RAYMOND AYRE – great all-rounder, great guy – died on Monday evening. He was 85.

Raymond played football for several Northern League clubs and for both Durham and Northumberland and was a member of the great Ushaw Moor cricket team which won the Mid-Durham Senior League between 1959-62 and the Durham County League for five successive 60s seasons.

He then became a passionate golfer, playing off a single-figure handicap and making the last four of a Northern Echo tournament in Ireland. Moira, his wife, died three years ago.

We’d seen him at an Ushaw Moor reunion in 2005 (“just tekkin’ the tablets, like a lot more”) and at Shildon’s ill-starred FA Vase semi-final match in March 2013, two days before his 80th birthday.

A right half in a family of goalkeepers, he was born in New Brancepeth, west of Durham, played for the junior football team run by Billy, his dad, before the family moved up the road to Ushaw Moor.

As a young footballer he was good enough to be offered terms by Grimsby Town, then managed by Bill Shankly, but turned them down. “At least Shanks bought him lunch,” recalls Valerie Snaith, Raymond’s sister.

He was in the Shildon side which in 1958-59 reached the Amateur Cup quarter-final – “Shildon was the nicest club I was ever with” he’d always insist – and in the Durham County team against the East Riding when Lol Brown, later of Arsenal and Spurs, hit nine.

“The centre half was about 5ft 8ins,” Raymond recalled. “He wouldn’t have reached Lol even if he’d stood still.”

Though football usually came first – “there was hell on at Ushaw Moor, I never finished a season” – he remained an outstanding club cricketer. “”Skilful opening batsman, superb slip fielder and a canny off-spin bowler, too,” says cricket club secretary George Thompson.

George also recalls a late 1960s cup tie at home to Chester-le-Street, then dominating the Durham Senior League, in which the visitors needed a six off the last ball in order to prevent a famous Ushaw Moor victory.

The ball was hit high but straight to Raymond at long-on. Catch completed, celebrations were truncated when the umpire signalled a six, ruling that the fielder had overstepped the boundary. After much protest on and off the field, the teams departed.

Half an hour later, Raymond had calmed down and was headed for the clubhouse when he found the umpire standing outside – too scared, said the official, to go in and ask for his money.

“Don’t be so bloody silly,” said Raymond and escorted him inside – “a true sportsman in every respect,” says George.

After working at the local Co-op, he became a rent collector for the old Brandon and Byshottles Urban District Council and then a housing officer for Durham City Council.

“They worked flexitime so he loved it, it gave him more time for sport,” says Valerie. “He’d hoped one last time to go to watch Shildon this season. Sadly, he didn’t make it.”

GEORGE BRYANT never quite made football’s 92 Club, had visited 86 when he died eight years ago. “He was a Newcastle fan but would go anywhere for a match,” says Kathy, his widow.

Every year since, Kathy and friends from the Half Moon in Spennymoor have organised a charity match – Newcastle fans against Sunderland fans – in his memory.

This year’s is on Saturday October 13, 2pm at Kirk Merrington rec, in support of the Bradley Lowery Foundation and with 77-year-old former World Cup referee George Courtney in the middle.

“I’ve even invested in a new kit,” says George. “I’m also training a little harder so that on the day my body responds to my brain’s requests.”

The two know one another from swimming at the leisure centre. “You can put this in black and white,” says Kathy. “Women can swim and talk at the same time. Men can’t. George just talks.”

YET more highs for our friends at Wearhead United, they of the loftiest football ground in England. At the Durham FA long service awards last week, three of them – Colin Coulthard, Derek Elliott and goalkeeper/historian Raymond Snaith – each received a 50-year service award. Verily, the tops.

ANTICIPATING the launch of Frank Clark’s autobiography – Crook Town FC, 7.30pm, October 24 – last week’s column noted that in 466 games as Newcastle United’s left back, he’d only once troubled the scorers.

“I was there,” writes Paul Symons. “Frank Clark was a proper full back.”

It was a second round League Cup game against Doncaster Rovers, October 8 1973, Malcolm Macdonald hitting three and Keith Robson the other two in a 6-0 Magpie mauling.

It was Clark’s goal which really excited the 15,908 crowd however, the usual chant of “Frank Clark knew my father” – to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers – briefly drowned by “Frankie for England.”

The Newcastle team was McFaul, Nattrass, Moncur, Howard, Clark, Cassidy, Hibbitt, McDermott, Smith, Macdonald, Robson.

The club archives are diplomatic. “Frank Clark scored his first goal for the club,” says the website. Which, of course, was true….

….and finally, the unique thing about Arsenal’s first ten league goals this season (Backtrack, September 29) is that they were scored by ten different players.

Paul Hewitson in Darlington today invites readers to name the seven teams who’ve finished in the top three of the Premier League without ever winning it.

Close but no banana, the column returns next week.