If at first you don't succeed (1): Forty-four years after first donning whites for Cowpen Bewley Cricket Club, Len Walker has achieved a lifetime's best - 7-53 against Hinderwell.

"The Sunday paper said 6-53, they're trying to rob me," he protests.

He also hit an undefeated 15, took a fearful blow on the toe and then drove the 35 miles home.

Cowpen Bewley is near Billingham, his home town. His present home is in Bagby, near Thirsk. Lennie the Lionheart is 70.

"My wife tries to get me to retire every week, but I always seem to end up playing again," he says. "It's not a game in which you have to be terribly mobile.

"I wouldn't say that it seems a long way to get to Cowpen Bewley for matches, but if we've lost or I've had a bad day it can seem a very long way back. By the Monday morning I'm always looking forward to the weekend again."

For years he opened the batting with Colin Beesley, 14 years his junior, who'd been in Sunderland's 1968-89 FA Youth Cup winning side and made three sub appearances for the first team.

Now he's dropped down the order to concentrate on bowling - "off-spin," says Len, "they never know what's going to come next."

The toe injury ruled him out of last weekend's game. "I've holes in my boots and someone asked what colour my socks were. I said they were white and he told me they'd just turned red. I didn't realise how bad it was."

It's unlikely to sideline him for long. "It never really seems worth it to buy new boots but after 7-53, maybe I'm just reaching my peak."

If at first you don't succeed (2): We also hear that former Stockton lad, England amateur international footballer and 1960s Blackpool legend Tommy Thompson - interviewed hereabouts in March - hit his first hole-in-one last week. "I always hoped it would happen one day," says Tommy - but he's just a bairn of 69.

Harry Smurthwaite, 40 years with Bishop Auckland, also played cricket until he was 67 - but died the following year, November 2004, on Barney golf course.

Harry was one of life's gentlemen, though it's reckoned that once he was reported to the league for whistling the Laurel and Hardy theme, in an insolent manner, at Marton.

Now Debra, his daughter, is planning to tackle the Great North Run on September 30 in his memory and in aid of the British Heart Foundation.

Already an enthusiastic hockey player and swimmer, she's at last taken up cricket at the age of 38. "The coach said I was a natural off-spinner. I'm really enjoying it; dad would have been proud of me," says Debra, a teacher in Middlesex.

She's hoping that many friends and former colleagues of her dad's - maybe even Marton - will want to sponsor her. Details of how to do it very shortly.

Durham's tremendous victory on Saturday wasn't, of course, the county's first "major" silverware as a first class county as widely has been supposed. John Briggs recalls that they won the Northern Electric Cup by beating Yorkshire at Scarborough. That the trophy was subsequently left in the pub - Mr Phil Bainbridge doubtless unfairly blamed - was neither here nor there.

Back to that entertaining little competition between Ferryhill and Spennymoor to settle which town can boast more post-war Football League players.

We're reminded by Colin Aldred of his Ferryhill born son Graeme, whose 57 appearances as Darlington's right back between 1984-86 included the FA Cup third round replay win over Middlesbrough on January 8 1985 - voted Feethams' greatest ever game.

Phil Lloyd and Middlesbrough lad Garry MacDonald scored for the Quakers in front of a 14,239 crowd - and then they went and lost to Telford in the next round.

Tragically, Graeme - "a really nice young man," others recall - died in a car crash in 1987, aged just 20.

Colin also recalls Ferryhill lads Ian Larnach, who made a couple of Darlington appearances in 1969, and John Pearson, who played one match for Hartlepool at about the same time.

Latest score - and this is getting a bit embarrassingly one-sided - Spennymoor 3 Ferryhill 14.

The enterprising lads from the Durham Amateur Football Trust today launch an exhibition in the West Auckland Village Centre - formerly the library - with particular emphasis on West's FA Amateur Cup final appearance in 1961.

They lost to Walthamstow Avenue. The exhibition, admission free, will run from 10am-noon every day except August 26 and August 28. A film of the final will be shown in West Auckland FC's clubhouse from 7pm on Tuesday September 4.

The road to Wembley starts at Thackley v Ashington

Just three months after John Terry lifted high the old pot, the FA Cup kicked off again on Saturday, 731 teams having paid the Football Association 75 apiece for the privilege of being able to dream.

They ranged from Loughborough Dymamo to Coventry Sphinx, from Walsham-le-Willows to Wooton Bassett Town. The column took itself to Thackley v Ashington, extra preliminary round.

Thackley's near Bradford, part of the ward of Thackley and Idle and thus home to the celebrated Idle Workingmen's Club, that well known contradiction in terms. They even sell T-shirts and things.

There's also an Idle Medical Centre - many a North-East GP may consider his practice so sub-titled - but the Loose Women's Institute is somewhere else entirely. Near Maidstone, in fact.

The club lists Uri Geller, Tom O'Connor and singer Michael Jackson - No. 005 - among its honorary members. Saturday lunchtime and it was shut. Probably they couldn't be bothered, someone said.

We were left instead to ponder that 36 per cent of Idle's unemployed haven't worked for two years or more and that getting on four per cent of them have never worked at all.

Dennyside, the football club's home, is also the base for a monthly magazine called the Thackley Trumpet ("with which is incorporated the Idle Chatterer.") It didn't mention, but might have done, that Ashington spent five years in the 1920s in the Third Division (North) and had played Aston Villa, never mind Thackley, in the Cup.

Matt Messias, former Premiership referee and Thirsk schoolmaster, was at the match, too - now he's running a football consultancy and the FA's regional referees' coach.

We talked, inevitably, about discipline, and swearing - to which, rarely among today's officials, he'd been known to take offence. "Twelve years at Thirsk school and none of my lads was ever sent off," said Matt.

The match referee was Glen Hart, Darlington, lad, whose father, Robbie, also officiated at the highest level. He had a very good game, not an unnecessary peep out of him.

The Arngrove Northern League side won 1-0 thanks to Andy Weeks's second half goal. They get 500, 999,500 less than they will if, slightly improbably, they raise the Cup on May 17, 2008.

Thackley were sporting in defeat. The workmen's club still being shut, we had another pint in the clubhouse. Been there, done that, never even got the T-shirt.

The Observer, meanwhile, began its Road to Wembley feature by sending sports writer Anna Kessell to Guisborough Town v Norton and Stockton Ancients, recently rejuvenated. Last year the Ancients featured on Football Focus, too.

Ms Kessell was clearly impressed. Norton secretary June Teasdale, she said, was "glamorously dressed, with a lovely bosom that wobbled as she giggled" - and only another woman could write that.


the goalkeeper who is both the youngest and oldest ever to play for England (Backtrack, August 17) is Peter Shilton.

Readers are today invited to name the fourth division club which reached the 1962 League Cup final, before losing to Rochdale.

The column returns on Friday - and with an explanation of why we've had an urgent e-mail from the Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pattie.