WHEN it came to the early rounds of the FA Cup, Oldham Athletic were no strangers to the North-East. They visited in 1925-26 (to Stockton when they won 6-4), 1950-51 (Hartlepools, won 2-1), 1959-60 (Shildon, drew 1-1 with a debatable late goal, won replay 3-0) and twice in 1964-65 when they beat Crook Town 1-0 in the second round but lost 6-2 to Middlesbrough in the third round.

And then 55 years ago, on Saturday, December 4, 1965, they were back for an FA Cup second round tie at Feethams against Fourth Division Darlington, who had beaten Bradford City 3-2 at home in the first round in a pulsating tie, with the winning goal coming in the last minute from Brian Conlon (Cummings and Greener the other scorers).

The tie at Feethams was labelled "Operation Snowshift" because it took an army of volunteers hours to get the pitch fit after a heavy fall of snow. The game itself was a bad tempered affair, won by Oldham with a second half strike from left winger Dearden. Referee Ray Harper from Sheffield did not make himself popular with the Feethams faithful when he turned down two penalty appeals, and was subsequently pelted with snowballs by a section of the home fans.

The Northern Echo's Bob James wrote of Mr Harper: "How he managed to break up four or five fist fights without taking any names is beyond me." Quaker in the Northern Despatch match report said: "Ttempers flared and Yeoman was involved in a fierce scrummage with two Oldham players. The game looked like cutting up rough."

Les O'Neill, the Darlington inside right, was injured just after the start of the game and limped throughout, but substitutes, although allowed in league games, were not allowed in cup ties. That prompted Darlington manager Lol Morgan to say: "I can't for the life of me understand why substitutes are not allowed in the FA Cup. The reason why the injury sub came in was because so many show games like cup ties, particularly cup finals, were being ruined by injuries. Everybody cried out for substitutes, so the Football League brought them in. Clubs don't abuse the system in the league, and I don't think they would in cup ties. It doesn't make sense."

Darlington, though. were out. In the third round, Third Division Oldham obtained a plum draw at home to First Division West Ham, who had won the FA Cup just two seasons earlier. The score was 2-2 at Oldham, with Blore getting both Oldham goals while Burnett and future World Cup hero Geoff Hurst netted for the Hammers. The London side won the replay at Upton Park 2-1 with Hurst and Brabrook the scorers, Pennington replying for Oldham.

LAST Saturday we did not realise that Whitby Town were still a Northern League club when they hit four goals at Third Division Hull City in an FA Cup Round 1 replay on November 26, 1996 (Pitman 3 ( 2 pens), Robinson.) Hull however hit eight (Darby 6, Peacock, Mann) after the game went into extra-time.

Thanks to Dave Kidd and Michael Burke this week.