Back where it just about began, Frank Clark was at Crook Town last week to launch his autobiography. Since it was near enough Hallowe’en, his ghost came with him.

While still a scientific sixth former he’d been left back in the unknown Highfield side – west of Gateshead – which beat the illustrious Crook 1-0 in the Durham Challenge Cup.

Impressed, Town signed him on, the £4 in his boot after every match not, of course, a payment – they were amateurs, after all – but a little something in lieu of what he might have earned delivering Evening Chronicles.

That season the Northern League team won the FA Amateur Cup for the third time in eight years, the young left back outstanding in every round. Days after the final he made his England amateur debut and was then included in the youth international party on a tour to Israel.

A-levels were just weeks away. Though he took his books, they remained unopened. Exam results were disappointing, university offers withdrawn, a bright football future awaited, nonetheless.

The idea for the book, he says, came after a stranger approached him on holiday in Portugal last year. “You’re the only man ever to win both an FA Amateur Cup medal and a European Cup winner’s medal,” the guy said.

Clark thought about it. “Bugger me,” he concluded, “he’s right.”

After much wooing, he joined Newcastle United in November 1962, was part of the side which seven years later lifted the Fairs Cup, regularly reminded by the Leazes End – to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory – that Frank Clark had known their fathers.

In his early St James’ Park days, however, he’d been sidelined for 11 months after breaking his leg following a tackle by a Liverpool played called Tommy Smith.

Reluctant to apportion blame, Clark still remembers the trainer’s reaction when finally he reached the stricken full back. “Run it off,” he said.

He 485 league and cup appearances for the Magpies he scored just once – the last in a 6-0 League Cup win over Doncaster Rovers. “The place went berserk, a director came in with a bottle of champagne. It was embarrassing, really,” he tells Crook.

Even that, however, may not have been so great a surprise to soccer’s stub-pencilled statisticians as his only league goal, scored for Nottingham Forest at Ipswich in a Monday night game at the end of 1977-78.

Ipswich were in the FA Cup final, their minds elsewhere. Forest had won the old first division title the previous Saturday and were nursing a collective hangover.

Clark, in those days the solitary sub, was told by manager Brian Clough in the half-time dressing room that he’d be coming on – for Peter Withe, the centre forward.

Protest, defence mechanism, proved vain. “You can’t do worse than that bugger,” said Clough.

Soon afterwards Forest won a corner, the ball fell to the makeshift striker and he lashed it home. “That was an even bigger embarrassment,” he recalls. “I’d never been in the penalty area from a corner in my life.”

Though Clough insisted that he only signed him because he was cheap, he made 156 appearances for a greatly successful Forest side, became assistant manager to Ken Knighton at Sunderland and spent 12 years at Leyton Orient before returning to Forest as manager and, subsequently, chairman.

Now 75, North-East accent more or less intact, he’s still with Forest as what corporate folk like to call an ambassador. “It really just involves me turning up for lunch on match days,” he says. “It’s the best job I’ve had in my life.”

We’d last met in July 1993, shortly after Clark became Forest’s manager, the City Ground interview arranged for 1pm.

That it began at 4 25pm was partially explained because they’d been signing the striker Gary Bull from Barnet, then chaired by Barry Fry and seriously on their uppers.

Frank remembered the deal, if not the delay. “It’s not often you got one over on Barry Fry but I did that day,” he said.

After just one goal in 12 starts, Bull again moved to pastures new. The 1993 headline had been “Better late than never.” The manager might just as well have been talking to me.

Crook became five times Amateur Cup winners, never beaten in the final, were five times Northern League champions, among non-league football’s true greats. Now they struggle to escape the Ebac Northern League second division.

Led by the column’s indomitable old friend Vince Kirkup, now club chairman, it’s not for want of trying.

A chap in the Q&A asks Clark if he’s had chance to revisit the Millfield dressing rooms. Clark says that he hasn’t. “Nowt’s changed,” says the questioner.

It may not be said, however, that Crook don’t move with the times. Why else would the clubhouse bar sell not just beer and stuff but gin flavours like Turkish delight, bubblegum and parma violet? What’s parma violet? What’s with this gin thing, anyway?

Why else, come to that, would they offer goldfish bowls for £6. Goldfish bowls when we were kids were something with ants eggs on the top. Now, presumably, they’re alcoholic.

The old boy delivers a greatly entertaining evening, the club – for £2 a head – lays on a quite magnificent buffet. If Frank’s not welcomed like the prodigal son, for that phrase is biblically abused, they’ve killed the fatted calf, nonetheless (though these days with a vegetarian option.)

It’s a warm and convivial occasion. The old amber and blacks may still have seen better days, but they’ll seldom have enjoyed a better night.

Black and White and Red All Over, by Frank Clark with Terry Bowles (Bowles Clark £23.00 hardback, £13 95 paperback.)

The following evening to the Northern Alliance’s sportsmen’s dinner in Newcastle – has the Old Assembly Rooms changed its celebrated pie crust recipe? – guest speaker Dean Saunders also recalling Nottingham Forest days, signed singularly by Cloughie, and with the Magpies when he was assistant manager during Graeme Souness’s tenure.

Now 53, Saunders scored 22 goals in 75 appearances for his native Wales, though his managerial career was rather less successful.

Sacked by Wrexham, sacked by Chesterfield, sacked by Crawley Town, he recalled – “and that’s what I’m doing here tonight.”

With the Wearside League and the North Riding League, the Alliance is a feeder to the Ebac Northern League in the great FA pyramid (which is not, of course, the same as a sarcophagus.) The other day the FA summoned all four, one after another, for their annual development review. The venue for these four North-East based leagues? The West Riding FA headquarters, south of Leeds.

The evening after that, last Friday, former Sunderland manager Peter Reid spoke at West Auckland workmen’s, tickets £25 to include pie and peas. Due to a mix-up over the pie and peas, they’d to send to Morrison’s for sandwiches. Reid’s fee was £4,000, reduced to £3,500 on appeal. “He was pretty good,” reports one who was there.

“Aye,” says his mate, “but not four thousand quid good, he wasn’t.”