Just when team manager Alan Robinson thought that he didn't have a prayer, along came a virtual college of Bishops.

Facing eight end of season matches in 15 days, the Billingham Town boss fielded not only 19-year-old Neal Bishop and his brother Craig, 16, but Rob - their dad - who's 46.

"It's all part of the youth policy," says Rob, whose career highlight had previously been a single match for Sheffield United reserves - "they said I wasn't good enough. I think they had a point."

Tom Donnelly, Town's chairman, says all three performed brilliantly. "We've always prided ourselves in being a family club. That just proves it."

Rob first played alongside Neal in the Albany Northern League match at Tow Law, lasted 80 minutes - "the legs finally gave out" - and was replaced by Craig. Town lost 2-0.

In the next match, at Consett, Billingham were losing 3-0 when he came on with half an hour remaining, and thanks to goals from Paul Rowntree - at 36 the League's "golden boot" winner for the fourth time - drew 3-3.

"I made his bullets," says Rob, who usually plays in the Over 40s League for Billingham Wanderers. "It took me a bit of time to get used to the slower pace in the Northern League," he insists - a Bishop defiantly not on his knees.

Quick work at Darlington - George Reynolds rings to report that work on the new stadium is well ahead of anticipations.

"People are talking about 12 months but the steel work, the cladding, the terracing and the seats will all be in place by the back end of August.

"There are no plc's involved, no institutions and no bank borrowings. It's the only stadium in history where the chairman has put all his own money in."

George is also excited about the proposed fish pond - "big enough to put paddle boats on" - with an island, waterfalls, ducks and a large picnic area for season ticket holders."

There'll even be an "old fashioned" ice cream cart. At Darlington, they'll lick anyone.

Much end of season excitement at the Albany Northern League Cup final last Thursday, and not just over hot tempered events on the field.

Word had reached the ground hopping fraternity that the South of Scotland League intends kicking off season 2001-02 on June 8 and thereafter changing permanently to "summer" football - a season from March to December.

It means salad days visits to the likes of Wigtown and Bladnoch, Dalbeattie Star, Blackwood Dynamos, St Cuthbert's Wanderers and Maxwelltown High School Old Boys, known to their fans as Max High for short.

Since the Northern Alliance is already playing until May 31, the enthusiastic likes of Hartlepool postman John Dawson - who's already embraced 240 matches in the present, rain-wrecked season - face a somewhat restricted close season.

John, convinced that other leagues will follow where the South of Scotland has led, is pondering what to do with his gap week. "I might sort out my programmes," he says.

Compulsory attendance at the Northern League's Craven Cup final the following evening meant that we were unable to put in the annual appearance at Trimdon Juniors' dinner.

The indomitable Owen Willoughby begged a piece for the menu card nonetheless, an essay which recalled Gerard Kaufman's 1983 observation that the Labour party document "New Hope for Britain" was "The longest suicide note in history."

The menu card essay ran to almost 1,000 words. It was headed "The longest apology for absence in history."

At the Craven Cup, as doubtless at Trimdon, the talk was of Terry Venables.

Since the more informed sports writers reckoned the "smart money" was on his departure, the column has laid several wagers on his staying.

Among those awaiting developments with particular anxiety are Mr George Courtney (who works for the Boro), Mr John Atkinson (who has a season ticket) and Mr Gordon Hampton, who is believed to be a bit of a Wolverhampton Wanderers follower.

More Tel tales, it's to be hoped, very shortly.

Now that the rest of the North-East's football clubs have failed once again to qualify, Sedgefield Winkers wish to announce that they will be flying the flag into Europe.

The Winkers - a curious name, said to have been the result of a mishearing - are a team of largely elderly gentlemen who play friendlies once a fortnight.

"In other words, blokes too old to hack the Sunday morning ritual of kicking lumps out of one another," translates team supremo Gordon Peden.

The ethos is probably best explained in the club motto: "Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill."

They fly to Eindhoven on June 12 to take part in a 12 team tournament sponsored by Phillips - Sporting Sedgefield v The Rest of Europe, Gordon insists.

The winners receive a trophy and a barrel of beer. One may be more welcome than the other.

Managed by Sunderland legend Cecil Irwin - 315 Football League appearances, one unforgettable goal, still barely 59 - Ashington are champions of the Northern League second division.

To mark the end of a 17-year exile from the top flight, the fabled fanzine Pit Pony Express has made one of its distinctly occasional appearances.

"You may find articles which are not only slightly dated but which were actually found scrawled next to paintings of mammoths in some caves in the south of France," PPE explains.

Particularly we are taken by the account of a match at Shotton Colliery, where the changing rooms resemble a Scandinavian log cabin - "the sort of thing you might find ABBA tarting about in."

They were also rather taken by the tea hut lady in the leather trousers, but that's rather more Teutonic.

Afterwards, at any rate, the Colliers lads went back to the Comrades Club, inadvertently interrupted a meeting of the carnival committee and were asked if they'd like to take part dressed as a tribe of Zulus.

"Surprisingly we turned the invitation down," notes PPE, "but we hope it went well, anyway."

Knowing the column's allegiances, several readers - including one with the e-mail address shanksisgod - have forwarded a cyberspoof about the alleged mugging of a party of geriatric north Londoners.

It happened in Cardiff two Saturdays ago.

"The attackers lured the elderly gentlemen into a sense of false security by standing around doing nothing for almost an hour.

"Just as the visitors were about to get on their coach and return to the capital, the vicious young thugs struck."

So it goes on. Interpol had been alerted, added the e-mail - but by then it was too late.

the three clubs which Sir Alex Ferguson managed before Manchester United (Backtrack, May 18) were East Stirlingshire, St Mirren and Aberdeen.

Readers are today invited to suggest what the cricket counties of Durham, Northants, Somerset and Sussex have in common.

More common ground on Friday.