"I DON'T believe it, I don't believe it," cried the voice at the other end of the telephone. "Wycombe Wanderers, never, ever, beat Bishop Auckland in the Amateur Cup, and yet now they are playing in the Championship, one league above Sunderland. It's unbelievable!"

It was my friend Keith Belton at the start of this season, as Wycombe started in the Championship for the first time in their history while Sunderland had slipped down into League One.

Keith is right. Wanderers never beat Bishop in the Amateur Cup. They met four times in the competition with Bishop winning all four: 6-2 in Round 4 at Kingsway in 1947-48, 2-1 in a semi-final at Brentford in 1950, 1-0 in the 1955 semi-final at Doncaster and then 3-1 in the final at Wembley.

However, in the 1981-82 season, when Bishop were still in the Northern League and Wycombe still in the Isthmian League, they were paired together in the Round 3 of the FA Trophy at Wycombe. On that occasion, Wycombe won 4-1 as they made their way to the semi-final where they lost to Altrincham.

Still, Wycombe's rise represent a massive turnaround in fortunes, and if that little story is not a wake-up call for football clubs in our region, then what is?

Only last week we highlighted the fact that Sunderland's last FA Cup win was nearly 50 years ago in 1973, and their last First Division title more than 80 years ago in 1936. It is approaching 94 years, in 1927, since Newcastle last won the top division and more than 65 years since 1955 when they won the FA Cup.

The Boro, though, did win the League Cup in 2004, but have never won the top division or the FA Cup.

It's not a good summary. What has gone wrong?

At Sunderland, were Mick McCarthy (sacked) Martin O'Neill (sacked),Chris Coleman (sacked), Gus Poyet (sacked), and David Moyes (resigned) all bad managers? Or did the Cats lose good managers, but keep poor players who no manager could do anything with.

Comments often heard from the fans were that "they need shaking up" or "there's no passion", but if lads aged 18 to 30 who receive the best training, eat the best food, have warm changing rooms with showers, play on a level playing surface rolled to perfection with a manager, coaches, physios, doctors and dieticians, plus an army of fans on the terraces, if they can't perk up and give their all for 90 or 180 minutes a week, then something's not right.

Ask any local footballer who has played football up at Wearhead in the middle of winter on their sloping bumpy pitch, in gale force winds, freezing temperatures and driving snow, with only a couple of lads from the pub, the odd stray cat, and some inquisitive sheep on the hillside as spectators. Did they need motivating to give their all and play with some spirit? Not likely. A hot drink after the game, someone to help their numb fingers fasten the buttons on their shirts and trousers, yes, but a problem with motivation, no.

We are all aware of the situation at St James' Park, but the Boro deserve some credit. You can't say Steve Gibson hasn't thrown some money at it. The home dressing room at the Riverside has seen international stars like Bryan Robson, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho, Paul Gascoigne, Andy Townsend, Paul Ince, Christian Ziege, Christian Karembeu, Alen Boksic, and Boro have always give youth a chance.

But too many good, young footballers have been allowed to leave the North-East. Could you see Brian Clough or Sir Alex Ferguson, as they tried to build a team at Sunderland, allowing young players like Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson to leave? No way.

So grab a pen and a bit of paper and write down how many talented young players you can remember since the Second World War who were either brought up in the North-East or who started their professional football careers with Middlesbrough, Newcastle or Sunderland and then went on to bigger and better things elsewhere, by winning a Division One or Premier League medal, an FA Cup medal, a Champions League medal or simply an England cap. Then pick them in a team – but you can't select any of these big names, because they are playing for me in a 4-4-2 formation: Jordan Pickford; Barry Venison, Colin Todd, Gary Pallister, Cyril Knowles; Stuart Ripley, Colin Bell, Jordan Henderson, Chris Waddle; Bobby Charlton and Dave 'Ticer' Thomas.

Not a bad side. Can you do better? Email your team to me, john.mphelan@yahoo.co.uk. The more obscure the players, the better. We will publish the best ones and the team which is judged will win our championship will win a copy of my book, Hopes and Heroes, which tells the story of the FA Cup and the progress made in the competition by the teams from the towns and villages of south-west Durham.