he also took the doubles title. “Some player,” recalls Ian, himself a professional tennis coach.

Graeme then joined Pearl Assurance, initially as a salesman – “book under my arm around Fencehouses way” – before passing the exams, becoming manager of the Sunderland branch and then regional sales director.

“There were 55 offices and Sunderland was 53rd. I took it up to seventh. The very top man came up north to see how it was done – he’d never been beyond Watford Gap before.”

As regional sales director his patch extended from Newcastle to Lincolnshire, continuing back problems making life difficult. “I couldn’t really travel. I’d drive somewhere and then couldn’t get out of the car.

“The other thing was that no matter how high you went at Pearl, there was always someone who was your boss. I wanted to be my own boss, and to work with Pauline. Then we saw this post office was for sale….”

WOLVISTON'S near Billingham, the north Tees town where they’d long lived – a lovely village, says Graeme, though the parish council minutes – incorrigibly reccied – talk of ongoing issues with what’s termed ASB, by which they probably mean anti-social behaviour and not (say) All Saints Band.

Though Britain may no longer be a nation of shopkeeper – as M. Bonaparte is said to have supposed – they quickly discovered the benefits of being thrown to Wolviston.

“It was the only shop in the village we saw the potential but it was really run down. At first we were working 24/7, I even delivered the papers.”

Their complete acceptance, he believes, came after a village green Christmas function at which the Salvation Army band had become stuck in traffic. “They asked me to sign a couple of songs. I can’t remember what they were, but it brought the house down. We were villagers then.”

In the window there’s a poem by villager Bert Rhodes, written when in his 90s. A verse reads: There’s no trolleys to collide with Or barring your way to the shelves, Just straightforward service Guaranteed by the owners themselves.

David, their son, is a doctor in Newcastle. Katie, fully recovered, has a masters business degree and will very likely buy the shop. There are big plans, including a restaurant upstairs.

Graeme wants to play more golf, spend more time with Pauline and their three grandchildren, perhaps write the autobiography that a vivid life suggests.

They’ve also bought a bungalow in the village.

“Wild horses,” he says, “wouldn’t get us out of Wolviston now.”