THE answer's that chap in the photograph - friendly, chatty, but not (as they say) getting away over clever.

The question - answered by a veritable flotilla of Backtrack readers, only one of them off target - sought the identity of the player who has made most appearances for Darlington.

It's Ron Greener, centre half in 490 League, FA Cup and League Cup games between 1955-67 and a colossus at 5ft 11in. There'd have been more yet but for the broken leg against Exeter City in 1959.

It's through arthritis, however - the professional footballer's relentless nemesis - that his slow walk to the front door is made with the inescapable assistance of an arm crutch.

Replacement surgery on both hip and knee joints is mooted - "the doctor says I'm in a bit of a mess", admits Ron. He is 66, still lives on Darlington's verdant fringe, remains happily married to Margaret, a teacher, and never played full time football.

Easington lad, he went almost inevitably down the pit - "that or National Service, I didn't want to go to war" - played for Barnsley intermediates and was spotted, dream move, by Newcastle United.

In June 1952 he signed a contract for £6 a week - "the player shall play in an efficient manner", it said, without stipulating what deficiency might breach - and on October 10, 1953 made his first team debut against Charlton Athletic after first being told to get his hair cut.

The picture made the front pages. "People were always telling me to get my hair cut in those days. It must have been something to do with being down the pit," Ron recalls.

He also had a letter from Magpies manager Stan Seymour, which may have amounted to a coaching session. "He told me that if I played the ball out to the wings and didn't bother with the fancy stuff, my success would be assured.

"That was quite a lot for Stan. Usually if we saw him he'd just tell us to run eight times round the pitch and after we'd finished, another eight."

The Newcastle United A-Z records that the 19-year-old debutant "impressed everyone with a composed display" and that he "rarely put a foot wrong thereafter".

Still, however, he was down Easington colliery - and since first team rates were a flat £16, earning more in a week than Milburn and Mitchell. It was probably a mistake, nonetheless.

"It was very tiring. Often I'd work from seven in the morning until 20 past four, get the bus into training in Newcastle and the bus back again and be back at the pit next day."

Night shift was even worse. Often there were unscheduled absences, officially unexplained but not hard to guess.

There were just two more Football League appearances, central defence a reserved occupation behind Ivor Broadis, Bob Stokoe and the Scot, Billy Patterson.

"When I think about it I probably made the first team too early," says Ron. "I didn't seize the opportunity the way I should have done, I wasn't ready for it."

Instead he moved to Darlington and became the best centre half in the Fourth Division and, inarguably, a local legend. They called him Mountain, something to do with Mountain Greenery, apparently.

"I'm pleased and grateful that people still recognise me in the street," he says. "It stops me thinking about my knee and my wife from telling me how much I've changed."

Sheffield United and Carlisle - Ivor Broadis a youthful player manager - were also interested, but it was Quakers boss Bobby Gurney who persuaded him to Feethams.

"For a time I didn't really want to play for anyone, because Newcastle United had been my life, but Bob came to our house in Easington quite a few times. My mum thought he was a really nice chap and he was. No agents or anything in those days, he just had to impress me mam."

Gurney, the gentleman they had supposed, promised Mrs Greener he'd looked after her lad. Like playing in an efficient manner, it was open to interpretation.

There were the Feethams rats for example, enough to make Hamelin resemble a clearance zone for Rentokil.

The soap had rats' teeth marks, dead rats lay along the touchline when they trained - "big as cats, heads towards the fence, tails to the touchline" - more problems when they returned with the kit after away games.

"We were told to stamp our feet before going in. It usually frightened them off for a bit, but it wasn't the image people had of a professional footballer."

Then there was medical care, the magic sponge of more recent years preceded by Dickie Deacon's ubiquitous injections.

Dickie, affectionately remembered, was officially the trainer but in reality much more versatile. Once the star centre half played with broken toes after one of Dickie's jabs, on another occasion with a chipped ankle bone. "It was like running on cotton wool, you couldn't feel a thing," he says.

Even Dickie Deacon's mystic medical bag, of course, couldn't do much about the broken leg, though team manager Dickie Duckworth had Ron run round the field with a medicine ball, insisting that every few steps he throw it in the air and kick it with his bad leg.

"It was supposed to build up my confidence and, to be fair, I came back all right, but things are a bit different today."

Mementoes overflow his sideboard - programmes, pictures, the cutting that in 1967 unequivocally announced that the Quakers were throwing him on the scrap heap - a sentiment with which he still agrees.

Jimmy Greenhalgh, now 77 and still in Darlington, had become team manager. Now they're friends, then they weren't.

