NOT for the first time, a picture of West Auckland's 1911 "World Cup" winning team - 6-1 against Juventus - appeared in the column a couple of weeks back.

"That's my Uncle Joe, " thought Marjorie Baxter and from that realization followed a wonderfully nostalgic evening that became a cross between the Football Family Robinson and Billy Kelly's doorstep.

Marjorie's 81, looks 15 years younger, now lives in Richmond. Billy Robinson, Joe's brother, played in the Darlington side which in 1924-25 reached the old second division; Billy Kelly, her first husband, captained the Quakers after the war and died, aged 50, on the football field.

Cuttings and pictures spill from a busting brown envelope; Marjorie pours yet more effusively. "I want to get it off my chest while I can still remember it, " she says.

The West Auckland story is well known, of course, and will be still more regularly rehearsed as the centenary of that astonishing double triumph approaches.

Joe was one of three brothers - "originally belonged Willington, " she says, as Co Durham folk should - her own father a football follower who lost a leg in the First World War and worked for 50 years as a joiner for Blackett's in Darlington.

Billy - Ginger, inevitably - was Willington's centre half when he was 16, made 155 first team appearances for Darlington, moved to Southend and Carlisle before returning as Darlington's assistant trainer.

"A grand player, " noted the Northern Despatch when he died. "A man whom everyone respected, " said David Brown, his team-mate.

Then there was Billy Kelly, bustling Billy Kelly, who signed for the Quakers when still just 18 in 1937, totalled almost 300 first team appearances including war time games - every position including goal - made his debut for Cockerton in the Darlington and District League at the still enthusiastic age of 46.

"Always a football man, " says Marjorie. "He suffered broken ribs, concussion, all sorts of things, but he couldn't wait to get back on to the field. He was never dirty, just a player who got stuck in." "Always put his heart and soul into his work, " said the programme, priced twopence, when Billy was awarded a benefit match after 12 years.

"One of the most popular players Darlington ever had, " said Quaker in the Despatch.

In the war, he'd played on the hill top for Stanley United, watched by his young wife.

"Funny pitch, cold place, warm welcome, " recalls Marjorie - nothing's changed - and also that, because confectionery coupons were almost as short as money, he'd come back with a box of toffees from the sweet factory down in Crook.

(A little consultation suggests that this was Horn's, owner Tommy Horn a lifelong Stanley United follower. Wasn't it Laurel toffee which they made? ) Billy, a faithful Catholic, is also credited with persuading Fr John Caden - then a young Darlington curate, subsequently Tony Blair's tennis partner - to keep goal for the Reserves. The curate did, listed only as A N Other, and never dared confess to the parish priest.

Billy's benefit came in September 1949, Spurs' Bill Nicholson and Manchester United's Allenby Chilton among the "Select XI" opposition. "It was quite useful, " says Marjorie, "he made very, very little from football." Other once familiar names like Dickie Deacon, Billy Forrest and John Hunter (of the North) pepper the conversation like well-aimed blasts from the past.

Another cutting, the following season, shows Billy receiving the Durham Senior Cup after Quakers' 1-0 victory over Sunderland - Shackleton, Broadis, Mapson and all - Darlington not alone in going through the hoops.

The Darlington players each received a tankard and a cigarette case, Billy's victory speech hoping that Sunderland would still go on to clinch the first division championship.

They finished third, a point behind Portsmouth and Wolves.

After a short spell at York City, he played for Horden in the North Eastern League, helped his wife run a grocery shop, became a rent collector for Northallerton council and caretaker of the Mechanics Institute in Darlington.

"Almost a gentlemen's club, very big on billiards, " says Marjorie.

"Where they put their horses on, " adds George, her 86-yearold second husband.

With once familiar players like Stan Anderson, Jimmy Greenhalgh and Derek Stonehouse, Billy also helped form two teams - the All Stars and the Croft Exhibitionists - to raise money for charity.

"It was after the 1966 World Cup, " Marjorie recalls.

"People were forming football teams all over the place.

I think Billy was the eldest, but he didn't need asking twice." He'd collapsed after a testimonial match for the Feethams groundsman just before Christmas 1969, spent a couple of days in bed and returned uncomplaining to his football.

