Since Craig Johnston is more or less Australian, readers may scarcely be surprised to learn that his voice mail begins "G'day."

G'day from us and g'day from him, it is as close to a conversation as we have been able to hold. Tyne Tees Telly did a bit better.

Johnston, who made a fortune from football and still more by using his head, features on Football Flashback next Monday evening.

As a 14-year-old he'd seen Middlesbrough on television - they beat New South Wales 8-0 - and decided he wanted to play for them. His parents wrote seeking a trial, sold the house to meet the air fare

The trial proved precisely that. "You, kangaroo, hop it back to Australia," Big Jack Charlton is said (doubtless apocryphally) to have remarked.

Afraid to tell his parents, the young Johnston cleaned players' boots and washed their cars, paid up when youth team coach Bobby Murdoch fined him 25p for failing to empty a waste paper basket and another 25p for swearing (in Australian) and practised in the Ayresome Park car park.

Finally he was signed on, making an unforgettable debut as a 17-year-old in January 1978, an FA Cup tie against Everton.

A few months later, on a Channel Islands trip with the Boro, he found himself stranded on an island off Jersey, swam fully clothed to the opposite shore and nearly drowned in the raging seas.

"Where've you come from?" asked a surprised female passer-by as he struggled, exhausted, from the waves.

"Australia," said Johnston, more or less truthfully.

He was born in South Africa, qualified to play for five countries, spent four years on Teesside before a slightly acrimonious £650,000 transfer to Liverpool - a record for both clubs at the time.

"A few people at the club have been a bit nasty about the whole affair. I'm a very misunderstood man in Middlesbrough," he said.

"I've never known a more dedicated footballer," wrote Ray Robertson.

Bob Paisley's 1980s side was Europe's greatest. The day after the 1988 FA Cup final defeat by Wimbledon, however, Johnston announced - despite a £125,000-a-year contract and an expected testimonial - that he'd fallen out of love with football and was going back to Australia.

His sister was ill; he also fancied photography.

At home he invested three years and £250,000 in designing a new boot, a concept bought by Adidas, branded the Predator, worn by Paul Ince and David Beckham and sold in 1994 for £120 a pair. They couldn't make them fast enough

"This isn't just a leather glove for your foot, it's a precision tool," he told the Daily Mail at the time.

"A good footballer would never have invented this boot because he'd never have felt the need for it.

"Someone like me who always struggled to kick it straight could see there must be an easier way to coax a ball through the air."

It was the appliance of science, not just a size ten foot. "I just felt I couldn't have spent 13 years of my life kicking a ball for a living without learning something," he said. "I'm crazy but not that crazy."

Reinvented, he's now 42, lives in style in Buckinghamshire, has also developed a football game for television and a golf handicap style coaching system which FIFA enthusiastically embraced but Howard Wilkinson rejected.

This year his revolutionary new boot, apparently called The Pig, kicks in.

"It has small rubber spikes all over it, rather like it's come off the set of Rollerball," says Jeff Brown, who did the Tyne Tees interview.

Craig - "an incredible bloke," says Jeff - finally rang back. He got the voice mail at the other end.

"Sorry, been in meetings all afternoon. Love to help you; g'day."

* Football Flashback, which also includes a 25th anniversary reprise of Blyth Spartans 1978 FA Cup run, is at 11pm next Monday.

Tuesday's column dismally recalled the three Clapton Orient footballers, all North-East lads, killed on the Somme in 1916. It reminded John Briggs in Darlington of the former Sunderland goalkeeper L R Roose - what might be called tying up Roose ends.

Son of a Presbyterian minister, Leigh Richmond Roose was a Welshman with a doctorate in bacteriology - and they say you've to be mad to be a goalkeeper - who was taught by H G Wells and was a friend of the singer Marie Lloyd.

Variously termed eccentric, enigmatic and unorthodox, he played for what All The Lads - the collected Sunderland player biographies - calls "a succession of leading and lesser Football League clubs".

Described as "financially secure" and "an archetypal peripatetic amateur" - have gloves will travel - he joined Sunderland from Stoke City in January 1908 and played in the 9-1 victory at Newcastle in December that year.

(A service to suffering Sunderland supporters, we looked up that astonishing result - 1-1 at half-time thanks to a hotly- disputed Newcastle penalty, eight in the second half. "Simply astounding, an utter out and out rout," the Echo reported.

"Perhaps never in the history of First League football has there been such a demoralised team as the much vaunted Cocks of the North".)

Roose, we had added, was "beyond compare". An Athletics News correspondent thought him "dexterous though daring, valiant though volatile." He was also, apparently, a mischievous master of the practical joke.

A broken wrist against the Magpies in November 1910 marked the last of the Welsh wizard's 92 games for Sunderland, the directors so keen to show their gratitude that they proposed a testimonial - declined by the FA as unsuitable for an amateur. Supporters raised funds for an illuminated address instead.

At the outbreak of World War I, he at once volunteered for the colours, joining the Royal Welsh Fusiliers as a private.

