Bishop Auckland play their first Northern League game for 18 years tonight at home to Newcastle Blue Star. Bishops waved farewell to the Northern League with a 5-0 win at Spennymoor in 1988 and joined the non league pyramid via the Northern Premier League, but now the wheel has turned full circle and Bishops are back in the league where they enjoyed many glittering glory days as an amateur club.

Sadly, their spiritual home of Kingsway is no more, so they will be playing their home games for the foreseeable future at neighbours Shildon until the fate of their proposed new ground at Tindale Crescent is decided.

Manager Brian Healy says he won't be playing tonight. "We're hoping to get off to a good start but we know that we're going to have a tough game," he said.

"It's a long time since I've been at this level, so I'm relying on the experience of my assistant Andy Fletcher. I believe that we've got a better team than last season, but in terms of preparation, maybe we're a week or two behind everybody else.

"Some of our lads have played only one pre-season game. However, I believe that we'll win more than we'll lose this season, and that should give us a top eight finish."

Healy will give his most recent signing, defender Richie Ward, an outing as he chooses from a full squad. However, he says he won't be playing, not even in an emergency, because he has decided to hang up his boots because of injury.

He played in the commemorative games at Oxford City and Corinthian Casuals a fortnight ago, and said: "I could not move on the Saturday. My right knee is very insecure and I had to play on my left foot.

"Now that has had enough and although I would like a game now and again, it's time to think what damage I am doing myself for the future. So it wasn't my comeback last weekend - it was my retirement!"

While the spotlight is on Bishops' return to the league tonight, there are two new clubs in Second Division action tomorrow. Stokesley, promoted at the 11th hour from the Wearside League, entertain Hebburn, and Team Northumbria from the Northern Alliance go to Crook Town.

Tow Law could be in trouble with the league for postponing the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Trophy final with Consett on Wednesday night.

Lawyers called the game off the night before saying that they couldn't raise a team, despite the efforts of league chairman Mike Amos and secretary Tony Golightly to persuade them to fulfil the game.

"We'll decide what action to take against Tow Law at our next management committee meeting," said Amos.

"Personally, I'm very disappointed at Tow Law not being able to raise a team and postpone the game at 24 hours notice. Ernest Armstrong was well respected around the league, and he should be remembered better."

Tow Law say that it was impossible for them to raise a team. "We're not being disrespectful," said secretary Bernard Fairbairn. "We had several players missing, either because of holidays, injury or work. We're quite willing to play on another date."

The committee will also discuss the future of the competition, as this is the second time in three years that the final has not taken place.

Esh Winning have appointed Brian Nelson as their assistant manager to Ray Gowan following the departure of Dave Burton who has decided to join Bedlington. Another player, Darryl Smith, has been appointed coach. Manager Ray Gowan said: "Dave has accepted the physio's job at Bedlington, which is adjacent to where he lives in Ashington, and he goes with our thanks and good wishes."

Gowan has signed ten new players, including Mark Poolan and Jason Keilty from Walker Central, and Mark Dee from Darlington Rugby Club.

Billingham Town manager Micky Watson is confident that his side can overcome the departure of top scorer Jamie Clarke to Gateshead.

Clarke scored 27 league goals last season to help Town into fourth place, but he decided to step up two rungs of the pyramid ladder and sign for Gateshead in the UniBond League.

"We're going to miss Jamie, " admits Watson, "but I'm still quite confident that we can do well, because this will be the second season for some of our players, and they learned a lot from last year."

Watson has brought in former Darlington midfielder Nathan Jameson from Dunston, and former Thornaby pair Mark Casey and Andy Harbron. They have also signed Martin Woodhouse, the 17-year-old son of their former striker George.

Guisborough have signed former Bishop Auckland defender Tony Hall, and he will probably make his debut at North Shields tomorrow.

Hall has got plenty of experience, along with another experienced player, striker Paul Hinton. "We're hoping that more players like those two will come along," said manager Andy Toman.

Guisborough are holding a big fund raising concert at Guisborough Hall on Sunday, September 24, beginning at 3pm. The day consists of appearances by local bands Sugarstone and the Fallen, and appearances by U2 and Bon Jovi and Queen tribute bands. The club is also holding a prize draw, the first prize is a holiday in a Malaga villa. Tickets for the event cost £25 each.

Washington have beaten several clubs to the signatures of Martin and Stephen Houlahan, who were at Spennymoor last season.

The brothers are joined by defender Steve Jones, who played for Tadcaster Albion last season, as well as Dale Robinson, Ian Mulholland and Andy Taylor. However, midfielder Richie Paxton has decided to retire from Northern League football, while striker Gary Forbes has gone to North Shields.

