FORTY years almost to the day since they became the last Northern League team to lift the FA Amateur Cup, the players of North Shields were reunited at a joyous dinner last Thursday.

Famously they were the red, red Robins, but it was the weekend back in 1969 that they painted the town green.

“Wembley had had the Horse of the Year Show the weekend before,” recalled Tommy Orrick, a super-sub before ever anyone ever coined the term.

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“When we arrived to have a look around on the Friday afternoon, the pitch was still all churned up and there were men literally painting the grass. It was amazing how good it looked by the Saturday.”

A few weeks later, Newcastle United won the Fairs Cup and – what goes around, comes around – that ruby red letter day’s going to be well remembered in the next few weeks, as well.

Every last Robin made the reunion line-up, winging from all over. Only team manager Frank Brennan, Newcastle’s 6ft 3in centre half in the 1952 FA Cup final, had died – though the old cup’s not over clever, either.

“We asked the FA if we could have it back for the night but they said it was too fragile,” said North Shields chairman Alan Matthews.

“They told us that if we went down to London, we could be photographed with it.”

Mostly they were fit and well, only left half George “Bomber” Thompson in a wheelchair and, like the Amateur Cup itself, a bit femmer. Post-Wembley, the team had been, too.

“I was drunk for four days,” recalled Ray Wrightson, the left half. “I worked at Wilkinson Sword at the time and the manager came over on the Monday morning to say well done. I don’t think I could speak.”

Shields played Sutton United, 47,000 at Wembley – a canny crowd, but still not as many as the Horse of the Year Show. A goal down after four minutes, Shields won with second half strikes from Richie Hall and Brian Joicey – both laid on by Orrick, a shipyard worker from Byker.

Next night he took the trophy to bed with him, one arm protectively around its middle. “I took it to the little lad’s school next day. They didn’t seem bothered at all,” he said, still dismayed at the apathy.

Now it can be told, however, that the players only turned out at all after an ultimatum to the North Shields board. “The directors were always fantastic to us, but they weren’t going to pay for the wives and girlfriends to travel down so we threatened to go on strike,” said Tommy Orrick.

“We were going to get £30 each for winning. In the end they let the wives go if we paid £28 each. We won the cup for two quid.”

Ron Tatum, the skipper, still has no doubt that they won because of Big Frank’s training methods. “I wouldn’t say we were the most skilful team, it was just pure fitness. Frank worked our socks off in training.

He’d laugh if it was hurting, because he knew that it was working.

“The thing I remember most was when we got back to Newcastle on the train and it was like the whole town had come up the river to meet us. When we got back to Shields square there must have been 10,000 more. The bus just stopped dead, couldn’t move.”

George Thompson also recalled how fit they were. “We knew we’d win because Sutton were knackered at half-time I was amazed when the final whistle blew, because I still felt so fresh. That was all down to Frank.”

Ray Wrightson came from Nelson Village, near North Shields, as had Tommy Walker, an FA Cup winner with the Magpies. “We were the only lads from the village to do owt like that and we treated as equals, that’s how big the Amateur Cup was. I was a hero for years.”

Cup drained and heads cleared, they still had 13 league and cup games before season’s end – dropping just one point and winning the Northern League double, too.

“That’s the bit that people tend to forget,” said Bomber Thompson. “We really were a very canny side.”

TONY Golightly, former chief executive of Chester-le- Street District Council and for the last 18 years the Northern League’s secretary, worked in 1969 in local government in Surrey and travelled to Wembley with a coach load of Sutton supporters. “Going back they had to hold me to the bus floor to stop me leaping about,” he recalls. “They couldn’t stop me singing Blaydon Races, though.”

THURSDAY’S guest speaker was Tommy Docherty, 81 on April 24 and still much in demand. “I tried putting my feet up and it still hasn’t put them off,” said the Gorbals boy and former Man United manager, ingenuously.

An affable old cove, he’s still doing radio work in Manchester, still working twice a week for Sky – “I don’t get on screen much,” he said, “but I put on an awful lot of dishes on chimneys.”

Last time we’d encountered him was in 1998 at West Auckland Workmen’s Club. The Doc – tired and emotional, as Private Eye used to say – was hauled off after 12 minutes after unsuccessfully trying to tell the same story three times.

Later it was discovered that he’d booked into the Manor House Hotel at 1.30pm before running up a £57 tab at the village football club’s expense – 15 gin and tonics, a bottle of red wine and half a bottle of whisky.

This time Doc’s orders were more modest, just a few glasses of this and that. Like the red wine, he went down well. “If I’d known I was going to live this long,” he said, “I’d have looked after myself a bit better.”

ON Good Friday to Esh Winning v Norton and Stockton Ancients and, inevitably given the day, to Field’s fabled fish shop. It’s the North-East’s last coalfired chippy – queues half way to Ushaw Moor, folk stoking like the boiler room of the Lusitania.

The village has two fish and chip shops. The other seemed to be firing on oil cylinders, too.

Esh are hopeful of promotion to the skilltrainingltd Northern League top division. Norton had achieved as much in midweek – without so much as kicking a ball – for the first time in 26 years’ league membership.

The other good news – the Northern League magazine called it “hugely cheering” – was that Esh Winning had changed their beer supplier.

Faced with having to charge up to £2.50 a pint, they found an alternative source, changed the name to Stag – the club’s logo – and sell bitter at £1.60.

A competitive match ended 0-0. Stag scored thereafter.

A BEER before Spennymoor Town’s match on Saturday with our old friend Paul Hodgson, former secretary of the town’s boxing academy.

In anticipation of April 23, Hodgy already has two flags of St George flying in his garden. Between them is a skull and crossbones. “I have my reputation to think about,” he said.

And finally...

THE Football League team whose name comprises 11 letters used just once apiece (Backtrack, April 11) is Grimsby Town.

Readers are today invited to name the footballer, still playing, who has appeared in all four divisions, the Conference, La Liga in Spain, the Champions League, World Cup and EUFA Cup and represented his country.

A little less well travelled, the column returns on Saturday.