THE Railroad to Wembley has looked like it was heading in the wrong direction for some time now. Last Saturday, there not having been trains to West Auckland since 1962, we took the branch line to Bishop and then the No 6 bus, instead.

It was the FA Vase quarter-final, West v Chertsey, a Surrey side known as the Curfews for rather surprising reasons.

Back in the Wars of the Roses, it’s said, a gentleman called Neville Audley was captured by the Yorkies and sentenced to hang when the Chertsey curfew bell – sounded to tell folk to cover up their fires and get themselves to bed – sounded the following evening.

Believing that a pardon was on its way by horseback from London, Blanche Heriot – his girlfriend – fastened herself to the bell mechanism in an attempt to ensure that it failed to go like the clappers.

It worked, the curfew much muffled when the messenger rode across Chertsey bridge with the pardon – or it might, come to think, have been a carte Blanche.

In Victorian times a play was written about it all, Blanche Heriot’s face said to be on every billboard in the capital. A bronze statue of the Chertsey belle stands on the south side of the bridge, the local GUM clinic is named (honest) in her memory.

There’s just one flaw in the timbre. The story, by common consent, is cobblers.

SIX of us are entrained, a bit chilly as the 10:40 leaves Darlington but the sun breaking through as we approach Shildon. It must be assumed coincidental.

The conversation turns for some reason to begging. How long, it’s wondered – not wholly flippantly – before the make-do-and-mendicants turn up with card machines.

On Bishop station there’s a little bar called Caps Off, where a blackboard promotes a “doggy social” the following afternoon and another stands beside a drinking bowl – “free water for dogs and for human beings with short legs and low standards.”

The walk up the long main street embraces Gregory’s, the noted pork pie shop – now with raspberry and prosecco pie, too – and a slight detour so that the travellers can look at the site of Bishop Auckland’s famous old Kingsway ground, now sheltered accommodation for Freemasons.

There’s time also for a pint of Village Idiot in the local Wetherspoon’s, the Stanley Jefferson – Stanley Jefferson was Stan Laurel, briefly based in Bishop.

Among the reasons I’m no great Wetherspoons fan is that it’s impossible even to have a pee there these days without having the company chairman’s views on Brexit staring you in the face.

What’s much more agreeable is bumping into the column’s old friend Peter Creamer, whose Football League career embraced Boro, Hartlepool, York City, Rochdale and Doncaster and who once kept a pub in the town.

Now 65, still grafting, Peter scored just three goals – “and seven,” he’s fond of saying, “officially recorded at the other end.”

ORIGINALLY called St Helen’s, – railway and river separating otherwise indivisible communities – West Auckland railway station was run jointly with a Cinderella engine shed of the same name, though the two were a mile apart.

For many years they were overseen by Bob Middlewood, a Durham County alderman who seemed also to think that he ran Bishop Auckland. In truth, he probably did.

In the 1922 Bradshaw’s timetable, seven trains ran daily in each direction between Bishop Auckland and Barnard castle, calling at West Auckland, Evenwood and Cockfield and getting there in 34 minutes.

West Auckland fans of advancing years still recall the midnight special ahead of the 1961 FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley, a bloke on the platform with press-hot copies of The Northern Echo by the time that the train reached Darlington.

Further evidence of changing times, it was possible within fairly recent memory to pass – or not, as the case may have been – six pubs in the mile between the edge of St Helens and the West Auckland ground. Now there are none, just fast food takeaways and gyms.

West Auckland Workmen’s Club, home of the Sir Thomas Lipton trophy – the first World Cup – happily survives. It’s there that Mr Nigel Brierley unveils his latest True or False quiz.

It all becomes rather boisterous, especially when there’s a question about Uranus.

It’s also untrue, apparently, that a Pentland squire is a sheep. It’s potato, Nigel reckons.

Though there’s less likelihood of peeing on the boots than in Wetherspoons, the gent’s has a framed aphorism about laughing, living and loving. “I call it Wilko-art,” says the younger bairn, also in attendance.

If West’s best known for its World Cup exploits more than a century since, the village’s second-best remembered claim to fame may be that it was in Victorian times home to Mary Ann Cotton, the husband poisoner.

Though her house still stands, the Railroaders appear greatly sceptical – but though there may not be a GUM clinic in the wretched woman’s memory, the awful story’s true.

TWO gentleman approach during the match. One says that he has a silver medal won by New Shildon Youth Club in the Potato Cup in the 1920s and wonders what we know about it. Backtrack readers, or Pentland squires, may be able to help.

The second pushes into my hand a business card for a retired New Scotland Yard detective inspector Hamish Brown MBE, now said to be “an international authority in stalking and harassment.”

For the life of me I can’t recall its relevance. Is anyone else on the case?

WEST Auckland are the last surviving Ebac Northern League team in this season’s Vase. Twice losing finalists in the past seven years, they hope with some fervour to make it third time lucky.

Team manager Gary Forrest, about whom we wrote a few weeks back, is boss of a property development company valued at £1.2bn and might give quite a lot for a place in the semi-final.

Saturday’s so big an occasion that the match officials have microphones, either that or the ref spends an awful lot of time talking to himself.

These days the Darlington Road ground’s known as the Wanted Stadium, a genuflection to the sponsor, and ever more set about with new housing. Developers, it’s said, also turn green eyes towards the football field. West have thus far resisted.

Chertsey have lost just one league game, scored 23 and conceded only one in the Vase, underline their credentials by taking the lead after nine minutes and doubling it before the half-hour mark.

By 3.30pm the queue at the clubhouse bar stretches half way to Evenwood. When the score’s the same at 4:15pm it’s half way to Cockfield and before the end it’s half way to Barnard Castle.

Exaggeration, maybe, but you do wonder why some folk pay to watch a football match.

Most of the 738 crowd head home disconsolately, the Curfews (with apologies to Mr Thomas Gray) tolling the knell of parting daydreams.

For the first time since this series began 12 years ago, the Railroad to Wembley has crashed forlornly into the buffers.