A day before the big match - Shildon's first FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie for 42 years - and club chairman Gordon Hampton is finding it all rather hair raising.

Gordon, 50-year-old boss of a Ferryhill based road sign manufacturer, had a barber's appointment on the day of the preliminary round, back in August.

He missed the appointment, but made the match. "It just felt like an omen," he insists. "I vowed there and then not to have it cut until we got knocked out of the FA Cup."

Unfortunately, he wasn't even in good trim in the summer. Now he wears his hair in a pony tail or, as they say, simply lets it all hang out.

"To be honest, I'm dying to get rid of it but I can hardly do it now," he says. "It's a change not just to be tearing it out."

Whilst the cup itself was being paraded around the Dean Street ground yesterday, the chairman's thoughts were on the head turning match against Stocksbridge Park Steels.

"Arsenal and Manchester United might have something to say about us winning the FA Cup, but I think we can win the Vase," he says.

The cruelest cut of all, then? "I know my hair's getting a little bit out of hand, but I think the barber will be keeping his scissors in his pocket for a little while yet."

l Shildon manager Ray Gowan also works for Ashfield, the chairman's group of companies - rebuked by the local council after the last round for placing "Cup fever" road signs around the town. Should any inadvertently appear before tomorrow, Mr Gowan - a Cockney gentleman - wishes to deny all responsibility. "It wasn't me guv," he says. "Honest."

Tomorrow's other big games, as we have been saying, are Dunston v Lancaster in the Cup and at Tow Law, where the club plays its 2,563rd Northern League match - overtaking South Bank's long held league record.

There'll be a players' reunion - all most welcome - an exhibition of the Lawyers down the years and a chance to watch film of the 5-1 FA Cup win over Mansfield in 1967.

The club's first Northern League match was on September 22 1894, coincidentally at South Bank, when The Northern Echo offered ample coverage to the Northern League and struggled even to print the scores from Sunderland and Newcastle in the Football League.

The Tow Law match report was vivid: "the ground was in grand condition and a large company had gathered to witness the match."

Just one problem: we omitted to mention any of the scorers.

A mixed week for the Harmison family: a few hours before Steve's five wicket haul against Bangladesh, his younger brother James was sent off playing for Bedlington Terriers - 90 seconds after coming on as a sub against Whitley Bay in the Northumberland Senior Cup.

"It was his first challenge, allegedly for illegal use of the elbow as he got up," says Terriers press officer Bill Lowery.

"It's the first time he's been sent off in his life and he's absolutely gutted."

A call from the England quickie, Bedlington's number one fan, doubtless proved consoling. "Steve never misses a game when he's at home," says Bill Lowery.

"The only drawback about being picked to play for England was that he couldn't spend the winter watching Bedlington."

"Player-manager John Laycock builds houses during the week and was part of the wall to prevent a direct strike at goal but the plans must have been read upside down as the kick was directed into an apparently unguarded bottom right hand corner" - from Darlington Hole in the Wall's programme. (Emerson Arms 3 Hole in the Wall 2.)

Reference in one of last week's columns to Jimmy Goodfellow - the Co Durham lad who is now Cardiff City's physio - brought an excited e-mail from John Milburn in Chester-le-Street.

"After seven years of scouring your columns I have uncovered an error of gargantuan proportions," he says. "It has taken a long time to confirm your non-deity status."

Goodfellow scored in Crook Town's 1964 FA Amateur Cup final win over Enfield, played subsequently for Bishop Auckland and had a 479 match Football League career, chiefly with Workington and Rotherham United.

The error, a misreading of a longhand note, was to substitute "Rochdale" for "Rotherham."

Now 60, Jimmy has also been manager and twice assistant manager at Cardiff and was a physio at Sunderland before returning to Ninian Park.

That he hasn't yet returned the column's calls is doubtless due to an oversight. John Milburn recalls talking to some Rotherham fans. "They assured me that he lives up to his name."

