Sit up and beg as usual, the column attended on Friday the annual dinner of Ferryhill Wheelers cycling club. As spokesmen go, they were wonderful.

There was club president Bob Douglas, who considers everything under 100 miles a "babbies' race"; George Bennett, a world champion at 62, and Steve Davies, 49, who used to play cricket for Heighington but has won two World Masters medals since getting back on his bike.

There were also little place cards, some marked with the initials GM, not an experiment to test the appliance of science on genetically unmodified cyclists - it transpired - but a reference to the garlic mushrooms.

Formed by three Lowe brothers from Chilton, the Wheelers mark their 75th anniversary next year, though an earlier Ferryhill Cycling Club - of which the splendid photograph above remains - had existed from around 1875 until the outbreak of the first world war.

In answer to the question about where have all the cyclists gone, the answer was much the same as in Pete Seeger's song.

Valerie Brown, researching a 75th anniversary history, also had a cutting of an annual dinner in 1930 at the Institute of Good Templars' hall - this one was rather less abstemious - and another of a five-mile race the same year between the Wheelers, on and off their bikes, and Spennymoor Harriers, hoofing it.

That the Harriers won may have had something to do with the number of ploughed fields and five- barred gates en route.

Others who have resolutely gone full circle with the Wheelers include Arthur "Buck" Slater, a prolific track rider in the 50s, Bobby Edmenson and Adrian Dodds. David Cook represented Britain at the Barcelona Olympics, the late Tommy Easter rode from Lands End to John o' Groats every year after he retired. Marshall Thomas, Trimdon lad, was part of the British coaching team behind recent successes in Sydney.

They prosper apace. "When I joined the club the meetings were in the chairman's front room, then in the snug at the leisure centre, now we have to use the aerobics' room," said Steve Davies, expansively.

Bob Douglas, retired but still in the saddle, was riding the other day alongside someone in a fleece-lined cycling shirt.

"Soft as...." said Bob, and the third word wasn't lambswool, either.

Mostly they are racing men, though one or two old timers (said Mr Davies) still go youth hostelling. There are also "club rides" three or four times a week.

George Bennett, retired fireplace dealer from Kirk Merrington, 50 times British international and former King of the Mountains in the Tour of Britain, retired in 1965 - "a wife and mortgage to keep" - and returned to racing three years ago.

"Like a little lath," someone said, or possibly it was "rat". Either way, there wasn't much spare flesh on him.

Club chairman Mel Littlefair, divisional road race champion in the 60s, still cycles every day to work at Seal Sands from his home at Bishop Middleham, a 32-mile round trip compared to the 42 when he worked at Wilton.

Bob Douglas did the same, Sedgefield to Aycliffe, never missed a day lest someone see him behind the wheel of a car. "Once the snow was so bad they were sleeping in Sedgefield parish hall, and still I got to Aycliffe on my bike," he recalled.

Mel Littlefair ("doesn't even open the curtains to check the weather, just gets on his bike and goes") rode along the snow-jammed Cleveland parkway past miles of stationary traffic and arrived at work nine minutes late.

In the circumstances, it's reckoned, they didn't dock his money.

Friday's principal trophy winners included Rob King, Neil Morton, who'd covered 223 miles in 12 hours - "never again" he said - Fred Simpson, Tony Monks and Steve Davies.

Several gave little speeches, Ian Stokoe's the best. "Cheers," he said, succinctly.

Right down to the plum pudding, it was a tremendous night. And if you thought that the Christmas cracker jokes were a bit pedestrian - "what's long and green and goes hith?" - you should have heard the guest speaker.

On Saturday to Eppleton, bottom of the Albany Northern League second division, whose last competitive win - 75 games ago - left more than the opposition deflated.

It was October 31 1998, against Washington. "The referee came in at half-time, insisted that the ball was too hard and that it would have to be let down," recalls John Gibson, the Hetton-le-Hole based club's persevering secretary.

John, an engineer, insisted that his gauge showed the correct pressure. "Yes, but that's the figure for sea level," insisted the referee (who was being dead serious.)

Air pressure equalised, Eppleton won 3-2. "Since then I've blown the balls up on Seaham beach every Saturday morning," says John - not entirely seriously - and still we can't repeat the trick.

The woodwork twice prevented a greater glow-out on Saturday. Eppleton Colliery Welfare 2 Shotton Comrades 2.

The Albany Northern League magazine, incidentally, reports a somewhat unusual birthday present from his wife for Albany Group chairman Brooks Mileson. Brooks, Sunderland lad and sub-four minute miler, already breeds ponies and black and white spotted pigs and hopes the ostriches may prove of similar feather. "I've had my hand in the sand long enough, now it's some beggar else's turn," he says.

Reports of Paul Dalton's transfer fee (Backtrack, December 8) may have been exaggerated. Though the PFA Footballers' Factfile has long reckoned that Manchester United paid Brandon United £35,000 for the goal scoring wide man, Brandon chairman Neil Scott insists that United were much less generous.

"We got £5,000, a set of shirts and a friendly," says Neil. "Mind, we made a few bob from the friendly."

Ray Gowan, Brandon's manager at the time, makes the same point. "If they'd given us £35,000 I'd have had them in the Football League by now," he says.

Though Alex Ferguson's small change has long since been transmogrified, Brandon remain both solvent and among the Albany Northern League's friendliest clubs.

What they need, apart from another Paul Dalton, is more helpers - especially on match days. Neil Scott's on 0191-526-8536.

Coincidentally, remembering yesterday's events in Karachi, Richard Thurston writes about the amendments to the laws of cricket effective next year - "hopefully trying to bring back the spirit of the game as it used to be played."

Among the more dramatic changes are that umpires may at any time award five penalty runs to either side for what he terms "misdemeanours." Playing for time's one of them.

Richard - just one game for Stockton last season, sciatica, poor chap - has been to a presentation about it all and recommends that all players and umpires do the same.

"It's going to be a nightmare for the scorers, especially if they're young lads," he says. "It'll not be long before the season starts."

Friday's column sought the identity of the three players with a "v" in their surname who scored in 1980s FA Cup finals. They were Kevin Reeves (Man City, 1981), Ricky Villa (Spurs, 1981) and Gary Stevens (Brighton, 1983.)

Readers are today invited to name the six footballers who by the end of 1999-2000 had scored 100 or more Premiership goals.

Tons more on Friday