On January 18, 1970, however, Billy Kelly died after ten minutes of a match between the Exhibitionists and Romanby, and was very greatly mourned.

"People said it was a good way to go, " says Marjorie, "but it wasn't if you were one of his family." Another headline, one of ours, professed mystery over his age. "There never was a mystery, " she says. "He just didn't much talk about it." A tribute letter spoke of a man who played football for the love of it, not for anything he'd gain financially.

Marjorie agrees. "Just football daft, " she says with manifest affection.

"The men in our family have always been the same."

Backtrack Briefs....

A FEW rounds of ham and peas pudding sandwiches with Brooks Mileson help disclose yet another record in sight for his adopted Gretna FC.

Already they're closing on the all-time British goals to games record over a season, already in flying doctor Kenny Deuchar they have the current world goals to games leader.

"The next nearest is in Czechoslovakia or somewhere, " says Brooks, the Sunderland-born entrepreneur and former British junior cross-country champion, dismissively.

Should Gretna win and Cowdenbeath lose tomorrow, Gretna will be promoted on February 19 ? the earliest, it's believed, in British football history.

On a rather more sedate note, a Sunday Post profile a fortnight ago noted that a couple of African tortoises were the latest additions to the animal sanctuary at Brooks's Cumbrian home.

Last weekend, two more had mysteriously appeared in the Gretna club office, together with a note from their Dundee based owner.

"They couldn't settle, " she said.

SUNDERLAND fan Paul Dobson may also have been unable to settle after claim and counter claim in recent columns over unbeaten European home records.

The original suggestion that Sunderland were the only club to have remained unconquered on English soil - after just two games in 197374 - was challenged by Ipswich exile David Blake, who claimed 30 for the Tractor Boys.

"I think you'll find, " writes Paul from Bishop Auckland, "that Ipswich lost 2-4 to Port Vale in the semi-final of the Anglo-Italian Cup.

"Sunderland remain the only side undefeated at home in European competition."

ALMOST 40 years ago, March 6, 1965, Whitby Town drew 0-0 at Harwich and Parkeston in the FA Amateur Cup quarterfinal.

"It was my 15 minutes of fame. They even had it on Anglian television, " says Brian O'Connor, a little wistfully. Well-known in the Darlington leagues, the winger had played for Bowburn CW and for West Auckland and was signed by Whitby apparently to strengthen the Seasiders' chances of a first Wembley appearance.

Whitby folk may remember the day for other reasons, also - the last time rail services ran from there to York and Scarborough (or for that matter between Crook and Bishop Auckland. ) Brian was dropped for the replay - "I wouldn't care, I thought I'd done quite well" - and never featured again.

Whitby reached the final, losing 3-1 to Hendon.

Anniversary imminent, Brian would love to find a memento - "newspaper cutting, programme, anything" - of that famed 15 minutes. He's on 01325 356312.

APPROACHING their 175th anniversary, Durham City Cricket Club members are compiling a commemorative book with a difference - a catalogue, with location maps and directions, of all Saturday cricket grounds within the true county boundaries of Tyne and Tees.

So far, to some surprise, they can locate just 108 - the last of them Cowpen Bewley, near Billingham. "Now all I have to do is learn how to pronounce it, " says Frank Orr, one of the authors. More of that as the sap rises.

OLD, old story, Middlesbrough Council is organising a football tournament for the Over 55s - backed by the Primary Health Care Trust.

"It's a chance for some of our older players to show that there are some skills which never desert you, " says senior sports development officer Jimmy Wattis, who managed Shildon when he was very much younger.

Called the Middlesbrough 290 Masters - because 290 is the minimum age of the squad - the tournament is at the Rainbow Leisure Centre on the evening of March 14.

Details from Wattis name on 01642 352120.

And finally...

THE sports personality formally known as Mrs Gary Lough (Backtrack, February 15) would be more easily recognised as Paula Radcliffe.

Among those who knew was Keith Bond in Brompton-on-Swale, Richmond, who in turn invites readers to list the 23 different suffixes for teams in the Premiership and Football League.

"Dons" and "Bournemouth" are two. The other 21, with luck, when the column returns from its travels on Tuesday.

Published: 18/02/2005