After a season in which his Gretna team broke just about every record in Scottish football - and quite a few worldwide - Sunderland-born entrepreneur Brooks Mileson is looking across the sea to Ireland.

Brian Quigley, Mileson's right-hand man in the Durham based Arngrove Group, was confirmed at the weekend as the new owner of Shamrock Rovers - from 11 bidders. "He's had a bit of help," says Mileson, modestly.

Whether it proves to be lucky Shamrock is another matter. The once thriving club has debts of around 2.5 million Euros (around £1.5m) and earlier this month had eight points deducted by the FA of Ireland after "irregularities" were discovered in its 2005 licensing application after which the chairman and entire board resigned.

A third of the way through the Irish season, Rovers - known throughout Ireland as the Hoops - are thus bottom of the league with five points from 11 matches.

"I expect us to finish in mid-table and next season to qualify for Europe," says Quigley, who will commute from his home in Chester-le-Street. "Shamrock Rovers are the Manchester United of Irish football and it's our group's intention to put them back at the top of the Irish game. We'll be in Europe before Gretna are."

Brooks Mileson, a former international cross country runner, isn't hanging about in the Scottish League, either. "I taught him all he knows about football," he says.

"If he's going to get Shamrock Rovers into Europe before Gretna, he's going to have to be bloody quick."

* Ireland's best known Brian Quigley was hitherto the blarney businessman in Ballykissangel. The situation is likely to change.

Barry Parnaby, one of the indomitable pack of veteran runners who for years have brightened these columns, is in the University Hospital of North Durham after a severe stroke.

"The doctors say that if he hadn't been so fit, his body mightn't have been able to stand it," says Catherine Parnaby, Barry's wife.

"He's paralysed down his left hand side but they're hoping for movement in three weeks. He still hasn't lost his sense of humour."

Kelloe lad and former caretaker of the village school, Barry was once so unfit - emphysemia after years down the pit - that he had to have two rests just getting up the stairs.

Since following his daughter to Durham City Harriers he's won numerous national veterans' titles, training until a few years ago with Len "the Leap" Watson, of fond memory.

Since he's 73, might the stroke also suggest a last lap for Barry's athletic career? "Oh I don't know about that," says Mrs Parnaby. "You know Barry...."

His e-mail enticingly entitled "A free night out", Clem O'Donovan seeks help in reuniting old friends to mark the 50th anniversary of the Crook and District League.

While he's most welcome, the number of column inches is unlikely to exceed those the last time that Clem and his band of brothers featured prominently hereabouts.

It was May 2001, the foot and mouth crisis still upon us. Since the grounds at both Stanhope Town and Wearhead United were out of bounds, Clem arranged to play the match between the two sides at the Stadium of Light instead.

In those days the league had just eight members - Stanhope seventh, Wearhead eighth; when the 50th anniversary season kicks off in August, there'll be 22 teams (at the last count) in two divisions.

Eight buses and many more cars left on the Crook's tour for Sunderland - "only the animal pyres still clouding the Weardale sky cast a reminder of the reality behind the extraordinary romance," the Backtrack column observed.

You could tell it was a big game, we added, because a Stanhope player had eschewed his usual pre-match pork pie and was eating a banana.

The crowd was 913, about 900 more than normal when Stanhope met Wearhead, the score 2-2, the occasion utterly unforgettable.

Clem, both league vice-chairman and (he says) its "worst and oldest" player, points out that 1956 also marked the birth of the Hovercraft and the death of Clarence Birdseye, he of the frozen fish fingers.

The Platters were number one with My Prayer, Doris Day won a singing Oscar for Que Sera Sera and a ton of good quality coal cost £8 14s 6d.

The anniversary dinner - aka Golden Ball, otherwise Free Night Out - is at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on August 6, before which they'd like to hear from anyone previously connected with the league or its clubs and would particularly welcome news of anyone connected with Bankhead Sports Club, the inaugural champions.

Clem's on 01388 528532, league secretary Trevor Hudspeth is on 01388 762805, or behind the bar at the Sun Inn in Crook.

Still with friends reunited, former Hartlepool United chairman Garry Gibson (Backtrack, May 27) is hoping to invite his old mate David Morgan and his wife Janice - High Hesleden lad, Shotton lass - to his wedding in Edinburgh in July. Garry's lost touch; we'll happily join them together.

Home and where the heart is, the column presented the awards on Saturday at Shildon Railway FC's presentation night.

As previously we have reported, a glittering haul of five trophies - including the Durham Alliance League league and cup double - coincided perfectly with the club's golden jubilee.

Star striker Ian Maddison went home on Saturday with another cupboard full of trophies, from both club and league.

The club has also been invited to play a pre-season friendly in Jersey but - "totally skint after a gargantuan fixture list" says Alan Moreland - are hoping for a sponsor. Secretary Robert Nicholson is on 01388 772380.

Among individual recipients was former Darlington and Hartlepool goalie Phil Owers, still keeping very well by every account but - since he's now 50 - needing to leave a bit early. "I'm off for a two month lie down," said Phil.

While the Railway footballers have carried all before them, the cricketers continue to find life difficult - though the second team won on Saturday for the third time this season.

For five days from next Monday, the ever hospitable club hosts a three-way tournament between Durham University, Cumbria Under 23s and Leinster CC from Ireland - bar and refreshments every day.

There'll be 40 over matches at 2pm on Monday and Tuesday, three Twenty-20 games from 11am on Wednesday, Twenty-20 and 40 overs from 11am on Thursday and a final at 2pm on Friday. All, of course, are most welcome.

And finally...

The former Arsenal player and Darlington manager who hailed from Wheatley Hill (Backtrack, May 27) was, of course, Eddie Carr.

We end where we started: in which Irish city do Shamrock Rovers play. More emeralds on Friday.

Published: 31/05/2005