WILLIAM Gilbert Grace was the greatest cricketer who ever lived, and twice in his long and distinguished career he graced the ground of Feethams.

The first time was exactly 130 years ago this month, when he was at the height of his prodigious powers. The second time was in 1907, when those powers were waning - but on both occasions he managed to enthral the Darlingtonians with a half century.

The advent of the railway meant that in the last 30 years of the 19th Century there was only one public figure better known than WG Grace, and she was Queen Victoria.

So when the train dropped off WG at Bank Top in 1873, Darlington was a-buzz. He was to play in a United South of England XI which was taking on 18 of the finest players in Darlington and District - a very large district, in fact, as it spread to Nottinghamshire so that three county players could be included.

"The ground was in beautiful condition and warm encomiums were passed upon it by the professionals during the course of play," said the Darlington and Stockton Times.

Not to be outdone in the word stakes, The Northern Echo noted that the "weather was propitious and in the course of the afternoon a large attendance of ladies and gentlemen indicated that the interest in the match was of no ordinary kind".

The crowd swelled as word went around the town that WG Grace would soon be taking to the crease.

At 4.45pm, Darlington's 18 were dismissed for 197 and, 15 minutes later, WG strode out accompanied by Henry Jupp, a famous early cricketer known as "the legendary stonewaller" because of his defensive nature.

Grace was soon in trouble. He had scored only one when he "drove a ball hard into JT Mewburn's hands, who was standing at sharp leg, but it was too hot to hold".

The crowd let out a huge sigh of relief and WG plodded on with singles to reach 11 - even the "legendary stonewaller" was out-scoring him on 17.

"After three-quarters of an hour's play, he struck to square leg, which fell into the hands of Leatham, who retained it. This circumstance was very disappointing to the Darlingtonians, who were very anxious to see some tall hitting.

"It being close on six o'clock, the stumps were drawn."

WG seems to have spent the night at Mr Poston's Trevelyan Temperance Hotel, which was on the north-west corner of Skinnergate and Coniscliffe Road (where Lloyds bank today occupies the former School Furnishing Company shop).

The second day of the game dawned beneath glorious weather, which drew upwards of 3,000 people into Feethams - even though the likelihood of seeing WG in action was slight.

However, after dinner the South's top scorer, R Humphrey, was given out to a dubious catch taken at square leg. WG came storming out of the pavilion to register his dismay.

"A dispute immediately arose," said the Echo, "and Mr Grace objected to Mr Stilling (the umpire), who thereupon retired, and Mr R Walton was asked and agreed to accept his post."

We are getting some idea of the brilliance of WG's star in 1873: as soon as he is out in the evening, everyone goes home; as soon as he complains, the umpire is replaced.

WG realised he was good box office, though, and when one of his batsmen went lame, he appeared as runner, much to the pleasure of the crowd.

Day two concluded with the South all out for 189 and Darlington on 102 for seven.

"The nearness of the match very much heightened the feeling of pleasure and enthusiasm with which the admirers of the game viewed it," concluded the Echo.

The weather was "beautiful" for the third day, and play commenced at a leisurely 11.20am. The South's bowler Charlwood immediately had the home batsmen in difficulty by bowling "underarm lobs".

"Charlwood, although only a novice in pitching the leather, claimed the first honour," reported the Echo, "taking no less than four wickets in seven overs. This result, however, was not to be attributed so much as to the difficulty of the bowling of the underhand slows, but to the inexperience of the Darlington men in dealing with it, and to their anxiety to hit hard what appeared to be a very easy ball."

With the Darlington 18 bowled out by the underarmer for 153, the South required 162 to win.

WG Grace opened the innings at 2pm, and at 4pm he had reached his half century.

"At 56 Grace struck a bum-ball, which F Mewburn handled, and the crowd clapped, imagining that Grace was caught out, and he kept up the illusion by walking away a short distance. Much laughter ensued when he again took his stand at the wicket.

"Curiously, however, it happened that he was caught by Mewburn off Reynold's ball at the same place when he had only added another to his score.

"His 57 included 40 singles, many of which were good hits, but owing to the fielding of the Darlington men posted at the extremities of the field, and to the difficulty of a ball passing through 18 men, they did not count well."

Grace was the seventh man out for 121, and the visitors - two men unable to bat through injury - were all out for 130. Darlington won by 32 runs.

It was another 34 years before WG graced Feethams again. He was then 59 and, according to The Northern Echo's headline, "the GOM of cricket" (grand old man).

He still played first-class cricket, but was also captaining England in the more sedate sport of bowls. Indeed, when he came to Feethams in 1907 to play for a North Yorkshire and South Durham League XI against a North Durham XI, the following day he competed in an international bowls tournament in Newcastle.

