Credit where it's due, the column has again been scouring the small print - in this case the lengthy list of companies owed money by Darlington FC - on the public behalf.

The club owes for everything from hats to heaters, coffee to Calor gas, doors to discos.

The Inland Revenue is (in round terms) owed £461,000, Barclays Bank £336,000, Customs and Excise £241,000 and Plumbing Trade Supplies threepence.

It's there in black and white amid the figures issued by the administrator - an example, perhaps, of looking after the pennies.

PTS is based on the Cleveland Trading Estate - modernists call them business parks - in Darlington. We took a walk up yesterday and were delighted to discover that, despite the amount owed them, the company is still trading.

Bob Wray, the gaffer, wasn't around. Dave Whittaker, the supervisor - to whom we remain indebted - simply couldn't understand it.

"We didn't give the football club credit, always asked for everything cash up front," he said. "We didn't supply anything massive, mainly just fittings."

So what can you get from a plumbers' merchant for 3p. "Not very much," said Dave, helpfully.

Neither Mr Wray nor David Field, the administrator, has subsequently been available. In the hope of a drip-drip effect, perhaps, we shall seek change out of the threepenny bit next time. It's not written off yet.

A no less puzzling challenge from retired teacher Eddie Roberts in Richmond: how many autograph identities on this "fabulous" Liverpool plate can you even guess at?

It comes, of course, with all the usual guff: "stunning porcelain collector's plate", "unique and important club memento," "magnificent piece of football memorabilia."

The squad's signatures, adds the bumph risibly, "are as unique as the players themselves". Or perhaps as opaque.

As a starter - this is the column which names names - the signature in the position just after five past one is Michael Owen and the squiggle just after quarter past one is Vladimir Smicer.

By way of comparison, Eddie also encloses a page of entirely legible Everton autographs from his childhood and a Wales team from 1949 that's as clear as the air on Snowdon.

"Ah," he muses, "what price education."

A learning curve for another retired teacher of the column's acquaintance: Charlie Donaghy has won ten consecutive games in the Tow Law and District Domino League, each by three chalks to nil.

Local bookie Honest Kevin McCormick, a man about whom the phrase gift horse and mouth comes to mind, has calculated the odds at 1,031,696,864-1.

The secret? "I play the bug 'uns first," says Charlie.

Far-sighted only in retrospect, the column speculated ages ago about the identity of the international football captain who always wore glasses.

"It frustrated me, too," writes John Dodds from Tanfield Lea, near Stanley, "because I knew that somewhere I had a programme to prove it."

Finally he's found it, decked out in red, white and blue for the England B v Holland B match at St James' Park, February 22, 1950. On the back cover, suitably goggle- eyed, is a photograph of J H Stoffelen, Holland's left half and skipper, who'd already won seven full caps.

B international it might have been, but there seemed nothing second best about England's forward line - Walters, Mannion, Lofthouse, Shackleton and Mullen. Further North-East interest was provided by Boldon Colliery-born goalkeeper Ray Middleton, signed by Chesterfield from Washington Chemicals, and by his Chesterfield teammate Stan Milburn, Jackie's cousin.

Though England won 1-0, the 43,068 crowd had little over which to enthuse. "Even the most biased England fan could not claim that this even slightly resembled a representative side," wrote Tynesider in the following day's Echo.

As for poor old Stoffelen, he never got a look in.

February 22 1950 was also the eve of the general election, won narrowly by Attlee for Labour. The back pages reported that Sunderland legend Bobby Gurney had resigned as Horden CW's manager to become secretary/manager at Peterborough, that 18-year-old John Charles was to win his first Welsh cap, that the material for Tow Law's new stand had arrived and that a 21-year-old squaddie on Newcastle United's books had impressed in the Army's 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa. His name, bless him, was Bob Stokoe.

Friday's recollections of the 1964 FA Cup quarter-final replay at Roker Park - two dead, 47 taken to hospital, 50,000 locked out - stirred schoolboy memories for Arthur Pickering.

Then doing O levels in Hartlepool, now one of the head lads at Tyne Tees Television, he was supposed to be watching Hamlet - "part of the syllabus" - at Sunderland Empire but, decanted from the bus, nicked off in the opposite direction.

One of many to get in free after a gate collapsed, he was one of few to have his shoes covered by someone's discarded egg and tomato sandwiches, suitably red and white.

"My parents and the school still thought me and my mate were at the Empire because we got back in time to catch the coach back to Hartlepool," recalls Arthur and - as usual - the Bard has something to say about it, too.

Hamlet act 1 scene 2: "A truant disposition, good my lord."

Heaven only knows where Friday's column had its head. The former Suffolk and Billingham Synthonia cricketer now bowling them over at the White Swan in Evenwood is Andy Poole, not Andy Dunlop as, inexplicably, we said. Apologies.

On Saturday to Esh Winning, that most scenic of football grounds, where the numbers also included Peter Mann - compiling a history of Esh Winning football since it kicked off in 1889.

There've been Albion, Rangers, Pineapple - named after a village workmen's club - and plain Esh Winning. There've been players like Raich Carter and George Camsell and endless heroes off the field.

Born and raised in the village, Peter would welcome information, anecdotes and photographs from anyone who's been involved with Esh Winning football down the years.

He's at 40B Broomside Lane, Belmont, Durham DH1 2QR. Presumably having eschewed Sing When You're Esh Winning, he'll call the book A Passion for Home.

And finally...

The first player to make 100 appearances for four different Football League clubs (Backtrack, February 13) was Alan Ball - Blackpool, Everton, Arsenal and Southampton.

Fred Alderton in Peterlee today seeks the identity of the footballer who made a record 57 Wembley appearances.

A few more than that beneath its belt, the column returns on Friday.

Published: 17/02/2004