All these years as an inky tradesman and, until last Wednesday at the Customs House in South Shields, never before attended what theatricals call a press night.

It was for a pair of plays about Sunderland FC, nee champagne nor nowt but chance to sit next to the delightful Dawn Thewlis, about whom Rufus the Boro dog drooled all those years ago.

Wise Men Say, written and principally acted by Paul Dunn, cleverly marks 20 years of the Stadium of Light. Cornered, the second play, has been written by BBC Look North man Jeff Brown and tells the story of David Corner’s ill-starred appearance for Sunderland in the 1985 Milk Cup final against Norwich.

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The programme features the still-remembered Vaux Brewery ad: “Sunderland for the cup (Norwich can keep the milk)”.

Corner was an 18-year-old from Southwick (“me mam and dad said it was Monkwearmouth”) who’d played just four first team games before being called upon to deputise for suspended skipper Shaun Elliott at Wembley.

The only goal came after he was nutmegged near the goal line while trying to shepherd the ball to safety, having resisted the Row Z option. “It’s fair to say that his Sunderland career never really recovered,” says All the Lads, the book of players’ biographies.

Cornered is a one-hander, the role adroitly filled by Steve Arnott. “Folk still ask how often I’m reminded of what happened: every sodding day for 32 years.”

Davey Corner played for England Under 20s in Russia – “kept Tony Adams out of the side” – helped Darlington to the fourth division title in 1989, remained a target for Wearside’s wasted in which he suffered a broken jaw, smashed teeth, had a plate put into his cheek and spent 12 days in hospital.

It didn’t help that he was a copper top: ginger nutmegged, then.

He became a polliss – “I found a job in which I was hated even more than being a footballer” – recalls being first at the scene of a serious assault in Seaham in which the victim suffered potentially fatal head injuries. Seemingly stupefied, pouring blood, the guy just stared at the police officer.

“Davey? Davey Corner?”


“Why didn’t you just kick the bugger oot, man?”

The same knee injury which ended his football career – “17 operations in 22 years” – has now compelled retirement from Durham Constabulary.

Ingeniously crafted and compellingly performed, Cornered is often played for laughs but has serious moments, too – even Albert Camus gets to come off the bench. At the end of everything, Davey has no regrets. “If it hadn’t happened, no one would have heard of us, would they?”

Cornered is at Washington Arts Centre tonight and the Peacock, formerly the Londonderry, in Sunderland on September 22. Tickets and information at

Hitherto, the closest to a press night had been a 1969 winter morning at the Odeon in York. The city council’s watch committee had solemnly convened to vet The Killing of Sister George, a then-controversial film starring Beryl Reid and said to have lesbian scenes. The manager let me in the back. The committee watched, woke, stalled, approved. These days it would be on CBeebies.

The note a fortnight back on the passing of former Hartlepool United stalwart Bill Green prompts John Irvine to recall his own youthful days, 1967-68, at the Victoria Ground. The manager was Gus McLean – “a master at mixing things up.”

Once it was announced that they’d be joined for trials by Bill and by Henry Carson, his friend from the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle where both had just finished O-levels.

Henry, recalls John, was a slightly built winger of 5ft 6ins. Big Bill was a 6ft 2ins centre half.

Thus it was something of a surprise to read in Friday night’s Hartlepool Mail – “I still have the paper,” says John – that young Carson was to be centre half in the youth team and his mate outside left in the reserves.

The mistake was spotted before the teams left the Vic next morning – Carson switched to outside left in the reserves, Bill to centre half, alongside John Irvine, with the youths. “It was immediately obvious he had something special,” says John, now president of the Durham Cricket League.

John became a teacher, not a footballer. “I often wonder what happened to Henry, and how different things might have been if Bill had played outside left for the youths.”

Saturday’s FA Cup match between Newcastle Benfield and Ashton United is doubly special for prolific Benfield striker Paul Brayson – it’s the former trainee Magpie’s 40th birthday. “He can still be relied on for at least 30 goals a season,” says programme editor Ian Cusack. “We’re hoping there’ll be a couple more to mark his birthday.”

Previewing the tie between Darlington and South Shields, meanwhile, Non League Paper reports the reaction of Quakers’ midfielder Phil Turnbull, a South Shields lad. The player, says NLP, had a “rye smile”. The bread line, no doubt.

….and finally, the only English cathedral city with a name comprised only from letters in the first half of the alphabet (Backtrack, September 7) is Lichfield. The only one with letters drawn only from the alphabet’s second half is Truro. Brian Dixon, first with the answer, points out that they’re the only two with triple spires.

Nigel Brierley, among those at Campion, today invitesa readers to suggest a single word anagram of “percussion.”

After a short spell of silence, the column returns in a fortnight.