FOOTBALL is a religion to many fans and a new exhibition reveals how one of the North-East’s most successful amateur teams grew from the church.

Bishop Auckland Football Club (BAFC) has won the FA Amateur Cup ten times and some of its players have gone on to turn out for teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United.

The club’s remarkable sporting history has seen it become the only amateur team to feature in the table top game Subbuteo.

Visitors to Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, can unearth the history of the club from its earliest days through to the modern day.

The Birth of the Blues: The Story of Bishop Auckland Football Club opens tomorrow. (Friday, May 22)

Georgina Ashcroft, Auckland Castle’s community archivist, said: “People talk about football being a religion.

“BAFC is one of the oldest, most successful and famous amateur football team in the country.

“Sadly amateur football clubs only attract crowds of a few hundred these days, but in the game’s heyday thousands would turn out to watch teams like BAFC.

“We hope this exhibition will show that Bishop Auckland, both as a town and a team, has been successful and that it can be successful again.”

The story of Bishop Auckland Football Club stems from a boisterous kick-about amongst theology students from Cambridge and Oxford universities in 1882.

The youngsters were based at Auckland Castle and Reverend George Rodney Eden, private chaplain to Joseph Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham, drew them into a team.

He formed Bishop Auckland Church Institute and they took on the blues of Oxford and Cambridge universities as the side’s colours.

From this humble start BAFC evolved.

Following the 1958 Munich air crash in which eight of Manchester United’s Busby Babes were killed BAFC sent three players, Bob Hardisty, Warren Bradley and Derek Lewin to help out.

Seamus O’Connell won the First Division title in 1954-55 with Chelsea while also playing with BAFC with who he won the FA Amateur Cup in the same season.

Ten FA Amateur Cup wins followed with the games played at Wembley in front of 100,000 crowds.

Mr Lewin, 84, played as a forward for the team for several years from 1954 after moving from Second Division Oldham Athletic

He said: “The club is still going and going well. I would like to think that this will re-kindle interest in the club.”

John Phelan, a founding member of the Durham Amateur Football Trust, said: “It’s a great honour to be involved in this exhibition.

“The trust has had some good exhibitions over the years but this looks like it could be the best yet.”

Several special events are being held to tie in with the exhibition with details via 01388-743750 or by email at

The Birth of the Blues runs until Monday, September 28, daily from 10am to 4pm except Tuesdays.

Entry is £6 for adults, £5 concessions and free for under-16s.