JOHN Hope, a very good goalkeeper indelibly remembered for the one that got away, was found dead at his home today. He was 67.

Alfie, his beloved retriever, was lying on the bed beside him.

Born in Shildon, where his father had kept goal for the pre-war Northern League winning sides, he made his Darlington debut just a month after his 16th birthday and became a member of Newcastle United’s 1969 European Fairs Cup winning squad.

After making just one first team appearance for the Magpies, he joined Sheffield United – then in the old second division – as successor to England international Alan Hodgkinson.

“He had big shoes to fill and he did exceptionally well,” former team mate Tony Currie recalled. “He had the heart of a lion, one of the bravest I’ve ever seen.”

Sheffield United had been promoted, led the first division and were on a 14-match unbeaten run when, on October 2 1971, they faced second placed Manchester United before a 60,000 Old Trafford crowd.

George Best collected the ball in his own half, beat five men and from a seemingly impossible angle slipped the ball past Hope.

Long-time Daily Mirror sports reporter Frank McGhee spotted a young press box colleague looking at his watch. “Never mind the time, remember the date. You’ve just seen history,” he said.

A poll several years ago voted Best’s goal the 18th greatest in world football history; the keeper was never wholly convinced – and since Match of the Day was there, none let him forget it.

“I went down like a big whale. I might as well say it because everyone else does,” he once told the Backtrack column. “If I’d stood up, I might have stopped it.”

He also played for Hartlepool United, managed several Northern League clubs and coached Darlington’s Under 18s. In 2004, three years before the death of his wife Alison, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Richard and Christopher, his sons, both had successful Football League careers. Richard found his father at his home in Stockton.

Close friend Eddie Kyle, a former assistant manager of both Darlington and Hartlepool said: “John battled Parkinson’s incredibly well. He was a total North-East legend, such a strong personality.

“If you’d met John Hope you’d never forget him. He was a truly amazing man.”

*A fuller appreciation of John Hope will appear in Thursday’s Backtrack column.