"He was an awful bloody manager, made a right mess of it and now he'll admit as much," says Ron.

"My knee was beginning to play up, but I thought with my experience I could have gone for another couple of seasons."

He spent two years with Stockton, by then living in Darlington - "it seemed so much cleaner than the other places round about" - and working for Quakers' chairman John Neasham's car company. Later Ron ran Eastbourne Service Station in Yarm Road.

He never watches the team now, finds it an effort to get out at all, fears the steep steps in the new stand.

"I've never met George Reynolds but I'm sure he must have something about him, and maybe he's the only man who can really turn things round. It would be wonderful if he could."

Yesterday he was back at the hospital, more talk of the possibility of replacement surgery. Diminished now, the man they called Mountain afforded himself a wry smile.

"I think I'd rather have one of Dickie Deacon's injections," he said.

l ALL but one knew that Ron Greener held the appearance record, Barnard Castle historian Alan Wilkinson - obviously weaker away from home - the exception. He went for Ken Furphy.

Mr J J Dawson from Hutton Rudby, near Yarm, was particularly interested in last week's picture of Ron leading out the Quakers because he and his dad ("in caps") were both on the picture. John Carter from Darlington used the occasion to recall his favourite Darlo goal - Ron Ferguson ("that great tatie") against Sheffield Wednesday.

"Apparently he ran straight across to Wednesday manager Jack Charlton and stuck two fingers up at him. Charlton had given the tatie a free transfer."

First out of the hat to win a copy of Frank Tweddle's invaluable new book The Definitive Darlington FC are C Geldard from Huntington, York, Shaun Elliott from Newton Aycliffe and P Goodlad from Darlington.

Others can buy it for £9.99 - going so well that local bookshops have already had to re-order.

As Backtrack revealed and sceptics doubted, Chris Waddle is definitely on his way back to Tow Law, the club where first he wore black and white stripes.

Waddle, Britain's best known sausage seasoner, will play on Tuesday, January 2, in a testimonial for Lawyers' long serving defender Mickey Bailey.

"Chris is back up for the New Year celebrations. It all fits in very nicely," says Tow Law manager Graeme Forster.

Bailey, 11 years at the Ironworks Ground, "retired" two years ago but missed the fresh air so much that he came back. He's best known for his penalty technique, his back to the goalkeeper until the whistle blows and seldom - just twice, it's reckoned - known to fail.

The benefit will be between Lawyers past and present, the star guest 45 minutes in each team and the possibility of further entertainment from the incongruous doubter who swore to run naked round the pitch should the Great Man turn up.

"Nowt on on a January night in Tow Law," muses Doc Forster. "It should be an interesting occasion."

Barnard Castle are playing the Rams Head from Langley Park in the Over 40s League when a Barney chap essays a dubious tackle. The ref summons him, pulls out the black book and demands his name. Stefan Slaviski Luendowski, says the offender. For some reason, reports League secretary Kip Watson, he didn't got booked after all.

John Robson in Darlington sends a copy of the Football League Review (price one shilling) from October 14 1967. Wills Whiffs were 4/7d for five, Ian Callaghan topped the poll for the week's top player - Bobby Kerr second, George Best tenth - and Crystal Palace had had the revolutionary idea of selling replica shirts, 50 bob apiece.

What particularly catches Mr Robson's eye, however - and the column's - is a letter from John Dawson in Hartlepool about what were termed soccer seekers. "The people who travel the country week in, week out in search of football," explained the Review.

Hartlepool John - for it is he - had attended 18 matches in September, nine times in seven years been to six in a week and needed just six to join the 92 Club.

Thirty three years on he's still at it - and, since it was just about the only match for 100 miles, at Thornaby v Shildon on Wednesday, his 110th (give or take) of the season.

Darlo John was at Thornaby, too. Last Saturday he'd headed for Burton Albion, got as far as Peterborough United and found himself with just £10 for food and other life supports.

At the club shop he spotted Peterborough slippers, "Posh" embroidered on the front, £3 a pair. "I'll give you four pairs for a tenner," said the lass behind the counter.

All of which may explain why he now owns eight Posh slippers and why he went hungry on Saturday, but not why he bought them in the first place.

"I wouldn't care," muses Darlo, "since they beat us in the play-offs I can't stand Peterborough anyway."

The two Football League teams with all the alphabet's first five letters in their name (Backtrack, November 28) are Wycombe Wanderers and Cambridge United; the two with none of them are Luton Town and Portsmouth.

Brian Shaw in Shildon today seeks the identity of the only team to have won both the FA Cup and the FA Amateur Cup.

Up for it again on Tuesday.