Season ended, other wickets pitched, the County cricket ground at Chester-le-Street hosts a major book fair tomorrow - with plenty about the summer game.

"We're rather hoping that someone might turn up with a little gem from their grandma's attic," says fair manager Michael Gauntlett, who runs Ian Dyer Cricket Books in Gilling West, near Richmond.

There'll also be experts in antiquarian books, children's literature, detective fiction, local history - especially Durham, Northumberland and the Lake District - fishing, gardening, natural history, rural life and World War I.

"It's a chance for people to bring along their books, manuscripts and other documents for a free valuation. Our members really are the experts," says Michael.

Organised by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, it's open from 10-4pm, admission £1, wheelchair accessible.

Its's time for the reunion Chapter

Maureen Stephenson in Darlington sends a photograph of Dean and Chapter football club, Auckland and District League, 1968. It's the cricketers who are recognisable.

The goalkeeper is her late husband Ken, a familiar and highly effective professional at several Co Durham clubs and later a member of the Mayor of Durham's bodyguard and mayoral mace bearer in Darlington.

The little feller to Ken's left is Bobby Cole, who made 129 Durham County appearances between 1958-74, claiming 237 victims - 72 stumped.

"Fantastic feller, stood up to the fastest bowlers, possibly the best wicket keeper ever seen in Minor Counties cricket," says the Beardless Wonder.

"I've seen him stump people off Stuart Young, and you know how fast Stuart was," recalls Colin Turner, the football team captain and Bobby's best man.

His batting, shall we say, was less impressive. The county club's centenary history observed that he had "no pretensions as a batsman."

Usually last man in - "there weren't many batted below Bobby," says the BW - he managed just 283 runs in 101 innings, averaging 6.02 thanks to 58 not outs.

"That's the important figure," says Bobby. "Just think how many I might have scored if I hadn't been left stranded."

Born in Ferryhill Station, club cricketer with Mainsforth, Darlington and a season in the sun at Scarborough, he now lives in School Aycliffe, hits 65 (definitely not out) next month and is uncertain about retirement.

The football team, both he and Colin Turner insist, was simply a way of keeping fit between cricket seasons. "I was the right half, the Nobby Stiles of the side," says Bob.

"We paid half a crown a week to play, collected the sawdust from Lazenby's, took the nets down and had a good time afterwards. I don't think we were very good."

The teams were named after the pit at Ferryhill, where once 2,500 men worked, and all this is coincidental since there's a reunion of all Dean and Chapter sportsmen at the Shafto Arms, between Spennymoor and Page Bank, next Monday evening.

"It has the makings of a great night," says Colin Turner - and all, we're assured, are most welcome.

Farewell to stalwart Alby

Brian Albeson, Darlington's stalwart centre half for four fourth division seasons in the late 1960s, has died, aged 56.

Alb y, as generally he was known, signed from Bury in 1967, made 154 first team appearances and scored twice before moving on to Southend.

After a total 302 Football League appearances, he returned to Darlington where he ran a hairdressing business,

"He was a quiet, conscientious, consistent centre half, not the sort of harem-scarem you get these days," says Jack Watson, the club's assistant manager at the time.

Mind, adds Jack, you didn't get many harem-scarems in those days. Brian's funeral was on Tuesday.

And finally...

THE only player to appear in all six of Bishop Auckland's Amateur Cup finals between 1950-57 (Backtrack, October 21) was Jimmy Nimmins, the Consett blast furnaceman, and not Bobby Hardisty or Benny Edwards as widely was supposed.

Among those who went for Edwards was Keith Belton, owner of a mini-museum of Bishops; memorabilia. "I'll never live it down," he says.

Peter Beardsley, reports our man at St James' Park, has been strutting round with an invitation to name four English clubs who've been managed by three different men who as players won a European Cup winner's medal.

Good 'un, that - and as the column's not back until November 4, plenty of time to think about it.

Published: 24/10/2003