FREDDY Shepherd was right, of course, 63 years really is a long time since Newcastle United staged a full international - though Jack Hixon remembers it like yesterday.

"A twopenny tram ride from Heaton, 1/3d on the Gallowgate end or whatever silly bloody thing they call it today," recalls Jack, the scout who discovered Alan Shearer.

"I can remember men in roll neck jumpers running round the cinder track before the match. Soaked to the skin, we were."

Now 80, he was joined by 39,886 others on that Wednesday afternoon in November 1938. Probably there'd have been more, but Shildon Tradesmen were playing Crook Wednesday in the South West Durham Wednesday League - "Service bus from the Market Place, 1 40pm" said the helpful fixture notice in the Echo - and Hartlepools Reserves entertained Ouston United in the Durham Benevolent Bowl, an' all.

England stayed at the Grand-ish Hotel in Tynemouth, trained at North Shields FC's Appleby Park ground - where many years later they filmed Supergran - played billiards at a local youth club. Norway, all amateurs, arrived the previous day on the Vega at the Tyne Commission Quay, stayed at The Rex in Whitley Bay, visited the same youth club.

The Magpies were in the old second division, fickle fans fluctuating between the 63,962 who watched the Fulham match (when they were top) to the miserable 10,341 who attended the season's last game, against Fulham, when they were ninth.

Crafty as ever, the FA gave an England debut to Magpies' left half John Wright, signed from Southend. "If he shows anything like his club form he will be England's left half for many years to come," observed the Echo, and though Wright didn't put a foot wrong, he never wore the white shirt again.

The side also included Eddie Hapgood of Arsenal, Stan Cullis of Wolves, Stoke City's immortal right winger and Tommy Lawton - "the outstanding boy leader" - of Everton. The linesmen were W R Jennings and R W Black from the North Riding.

England won 4-0 - "no need for undue exertion," said the Echo - with first half goals from Smith (2), Dix of Derby County and the boy leader.

Jack Hixon, still doing talk-ins with that other number nine, particularly and immediately remembers Brustad, the visitors' left winger. "Terrific player, used to stay really wide.

"Mind," he adds, "my memory's a bit wonky now."

Afterwards there was a swanky dinner in the Royal Station Hotel. "I believe that no foreign team will ever beat England in England at football," said Reidar Dahl, the Norwegian FA president, "but I also believe that no country will ever beat Norway in Norway at skiing.

"I only wish today's contest had been skiing."

George F Rutherford, United's vice-chairman, also spoke. "In view of the gate of nearly 40,000," he said, "I trust that the FA will consider bringing other internationals to Newcastle."

And now, of course, they have.

ELSEWHERE on that pre-war November day, Eddie Paynter was hitting 193 in MCC's 593-8 against Western Province in South Africa, Whitby goalkeeper Charlie Chaplin - whose name gave him no end of trouble - was resisting advances from Major Frank Buckley at Wolves, the Northern League management committee was considering taking Heaton Stannington, its first Northumberland side, and at the Farrar Street Stadium in Middlesbrough a team of "scientific" wrestlers was pitted against a "rough-house" bunch.

That Whipper Watson and his fellow scientists won every bout was because they, too, resorted to rough-house tactics. The Japanese spinal lock, never been known to fail, saw them off every time.

Hartlepools Reserves beat Ouston United 6-3. The score between Shildon Tradesmen and Crook Wednesday was for some reason unrecorded, but doubtless they got the bus back home.

THE international blazer brigade were also much in evidence at St James's Park yesterday afternoon, when - somewhere up in the corporate gods - the draw for next month's UEFA Under 16 championships was made.

The column was, of course, invited - but you know what we're like with heights.

The competition will be staged at Premiership and Football League grounds throughout the North - and at Durham City, of the Albany Northern League, with qualifying games on April 22 and 26 and the third place play-off on May 6.

Until they received a letter inviting them to host it, the club didn't even know the tournament was taking place.

"It's a tremendous boost both to us and to the Northern League," says City chairman Stewart Dawson who when last featured hereabouts (November 17 1992) was running a football kit laundry service.

"You have to get them immaculate. Club secretaries are even more finnicky then women," he said at the time.

Now he's the driving force behind multi-million pound plans for the New Ferens Park site which include 14 indoor football courts, 350 seat conference centre of banqueting suite, sports injury clinics, hotel, pub and light industrial use.

That a major European tournament is coming close to the game's grassroots, however, is down - they insist - to the groundsman.

Tommy Porter, long and legendary at Sunderland and one of the stars of the Premier Passions documentary series a couple of years back, is now Durham's groundsman in what passes for his retirement.

"We believe we have a better pitch than any of the other teams involved," says City treasurer Ernie Duncan.

"Sometimes Tommy can drive you mad, I remember once getting a terrible rollocking just for putting my finger in the turf, but he'll work night and day to make sure it's better than Wembley used to be.

"Look at St James's Park. I'm quite sure our pitch is better than Newcastle's."

Originally both the final and the third/fourth play-off were to be held on the same day at the Stadium of Light, but Sunderland decided it would put too much demand on the playing surface.

"We were absolutely thrilled to be offered it," says Stewart, a former full time Roker Bingo worker enticed - "badgered" he says - to become City's part-time commercial manager in 1989.

Now Durham, accustomed to foreign legions elsewhere in the city, is gearing for its biggest football occasion since the club was in the old Third Division (North) in the 1920s.

"We mightn't be in the Premiership," says the chairman, "but we'll leap at the chance to show we can still be big league at Durham."

UP at Whitley Bay on Tuesday evening, we bump into Fred Iredale, leader of the six-strong consortium of local business people which hopes to steer the Seahorses into rather more winners' enclosures than of late.

Between them, says Fred, they hold an executive box and 23 corporate seats at St James's Park. "We probably put in almost £70,000 a year but now we're more likely to be seen at Whitley Bay.

"People are getting a bit fed up with Newcastle United."

LAST Friday's column on former national motor bike trials champion Rob Edwards's battle with the little known Churg Strauss Syndrome - and his gratitude to the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton for cracking it - has had an additional, if coincidental, benefit.

Eric Gendle in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, an old friend of these columns, has a sister-in-law who suffers similarly - after two years of misdiagnosis for asthma and bronchitis. Perchance last Friday, she was visiting from York.

They traced Rob to Newby, a few miles from the Boro, went across, compared case notes.

"At least they now know that they are not alone with this once usually deadly illness and will be able to keep in touch if anything untoward occurs," writes Eric.

"I thought you would be pleased to hear of the unexpected results of one of your columns." Thank you.

TUESDAY'S column dwelt upon underhand practices around the domino board. Never mind the poor Trimdon lads, says Owen Willoughby - who lives there - the real cheat of the moment boys were the Bishop Middleham brigade.

"They were almost professional players, they'd play anyone for anything," says Owen.

It's long ago, of course. The favourite venue, Owen believes, was the old Imperial Hotel in Darlington. "They'd play for thousands, not hundreds. They wouldn't tell you how they cheated, but they did."

In the Darlington and District 5s and 3s League, meanwhile, dominoes has been knocked into the 21st century with the launch of a website.

Phil Robson, the secretary, is even looking for a gossip columnist. We have ungraciously declined.

THE last team to win the FA Cup on a ground other than Wembley (Backtrack, March 13) was Chelsea, at Old Trafford, in 1970.

A double header today from Alf Hutchinson in Darlington, who seeks not only the identity of the first cricket nation to win a test match on their inaugural tour of England but the first cricketer to captain his country to a test series victory and to the county championship in the same season.

More of these wicket ways next Tuesday