His stand-in goalkeeper suffered concussion at the weekend. John Jackson remains simply semi-conscious - and with a distinct case of double vision, an' all.

A week on Saturday he'll be between the sticks for Billingham Synthonia in the FA Vase semi-final first leg match against Totton, in Hampshire. The final's almost certainly at Wembley.

The following day, he'll keep goal for Coundon Conservative Club in the last four of the FA Sunday Cup against Leicestershire side Birstall Stamford, the final at Anfield.

"It's absolutely scary," says John. "Either one of the games would be massive for someone like me, but to have two in 24 hours is just crazy."

A Northern League nomad, he knows most of the Coundon team from his days with Shildon, when they reached the FA Cup first round against Notts County.

Totton, beaten only once all season in the Wessex League, start favourites. "We've been underdogs in almost every match and it suits us," says John.

"There's no danger of me not keeping myself right, even if we win at Totton, because there's still the second leg the following Saturday."

The Sunday Cup match is at Hinckley - and the doubly determined goalkeeper is expected to drive there almost immediately the first game ends.

Cons Club team manager Paul Aldsworth anticipates no problems. "Jacko's a good goalkeeper and a good bloke. He's just going to have a busy weekend, that's all."

Friday's column sought memories of Willington lad Walter Holmes, a teacher and Methodist local preacher who played football for Middlesbrough and Darlington after World War I. Stan Wilson obliges, memorably.

Stan, another Methodist preacher, played football for Shildon (among others) and cricket for Redcar when, in 1965, they became the last all-amateur side to win the NYSD.

It was about that time that he taught history at Prissick school in Middlesbrough but was also anxious to develop cricket. A match between staff and boys was duly arranged, Walter Holmes - a stand-in teacher in retirement - persuaded to act as umpire.

Stan opened the batting as he did - "when picked" - for Redcar. "The pitch was a bit rough," he recalls. "The very first ball took a bad bounce, leaped up and hit me in the midriff. The kid had the cheek to appeal and Walter gave me out."

After recovering - the term "midriff" may be considered euphemistic - Stan appealed in turn, urging the umpire to consider the humiliation when next the triumphant child turned up for a lesson on the Siege of Stalingrad.

Walter remained obdurate, the moving finger vertical. "We're both good Methodists," he said. "Think how happy it's going to make that little lad."

More than 40 years on, Stan now lives in Sowerby, near Thirsk and all is forgiven - "but Walter," he says, "was a better Christian than me."

On Friday evening to Whickham FC's sportsmen's dinner, the ubiquitous Steve Kindon - his Burnley debut on the same day as West Auckland lad Dave Thomas - again holding court. Inevitably he was asked about Liverpool legend Tommy Smith: was he really such a tough nut? "Tommy was born on April 4 1945," said Kindo, "33 days later Hitler surrendered. That's hard."

Another record for Sharon Gayter - seven hours off the best-ever women's time for the 190k challenge across the Sahara Desert - and then another two days to wait for the back markers.

The 42-year-old Guisborough lass made it in 36 hours 45 minutes, fifth overall, her time paradoxically accelerated when she stopped for a short rest.

"I hadn't been sitting there ten seconds when this huge rat appeared - I thought it was going to eat us, it was that big. I was up and off like lightning."

Even with the benefit of GPS navigation, the Sahara proved very much more than a walk on the beach. "I was expecting miles and miles of sand, but at times it was like climbing Ben Nevis," says Sharon. "At one point I was going up a gully on all fours.

"It was only when I found myself staring up a cliff face that I realised I must have made a mistake on the GPS.

"It's very desolate, very deserted. Like being on Mars. You can't really believe that places like that exist, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything."

Back home yesterday, the Echo's overall Local Heroes winner last year plans a short rest - 24 hours at least - before resuming training. Next year there's a seven-day desert race; for dear old Gayter, dunes are busting out all over.

Singing cricketer Eddie Gratton continues to bowl them over. We featured all 18 stones of him in November, retired since 1989 after half a lifetime in the game - "They kept on mistaking me for the sightscreen," he said - but at 67 still enthusiastically treading the boards.

Last week he was a principal in Stockton Stage Society's production of The Follies at Billingham Forum - the programme surprisingly claiming that he'd been out of show business for 18 years but still every bit as good, we hear, as he used to be when intoning the Funeral March at third man.

Bernard Gent from Middlesbrough was in the audience. "On or off the field," he says, "Eddie remains pitch perfect."

A first even for the Over 40s League - father and son in the same promotion chasing team.

Terry Neilson is 58, his son - "Young Terry" they call him - 42. "You're not talking about idiots here, both of them are absolutely brilliant," says Bobby Cockburn, secretary of Newcastle-based Crofters Lodge FC.

Bob himself is originally a Bishop Auckland lad, played for the Bishops in the early 1960s, broke his leg, took up refereeing and reached Northern League middle and Football League line.

Mind, he recalls, he nearly got sacked by the Northern League secretary after daring to wear black hockey boots on a bone-hard pitch.

The Neilsons, as we were saying, are both midfielders. "Young Terry has been man of the match about six times this season and his dad not far behind him," says Bobby. "We've a squad of 24 so there's no family favourites. Dad and lad are definitely there on merit."

Word whistles down from the ever-excellent Langdon Beck Hotel at the top of Teesdale that Sunday's darts tournament raised £436 for cancer research, was won by Harry Robinson with Doug McCarthy and Stuart Fletcher joint runners-up. Doug, Crook lad and former England international, is due to play the column dominoes in June. He'll be runner-up then, an' all.

Friday's note on the late Eddie Carr - goal-scoring forward for Arsenal, manager of Darlington and Tow Law - prompts Jack Watson to recall the mid-50s days when he was Eddie's right-hand man at Feethams.

Dickie Deacon, affectionately remembered, was also there - as trainer and much else. "Dickie was the least sackable man in football, he was the only person who knew how to work the boilers," says Jack.

"Today there'd be about six people, all with fancy titles, doing what Dickie did on his own."

Jack, long in Shildon, also recalls another of Eddie's claims to fame - "Joe Harvey always reckoned that he was the only man he ever saw score with a header, for Bradford City I think, while lying flat on the floor."

Jack's not prone to exaggeration. Can anyone remember it?


The two Sunderland footballers who've won Olympic gold medals (Backtrack, March 9) are Nick Medina - with Argentina, in Athens, in 2004 and, much earlier, Ron Brebner who played for England at Stockholm in 1912. Brebner, a dentist who had also played for Stockton and Darlington, died young as a result of a football injury sustained against Leicester Fosse.

Since it's Cheltenham Week, Keith Bond in Brompton-on-Swale invites readers to name the only horse to have completed the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double.

At the double, as always, the column returns on Friday.