Decorated with headlines like "Roll on" and puns about pasting the opposition, the column told in the dim and distant about George Carpenter, wallpaper king and water polo champion.

He'd four times appeared for England, been in the Great Britain masters team which took gold in the world championships, had personally scored more goals - 58 in seven games - than any other team in the league.

Though the wallpaper world has been trimmed somewhat - "People prefer to go out and enjoy themselves, then throw a tin of paint at the wall as a last resort" - he continues to make waves in the swimming pool.

Four years ago George formed the Sedgefield water polo club, based at Newton Aycliffe leisure centre. Now it claims 65 junior members aged 9-16 - Britain's biggest water polo squad - boasts seven internationals and had four members of the 13-strong Great Britain team in the recent European junior championships.

Carol Mohan from Newton Aycliffe is, at 17, the youngest ever senior international of either sex; his sons George and Scott - chips off the old block, as a Carpenter might say - are among the junior internationals.

"They're much better than I was," says their dad.

Should occasion demand it, George senior - now 44 - still takes the competitive plunge himself. "It can get a bit physical, especially in the shallow end of swimming pools, and there are one or two bandits out there.

"It's a very tough sport but I still train hard and look after myself. You have to set an example to the kids."

They were a sporting family. George's father, another George, was an ABA boxing champion who as a 40-year-old unemployed electrician borrowed £200 to start an electrical and decorating business from a garage in Evenwood.

When he died 14 years later, the Darlington based business had 26 shops throughout the North-East - now there are seven, again named Carpenters after trading as Kut Price.

"Wallpaper has gone out of fashion," says George. "When there were pits and steel works and muck it was part of the tradition. Now people don't seem to do it any more."

The family also owned horses, including several in the Grand National; George - middle George - was a runner, squash player and footballer with Durham WMC and still coaches water polo to international squad level; young George has junior honours at county rugby.

"I just felt that I'd had a good life from it and wanted to give something back," says middle George. "It's a healthy life and a good discipline and its a lot cheaper than racing horses."

Others are welcome to come on in; the water polo's clearly lovely.

Darlington parish church was filled for Brian Henderson's funeral, familiar Feethams faces like Lol Morgan, Ken Furphy, Ron Greener - still getting away badly - and Keith Morton.

John Dobson, the priest, recalled how in his youthful days at St James's Park, Hendy had come to the rescue when Jackie Milburn couldn't have a wedding cake because eggs were still in short supply.

Hendy's mum kept chickens, back in Allendale - Hendy returned to Newcastle with a double ration. "It was his helpful streak," said Mr Dobson.

We sat next to Mike Peacock, who'd kept goal for the Quakers in the early 60s whilst still a Fishburn miner, came to training on the 213 bus and returned on it in the company of team manager Eddie Carr, the ex-Arsenal player who lived in Deaf Hill.

"People think it was the dark ages without cars, but it was only 40 years ago," said Mike, now 61 and living in Northallerton.

He also recalled one of his early Darlington matches, as a raw 20-year-old at Chester, when after a few minutes the gnarled old centre forward put him into the crowd.

"He'll not do that again," said Brian and - not least because of the most perfectly executed dead leg the young Peacock had ever seen - the centre forward never did.

That was Hendy's helpful streak, an' all.

Hails of Hartlepool, too oft in black these days, reports the passing at 70 of John Hancock, for 20 years an opening batsman with Horden in the Durham Senior League and for eight thereafter with Blackhall, down the road in the NYSD.

"I just popped across," he would say.

After moving to Hartlepool, John took up both indoor and outdoor bowls, where doubtless he coincided with Mr Hails. "A quiet, unassuming chap and a loyal club member," said Eldon Grove Bowls Club president Mal Hughes.

An unfortunate decapitation amid all the excitement, the Mr Brian Hunt's head was inadvertently chopped off yesterday's back page picture of Durham County Cricket Club's inaugural first class squad.

Brian, ever present for 27 years, will miss his first match when required to score for England at the Riverside.

"There was everyone except me. Folk will be thinking I was still in bed," he insists.

The Backtrack column is happy, as always, to show readers what they missed.