Second Division Hebburn have signed nine players in the last week, including experienced striker Andy McKenna from Northern Alliance club Easington and midfielder John Lydon who was at Seaham and Washington last season.

Norton have signed midfielder Nathan Mulligan, who was part of the Middlesbrough team that won the FA Youth Cup three seasons ago. He could be joined by another new signing before Norton start their season tomorrow at home to Penrith.

Shildon manager Gary Forrest says his side have a difficult start to the campaign - but there is no need to panic.

The Railwaymen were reprieved from relegation because of Thornaby's demise, although they would argue that their 50 point tally would be more than enough to beat relegation in any other season.

Forrest is in his second year in the job, and earlier in the week added former Ipswich midfielder Stuart Nevin from Tow Law to his squad along with Adam Emson from Thornaby, Dean Grayson from Chester-le-Street and keeper Adam Spence from Tow Law.

He said: "We're getting there slowly but surely, and the team is starting to take shape.

"We have a tough start to the season with three away games. We start at Northallerton, who did really well last season in the Second Division, we go to Morpeth, who are one of the title contenders for me, and then we have an FA Cup tie at Salford City.

"We'll have a good idea about ourselves by the end of the month. If we don't start too well, then there'll be no need to panic."

Nevertheless, there is more optimism this time round at Dean Street than there was at the same time last season, when the Railwaymen were struggling to put a team together.

"We've got a better team this time around, but it's still going to be tougher than last year," said Forrest.

"Last season, two clubs became marooned from the rest, and there was effectively only one relegation place to avoid, but that became academic because of Thornaby. Another two points, and we'd have finished five places higher up the league.

"This time, there doesn't look to be anybody who will struggle badly."

Meanwhile, Shildon have pointed out that their groundsharing arrangement with Bishop Auckland only runs officially until December.

Secretary Gareth Howe said: "Bishops haven't spoken to us yet about playing at Dean Street beyond then, but we would consider an extension if they approached us."

Dunston are hoping to complete the signing of defender Christian Hanson before the start of the season.

Hanson ended the season at Conference club Grays Athletic, after previously having a spell with promoted Leyton Orient. Before that, he had played in the Northern League for Billingham Synthonia and Dunston.

Meanwhile, Dunston were given plenty of encouragement for this season's title race when they won the Cleator Cup with a 2-0 win at champions Newcastle Blue Star last Saturday.

"I thought we played really well and looked solid," said assistant manager Perry Briggs.

"We showed what we can do and although it was only one game, it was very encouraging. We had a good strong bench as well - we didn't have strength in depth like that last season."

Dunston are without a game tomorrow as they were due to play Bedlington, but the league has agreed to postpone the match because of Bedlington's recent problems. Their first game is at Newcastle Benfield on Tuesday.

Consett have signed former Sunderland keeper Craig Turns and ex-Scarborough striker David Pounder. Both will probably make their debuts tomorrow at West Auckland. Manager Kenny Lindoe is also hoping to sign a midfielder before the game.

Ashington have re-signed striker Alan Hogg in time for the new season. He was a prolific scorer for Ashington until last season, because he missed most of the campaign because of a stomach problem. Several clubs have been chasing him, but he has decided to stay at Portland Park. Ashington have also signed Ryan Bell, who has been released by Sunderland.

Durham City released former Darlington youngster Michael Coghlan last week and he was immediately snapped up by Newcastle Blue Star who played him in their Cleator Cup defeat at home to Dunston. City have also released Ben Ryan, who has gone to Seaham Red Star, and Calvin Smith, who has signed for Chester-le-Street.

Striker Craig Tate, who was Consett's top scorer midway through last season and then moved to Morpeth, has now joined Second Division Ryton.

Recent transfers include; Keith Finch (Sunderland Nissan to Seaham Red Star), Mark Cockburn (Alnwick to Ryton), Mark Foster (Crook to Spennymoor), Steven Jones (Crook to Washington)

Whickham have moved their FA Cup extra preliminary round tie with Marske United from Saturday, August 19 to the night before, as their ground is being used for a cricket match the next day. If Whickham go through, they will play Brigg in the next round at Dunston on Sunday September 3.

Horden have been hit by the sudden departure of midfielder Ben Jackson, who signed for them just a month ago from Inverness. Jackson has accepted the offer of a trial with another Scottish club, Hamilton.

West Allotment have brought forward their FA Vase first qualifying round tie with Horden on Saturday September 9 to the night before.