TO get to Spennymoor cricket ground, it says here, you continue past the post office and the Aged Miners' Homes, straight across the traffic lights, turn left past the church, left and then right and into a small estate of bungalows.

A small sign for the cricket club directs you down a little lane between two bungalows.

The lane, in turn, leads through some allotments. Continue through the allotments until you reach a field gate. The pavilion's on the left.

Frank Orr recalls the first time he tried to find one of cricket's great outfields. "It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland, there was a great big white rabbit hopping around the allotments, totally surreal.

"I had to go back twice to make sure I'd been to the right place, then ring them to ask if there wasn't a better way of getting there." There wasn't.

Cricket grounds tend to be like that, if not quite off the map then certainly amid its less familiar squares ? and anything but a straight drive.

Frank had also tried to find Trimdon Grange and Deaf Hill, another well-hidden secret.

"It's down a lane and behind a corner shop, which seemed to be news even for those working in the shop." Now he and friends have taken steps to put cricket back on track - or at least to get to the end of it. Finding the ground will be a lost cause no longer.

A quarter of a century with Durham City, he's now second team captain and opening bat - "dogged, occasionally effective, but not too many would pay to watch me". City celebrated their 175th anniversary in 2004.

There'd been a splendid club history to mark the 150th.

Frank decided to do something different - "something of lasting practical benefit." The outcome is an impressively produced, spiral-bound 250-page A-Z (Annfield Plain to Wolviston, anyway) of how to get to every cricket ground in the "old" county of Durham - the true county, between Tyne and Tees - with Bryan Stone's full page sketch maps for each one.

It is, as the incomparable club cricket historian Jack Chapman suggests in his foreword,"an odyssey to distant Lands" - and Lands ("go past the sewage works and down a dip") very definitely has a capital L.

"I'm asked all the time by teammates and parents of junior players how to get to certain grounds," says Frank, a Newcastle solicitor. "It just seemed a good idea but unsurprisingly proved a hefty undertaking. It's why we missed the actual anniversary." Ingleton's ground, in southwest Durham, can be found down an unmade track signed "Public footpath", North Bitchburn's is hidden behind a block of garages, Coxhoe and Littletown are both down dirt tracks, Witton-le-Wear's at the bottom of a track at the bottom of a field in the middle of nowhere in particular.

The brown signs point only to Chester-le-Street Riverside.

Frank always has problems with Lintz, in Burnopfield, too.

"It's in a housing estate, I always forget which road to go down." Cricket enthusiasts similarly not knowing which way to turn, should find their way to the nearest bookshop forthwith.

"Where's the Ground, an A-Z of Co Durham Cricket Clubs" costs £5 from Ottakar's in Darlington and Sunderland, Justsport in Newcastle or (plus £1.50 postage) from Durham City Cricket Club, Green Lane, Durham DH1 3JU.

ALREADY a follow-up is contemplated, a guide to the forgotten clubs of the old county.

The new book lists more than 50 which died and five lost leagues - Coxhoe and District, Mid-Durham Senior, NorthWest Durham, South-East Durham Tyneside Senior. Jack Chapman, inevitably, puts a little flesh on the bones.

What, he wonders, of the splendoured pavilion that tumbled into ruins at Quaking Houses, of the glory that was South Moor or the deep digging diehards of Dean and Chapter.

What of Waterhouses, Wheatley Hill and Wolsingham, where on a glorious day in 1932 the home side were 479 and finished on 260, J Dent 169 not out?

The county's first recorded match, says Jack, was at Raby Castle in 1751. The first mention of a cricket ground was at Hendon, Sunderland, in 1829.

The first image is of a match at Durham in 1849 between 22 of Durham City and the All England XI, on what is now the university ground. The new book may not have been needed in those days: by the look of that glorious vista, it couldn't possibly have been missed.

BULLDOG Billy Teesdale, that other lost soul of Co Durham cricket, undertook last Saturday a sponsored walk in aid of cystic fibrosis research. We mentioned as much in Tuesday's column.

