KEITH BELTON, who passed away in September and whose life was recalled at his funeral on Thursday, was a good friend.

We first met in May 2003, at half-time, during the Shildon against Billingham Synthonia Northern League Challenge Cup final, possibly the last competitive game at Feethams.

Over a cup of tea, we recalled a fantastic time in south-west Durham when, in the 15 years from 1950-64, the FA Amateur Cup came back to the region eight times: to Bishop Auckland in 1955, 1956 and 1957, to Crook in 1954, 1959, 1962 and 1964, and Willington in 1950, while West Auckland lost the final in 1961 and a semi-final to Crook in 1962.

All four south-west Durham towns are separated by nothing more than five or 10 miles of road or rail.

We recalled the crowds, 92,000 at Wembley for Bishop Auckland against Willington in 1950, and 100,000 at Wembley in 1954 for Bishop Auckland against Crook Town. It was, and still is, an incredible story.

We made plans to form a group whose job would be to preserve, talk about, and put on displa, the memories and memorabilia from that golden age.

The Durham Amateur Football Trust was formed in 2004, with Keith as chairman. Secretary Dick Longstaff said: "Keith was very enthusiastic, his contribution was the backbone of the trust."

Keith was a one off, a bit of a maverick. He had his own way of doing things, but what a life he lived. As a youngster he sang and played the accordion around the local chapels, joined a skiffle group, and then he found jazz, which became a lifelong love affair, along with his other loves of Bishop Auckland FC and Sunderland FC

He went to Bishop Auckland Grammar School and classmate Dennis Wearmouth said: "Keith loved comics, especially the action stories in them. He often used words like zap and zoom, all taken from the comics."

His first job after getting married in 1961 was in the planning and development department of Scarborough council where he was proud to design some public toilets. He moved to Aycliffe Development Corporation in the 1960s, and in the early 1970s to Washington corporation, where he was the happiest. He passed his architectural exam on December 11, 1967, and up to his death ran a property business. Sometimes he would point across a street and say: "See that archway over there, I designed that."

The Northern Echo: The Tees Valley Jazzmen perform in Bishop Auckland.

After his schooldays, Keith's love of jazz took over and with his late brother Gavin, he formed the Tees Valley Jazzmen. They made their debut at Hardwick Hall in Sedgefield in 1970 and went on to play across Britain and on four continents.

Keith once said of those early days: "I got 1/6d, and when we had a fiver between us we thought we were well away."

He also said: "We'll play as long as we are standing." He was true to his word because until Covid, he was still knocking out the songs and the music at the Corner Cafe, and then the Sportsman in Bishop Auckland market place.

It tickled him pink when Wycombe Wanderers were promoted into the Championship in 2020, because when he was leaving the ground after Bishop had beaten Wycombe Wanderers in an amateur cup semi-final in the 1950s, he overhead one Wycombe fan say to another: "We'll never beat Bishop. They bring players in from all over the country." Keith couldn't get over the fact that Wycombe were now playing in a higher standard of football than Sunderland.

History was also a passion, and together with his cousin Ken Biggs and Dale Daniel, he co-wrote Forever Paradise, a 140 page history of Witton Park

He also made an immense contribution to my book Hopes and Heroes, about that golden footballing age, adding items of memorabilia and his own personal memories. He never complained, always delivered on time, and his memories were like dipping into an Aladdin's Cave: exciting, interesting and always entertaining. Sadly, we'll never hear them again.

WE are also sad to report the passing of Martin Burleigh, who made 222 Football League appearances for Newcastle United, Darlington, Carlisle and Hartlepool as well as turning out for non-league Willington, Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor and Langley Park. Arnold Alton can remember Martin training with Willington when he was only 12. "Even at that age you could see what a good prospect he was," said Arnold.

Dennis Dolphin too has left us. A member of the famous Dolphin family from Crook, he was associated with Crook Town FC and many other local football and cricket clubs.