HARRY Clarke, former Durham County cricketer and Darlington, Hartlepools and Leeds United footballer, hit 80 last week.

He is also the man to whom the observation about it looking black over Bill's mother's is credited - a weather forecast plagiarised by Richie Benaud and, thereafter, the world.

The birthday cards are put away now, but framed in the hall hangs a woven extract from an epic poem written in 1952 to mark Harry's third spell at Feethams:

This is the tale of the man who came back

When everyone said he was finished

He was getting too old and getting too fat

And the force of his football diminished.

It was written by Norman Laughlin, a familiar local entertainer at the time - worked, it's recalled, with a duo called Lax and Gilligan - and may be the only poem in literature's laid out history to find a rhyme for opportunist.

With the waves in his hair and the bend in his nose

He was ideal to draw by cartoonists.

Unfortunately, adds the still hirsute Harry, the bend in his nose adversely affected his chances with the ladies.

One of the record books reckons he was born in Sheffield, Frank Tweddle's Quakers history says that it was Broomhill in Northumberland - and also claims that Harry's 90. He himself insists that he arrived in a back bedroom in Hamsterley Street, Darlington, on the day in 1921 that the nearby St Matthew's church burned down.

"I could feel the heat even then," he is given to remarking, and many years later watched the church being rebuilt from his office window at the Stooperdale railway works.

He played cricket for Darlington RA at 15, football for Darlington during the war ("30 shillings a match, they get £30,000 now") and is the only man to play both professional football and cricket on the adjoining Feethams fields.

Harry was also pro for Seaham Harbour, Blackhall, Peases West - the Crook colliery team, where it snowed on his first match - Keighley (down south somewhere) and Bishop Auckland, where he spent three happy seasons.

"The funniest man that ever walked on earth," former Bishops colleague John Monk once observed.

It was at Kingsway that he was credited with the meteorological foresight over Dellwood, club chairman Bill Proud's family home behind the ground. "I thought it was a Shildon phrase," insists Harry.

He made 46 Durham County appearances, hit 1,090 runs including a half century against New Zealand and took 24 wickets, his best 7-34 against Northumberland, and also played in 1945 against an Australian RAF side that included Keith Miller. The score card remains his only sporting memento.

Signed from Stanley United - where his team mates included future House of Commons deputy speaker Ernest "Psychie" Armstrong - he hit 17 goals in 19 games for Darlington before a £6,000 transfer to Leeds.

"The team was going to Tranmere and on the train Bill Forrest, the manager, said him and me were getting off at Leeds. I asked him what for, a dance or something."

The following day he was in the first team against Wolves, marked - figuratively and physically - by the formidable Stan Cullis. "I never got a kick," admits Harry.

"I never broke sweat," said Cullis, taciturn as ever, when the two were re-introduced after Quakers' FA Cup tie at Wolverhampton in 1958.

After just one goal in 14 League games ("I think they bought me because they thought I'd improve; they were wrong") he returned to Darlington, scored 25 in 37 but was transferred to Hartlepools, the old enemy.

His memory, also, cannot substantiate the circumstances - there must have been hell on - only that even then there was a bit of bad feeling between rival supporters.

Doubtless it increased when Harry - known as Spot, apparently he took the penalties - scored his only goal in six appearances, three minutes from time at Feethams.

After a spell in the North Eastern League with Stockton he again returned to Darlington, Norman Laughlin wrote his masterwork and the rest was 12 goals in 14 games before his retirement at 33.

Until a guest of Darlington Building Society to mark his 80th, he'd not been back since. Bob Elliott, long time friend and a team mate in a touring cricket club called the Pelicans, recalls Harry commenting that if the wind blew his cap into Feethams, he wouldn't even bother to chase it.

Perhaps it was something to do with the time that manager Bobby Gurney, the Sunderland legend, told him that he was 12th man.

"I'd rather play in the reserves than be 12th man," said Harry.

"I mean 12th man in the reserves," said the manager.