The summer of 1907 was English and wet, and North Durham batted first. They reached 190 for nine when play was interrupted by a shower. In gentlemanly fashion, they decided to declare so that WG could get a knock when the weather cleared. The crowd swelled. "Cheers went up as Dr Grace and Townsend went in at ten minutes to four," said the Echo.

"The drizzle continued, and got worse, but Turnbull's third ball was sent by Grace to the pavilion amid cheers."

WG was set.

"'Who says he cannot run?' shouted an admirer as the doctor, who had been making his runs very easily, sprinted along the pitch."

On 44, he gave a chance. "He sent a ball from Morris into the air, and Scott-Owen at cover point, essayed to take it. The crowd held its breath. 'He's out,' they said. The leather fell, was caught by the fielder, and slipped to the ground. There was a howl of delight from the spectators."

It allowed him to make his second half century at Feethams, but he added only one run more before a ball by Adamson "just tipped the bails off".

"Dr Grace was cheered heartily as he went to the pavilion."

The Echo reported that the GOM thought the Feethams pitch would be excellent in dry weather, that the ground was the perfect size for cricket and that the pavilion was very good.

It concluded: "He went away pleased that he had been on Skerneside, and expressing general satisfaction."

WG Grace retired from first-class cricket in 1908 and died in 1915. It was said that he found cricket a country pastime and left it a national institution, and also that he had the most renowned beard in all humanity.

FROM a garage in Merrybent comes this historic picture of the Darlington FC team that won the Division Three (North) championship in 1924-25 and was promoted to Division Two for the only time in the club's history.

Quite who the team in white on the right are we don't know. Where the picture was taken we also don't know - the terrace behind is neither Victoria Embankment nor South Terrace.

We know the names of the players in the hoops, though, and presumably the manager, Jack English, is on there somewhere too.

English made this team with Scottish professionals and home grown talent: there were as many players born in Dundee (Crumley, Brown, Stevens) as there were in Darlington (the Hoopers and Robinson).

His star buy was centre forward Davy Brown, as Echo Memories told last year. Brown's career had been interrupted by the First World War, and as he neared the end of it in Kilmarnock, his wife wanted to join him in emigrating with eight members of her family to the US.

The night before they were due to leave, he came home and told her that he had signed for 80 for Darlington.

He did not regret his decision. In the promotion season he scored 39 goals in 40 games - still a Division Three record - and in his three seasons at Feethams scored 74 times in 97 league appearances.

When he retired, he stayed in Darlington, going into insurance. He died in 1983 and his daughter-in-law, Sheila, a former mayor of Darlington, is now the keeper of his memory.

PAT Harris, of Darlington, spotted her grandfather, George Taylor, on the photograph of Darlington Albion around 1905.

George was born in 1882 in Inverness - his mother spoke only Gaelic and always required an English translator - and two of his brothers played for Glasgow Rangers, one of them being capped by Scotland.

George came to Darlington to find work and became a master painter at Robert Stephenson and Co.

This is interesting enough, but Pat also revealed that her father, Albert Taylor, also had a sporting pedigree. She still has the little cup he won in the 1935 Silver Jubilee Railway Pushball Competition.

Apparently, there were two teams of pushballers, one in Harrowgate Hill and their opponents in Eastbourne. Whoever pushed their large ball into Darlington town centre won the cup. Albert's Harrowgate Hill won.

BACK to football. An Irish international who made his debut at Ayresome Park settled in Darlington around 1910. He was John Cornelius Murphy and his granddaughter still lives in the town.

"Neilly" as he was known, is believed to have been born in Middlesbrough and he played for Queen's Park Rangers in London.

He made his debut for Ireland (in those days it was united) on February 25, 1905, when England played their first international on Teesside (their fourth, against Slovakia, is in a couple of weeks' time).

The Northern Echo reported there was "the liveliest interest" in the match on the day before kick-off.

The players had arrived, "the Irishmen being housed at the Grand Hotel, Middlesbrough, and the Englishmen at the Alexandra Hotel, Saltburn.

"The Irishmen visited the Theatre Royal and witnessed Sherlock Holmes. The Englishmen had dinner, and after a stroll on the promenade, turned in, full of confidence."

The game at Ayresome Park was watched by 25,000 people. The English were disappointed by the 1-1 draw; the Irish, though, were exultant as in their 23 previous meetings they had lost 22 times and drawn once.

"It was not a great game, by any means," said The Northern Echo. "That Ireland were not beaten was due to the resolute defence of their halves and backs, the brilliant custodianship of Scott and the generally faulty marksmanship of the English forwards."

Unfortunately, the match report does not mention Neilly. He retired to Albert Hill in Darlington, where he died of TB in his 40s. His international caps remain in Darlington.

Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington DL1 1NF, e-mail chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk or telephone (01325) 505062.