The FA Cup Final Escape Committee (and Scotch Pie Fest) foregathered on Saturday in Musselburgh. No one had a radio or gave a monkey's; it's another country up there.

Artfully advance booking, Sixer had bought the train tickets for £17. After breakfast at home, he'd had ten o'clocks (something called a panini) in Darlington, saw off a packet of ginger biscuits on the train, greeded a sausage roll from the lady squashed into the next seat and was in Musselburgh in time for lunch.

It's just east of Edinburgh, where the race track is, sitting pretty by an alternative River Esk and known for reasons unexplained as The Honest Town. It must not therefore be confused with The Honest Men, who are Ayr United.

There's also a golf course where James IV is supposed to have played in 1504, the Institute of Seaweed Research (honest) a statue to Donald Campbell Moir, poet, and a pub known in the Good Beer Guide as the Volunteer but to all Musselburgh as Staggs.

J M Stagg, apparently, led the British Arctic Expedition in 1932.

The first rule of following football in uncharted territory is to look out for the floodlights: thus it was that we ended up at the rugby ground, missing not just the kick off but a second minute Musselburgh goal scored by Paul Forrester, latterly with Middlesbrough.

Sadly there were no programmes. "We've enough trouble getting a team out, never mind a programme," said the guardian at the gate.

They played Linlithgow, Calder Cup semi-final replay, most of the 300 or so crowd queuing at one time or another in front of a hole in the wall from which were sold exquisite Scotch pies and execrable tea.

Stung by chants of "Who ate all the paninis?", Sixer made do with one, augmented by several stones of Tunnock's milk chocolate marshmallows. Mr Martin Haworth, threatened with expulsion from the committee had he brought his nifty three inch television, devoured two and Mr Lawrence Appleby, who commutes from Newcastle to be Hereford United's kit man, had had three at Arniston the week previously.

Also happily in attendance was Mr John Dawson, king of the groundhoppers, looking chipper after his heart bypass last month and wearing the jacket he'd bought for £4.95 from Poundstretcher the week before the op.

"That could have been the biggest waste of money of all time," said Sixer unkindly.

John had two mutton pies, which was two more than he's now supposed to have, followed by an apple. "Balanced diet," he said.

The fans swore fecklessly, or rather the opposite, in accents like Jimmy Logan with laryngitis. Most of the players appeared to be called Boris, or Wee Man, apart from the chap who answered to Basher as if on loan from the pages of Oor Wullie. (Oor Wullie's nemesis was Basher McTurk.)

Musselburgh won a good game 3-1, leaving Linlithgow free to concentrate on the Co-operative Undertaking Services Cup and the committee to head for the station.

Back at Edinburgh Waverley, we looked into the bar in time to see Cole hew from the goal line and, hooray and up she rises, old Seaman lift the cup.

The committee adjourned, replete, onto the 17.25 southbound. Others had missed a treat.

Exactly 12 months after reaching a cup final without so much as winning a game, our friends at the Hole in the Wall in Darlington again made the last two on Wednesday. This time they'd won twice.

The Darlington and District League Invitation Trophy is for teams who've gone out in the first round of the League Cup. Since there are just 11 teams in the league - three or four years ago there were two divisions; grass roots Saturday football struggles everywhere - the mathematics get a bit complicated.

This time, at any rate, they'd beaten the Archdeacon and the Shuttle and Loom and - as they did last year - faced the Killinghall Arms from Middleton St George in the final at Brinkburn Road.

Dutiful president, we went along, new meaning to the fatuous football phrase about marking the Hole.

Our boys did very well, held out until well into the second half. "We've now gone two and two thirds games in this competition without conceding a goal," said the ever-admirable Alan Smith, whereupon Killy scored at once.

It finished 2-0, just as it had to the same opponents last year. The lads took it with accustomed good grace. Next year, they're confident, the Invitation will be gilt edged.

Alan Wilkie spoke at Peterlee Lions Club's annual do on Friday - as hospitable as ever - and found he wasn't the only former top link referee in the room.

There, too, was the man identified on old programmes as A W Pallister (Easington) who could never get on the Northern League list but handled many key games in the first division.

Arthur's now 75, 11 years younger than his brother Mick, also in attendance and who still has four or five allotments.

Arthur's greatest claim to fame may be that he once sent off West Ham's Harry Redknapp for kicking an opponent in a match against Leeds United.

"I may be the only referee in history," he said, "who took pity on Billy Bremner."

Now standard practice, apparently, the umpire came into Philadelphia third team's dressing room last week to ask if any under 18s were playing. Something to do with the need to wear a helmet.

"We fell about laughing," says 54-year-old Peter Charlton, the skipper.

Five of the 14-strong squad are in their 50s, eight in their 40s and the youngest a bairn of 37.

They're unbeaten so far this season. Is it, wonders Peter, the oldest competitive cricket team in the region?

After leaving Trimdon Juniors' sportsmen's dinner, at which former Liverpool player John Aldridge was guest speaker, stop-outs heading for a Durham city night club were surprised to find another former Kop favourite dinner suited on the door.

Mike Hooper, 39, made 51 Football league appearances between the Liverpool posts before joining Leicester City. His career ended with 25 Premiership games for Newcastle United in 1993-94.

Old enough to have been in bed, Hartlepool United chief scout Tommy Miller reports that, then as now, Hooper would be a hard man to get past. "He's even bigger than you are," he adds.

Bob Taylor, the admirable former Horden dustman who became a Midlands legend, had his testimonial at West Bromwich Albion last week.

The 16,000 crowd didn't include Baggies' manager Gary Megson, however, since the two haven't spoken for months. He watched the Bristol City v Cardiff City play-off instead.

Among those who did turn out was Steve Bull, a folk hero at arch rivals Wolves. "Stand up if you hate the Wolves," chanted the Hawthorns. Bull sat down in the centre circle.

Superbob, who plans to remain in the Black Country, went in goal near the end and in reply to chants of "Dodgy keeper" bared his backside to the Birmingham Road end.

They cheered wildly. "Bob Taylor," reports our man at the rear, "is probably the only person in history who could have done that and lived to tell the tale."

...and finally

The only horse to have won the Grand National and the Welsh and Scottish Nationals (Backtrack, May 13) was Earth Summit.

John Briggs in Darlington today recalls the infamous incident on England's 1991 cricket tour of Australia in which David Gower buzzed the wicket in a Tiger Moth bi-plane. Which future Durham player, asks John, was involved with him?

Head in the clouds again on Friday.

Published: 20/05/2003