Seamus O’Connell, variously described as the country’s finest amateur centre forward and its sexiest cattle dealer, has died. He was 83 and in both respects, it’s said, deserved richly his reputation.

He won four England international football caps, helped Bishop Auckland win the FA Amateur Cup in 1955 and 1956 and Crook Town to lift the trophy in 1959, had lived for the last 25 years in Spain and been ill for several years.

Chiefly, however, he may be remembered for his debut for Chelsea – October 16 1954 – the week after playing for the Bishops in a Durham Challenge Cup tie at Cockfield and being unable by common consent to hit a byre door with a cow prod.

At Chelsea he hit a hat-trick in front of a 56,000 crowd, still finishing on the losing side as Manchester United – for whom Dennis Violett also scored three – won 6-5.

Jim Lewis, another amateur – a man who travelled in Thermos flasks, to use the parlance of the day – also made his Chelsea debut that afternoon.

O’Connell scored 11 times in 16 appearances, helped Chelsea to a first-ever championship of the old first division, turned heads by arriving for training in his Jaguar while the professionals pitched up on London Transport.

The pros earned £12 a week, maximum wage, and a £50 bonus for winning the league. Though urged to join them, O’Connell returned to the Bishops and to his father’s cattle business in Carlisle.

The definition of amateurism had become flexible. That he subsequently suffered long-term ankle problems was, of course, nothing to do with the amount of fivers stuffed into his boot. He was born in Carlisle on New Year’s Day 1930, an Englishman despite the most emerald green of names, and joined Bishop Auckland in the early1950s. Early impression, he hit eight in a Northern League game against Penrith in 1953, his subsequent strike partnership with Cullercoats lifeboatman Ray Oliver sad to have been a marriage made in heaven,.

“A great player, an extraordinary talent, one of the best strikers of a dead ball I’ve even seen,” recalls former team mate and fellow international Derek Lewin.

“The poise of a part-time picador,” the Backtrack column once egregiously observed.

Bishop Auckland chairman Terry Jackson, who sought out Seamus in Spain in 2007, believes him to have been one of the finest talents even in the legendary side of the 1950s.

“Many will tell you he was the best ever. He was very much a product of his time – obviously a good looking feller, a bit of money in his pocket and a fantastic footballer. He was the playboy, and he had everything.”

After a match at Kingsway, however, O’Connell stunned team mates by telling that he was signing for arch-rivals Crook. Boot money rumour put his wage at £15 a week.

There he played alongside four other England men – Jimmy McMillian, Derek Gardener, Mike Tracey and local lad Arnold Coates, who died earlier this week.

O’Connell had also scored twice in three amateur appearances for Middlesbrough and played briefly for Carlisle United and for Penrith.

Derek Lewin recalls his colleague’s attractiveness for women. “It was quite amazing. I wasn’t a bad looking lad, but there could be ten women in the room and Seamus would win 10-0 every time.|”

On once occasion, it’s recalled, Bishops’ players had been at a posh house party in London when O’Connell emerged naked from the shower and walked through the throng.

A society lady looked on impassively. “Looking like that, you should trot,” she said.

Seamus emigrated to Spain to run a bar and to play golf, both originally in partnership with Derek Lewin. He rarely returned, and never to Bishop Auckland’s annual reunions, though he appeared – clearly unwell – at the party in 2005 to mark the 50th anniversary of Chelsea’s championship success.

“He could hardly crawl across the floor,” former Bishop Auckland manager Lawrie McMenemy recalled.

His family had become so concerned that they even wrote to Bishop Auckland seeking mementoes to raffle to help pay for his health care. “I think he was asset rich but cash poor, anamazing man with an incredible story” says Terry Jackson.

Seamus died in Spain last Sunday and was cremated the following day. Bishop Auckland held an impeccably observed minute’s silence before Wednesday’s game with Gateshead.

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