What we didn't know is that Billy, now umpiring, was overtaken (while sitting on a wall) by John Armstrong, who'd featured in the column on June 3.

John's the 60-year-old retired chartered surveyor who, playing in a strong wind for Etherley II at Shildon Railway, broke his ankle after being struck by a flying sight screen. "You expect occasionally to be hit by a bat or the ball, but not wiped out by the sight screen," he said at the time.

Against medical advice, leg still heavily strapped, John made a few end-of-season appearances. "I give all sight screens a very wide berth," he says.

As for the blistered Bulldog, John promises him a few quid for the cause when next they meet on a cricket field - "so long as he doesn't see it as an attempt to bribe the umpire."

THE Grey Horse in Darlington are again in the national "combinations" final in Bridlington on October 8 - and with official recognition in the tournament programme.

"The Grey Horse," it says unequivocally,"have proved themselves to be by far the best team in the UK." In 28 appearances in national finals - combinations, singles or doubles - the Hoss have won six titles, including both combinations and team singles in 2003 and the singles four times in the last six years.

They go to the board, however, without Stormin' Norman Kent, who'll be playing for the George and Dragon in Heighington - the only other NorthEast team to reach the last 64.

"He'll be joining us again when we're in the singles finals on November 26," says Grey Horse teammate Derrick White. "Norman likes to spread himself around a bit, but that's the one we really want to win." League winners for the past two years, the team has had an unbeaten first month of the season. As usual, the Grey Horse off to a flyer.

How to get rid of the world's oldest weed

THE grass doesn't grow beneath Backtrack readers' feet; the weeds remain troublesome, nonetheless.

Tuesday's column told of the apparently insuperable problems facing Billingham Town FC chairman Tom Donnelly in trying to rid his ground of mares tail, the world's oldest weed - and, it might be added, the most cussed.

As if the pesky plant didn't spell trouble enough, eyebrows have also been raised about the absence of an apostrophe. The questioner has been advised where to put it.

The first response, at any rate, came shortly after 9am from Nick Mudd, a rather appropriately named agronomist from Northallerton and something of an expert on tweaking mares tail.

The best and probably only chemical control, says Nick, is MCPA - "possibly the cheapest and one of the oldest herbicides on the market." Two applications may be required, he suggests - one now, one early next summer.

Then we heard from Colin Graham, who runs a lawn care business in Shildon, has worked on Spennymoor Town football ground and has also been kicking the mare's ball about.

Some call it horse tail. In Crook, adds Colin, they call it something unprintable.

"The problem with mares tail is the waxy substances on its foliage which make it impenetrable to weed killer.

"The secret is to go over it with a rotary mower set at a high cut, cutting into the material of the plant - scarring it, if you like. Then you hit it with a systemic weed killer. It's quite safe to use in public places." There are stronger fluids, too, but Colin had to attend a course at Houghall to be able to use those.

Brigid Press, former Yorkshire and England cricketer and the Echo's gardening correspondent ? not a bad name for a journalist, either ? reckons mares tail is as old as the dinosaur.

"Spraying isn't too successful, you have to bash them around first. Mulching it limited, digging and strimming only make the problem worse because every little bit will root.

"A multi-attack approach is probably best - bash, spray and cover with black polythene in a continual cycle." Its obstinacy notwithstanding, mares tail does have its good points, adds Brigid.

It's good for cleaning, pots, pans and any silver ("what with being so coarse and abrasive").

It's also useful for lining hanging baskets and is supposed to be efficacious for arthritis.

Tom Donnelly ("I've arthritis something terrible") has duly been informed. Grounds for optimism? Another tail piece later.

And finally...

THE only player to captain both English and Scottish FA Cup winning teams (Backtrack, September 27) is Martin Buchan ? Aberdeen in 1970, Man United seven years later.

Jamie Corrigan in Ferryhill today invites readers to name seven black footballers who've played for both Middlesbrough and England - not necessarily when with the Boro.

Black and white and read all over, the column returns on Tuesday.

Published: 30/09/2005