It was the last time we sent a united football team to the Olympics. Rome 1960. We mayn't have been great Britain any longer, but we were still pretty canny, for all that.

Though it was long supposed that the only way for a North-East-based player to force his way into the England amateur side was with a pick-axe and several sticks of gelignite, three were in the Great Britain squad.

One was Crook lad Arnold Coates, then with Evenwood Town, another the late and much-lamented Laurie Brown and the third Tommy Thompson, a 22-year-old railway locomotive cleaner from the Tilery area of Stockton.

The first match was on Friday, August 26 against Brazil - "the pattern-weaving Brazilians," said the Echo's match report - the Latins formidable, even on paper.

Carlos Alberto, Nono, Decio, Dari, Roberto Dias, Rubens II, Gerson, Wanderley, Paulinho Ferreira, China, Waldir.

Great Britain lined up: Pinner, Thompson, Holt, McKinven, L Brown, Sleap, Lewis, R Brown, Hasty, Lindsay, Devine.

Britain, the underdogs, led 2-1 when Tommy Thompson broke his leg. The Echo called it a "crash tackle", Tommy - now just turned 69 - is more forgiving. "I'd just passed the ball forward to Paddy Hasty and this lad, Gerson I think it was, caught me on the leg.

"I went up in the air and I heard it crack. I wouldn't say he went over the top or anything like that.

"I told the medical people not to move me because it was broken, but they didn't speak English. They didn't even strap my legs together, just put them individually on the stretcher and humped me off like a sack of coal.

We finally lost 4-3, Tommy 14 weeks in plaster from toe to thigh. Our boys, said the Echo, had done us proud.

On August 27, 1960, the Echo also reported that Brian Clough had ended his "strike" and would play for the Boro that afternoon, that British swimmer Natalie Steward had won her 100m freestyle heat in Rome, that local lad Al Rawe had won the freestyle wrestling at Spennymoor Town Hall and that Guisborough polliss Malcolm Smith had taken all ten wickets for the second time that season - the first for Guisborough against Stockton in the NYSD, the second for Cleveland police division against Northallerton headquarters.

We mention Tommy Thompson, Stockton's last Olympian, because of a reference in Tuesday's column to Ron Brebner, Stockton's goalkeeper when he won Olympic gold with England in 1912.

Ken Lyons in Thornaby not only remembered Tommy but tracked him down, to Blackpool. This week, perchance, he was back in the North-East visiting family. We caught up at their Jack's, in Seaham.

The Olympics, of course, had little of the razzmatazz which now accompanies their every inch. Tommy even keeps a leaflet appealing for funds to get the lads to Rome. Everyone in Tilery knew who he was, anyway, he says.

As bairns they'd play round Lustrum Beck, buy pigs' bladders, penny a time, from the abattoir, kick round with a bundle of rags wrapped in string when funds wouldn't even inflate to a penny.

"Tilery was lovely," he recalls. "You had nothing but neither had anyone else. You were all in the same boat together."

Unable to get into the town schools' team, he signed for Middlesbrough as an apprentice, was called for National Service in 1956, barely played football for a year.

Demobbed, he returned to Stockton, known as the Ancients and then in the semi-professional North Eastern League at the region's other Victoria Ground.

His scrapbook offers headlines like "Victoria was not amused", by-lines like Pangloss, sidelines like Des Clough - Brian's brother - being the Ancients' only ever-present in 1958-59.

There are photographs of the bright-blazered Olympians, of him and Lol Brown promoting schools football for the FA, of the Roman stretcher case - just like watching Brazil.

Tommy - lovely feller, still just 10st 4lb, still butcher's dog fit - had almost immediately made the England amateur team. Amateur? Hand on heart? Fifty years later?

"I used to get £10 a week in my boot, good money in those days because the maximum pro wage was only £20, but they put it down as expenses. Altogether I was taking home more than my father, and he was a foreman at ICI."

Boro helped with his post-Rome rehabilitation, played him in practice matches, offered terms. He recalls a game, first team against reserves, ending goalless. Three days later the same sides played again, except that the first team included Brian Clough.

"It was 9-0 and Cloughie had scored five or six of them when Bob Dennison, the manager, stopped it early to end our humiliation. He was some player, Cloughie."

Middlesbrough were in the second division, Blackpool in the first and offered better terms. "It wasn't the money I signed for," says Tommy. "Partly it was because I'd heard Cloughie talking about cliques in the dressing room, partly because Blackpool seemed a nicer place to live.

"You could see all the stuff from ICI, and all the steel works, coming across the fields towards us. I love the North-East people, none better, but I've never for a minute regretted settling down in Blackpool."

He made 154 Football League appearances at full back during the 1960s, scoring once in an under-achieving side which at different times included Jimmy Armfield, Tony Waiters, Emlyn Hughes - "stolen by Shankly" - Alan Ball, Tony Green and, of course, Stan Matthews.

