A three-month experiment to decide if footballers benefit from the appliance of science came to a conclusion at the weekend. The formula seemed to be working.

Murton, second bottom last season in the Northern League second division, have been willing guinea pigs in a BBC project to harness high tech to low achievement.

Since September they've been attended by scientists, therapists, nutritionists and psychologists, though whether the autumn would become a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness remained, of course, to be seen.

There'd been ample disappoint-ments before. Would it, everyone wondered, be just another case of Murton dressed up as lamb?

On Saturday, the final day's filming, the usual television crew - sufficient to float the average minesweeper - was joined by BBC Breakfast presenter Sophie Raworth, once of Look North in Leeds, who will front the Tomorrow's World type programme in January.

Murton were a changed team, they agreed, but not until the lovely Ms Raworth had filmed some interviews in the dressing room. "I think I was more embarrassed than they were," she insisted.

Among the more radical proposals had been a change of diet, which hitherto had meant chips with everything. "They've been making pre-match meals for us like pasta and that other high energy stuff," said Tom Torrence, the club's truly heroic chairman.

What other high energy stuff?

Tom pondered for a few moments. "You know, meat."

Dark rumour has it that a ballet instructor was also involved, though it's not the sort of thing they like to talk about in Murton Ex-Servicemen's Club.

The team from the Durham coast was chosen after a series of calamities culminated in the 30ft crater which opened up in the summer and remains in the middle of the pitch.

"We've never said they were the worst team, simply the unluckiest. They've had some terrible misfortune," said Sophie.

"I think they were a bit wary of us at first, but now they're all naturals."

The BBC had also persuaded several high-tech companies to look into the hole, but pretty soon someone's going to have to dig deep.

For the moment Murton play home games at Peterlee, where on Saturday the biggest crowd of the season watched them host South Shields - who earlier in the season had hammered them 5-0. A constant sub-plot was also audible, Newcastle v Sunderland on the wireless.

Like all the best experiments it had had "before" and "after" segments, the early researchers slightly surprised to discover that one young gentleman's pre-match preparation consisted of 16 pints of lager and a large but uncertain number of corned beef pies on the Friday evening.

The chairman defended him. "It was his birthday," he said.

Subsequently all manner of experiments have been visited upon them, most memorably the "bonding" weekend in the Lake District which the week previously had been undertaken by England's cricket team.

Though memories have become post-traumatically blurred, it included balancing on top of a lamp post, climbing a 70-foot tree, something with parachutes - strings attached, probably - and swimming underwater through a flooded pit.

"Because it was the telly, the daft buggers then wanted us to do it again," said Tom, required - like team manager Chris Copeland - to take part in all the exertions.

"I'd just gone dressed as I am now," said Tom, 54. "I was expecting a weekend at the bar."

The lamp post exercise, so far as may be recalled, involved leaping from the top to punch a balloon tethered, unhelpfully, a yard away. The jumper, happily, was wearing a harness and connected by ropes to team-mates on the ground.

"That weekend was fantastic for team building and morale. Our two best performances of the season came straight after it," said Chris.

They've been given lightweight boots, state of the art training kit, rain-repellent shirts of the sort worn by Manchester United. The psychologist talked to the goalkeeper about concentrating at penalties - close your eyes, he said, though not, presumably, at the vital moment - the nutritionist had allowed them chips in moderation, though preferably not on the same plate as half a pound of sausages.

"It seemed to be their favourite food," sighed Sophie.

On Saturday the born-again young side led through a 30-yard goal from Graham Best that might have made Match of the Day had Tomorrow's World not bagged it first.

Two minutes later, as if wanting in on the action, Shields' Dean Hannah put through his own goal. The script was working out perfectly, though a linguist might also have been helpful to explain the difference between "Back stick" and "12 feet over the wall behind the bottom goal."

Murton had even borrowed Peterlee's famed wall vaulting ball boy Robin Hardy - Robin reliant, if ever. "That's normally one of my jobs an' all," said Tom, who last season even came on as sub.