Sunderland's Number Ones, the goalies' gallery, records that he won the Military Medal in 1916 - "using his goalkeeping skills to great effect by throwing grenades to hold off a German counter-attack."

On October 7, 1916, however, L/Cpl L R Roose was also killed on the Somme. Like so very many more, his body was never recovered.

Heart of Midlothian were the first British football club unreservedly to join the war effort, all 14 first team players enlisting in November 1914 - despite the belief that the war would be over by Christmas. The players went from around £4 a week to 1/2d a day - and seven of those heroes never returned.

Willie Jonas, among Clapton's casualties, had also - said Tuesday's column - played for Havannah Rovers.

Not to be confused with Hard Hearted Hannah, the Gal from Savannah - a minor 1961 hit for The Temperance Seven - we'd wondered where Havannah was.

"Co Durham," says Old Nic in Bishop Auckland, unearthing a 1939 Durham FA handbook - "keep something long enough and you'll always find a use" - which lists club secretary Mr R Taylorson in Havannah Terrace, New Washington.

"Co Durham," says ex-Washington lad Lol Cullinan from Sunniside, near Crook - "Havannah was a small village where I believe Blackfell is now." He also recalls that Ted Jonas, another of the family, kept goal for Washington Mechanics and won an England schools cap.

"Northumberland," says Jack Chapman in Hebburn, who played against Havannah Welfare - a colliery near Westerhope, Newcastle - in the 1960s.

"Cumberland," someone else might have echoed, as there was a settlement of that name near Hazelrigg.

Jack may have the best reason to remember Havannah. "It was the place I headed the iron goal post instead of the ball."

Familiarly under-achieving, our friends at Hole in the Wall FC in Darlington finally got to play DSRM FC Reserves - who hitherto had played 13 and lost 13, conceding a distinctly unlucky 102 goals whilst scoring just 20.

DSRM won 4-2. "The final whistle was greeted like the Trumpet of Gabriel, such were their whelps of delight," reports defeated club secretary Alan Smith, lyrically.

Having also lost in the first round of the league cup, the gaping Hole in the Wall (president: Backtrack) also find themselves in the Invitation - that is to say, the Also Rans - Cup.

Last season they reached the final without winning a game. "I wonder," muses Alan, "if we can go all the way again."

And finally...

The last Welshman to captain an FA Cup winning side (Backtrack, March 4) was Kevin Ratcliffe of Everton in 1984.

Readers may today care to name the three English football internationals since 1970 whose surname begins with the letter O.

We return, obedient, on Tuesday.

Sharon tackles 1,000 miles - it's the ultimate challenge

A whole new meaning to sleep walking, ultra athlete and former Teesside bus driver Sharon Gayter has embarked upon the craziest event of her life. This one endureth for ever.

Sharon, occasionally known by her husband as the Wicked Witch of the South but for six years Britain's top woman ultra runner, is back on the buses, too.

She is one of six clinically chosen competitors - 170 applied - in the Flora 1000 Mile Challenge, which began outside Buckingham Palace on Sunday.

Her Majesty was not thought to be in attendance.

Though they are strictly limited to one mile an hour, it's probably the hardest slog on earth. That she is also asthmatic may help explain the long odds offered by Ladbroke's.

Briefly and brutally explained, the Challenge involves running or walking a mile in each of 1,000 successive hours, culminating after almost six weeks with a Sunday morning stroll on the London Marathon - not so much going the extra mile, as staggering the extra 26.

"Fear is creeping into my thoughts more. I hadn't realised it would be so hard," says Sharon, good stuff in a little bundle.

Just getting to the Marathon start line on April 13 means previously covering 38 circuits of the course - with a maximum hour and a half sleep at any time by covering miles back to back.

The others include the chap who completed last year's London Marathon in a 120lb diving suit, the man who holds the world record for 24 hours on a treadmill and a woman who beat Frankie Dettori in a flat race.

Even now, however, they are simply following - somnambulating - in Captain Robert Barclay's footsteps.

Barclay faced the same challenge over a half mile course at Newmarket in 1809, having wagered 1,000 guineas that he could do it and accepted another £100,000 - around £40m today - in side bets.

Many feared he would die in the attempt; Barclay carried a pair of pistols at all times to help ensure that no bad losers tried to pre-empt that occurrence.

Eight days after finally putting his feet up, he set sail for the Napoleonic Wars.

Sharon and friends will earn around £10,000, grabbing what sleep they may in a specially equipped London bus which sedately will follow their progress.

She plans to walk during the day, run - to allow more snatched sleep - at night.

Possible problems, it's said, include delusion, mental exhaustion massive mood swings and generally going bananas.

Sharon, who lives in Guisborough with husband Bill and assorted dogs - children would have interfered with training - left the buses after being beaten up, took a sports science degree and now lectures at Teesside University.

Her warm weather training in Australia earlier this year was partly funded by supermodel Elle MacPherson, to whom Sharon had acted as masseur during filming in Middlesbrough. "She couldn't believe I hadn't a sponsor," she says. This is day six, 37 to go. It may not run and run, but she hopes somehow to stumble to a conclusion.