ONE of the thrills of being a schoolboy in the 1950s was going with your dad to watch a Northern League football match on a Saturday afternoon. In my case it was to the Millfield ground in Crook, and depending on kick-off time, we either travelled on the United bus or on the train. In the 1957-58 season we used the bus a lot because one of the Crook players, Cyril Gowland, also travelled on the United bus to home games. Cyril usually sat three or four seats from the front on the driver's side. We would greet him with "Now Cyril," and he would reply, "Alright there."

Cyril was a good footballer who had played for Cockfield and Evenwood before joining Crook in 1957. At the end of the 1957-58 season he was a member of the Crook Town team that lost 1-0 to Ilford in the semi-final of the Amateur Cup at Roker Park, Sunderland. Four years later Cyril would make another appearance in an Amateur Cup semi-final, this time for Bishop Auckland against Hounslow at Brentford in 1962. Once again he would be on the losing side as Bishop lost 2-1 with O'Connell the Bishop goalscorer. After six appearances in FA Amateur Cup Finals at Wembley in the 1950's, that semi-final at Brentford in 1962, is the closest the 'Two Blues' have been to Wembley since 1957 when they beat Wycombe Wanderers 3-1 to lift the Amateur Cup for the third year running and for the tenth time in all.

Ray Wilkie was also a character and a one-off, with some ability as a footballer. He took football seriously and Ann Walton who was married to his brother Derek said, "I never saw Ray smoke or drink, he knocked around with Kenny Carr and Keith Hylton and just drank fruit juice. Former Crook goalkeeper Ray Snowball can remember an Amateur Cup replay against Corinthian Casuals which was played on the Oval cricket ground in Surrey. Ray said, "We were winning 2-1 and time was running out when we won a throw- in on the left hand side. Ray went to take it, but took his time. Doug Insole the Corinthian's outside right and an Essex and England cricketer shouted, "Come on old boy, get a move on.' Ray shouted back, 'Who kicked the ******* thing out?'

Cyril Gowland journeyed around a number of Northern League clubs and former Evenwood stalwart Tony Monkhouse recalled when Cyril played for West Auckland in the early 1960's. "You would have thought that Cyril and I had been joined at the hips," said Tony. "When Evenwood played West at home Cyril always waited for me to come into the ground. We would then walk across the field together laughing and joking before we reached the dressing rooms. Then we would stop, shake hands, and wish each other all the best. Cyril often quipped, 'Mind yer if I get the chance I'll kick yer.' He was a lovely lad, a good footballer too, a player who could make other players around him play."

It was tragic that within a short space of time in the early part of the 1960's both Cyril Gowland and Colin Bainbridge lost their lives in accidents. Cyril was electrocuted at work while Colin died due to injuries received in a car crash. Ray Wilkie died on November 28th 1992 aged 56 after undergoing major surgery for a brain tumour. He was a legend in Barrow after managing the town football club and had a stand named after him. On his death a local paper carried the headline 'Wilkie the hero of Holker Street is dead.'