HENRY Nicholson was a friend since the two of us were we’ans, and even then he was much the better goalkeeper. Almost everyone, come to think, was a better goalkeeper than I was.

We grew up in Shildon, about 50 yards apart, endlessly played back street football and occasionally back street cricket with their coalhouse door as the wicket. In those raggy-arsed roamings, he simply answered to Harry.

Henry never left the old town, played football and cricket for Shildon BR, and Northern League football for Willington and Bishop Auckland – where he broke his arm as a 16-year-old – and probably one or two more. He also became a manager and assistant manager, locally and in the Northern League, while still finding time to support Sunderland.

A telephone engineer for more than 40 years, he became chairman of the North-East branch of the communication workers union, was a Durham County Councillor for Shildon and town mayor for two successive years, the very embodiment of civic pride and a man who never forgot his fetchings-up.

His daughters Louise and Rachel are both Shildon town councillors, as is his brother--law.

“All he was concerned about was making Shildon a better place to live and work,” says Louise.

“Even when he was very ill, he talked of getting back to County Hall to raise issues for the town,” says Jim, his brother.

Henry died last Sunday, aged 71, after a long and difficult illness borne with customary courage and remarkable patience. He was a lovely, principled and passionate man and a very good keeper – so kind that he let me be goalie, regardless.