JUST seconds of extra time remained in the replayed 1993 FA Cup final when Paul Merson's corner from the right was headed home - "Bullet like? Oh aye, definitely" - by Andy Linighan. Gunners 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1.

Tonight on Talk Sport he'll relive the most memorable moment of a 20 year career, tomorrow watch another Arsenal final on television - "I can't get a ticket" - then ponder the end of a remarkable era.

Next season, for the first time since 1980, there won't be a Linighan in top flight football. "I'm going to have to send the wife out to work," he says.

Andy was the second oldest of five Linighan lads, all of whom captained Hartlepool Boys - as did their cousin Michael. Brian, their dad, had been on Lincoln City's books, scored on his Football League debut on loan to Darlington, for some reason never played in the League again.

Mark, the eldest, declined a Hartlepool United contract - "I think he thought there was more security at BSC," Andy had once, ironically, observed - and became both player and manager in the Northern League.

David, middle son, also began at Hartlepool, moved to Shrewsbury, peaked in Ipswich Town's towering central defence and is now, at 35, with Southport.

Brian and John, twins, were both on YTS forms at Sheffield Wednesday but didn't quite make it. Brian lives in Hartlepool but makes the 250 mile round trip to play for Gainsborough Trinity in the Unibond League, John works for Nissan but no longer plays football.

"I've had more rows over football gear than anything else in this house," Olwyn, their marvellous mum, once told Backtrack. "They say it's silly, but they don't have to take a shovel to get the muck out of the bottom of the washing machine."

Then there was Gemma, born when mum was 42 and dad 45, said to have football boots even on her dolls but enrolled by her mum to dancing classes almost before she could walk.

Now she's at Northumbria University studying - among other things - dancing. "She doesn't talk much about football," says Brian senior. "I think her mum might have won."

Andy scored four goals in 110 Football league appearances for Hartlepool between 1981-83, moved to Leeds for £20,000, to Oldham for £200,000, Norwich City for £350,000, Arsenal for £1.25m and won England B honours before leaving the marble halls for Crystal Palace.

Before Christmas he went to Oxford United, failed to arrest their slide into the third division - "I thought I could give them a bit of experience, but it didn't work out" - and spent the second half of the season mostly kicking heels. "Unless you count Hartlepool having to apply for re-election, it's the first time I've been involved with a relegation club."

A season in the non-league game, he reckons - "just to keep myself fit" - and then that's it. "You can't change things, but perhaps my only regret is that I didn't get a big break earlier. I was 28 before I played in the top division."

Whilst the 1993 final is most vividly recalled - he may even be the only winning goal scorer to have a broken nose, Wednesday's Mark Bright merely booked for inappropriate use of the elbow - his best football, he believes, was at Norwich.

"It wasn't a glamour club but I wasn't a glamour player and I enjoyed it immensely."

At Highbury he was often the spare part in George Graham's 13-piece jigsaw. "I wasn't as regular as I'd have liked, but Arsenal had a lot of very good central defenders and I've still quite a few medals to show for it."

He lives in Hertfordshire and in style with his four daughters and six-year-old son, hopes that lad might follow dad - "I'd make him a centre forward, they're the ones who get the glory" - still enjoys a pint in the Pool but expects to remain in the south.

"I'm Andrew Linighan from Harpenden, Hertfordshire now," he says, and even then can't fake much of a posh accent.

Like David he's a time served joiner, like his brother doesn't fancy football management. "To be a manager you have to be a strong personality, and I'm not really like that unless I've had 23 pints," David once told the column.

The hero of '93 will be 39 next month. "I'm going to have to start thinking about a proper job," he agrees. "Me or the wife, anyway."

THEN there was the 1973 final, Sunderland's year, and the subsequent months long knees-up during which the players took turns to show off the cup around local hostelries.

It's recalled by Steve Cram, Sunderland's fastest fan, in 5573 - the branch magazine of the southern supporters' club.

Steve was a bit bairn at the time, his father a polliss in Hebburn. When the roadshow rolled into Hebburn Labour Club, the two attendant team members enjoyed themselves so greatly and so bibulously that it was thought prudent to take the trophy - if not the players - into protective custody until the morning.

5573 - about to change its title to Wear Down South - loyally declines to name them. The column, timorously, follows suit.

