PEOPLE gathered at Stanley Village Hall on Saturday, May 14, for the launch of a book by Mike Amos called Prairie Stories which tells the story of the village of Stanley, near Crook in County Durham, with lots of references to Stanley United Football Club.

People of my generation who supported Crook Town, just down the road, would say that in the 1950s and 1960s a game against Stanley, like a game against Bishop Auckland, was a tough fixture whether it was at home or away, as the “Hilltoppers” were good enough to win the Northern League title in 1945-46, 1961-62 and 1963-64.

The Northern Echo: The Stanley United team that won the Northern League championship in 1945-46  Back L- R   Owens, Coates, Battersby, Beckham, Taylor, Plank (capt), Front L-R Dixon, Nevin, R.Smart, Walmsley, N.Smart.

The Stanley United team that won the Northern League championship in 1945-46. Back, left to right: Owens, Coates, Battersby, Beckham, Taylor, Plank (capt). Front: R Dixon, Nevin, R Smart, Walmsley, N Smart

What we can't understand is why the Hilltoppers never cut much ice in the FA Amateur Cup or the FA Cup. The only ice that was cut was in the goalmouths to make the ground safe for the goalkeepers.

Talking of ice, perhaps Crook Town's greatest display at Stanley was on an icebound pitch in an Amateur Cup 1st Round replay on January 18, 1964, after a 1-1 draw at Crook. Crook coach George Wardle brought baseball boots for his players to play in, and the rubber soles made it easier for his players to get a grip on the icy surface. Veteran Seamus O'Connell played his greatest game in an amber shirt to hit a hat trick, and with further goals from Lumsdon and Weir, Crook won 5-1. How many teams won by that margin at Stanley?

Stanley made just one semi-final appearance in the Amateur Cup, and that was against Tufnell Park at Bishop Auckland in the 1919-20 season, a game they lost 1-0.

Their only appearance in the 1st Round of the FA Cup was in the 1954-55 season after they beat Wolsingham Welfare 5-1 in the 4th Qualifying Round with P.Brown, 2, D Brown, Knapper and Summerson their scorers. Turnbull replied for Wolsingham.

In the 1st Round, the Hilltoppers had to visit the Millfield ground of Crook, where again they did not cut any ice and lost 5-3, Harrison, 2, Armstrong, McMillan and Taylor were the Crook scorers and Hepple, 2, and Bell scored for Stanley.

Sometimes we used to think the draw for the early rounds of the Amateur Cup and the FA Cup was rigged because of the number of times Crook, Stanley and Bishop Auckland met each other in the early rounds of both competitions.

The Northern Echo: A Stanley team in their championship season of 1963-64

A Stanley team in their championship season of 1963-64 

George Siddle, formerly of Stanley and supporter of the Hilltoppers, who now lives in Bishop Auckland, was at the book launch and recalled: "We didn't like Crook, because they were a bigger and more successful club than us. We loved to beat them, not that it happened very often."

This is backed up by a comment in the book by a former Crook player, who said, "When I played for Bishop Auckland at Stanley we got a tremendous spread. When I went with Crook we were lucky to get a sandwich."

George added: "I once met Dougie Raine, a long time after he had retired from playing, I greeted him but he didn't recognise me, so I said that I had watched him play for Stanley in the 1960s. Oh, said Doug, that was when I was paid more money for playing football on a Saturday than I was paid for a week’s work at the pit."

George also recalled Geoff Strong and an FA Cup Preliminary game at Wingate Welfare. "We won 11-2 with Eddie Appleby, Ronnie Thompson and Geoff Strong all hitting hat-tricks. Some of those hat-trick men were on basic expenses with 10 shillings for every goal they scored. On the bus going back, the committee had to have a whip round in order to pay the players the money they were owed."

Bob Thursby, who played a season at Stanley before joining Bishop Auckland for the 1956-57 season, remembered a winter’s day at the Hilltop.

“It was bitter, so cold that I wore two or three jumpers, a top coat, scarf, gloves, the lot,” he said. “Even then, when I arrived at the ground, I went to sit in front of the fire in the committee room. As I sat huddled up, warming my hands, the committee men arrived. "Canny day, canny day," said one. "Not bad today, not bad at all," said another. "We've got a good day today," said someone else. I was absolutely nithered."

Vince Kirkup, who spent three decades or more at Stanley as a player, manager, secretary or chairman and possibly sometimes as all four together, says in the book: "Even when it was freezing there was a warmth about the place."

That must be why so many former players say Stanley was the best club they played for.

The Northern Echo: Mike Amos on the right, together with his book Prairie Stories and Bob Thursby, a former Stanley United player, at the book launch in Stanley Village Hall on Saturday May 14.

Mike Amos on the right, with his book Prairie Stories, and Bob Thursby, a former Stanley United player, at the launch in Stanley Village Hall on May 14

  • Prairie Stories is £12 and £4 postage from Mike Amos. Email
  • Thanks this week to Dave Kidd and Arnold Alton.