Three Tuns reunite with tons of happy memories

THE GAFFER: Paul Adams, player/manager of The Three Tuns

THE GAFFER: Paul Adams, player/manager of The Three Tuns

First published in Sport

IT was the day, still recounted and still embellished, when The Northern Echo was caught well and truly over a barrel.

“The Three Tuns at Coundon,” wrote a disorientated member of the features department almost a quarter of a century ago, “is the sort of pub where you wipe your feet on the way out.”

The shake-out was immediate, and not just from the libel lawyers’ legal larcenies list. (Memory suggests that we got away with a Grade I grovel.) “There was hell on,”

recalls David Jackson, a cofounder of Three Tuns FC.

“Next thing we knew there were about seven silver cups out in the street.”

The Tuns 25 years ago were the talk of North-East football team, a pub team with five five-star aspirations. Founded in 1976 – rolled out, as might be said of the Three Tuns – they not only beat Norton and Stockton Ancients in the 1984 Durham Challenge Cup final but in the same year reached the last 16 of the FA Vase, home to Tamworth.

The final was to be at Wembley. The last 16 tie, like all the Tuns’ games, was on Leeholme school field.

That’s when the features department got a scent – and before the legend grows yet hairier legs, it should be stressed that the writer was a well-bred lady, thus eliminating me on at least two counts.

After that, the footballers were dropped like three tons of bricks. “We just found ourselves not very welcome any more,” says David Jackson.

Instead they moved house and became Coundon TT.

Great lads, they again gathered for a reunion at the weekend. Whatever TT stood for, it sure as embrocation wasn’t teetotal.

COUNDON’S a former mining village near Bishop Auckland. Once there were three licensed premises in the space of four houses and still – though the Wharton’s now a pizza place and the boarded Foresters a “business opportunity” – there are a canny few.

The Tuns were no ordinary pub footballers, swiftly progressing from the Durham to the Auckland to the Wearside leagues and winning so many trophies that Eddie Wigley, the physio, was reputed to have had them valued and to sleep with the most precious.

They also had friendlies against the likes of Blackpool and Newcastle United, attracted the late Bob Stokoe to the presentation evening.

Paul Adams, player/manager for ten years, puts it down to team spirit and to looking after the lads. “We had a really good letter draw at a time when there were only about three in the area – Cockfield, Cockerton and Coundon, all the Cs.

“We were just able to attract good players and we looked after them. I’m not going to say how we looked after them, but we did. The quality of players in that side was tremendous.”

Locally big names included Spennymoor lad John Hopper, a muchtravelled Northern League goalkeeper with a reputation for (shall we say) eccentricity. “If it’s true that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper then I was overqualified,” says John.

“I can honestly say that on our day we could have beaten anyone, even teams from the old third and fourth divisions. The best thing about the Tuns was that there were no cliques, not like with Northern League teams. It was just a happy atmosphere and a great set of lads. No wonder we won.”

THEIR finest hour, however, came on Easter Monday 1987, the Durham Challenge Cup final against the mighty Bishop Auckland – two miles down the road, second in the Northern League and the most successful amateur side in history.

“They were the biggest certainties since Leeds were going to beat Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup final, absolute stone-wallers,” says Paul Adams.

That morning he’d played for the Coundon Workmen’s Club side that beat South Church WMC, also from Bishop Auckland, in the Heart Foundation Cup final.

Few believed that Coundon could do the double.

Bishops, fielding familiar names like Harry Dunn, Alan Barker, Colin Blackburn, Malcolm Newton and Tony Harrison, were two down at half-time thanks to goals from Ian Wilson and Craig Gordon, now doing very well in America.

Though Bishops fought back they lost 2-1 – “a notable victory,” said the following day’s Northern Echo though TT, by then playing from the Miners Arms, called it much more than that.

John Hopper, said in the programme to be “28 but subject to a lie detector test”, played a blinder.

“It was the pinnacle, the greatest day of my life,” says Paul Adams. “It was a good morning, a great afternoon and not a bad night.”

So what time did they all get home? “About Thursday,”

says Paul.

The only problem was that Eddie the physio had been left in charge of the historic trophy and – Durham FA should turn away at this point – couldn’t for the life of him remember where he’d left it.

“When finally we found it, the base was at the Miners, the main bit of the cup at the Foresters and the lid in the Tuns,” says Eddie. “We knew it wouldn’t come to any harm in Coundon.”

Friday night’s do was in the Cons Club, thoroughly enjoyable and raised around £300 for charity. “It’s just brilliant to see them all again,” says Paul, though they also remembered former Newcastle United junior Gary Walton, known thereabouts as Hoss, who was murdered in the village eight years ago.

The club folded around 1990. The Three Tuns, nobody’s doormat, happily continues.

BACKTRACK BRIEFS...

A BEER – a Coke, in truth – with Rob Hope, writing a history to mark this year’s centenary of Durham County Schools FA.

Rob, a 52-year-old teacher in Sunderland, still plays in the Over 40s league for Durham City but wonders if it may be his last season – “Knees goosed,” he says, simply.

Part of the book will offer potted biographies of Durham boys who made it really big – Bob Paisley, little Geordie Armstrong, Lol Brown, Chris Waddle, Nick Pickering and many more.

The inclusion criteria have had to be altered somewhat, however, because the man who was arguably the greatest of all never even played for the district side, much less the county.

Bobby Robson went to Waterhouses secondary modern where the headmaster refused to let the team even join the league, thus disenfranchising them from further advancement. “I got the impression he wasn’t very keen on football. Bobby was a bit of a late starter,”

says Rob.

He caught up, of course. The book’s expected in November.

ON Saturday to West Allotment Celtic v Silsden, FA Vase, BBC cameras eagerly in attendance. Alas, this wasn’t for Match of the Day – they missed a cracker – but for yet another interview with the skilltrainingltd Northern League chairman on the cussed issue of swearing.

Look North, they reckon, tomorrow.

AT a harvest festival service the following evening we bump into Carol Simpson, if not ploughing the field then still assiduously cutting it.

Carroll’s one of the great stalwarts of Lands Cricket Club in west Durham, 10 of this season’s 22 league matches lost to the summer and still trying to play the traditional T G Denham Cup final. Sunday was the fourth time of asking; this Sunday – Ingleton v Crook Town II – will be the fifth. “If need be I hope we’ll try again in October,” says Carroll. “I know you don’t normally play cricket in October, but you don’t normally have summers like this one, do you?”

AND FINALLY...

THE former Football League club which shares its name with an internationally renowned painter (Backtrack, September 19) is Gainsborough – undistinguished members of the old second division from 1896-97 until finishing bottom in 1912.

David Wilson in Etherley today invites the identity of the only footballer to win European Cup/Champions League medals with a British club and a continental club.

Another toehold in Europe on Friday.

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