IN February 2001, the first cases of Foot and Mouth Disease were detected in the UK, and within weeks the outbreak had spread across all parts of the country. The impact upon farming, tourism, and leisure was devastating. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had to place restrictions on movements in and around playing fields where livestock roamed.

Notices went up in Bondisle, Stanhope, which affected Stanhope Town FC, and at the Wearhead playing field, which affected Wearhead United FC. Both clubs played in the Crook and District Second Division and had a derby game to play. Nothing was at stake, just the local bragging rights, and the desire to play the derby which went back almost a 100 years.

The Wearhead secretary Dennis Mathwin tried a number of alternatives, but no council pitches were available fir the game, while many of the pitches outside the council's control were waterlogged following weeks of incessant rainfall.

Stanhope Town chairman Clement O'Donovan then hit on an idea which was more in hope than expectation. He wrote a letter to his Sunderland counterpart Bob Murray, highlighting numerous similarities that bonded the three clubs, and asked the Sunderland man for the loan of the Premier Division Stadium of Light to play the Crook and District League fixture.

"Can you make May 7?" was the Sunderland response.

The answer was an overwhelming "yes" and so, 20 years ago, on Bank Holiday Monday, May 7, 2001, every bus and coach in Weardale made its way down river to Monkwearmouth where over 900 supporters filled the West Stand in the 49,000 seater stadium to cheer on both teams.

Brian Clough's sister Doreen rang Clement for a ticket, as did the future Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong. Banners proclaiming "Who needs Sven when we got Clem" appeared in the famous West Stand, a reference to the England team manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.

At 3pm, the teams were led out by their respective managers, Gavin Stephenson for Stanhope and Colin Coulthard for Wearhead, with captains Rob O'Dell (Stanhope) and Mark Peart (Wearhead) following Shildon referee Tommy Lye and his assistants Alex Newman and Andrew Palmer onto the pitch to the Baroque sound of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

Unfortunately, the game's organiser, Stanhope chairman O'Donovan was incarcerated in the changing room lift while all this was going on. He didn't know the special four digit code to navigate the lift so he missed the first 15 minutes of the game. He would have missed even more if a security guard had not been going outside for a cigarette.

Wearhead took the lead in the 25th minute with a goal from Paul Redford. Stanhope drew level four minutes later through Wayne Fletcher. Three minutes after the interval, Darren Fletcher gave Stanhope to a 2-1 lead only for Paul Tennick to equalize with 11 minutes to go, and the match ended 2-2.

In between the goals, there were masterclass performances from Andrew Featherstone and Derek Elliott who played as if they were regulars on the pitch.

The irony was not lost that Wearhead scorer Paul Tennick's father, Ian, and late uncle Alan, were both Stanhope players in an earlier era.

Almost a thousand folk tripped the light fantastic back to Weardale after watching the greatest derby in the dale's history.

Stanhope Town. Officials: Chairman Clement O'Donovan, Secretary David Bee, Treasurer Alan Barker, Player-Manager Gavin Stephenson. Committee: Leslie Thompson, Barbara Thompson, David Rutherford, Sarah Navin. Players: Craig Allan, Paul Campbell, John Croker, Alan Dakers, Christopher Davies, Christopher Ellison, Mark Ellison, Andrew Featherstone, Darren Fletcher, Wayne Fletcher, Louis Frazer, Allan Harrison, Martin Humble, David Kirwin, Christopher Lee, Tim McKellar, John Nicholson, Will Noble, Robert O'Dell (capt), Stuart O'Dell, Gavin Stephenson, David Stephenson, Christopher Tinkler, Neil Vayro, Trevor Wright.

Wearhead United officials: President Ian Emmerson, Chairman Brian Peart, Secretary Dennis Mathwin, Treasurer Clifford Dalton, Manager Colin Coulthard. Committee: Michael English, Raymond Snaith, Nick Raynor, Norman Emmerson, Ivor Graham, Alec Thompson. Players: Stuart Andrews, Michael Barrass, Darren Bell, Michael Bibby, Peter Bouweraerts, Alan Breeze, Kevin Coulthard, Michael Coulthard, Craig Dalton, Michael Dobson, Derek Elliott, Ian Hamilton, Dennis Mathwin, Paul McCain, John Mills, Richard Needham, Christopher Oliver, Kevin Peart, Mark Peart (capt), Paul Redford,, Peter Robson, Mark Tate, Paul Tennick, Carl Trusler, Carl Tunstall, Kevin Walker, Michael Watson, Barry Wilson.

l Thanks this week to Clement O'Donovan, Geoff and Barbara Wood of the Durham Amateur Trust and Michael Burke.