These days, says Harry, he'd rather sit in his armchair, watch the racing and wait for the scores to come in.

"They were very kind to me when I went back for my birthday, announced my name though I didn't hear it, made a bit of a fuss."

Though afflicted with a gammy knee, he remains physically fit, walks the two miles into town ("it used to be there and back") but he hasn't played golf since his wife died 15 months ago.

"There's a chap a few doors down keeps trying to get me to play bowls. I tell him maybe when I'm a bit older."

His memory may be going a bit, his hair not quite so wavy or his shot so potent, but it would be prudent to remember the last of the Laughlin lines:

The Quakers are back to their best once again

A director was heard to remark

They've got cash in the bank and the man they can thank

Is the man who came back, Harry Clarke.

AMONG those first to deliver a card and a shower of champagne to Harry Clarke - former Darlington and Hartlepools footballer, Darlington cricketer and member of Wear Valley District Council's architect's department - was Harry Clark, former Darlington and Hartlepools footballer, Darlington cricketer and (doubtless it has been anticipated) member of Wear Valley District Council's architect's department.

Only the silent "e" finally divides them. To mutual acquaintances they were Old Harry and Young Harry, and a source of much practical japery.

Young Harry - 68, still working - recalls a rare game together in the black and white, Quakers reserves at Workington. "Only one reporter turned up, Harry told him we were father and son and that night it was all over the Pink."

Young Harry was the architectural boss man at Wear Valley. Though Harry Clarke believes he may have pulled strings to get him the job, the councillor chairing the interview had been impressed the moment Old Harry walked through the door.

"He'd worked in the score box when Harry was pro at Bishop. For the first 20 minutes they talked nothing else but cricket."

Young Harry scored 20 goals in 142 League games for the Quakers, made a single Sheffield Wednesday appearance in 1957 and in 1958-60 scored 43 in 118 appearances for Hartlepools' perennially penurious side.

"I got better with age," he says.

He still lives in Darlington, still keeps in contact with his namesake, and is a very nice chap. We've promised a fuller account when he's 80.

HOOFING back from Old Harry's, we bump into former Quakers director Derek Mason, bemoaning the passing of former Darlington Golf Club captain Henri "Harry" Allaway.

"A lovely, lovely man, organised a winter league which made a lot of money for charity, one of the first captains to take the stuffiness out of the job." His funeral is at St Andrew's, Haughton-le-Skerne, at 1pm today.

Derek also recalls that Harry, a hairdresser in North Road, was at one time the only barber in town to offer a DA. ("It wasn't considered very Darlington.")

Readers unsure what DA stood for must, regrettably, continue in their ignorance. But it wasn't the Darlington post code, for sure.

AFTER the Darlington game on Tuesday night, meanwhile, Chairman George made one of his customary meet-the-people appearances in Strikers bar and, not for the first time, was berated over team selection.

"Give me your telephone number and you can pick it next time," said George. The number was duly handed over. Tomorrow at Mansfield could be even more interesting than usual.

HARRY Clarke isn't the only all rounder at 80. Jack Watson - former Durham and Northumberland cricketer, and chief scout or assistant manager to most of the region's senior soccer sides, reaches that middle aged milestone on April 17. Though long in Shildon, he remains Sheffield Wednesday's Scottish scout and a fount of much knowledge. More on J M Watson before he gets chance to blow the candles out.

THE Quakers manager between Cyril Knowles and David Booth - the one who in March 1987 signed Dale Anderson (Backtrack, April 3) - was former Chelsea and Middlesbrough midfielder Paul Ward, officially a caretaker but at 23 the youngest manager in League history.

Trimdon lad, he was last in football as manager of Harrogate Town - it ended acrimoniously - is now in business with his wife in a dance school and fitness centre at Hatfield, near Doncaster.

Martin Birtle in Billingham today invites the identity of the fast bowler who played for England in the 1940s and 1960s but never once in the 1950s.

As Young Harry Clark might say, we're back to the drawing board on Tuesday