In the second half, however, Shields pressed constantly, twice hit the bar and just when the programme seemed set for the happiest possible ending, scored twice in the last two minutes.

Murton, are now 11th, still with a realistic promotion chance in a tight division. Their 25 goals equals last season's total, the 27 conceded is 106 fewer.

While acknowledging the BBC's input, however - "we've become real friends, the lady producer was almost in tears at the going away party" - Tom Torrence is anxious also to give credit to the manager.

"He's built a new team, most of them not even 21. Chris is the most important person in all this."

Chris himself accepted that a draw was fair. "We just lacked a little bit of experience to close it down at the end. The BBC has been a massive boost for us and now I have to keep the pot boiling.

"The main thing is that we didn't embarrass ourselves. I don't think we ever will again."

Had Murton not proved so irresistible, we should undoubtedly have fallen for Lewinsky in Saturday's 1.30 at Catterick - the Goathland Mares Only Handicap. There's a horse in training called Clinton, an' all, but fortunately they've never met. Lewinsky was third - unlike others of the breed, she remains a maiden.

In the cricket club where the chairman still drives the Sir Nigel Gresley, they remembered on Friday night the occasion on which the visitors almost missed the train altogether.

It was July 24, 1909, Guisborough v Bishop Auckland. Guisborough had declared at 219-6; Bishops were 167-6 (Bob Bousfield 72, Ernest Proud 70) as the clock approached 6.48, the time when the last train left town.

Proud's offer of a draw having been declined, Proud declared, forfeited the points and led his still-flannelled phalanx in the dash for the adjacent railway station.

The outcome, reported the following Monday's Northern Echo, was "most unsatisfactory."

Teams always went by train in those days, Guisborough to Constable Burton, even - though heaven knows how they got back - in the nineteenth century days when the Wensleydale side were the NYSD League's first champions.

Guisborough station closed in 1963, though there is airy talk of re-opening the line from Middlesbrough. The league management committee, at any rate, met on August 18, 1909 and decided that the match should be a draw, one point apiece.

What swayed them, apparently, was the time of the next train after the 6 48. It was on Monday morning.

July 24, 1909? Whitby's swing bridge was opened by Mrs Gervase Beckett, Rough Lea lodge from Hunwick was first into Durham for the Big Meeting, Louis Bleriot became the first man to fly the Channel, Fry, Jessop, Hobbs, Hayward and Brearley were dropped by England after the defeat by the Australians and Sunderland's English international forward Arthur Bridgett officially opened Leadgate Park FC's grand bazaar. Previously, said Bridgett, he'd considered it women's work.

Friday was awards night in Guisborough's magnificent new £470,000 clubhouse, where there's even a lift up to the lounges.

We've mentioned them before, of course: the club whose second team bagged a record seven run outs at Gateshead Fell in 1993 and where, three years later, a couple were disturbed beneath the new covers and left behind a pertinent undergarment as they fled.

The nationals all picked up on that one. It must have been the frilly season.

Last season, Guisborough reached the last eight of the National Cricketer Cup and the final of the Kerridge Cup. That both were on the same day compelled them to play the second team in the Kerridge.

The NYSD committee, which refused to move the Kerridge, is still spoken of irreverently.

Graham Shaw - Brotton lad, polliss, goalkeeper - won both club and league batting awards, once scored an unbeaten 167 in a 20-over night match at Chester-le-Street and is a good bloke, to boot.

Paul Goodchild won the bowling plus the league's award for most five-wicket hauls and there was a special award for Toto Shah, an amiable Kenyan retiring after 13 years third team duty.

Toto, it's reckoned, is so much a gentleman that he doesn't so much appeal as ask the umpire if a dismissal might possibly be considered an option.

A splendid night, an opulent buffet and Roger Barker - the Nigel Gresley man - even offered a footplate ride in the Spring, to which the fancy turns already. Only the speaker was rubbish.

THE only unbeaten team in the Albany Northern League second division (Backtrack, November 17) - and after Saturday, the entire League - is Penrith. They're 13th.

Readers are today invited to name the current Premiership manager who played in an FA Cup final in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.The final word, again, on Friday.