"Stan once offered to put a yard on my speed if I'd give him £100. I didn't take him on. I never knew what his secret was but it was supposed to be carrot juice. It would have been pretty expensive carrot juice."

The Seasiders never finished above 13th before being relegated, eight points adrift at the bottom, in 1967. At Bloomfield Road, they've been waiting for the tide to turn ever since.

"Maybe we just didn't gell, maybe there was bad team selection," he muses. "I do know we sold some very good players - Bally was the best I ever played with, no question."

At the end he played four times for York City, did some coaching and scouting at Bootham Crescent, became a milk roundsman for 20 years and then a bowling green inspector for Blackpool council. "Lovely job," he says, "I could have done that until I was 70."

Now he plays golf and crown green bowls, looks forward to running a few more half-marathons after a knee operation.

His training partners have included West Hartlepool and former British heavyweight champion Brian London, also long in Blackpool and at 72 still running round the parks.

He has no regrets and no envy, not even of £100,000 a week. "It's too much but that's their business. Money talks. I was a Tilery lad and I did all right. It was just a pity about Brazil."

Laurie Brown, who died in September, 1998, was both a great footballer and one of the best and most genuine people around. "An exceptional centre half and a lovely, lovely man," says Tommy Thompson.

Until he was 23, Olympic Games notwithstanding, he was a £13-a-week joiner at Doggarts' store in Bishop Auckland, playing his football for the Bishops.

He signed for Northampton Town, moved for £35,000 to the Arsenal - 101 Football League appearances at centre half - went for £45,000 to join Bill Nicholson at Spurs and finished, with former Darlington boss Lol Morgan, at Norwich.

His passion for football was so great that while at Norwich he fell foul of Durham FA by also playing a Sunday morning match for Howden-le-Wear Workmen's Club - "There weren't even goal posts, we put coats down," he recalled.

Lol Morgan was more understanding. "That's just Laurie," he said.

Though Highbury made a huge impression - "Even the bathrooms had heated marble floors, at my mam's there wasn't even a bath" - Bishop Auckland remained his favourite club and back home his favourite place.

He ran a pub in Shildon, his home town, moved to Newton Aycliffe and drove a milk tanker, died four and a half years after a stroke from which he never fully recovered.

His funeral was at Shildon Spiritualist Church, the tape playing Welcome To My World. His big pal was Geoff Strong of Stanley United, Liverpool and Arsenal. "Simply," said Geoff, "a fabulous, fabulous feller."


Recalling famous folk from Billingham, last Friday's column made a rather telephobic error. We described Jet, of the Gladiators, as a feller.

"Your eyes must be even worse than any of us ever thought," - says Arthur Pickering in Hartlepool, one of several to spot the error a mile away.

Her real name's Diane Youdale. If you'd ever seen her doing her thing at half-time at Ayresome Park, adds Arthur, the mistake would never have happened.

The column never was one of the jet-set, anyway.

Not just Sunderland players go round missing the bus. When Whitby Town's team coach left for Matlock at exactly 9.30am last Saturday, two young supporters were left behind.

Frustrated, one kicked out at a nearby parking cone - rather unfortunate (says Town chairman Graham Manser) because the polliss happened to be passing at the time.

Rebuked, the lads explained why they were fed up - at which the polliss told them to get in, chased the bus over the moors and caught it halfway to Pickering.

Graham's impressed. "It was just old- fashioned policing," he says. "Absolutely tremendous."

Not something that's likely to be repeated, we essayed a sports talk last night to the gentlemen of the Weardale Methodist churches. It at least allowed the recollection of an all-time favourite headline, in the Weardale Gazette after Stanhope Town lost 12-1 to St John's Chapel. "Stanhope in 13-goal thriller."

More memories of Walter Holmes - former Middlesbrough and Darlington footballer, headmaster and ardent Methodist local preacher - from Maurice Metcalfe, in Darlington. Maurice himself has been a Methodist local preacher since 1952 and, aged 83, still holds forth. Though he never saw Walter play football, they met regularly on weekend retreats at the Christian Endeavour Hostel in Saltburn.

"Walter was always in attendance, a great encourager and an inspiration to us younger lay preachers. He was a man of grace - in a nutshell, Walter practised what he preached."


The only horse to complete the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double at Cheltenham (Backtrack, March 12) was Dawn Run in 1984 and 1986.

Tonight at Bishop Auckland Cricket Club (8pm) there's a chance to see newsreel footage of Bishops' FA Amateur Cup finals from 1935-57, to take part in a quiz and to help football club funds.

It prompts John Phelan, one of the organisers, to ask how many Football League sides the once-mighty Bishops beat over the years in the FA Cup.

Undefeated, the column returns on Tuesday.