PC Cram, at any rate, was on nights, finished his shift, roused his sons and whisked them back to the police station to be photographed with the trophy. The picture's courtesy of Colin Randall, Shildon lad made good, who wrote the 5573 article.

"I was about 12," Steve recalls. "It made me realise that I wanted to be a top sportsman, even if I wasn't good enough to do it at football."

THE Crams, father and son, still rarely miss a match at the Stadium of Light - where, of course, the column made an overdue debut last Monday.

Wearhead United 2 Stanhope Town 2, Crook and District League, was followed by Stanhope's presentation night in the overflowing workmen's club. Clem O'Donovan, brains behind the whole Elysian idea, is already a JP. Up there they'd make him Lord Chief Justice.

Darren Fletcher, nowt on him, was leading scorer; Rob O'Dell, piratically bearded, players' player. That we presented the "Committee player of the year" award to Will Noble doubtless owed everything to his sporting prowess and nothing to his journalistic licence.

It was Will, nonetheless, who was responsible for the Weardale Gazette's headline - Noble gesture, if ever - after a particularly unfortunate 12-1 thrashing.

"Stanhope in 13 goal thriller."

THERE will not, alas, be the usual refulgent presentation evening for our old friends at Cockfield United.

Normally they need Securicor, or Steve Cram's dad, to guard all the hallmarked silver. This year, the first in very long memory, they haven't won a thing.

Club chairman John Priestley, encountered in Sunderland's directors box, insists that there'll still be an awards night. "It just mightn't take very long, that's all."

MALCOLM Macdonald's mind strayed back to the 1905 Cup final - Newcastle v Aston Villa - when we bumped into the Great Man at a diner the other night.

Facing travel problems on a near-Cardiff scale, thousands of fans - says Supermac - went by overnight boat from the Tyne, tied up on the Thames and were in abundant time for the match.

"There was almost a flotilla of boats, just ordinary folk on them. I've suggested to Tyne Tees Television that it would make a great historical film."

The Northern Echo failed to mention it, merely commenting on the two dozen special trains - "everything the NER could lay its hands on" - that left Newcastle during the night.

Despite having spent a restful two months (said the Echo) at the Coatham Hotel in Redcar, United lost 2-0 before a disappointing crowd of 101,117.

The "excursionists" returned more sombre than they had left - "though a few enthusiasts were still spirited enough to wave a grey hen, or its equivalent, on the way out of the station."

So why should Magpies wave grey hens - and what on earth is their equivalent?

T HE sap rises, Hails of Hartlepool stirs in response to the suggestion (Backtrack, May 4) that the presence of Tommy Miller and Kevin Henderson in the third division top ten scorers may be a unique Pools double.

In 1966-67, says Ron, United had two in the fourth division's top four - Ernie Phythian was the division's leading marksman with 23, the late Jimmy Mulvaney tying with Southend's Ray Smith on 19. Lincoln's Ray Chapman, Lee's dad, was second.

There were still two points for a win. Though Pools scored 66 goals they conceded 64 and finished just eighth, with 51. The following season, perhaps propitiously, they were promoted.

THEN Kip Watson, still assiduously running the Over 40s League though more than twice the qualifying age, rings with news of their own annual awards.

There are familiar names like Peter Stronach and young George Elliott - late of Shildon - Tommy Henderson and 62-year-old Michael Walker.

There'll also be a special award for Keith Aldridge of Billingham Wanderers who opened the scoring after 17 seconds, completed his hat trick in six minutes, hit another after 25 minutes but, clearly overcome, waited until the 50th minute before managing a fifth.

What particularly catches the eye, however, is the identity of the first division player of the year - a 40-year-old from Owton Manor in Hartlepool.

"Virtually got them promotion single handed," says Kip.

"There's hope for me yet, then," says Andy Linighan.

It is, of course, his older brother Mark.

THE three teams other than Nottingham Forest and Derby County of which Brian Clough was manager (Backtrack, May 4) were Hartlepool, Brighton and Leeds United.

That match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday was remarkable not only because it attracted the lowest ever crowd for a Wembley FA Cup final - a mere 62,279 - but because the Gunners achieved a first.

Before we're back up with the Cup on Tuesday, readers may like to recall what it was

Published: 11/05/01