More excitement at Darlington FC, where the club's official website became so carried away at news of the £10,000 singing of Ian Clark from Hartlepool that the new man was referred to as Lee Clark throughout. "Lee's going to make a big difference," manager Tommy Taylor was quoted as saying. It would undoubtedly have been so.

Watched by a paying crowd of 28 on Tuesday night, Britain's unluckiest football club returned at last to the green, green grass of Murton.

The gathering included former club secretary Tom Turnbull. "I always come when they're at home," he said.

The saga is familiar - the twopence in the slot disaster of Black Friday, the arson attacks, the vandals, the damn great crater in the pitch which 18 months ago threatened to swallow the club whole.

Though restoration and returfing have cost £100,000, the match only went ahead after club chairman Tom Torrence had scrubbed the hospitality room, fixed the floodlights, forked out for new footballs and first aid kit, marked part of the pitch, answered a 7pm call for net pegs, ran round to the cricket club to get some ice, sold the raffle tickets and done about 20 other tasks unrecorded.

They played Shildon, led through a Stephen Pickersgill penalty, held it until the 85th minute. "There's a big hole in there," the Murton keeper yelled at his defence.

"Oh God," said Tom, "I hope not."

Also among the gathering was Mr Ken Shaw from Sunderland, who habitually attends matches bearing the sort of pack with which Tensing ascended Everest and this time had thoughtfully included a rather large torch. "You never know at Murton," he said.

The floodlights behaved, the crowd behaved, Shildon scored twice in the last five minutes. "Just our rotten luck," said the totally immersed Mr Torrence, but it was still awfully good to be back.

In the Albany Northern League all rivalries are friendly, of course, though none is fiercer than that between Chester-le-Street and Durham City - drawn at Raunds Town in the third round of the Carlsberg FA Vase.

Raunds is in Northamptonshire, the southernmost point of the "northern" section and an awfully long way from Durham.

City chairman Stewart Dawson was greatly surprised, therefore, to receive a call from Chester-le-Street co-founder and general manager Joe Burlison offering to provide a full scouting report from Raunds' game on Tuesday night at Kempston Rovers, in Bedfordshire.

"It was so good of him we're thinking of making him a vice-president," says Stewart. "I'm sure they'll be very proud of him in Chester-le-Street."

"They haven't seen my bill yet," says Joe, temporarily working in Coventry.

The fully detailed report was e-mailed the same evening. Paraphrased by the City chairman it is: "Load of southern softies, get stuck in and you'll win."

Several readers, including Duncan Russell in Whitby, have made the point that it wasn't Whickham but Whitby Town (Backtrack, Tuesday) who were the last North-East team to win at Wembley - FA Vase, 1997. On the Echo these days we tend to write "North-East and North Yorkshire" but as a Durham lad marooned for 23 years south of the Tees, I happily take the point and humbly apologise. We're all in the North-East now.

Tuesday's column sought the identity of the Darlington footballers who - after Ron Greener, John Peverell and Brian Henderson - had made the fourth and fifth most appearances for the club.

The fourth is Kevan Smith - 440, comparatively easy - the fifth Hughie Dickson, who played 433 times in first team colours between 1921-33.

Arnold Alton from Heighington, absent awhile from the esteemed ranks of question masters, returns with something for the weekend - and immediately earns an apology.

Arnold, once a familiar Northern League centre half, invites readers to name in old fashioned 1-2-3-5 formation a team of post-war footballers who've played League matches for both Bishop Auckland and Darlington.

It was his nominated goalkeeper - Ray Snowball, famously of Crook Town, occasionally of the Quakers - which led us to question the questioner. Had Ray really played for Bishop Auckland?

He's now 69, retired headmaster, lives in East Boldon, near Sunderland. Certainly he played for the Bishops, says Ray, invited there by an Army team mate called Jock Anderson.

Crook came in for him in 1954; Ray jumped at the chance. "I was only the reserve, behind a feller called Harry Sharratt. I didn't think I'd ever get past him." Not a Snowball's, probably.

Arnold might also have included the evergrey Phil Owers, of course, but the rest of his nominations - and perhaps a few subs - next Tuesday.

Published: Friday, November 16, 2001