The way that one thing leads to another, and the A68 used to lead south from Consett only when weather permitted, Friday's column got round to recalling Keith Morton's walk on the wild side.

It's more than he can. "These days I can hardly remember that I played football," says Keith - born in Consett, now 66, 194 Darlington appearances in the late 1950s.

We had in mind the away match at Workington, February 1958, when snow prevented Ron Greener and Ron Harbertson joining the bus at Feethams and Keith had to abandon his car and walk the last few miles into town.

"I had to do that quite a few times, they don't make winters like they used to," he says, affably.

It is a match later that year, however - and for reasons yet more dramatic - which remains indelibly on his consciousness.

Darlington entertained Hartlepools United, December 27. "A dirty dogfight, completely out of control," reported Robjay in The Northern Echo.

Fifteen minutes remained when Keith, who'd just put Darlington 2-0 ahead, was in a tackle with Pools' Scottish full back Jack Cameron, as a result of which Cameron fell heavily on his opponent.

Morton was carried unconscious from the field; on it, added the Echo, "the game looked like turning into a riot."

Keith had broken his neck, an almost identical injury to that sustained by Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann in the FA Cup final three years earlier - "a midgee's thingy away from death, that's how close he was," recalls team-mate Brian Henderson, somewhat colloquially.

Surgeons operated that night, immobilised him from neck to waist in plaster, his wife and parents all night at his bedside.

"Fairly comfortable," reported Darlington Memorial in one of the great euphemisms of our time.

After four months in plaster he returned - "a yard slower" - at the beginning of the following season, but retired soon afterwards to begin a second hand car business in Consett.

John Neasham, the Quakers' benevolent chairman, was Darlington's biggest motor dealer. The football club had more car salesmen than Reg Vardy's.

Brian Henderson, who worked for Neasham, would offer his mate cars on sale or return. Keith would pay other players ten shillings, he says, to drive them up from Darlington.

"There weren't many cars in Consett at the time, but the iron works was really going well and there was a lot of interest. Brian sent up a lot of good little Fords; it was a licence to print money."

Now retired, he lives on an expansive farm at Lanchester - between Durham and Consett - where the stabling is let to trainer Tony McWilliams, 41, formerly Jack Berry's head lad for ten years and before that with Gordon Richards.

Keith is recovering from a knee replacement operation ("collapsed beneath me while I was playing tennis") and may need further surgery for a heart condition.

Back at Darlington on December 27, 1958, home outside left Des Lancaster was also carried off. Though Quakers finished with nine men, additional goals from McGrath and Milner gave them a 3-1 victory.

"The funny thing is," says Keith Morton, "that I can't remember much about that one, either."

Still with career threatening injuries, Tyne Tees Television sportsman Jeff Brown adds John Hughes to the five Sunderland footballers (Backtrack, January 19) who've appeared in a European Cup final. Known as Yogi Bear, Hughes - Billy's elder brother - played for Celtic against Feyenoord in the 1970 final, won eight Scottish caps, signed for Sunderland from Crystal Palace and was injured three minutes into his debut against Millwall on January 27, 1972. He never played again.

Getting on 500 miles from home, a lady from Porthleven - in Cornwall - approached Marske United physio Owen Hughes at Saturday's FA Carlsberg Vase match.

"Aren't you the chap who sold me a programme at South Bank in 1986?" she said, by way of opening gambit and, extraordinarily, she was right.

It was the FA Trophy quarter- final, South Bank v Enfield, 2,384 squeezed into Normanby Road (deceased). Owen was indeed a Bankers' programme seller, the lady in those days supported the Londoners.

"It was an amazing feat of memory, I'm not a high profile sort of person at all," said Owen.

Marske secretary Ian Rowe was distinctly underwhelmed, however. "He probably overcharged her for the programme," said Ian.

Lunch with Keith Hopper, a Durham County man at both cricket and football and, pushing 68, still both chairman and second team captain at Bishop Auckland Cricket Club.

Just that morning, in fact, they'd at last finalised details for the sale of the football club end of Kingsway, seven years after negotiations began.

Though as yet there is no buyer, old K R was so excited, he even got the drinks in.

What he really wanted to talk about, however, was the tournament they're launching in the Spring to raise funds for the Butterwick Hospice in the town.

It's a seven-a-side novices competition, just one "league" player in each starting line-up - "to tell people where to stand," said Keith.

Up to 16 teams - pubs, factories, council offices, whatever - will play in groups of four, at least three seven-overs-a-side games each - probably on different nights.

Entry will be £75, of which £50 will go directly to the hospice, as will the balance after the cost of trophies and other expenses.

The principal trophy, however, will be the Constantine Bowl - originally contested in the annual match between Bishop Auckland and Durham Nomads.

Details from Keith Hopper (01325 332663) or from Beryl Anderson at the Butterwick Hospice, MacMillan House, Woodhouse Lane, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham DL14 6JU.

The great question encircling Bishop Auckland Cricket Club, of course, is whether Harry Smurthwaite - the Frank Sinatra of the NYSD - really is going to retire.

"A few friendlies and that's it," insists Harry, now 64 and playing the whites man for over 50 years.

"I've lost interest in the game, to be honest. It's not played in the way I was brought up to play it and I'm not enjoying it any more. It's nothing to do with age, I still feel fit enough."

Perhaps, he concedes, he'll have the occasional knock in the club's traditional cricket week.

"If I have a year off I might get my appetite back, but not this season; definitely."

Long absent without leave from these columns, Hodgy rings from Spennymoor: nothing to report, he insists, just one of those cheerless January mornings that shackles the freest of spirits. What finally did for the poor lad was that he'd had to get up early to sign on. "I've tried to arrange home visits," said Hodgy. "For some reason they won't have it."

THE five jumps jockeys who've ridden 1,000 winners before Peter Niven leaps that milestone any day now (Backtrack, January 19) are Stan Mellor (who was the first), John Francome, Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody (who had more than 1700) and Tony McCoy, who's still riding.

Another racing question today, this one from Geoff Johns in Darlington: which horse was placed in the King George, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grand National, the Whitbread Gold Cup and the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup within the space of 12 months in the 1990s.

We return over fences, or through hoops, on Friday