Oh but Jim Blenkinsopp was a hard nut, so they reckon - tough as the teak table top at Durham FA, where for almost 30 years he was secretary. Hard, mightily efficient and fair.

We mention it because of the events of May 1956, because of yet another row between old antagonists Bishop Auckland and Crook, and the night that Jim Blenkinsopp became a teddy bear.

The season's end had been crowded. The Bishops had already won the FA Amateur Cup, Northern League and Durham Challenge Cup treble when they travelled to Crook for a Monday night Durham Benevolent Bowl semi-final.

(The Challenge Cup final, against West Auckland, had been played at Sunderland. "The attendance of 7,894 failed to justify the actions of Durham FA in staging the game at Roker Park," reported the Echo.

"A final in south-west Durham, preferably at Crook, would have attracted a far bigger crowd.")

Bishop Auckland had clinched the league with a 5-1 win over West Auckland the previous Friday - reserve centre forward Rance Richardson hitting a hat-trick - before sending ten reserves to Crook the following day.

Crook beat the champions 12-1 and took little comfort in it - "An insult to the Crook club and its supporters," claimed Crook secretary George Charlton - and protested. Bishops were fined two guineas for fielding ten men and another guinea for playing an under-strength side. A stiffs sentence, as it were.

Two days later they were at it again, and no love lost in the Benevolent Bowl. It ended 2-2, the final arranged for that Friday evening and the teams unwilling to agree on a replay date.

Blenkinsopp capitulated at once. Arrangements for the final would be cancelled, he declared, the replay would take place the following season. For Jim Blenkinsopp, charity began at home.

Durham City awaited the winners. As they prepare for Saturday's FA Carlsberg Vase semi-final first leg match at Whitley Bay, City's minds have been taken back to the 1956 Benevolent Bowl final by Fred Marshall, inside left at the time.

Fred, born in Horden but now in Norwich, will attend at least one of the semi-finals and in the hope of a reunion has sent City a team picture of the demon Bowlers.

He also played for Ferryhill, Annfield Plain ("when Tot Smith was manager"), Crook and Horden CW, has fond memories of "old" Ferens Park but has never been to City's new home.

"They say it's a lovely ground," he tells the column, "but we never thought there was anything wrong with the old one."

Fred's second right, seated, on that smiling team photograph, taken at Spennymoor United's ground on the day of the long-last final.

The others, he recalls, are (back): Brian Nainby, Gordon Newton, Malcolm Lax, Gerry Thompson, Raymond Ayre and Eddie Wilson. (Sitting) Alfie Hall, Peter Nainby, Neil Walton, Fred Marshall, Ken Williams.

He's found old stalwart Ray Ayre in Brandon but welcomes news of the others. We'll pass on information.

Some time the following autumn, Durham finally beat Crook Town - 4-2, Fred believes.

Time and termite - you should see the old newspaper files - preclude a further search for details, though there'd been plenty else going on in May 1956.

Bishop Auckland Cricket Club protested that the live televising of the FA Cup final would hit their traditionally large attendance for the derby with Darlington; Darlington FC played a benefit against Leeds United for long-serving goalkeeper Billy Dunn; Middlesbrough professional Harry Bell hit 132 against Synthonia and West Hartlepool heavyweight Brian London suffered his first professional defeat at the furious fists of a hitherto little-known 21-year-old called Henry Cooper.

"Half a minute of murderous punching," reported the Echo.

Meanwhile back at Feethams, hundreds of colourfully favoured busman's holidaymakers watched United Automobile Services beat the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company in the final of the National Tramways and Omnibus Shield.

It was 1-0, United's winner after 21 minutes from centre forward Birchall. Does busman Birchall still recall his dream ticket?

Pretty chipper these days, Malcolm Macdonald was guest speaker at Tow Law's sportsmen's evening on Friday.

Sunderland, he said, couldn't play football but were resilient and would stay up, Middlesbrough were building from the back - "very boring" - but would also survive. Newcastle, he insisted - "I've looked at the remaining fixtures" - could still win the Premiership.

The first questioner, however, wondered if he'd been allowed to keep the ball after his five-goal feat for England against Luxembourg and where it was now.

He had, but its whereabouts are presently unknown. "Like a lot more things," said Supermac morosely, "it went in an expensive divorce."

For fear of turning into a pumpkin, the column had left Tow Law at 10.30pm and therefore missed a little local drama.

Leaving the community centre at the end of the evening, club treasurer Kevin McCormick - the local bookie - slipped on wet ground, broke his right leg and for 30 minutes until the ambulance arrived was exposed to the worst that a nasty Tow Law night could throw at him.

"All I'd had was two pints of lager and a couple of brandies," the injured party insists.

Kevin, excellent bloke, is now admiring the facilities in the new University Hospital in Durham. Get well soon.

The following afternoon to St James Park where Kevin Scott, 227 Newcastle United appearances between 1985-94, was again in central defence.

This, of course, was St James Park, Alnwick - the crowd a little smaller and less passionate, the pies altogether nicer. Scott, forced to quit full-time football because of a knee injury, now plays for Crook Town in the Albany Northern League instead.

"Lovely feller, just one of the lads. He's certainly not here for the money," says Crook secretary Alan Stewart.

Also in Crook's team was former Sunderland forward David Buchanan, who on January 1 1979 had become Leicester City's youngest ever player, scoring against Oldham Athletic on his debut at the age of 16 years and 192 days.

Though 19 months older, another New Year's Day debutant for the Foxes was Gary Lineker, who now helps sell potato crisps.

Kevin Scott, Easington lad, went from Newcastle to Tottenham for £850,000 in February 1994, made just 16 first team appearances for Spurs, and after loan spells at Charlton and Port Vale he also made four Darlington appearances in 1999-2000.

Now 35 and still affectionately remembered at Newcastle, he was recently interviewed before a Crook match for the Talk of the Tyne fanzine. "He was so keen to talk about old times," says Alan Stewart, "that at ten to three we had to send out from the dressing room to seek him."

Alnwick Town 3 Crook Town 1.

Friday's column served memories of Simonside Hall, South Shields, the Mariners' perhaps less than stately home between 1949-74.

Colin Harrison, now in Knaresbrough, was not only there when 50-year-old Sir Stanley Matthews guested for Port Vale in a 1965 friendly - "he might have skinned Billy Thompson once or twice, but he told the Shields Gazette what a good game Billy had" - but can explain the mysterious pseudonym "Asicit" on the programme notes.

The column, and those yet more learned, had spent hours searching for a classical explanation. Colin takes the easier route: try "As I see it", he says.

Steve Leonard, South Shields' present programme editor, points out that the FA Trophy semi-final with Morecambe wasn't the last game at Simonside, as we said, rather the last for which a programme was produced.

The Mariners subsequently played Matlock in the league, the south Tyneside town so appalled at the planned move to Gateshead - and Simonside's £250,000 sale to a housing deve loper - that just 192 turned up.

As Colin Harrison suggests, it was one of the rare cases of being sold up the river.

The only player to have appeared in five of Liverpool's European finals between 1977-85 (Backtrack, March 15) was Phil Neal.

Bob Foster in Ferryhill today seeks the identity of five post-war English football internationals whose surnames began with the letter V.

Verification on Friday.

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2002