BIRTLEY Town play their first Northern League game for 117 years with a tough opener at Marske United tomorrow.

Birtley won the Wearside League last season and had their ground passed by Northern League inspectors, giving them the green light to resume their place in the league which they helped found way back in 1889. They left just after one season.

Assistant manager Paul Foster said: "We could have done with an easier introduction than Marske away, but whatever happens, we're going to enjoy the experience over the next nine months."

Birtley still have most of last season's squad, but striker Tony Thirkell has gone to Chester-le-Street and veteran defender Marc Irwin who played in the league for Spennymoor over 20 years ago and for several clubs since, has left for Wallsend.

SHILDON are anxiously awaiting international clearance for their centre half Chris Mason.

The former Darlington player played in Swedish football during the summer, and even though he has been at the club for nearly a month, the club is still awaiting clearance.

If it doesn't come through via the English FA, then he won't be able to play in the Railwaymen's opener at home to Dunston tomorrow.

BILLINGHAM Synthonia have signed highly rated centre half Christian Hanson.

Hanson, who won the FA Trophy with Grays two seasons ago, played for Spennymoor last season but has decided to link up with Synners' new boss Bobby Scaife. Synners have also signed midfielder Lev Yalcin and defender Paul Collins from Bishop Auckland.

NORTHALLERTON manager Andy Toman is on the lookout for experienced players to join his squad at Ainderby Road.

Northallerton have lost several of last season's team - several of whom have gone to Toman's old Guisborough in the Second Division - and even though Toman has got a big enough squad together, he needs a couple of old hands.

"We've got lots of young lads who are very fit, but I need experienced players to help them," he said.

Toman was appointed following the resignation of Paul Burton at the end of last season.

LONG-SERVING Billingham Town chairman Tommy Donnelly has decided to stand down.

Donnelly was one of the founder members of the club when it was formed as Billingham Social 30 years ago, and he has been one of the driving forces as the club has become one of the most respected in the league. He is still going to be involved in the club in come capacity.

SUNDERLAND RCA have signed former Darlington and Newcastle striker Paul Robinson as manager Steve Smith strengthens his squad for a promotion push.

Robinson, who was inadvertently at the centre of Newcastle boss Ruud Gullit's decision to drop Alan Shearer in his favour for a Sunderland derby game, was at Horden last season and joins his former boss Brian Honour on the coaching staff.

Also joining is former Darlington midfielder Stephen Thomas, who was at Whitby last season, Kevin Dixon who was at Blue Star, and keeper Simon Hall. Defenders Craig Peel and Nathan Dodds have also been recruited.

BEDLINGTON have appointed Lawrence Appleby as their new secretary to succeed Stan Gate, who left last month.

Appleby has held positions in the Northern League before, and during the summer ended two decades as kit man to Football League club Hereford.

HEBBURN have arranged to play a Sunderland XI in a fund raising friendly on Monday August 20th, kick off 7pm.

WHITLEY Bay manager Ian Chandler said that he was very pleased with Saturday's Cleator Cup win over Newcastle Benfield.

Champions Whitley won the first trophy of the season when they beat League Cup holders Benfield on penalties after the teams drew 2-2 in ninety minutes, and he said: "I had to shuffle players about, and we actually started the game with five centre forwards in different positions, plus we beat a team that has a very good chance of winning the league."

Summer signing from Jarrow Roofing, Paul Chow was one of the players who found the back of the net.

SECOND Division Stokesley have signed former Darlington midfielder Paul Campbell, who was at Bishop Auckland last season, and veteran striker Andy Fletcher, who has played for several Northern League clubs and was assistant manager at Bishop Auckland. Stokesley boss Ted Watts has also signed Johnny Humberstone (Harrogate RA), Dean Wilson (Bridlington Town), Dave Johnson (Whinny Banks), and Allan Price (Fishburn Park)