Just like the good old days at Crook Town on Saturday, right down to sending a little lad with a slate around the ground so that the winner of the half-time sausages might be made aware of his sizzling good fortune.

The crowd, admittedly, was some way short of the 15,000 or so - estimates vary with age and exaggeration - who siphoned into the Millfield during the golden age of the 50s and 60s, or who inhaled through a hole in the fence or, on one occasion, found the gate locked so took it into the ground with them.

The ground seemed bedecked, for all that, more flags than a Wear Valley Council maintenance depot, including one that proclaimed independence for the Grand Duchy.

"I'm just as excited as I was in those days, I'm a kid again," said Michael Manuel, hairdresser, historian and treasurer of the club now in the Arngrove Northern league second division.

"It's a wonderful occasion, stirs so many memories," said Bill Jeffs, right half in the twice-replayed Amateur Cup final, the greatest of them all, against Bishop Auckland in 1954.

Last 32 of the FA Vase, Crook played St Blazey from Cornwall, who'd found a £2,500 sponsorship from the St Austell Brewery in order that they might make the short flight from Exeter to Newcastle.

Still seemingly jetlagged, St Blazey suggested that the famous old pitch might be too small for its purpose. Crook's response was measured.

St Blazey, pretty near Penzance, is named after St Blase who died fearfully - excoriated by wool combs - and thereafter became the patron saint of wool combers.

We were down there at the same stage of the Vase in 1999, Dunston Fed's trip from Tyneside the longest ever undertaken by a team in a national FA competition. Our lads won 5-1, though the Saints have marched invincibly thereafter.

South Western League champions six times in the past seven seasons, they'd lost out on goal difference in the other.

Though the historic amber and black remains, Crook now play in the racing colours of North-East computer tycoon Graham Wylie, odds against victory but, appropriately, off to a flyer.

Allen to Milroy, goal after four minutes, the Cornish defence seemingly porous thereafter. "If they've won all those league titles, the results must have been about 13-11," someone said.

In truth, Crook had hoped for the additional assistance of a force eight blowing down Stanley bank, and may have been disappointed that the weather more greatly resembled a January afternoon on the Cornish Riviera.

It stayed 1-0 until half-time, the home following still a little concerned. In the previous round they'd led 6-1 by then.

In the clubhouse, Betty Gardener - widow of Derek Gardener, Crook's right back in the 1959 and 1962 Amateur Cup finals - presented to the club the England amateur international cap he'd won against Scotland. "A wonderful gesture," said club chairman Stephen Buddle, now steering Crook's tour towards the uplands.

There, too, were government chief whip and local MP Hilary Armstrong ("I learned to heckle at Crook," she said) and Lord and Lady Carter, he the chairman of Sport England.

"I used to think I was quite popular because I was a nice chap," said Lord Carter, jovially, "now I wonder if they just like me for the money."

It wasn't that Crook Town were after his money, of course, but they'd brought out the best china and made tuna sandwiches, an' all.

The second half was even better: a glorious volley by Paul Stout, two minutes later a virtuoso solo by Roy Allen. St Blazey, as Graham Wylie may never have said, no longer at the races.

Now Crook are in the last 16, away to Arnold Town in Nottinghamshire. On Saturday night they simply celebrated the moment, assistant manager Graeme Forster phoning at some incomprehensible hour to suggest a headline about Crook extinguishing Blazey. Cornish pixilated, anyway.

Mr Andrew Mollitt: an abasement. Seeking the odds against all 20 Premiership clubs being drawn apart in the FA Cup third round - as they were this month - we had consulted Mr Mollitt, maths master and captain of Richmond Cricket Club.

"About 12 in 1,000," Andy concluded.

Subsequent correspondents have called his calculations into question. Worse, the column may have been seen to give them equal credibility.

Others ranging from Mr Eric Gendle in Middlesbrough ("the calculation is laborious but simple") to Mr Alan Price in Wardley, Gateshead - "the doubters have fallen into the trap of many amateur statisticians" - now queue to underline the original answer.

Alan Price, indeed, believes that the same thing happened in the old first division about 30 years ago. Memory suggests that, unlike some of the company he keeps, Andy Mollitt is teetotal. He is a due a large Coke by way of apology: it was a serious miscalculation.

On foot to Nestfield Club in Darlington, where we bump into former DLI private Harry Dinsdale, now 73 and in combat no more mortal than the fearsome 5s and 3s league.

Harry was a member of the 2nd Battalion DLI team, which in 1955 became the first infantry side for 20 years to win the Army Football Cup. Now he's organising a reunion.

A cutting captures the victorious squaddies with colleagues who'd flown from the Rhine to watch the final, against the Pay Corps at Aldershot. A home-made banner proclaims "It's wor cup this time."

A more formal team picture (left) shows the top brass muscling in, almost as many chiefs as infantry.

Harry played subsequently for Tow Law and Shildon. Frank Boyd was on Sunderland's books, Alan Barker with Willington and John Allison, the skipper, with Blyth Spartans.

Harry's already sorted a room at the DLI Museum in Durham, has contacted quite a few of the lads but would love to hear from the rest. He's on 01325 359444.

They won 1-0, Frank Boyd scoring - the moment sweet, but the glory short. Poor bloody infantry, they didn't even have chance to defend the cup. The 2nd Battalion was disbanded a few months later.

That snowbound picture of a Darlington FC training session in the winter of 1962-63 continues to thaw out memories.

"I'm sure it was the season that Star Juniors used to dig themselves out a pitch for their Saturday morning training sessions from the snow and ice on South Park and that the Darlington players came along and trained on it the rest of the week," recalls Paul Atkin in Northallerton.

Star, then 12-15-year-olds, contested the Darlington Junior League with the likes of Blackwell Rangers, Eldon Rangers (who played on North Park) and Hundens Juniors.

The team was run by the affectionately remembered Ted Wales and included Mike Wright, who made almost 100 Darlington appearances around 1970 and goalkeeper Jeff Wealands, whose lengthy Football League career included 28 games for Darlington and seven for Man United.

Paul also remembers eagerly awaiting Friday night's Despatch to see if he was in the team. "Regrettably," he adds, "I usually wasn't."

And finally...

The only team which has contested the Premiership, all four "old divisions" and the third divisions north and south (Backtrack, January 20) is Coventry City.

Fred Alderton in Peterlee, one of many who worked it out, today seeks the identity of the Premiership manager whose real Christian name is Llewellyn - but who answers to something else entirely.

Answering to anything, the column returns on Friday

Published: 24/01/2006