BARELY five minutes, or so it seems, since excited headlines greeted his emergence, Mathew Tait is hanging up his rugby boots.

He was a Wolsingham boy, had posts in the field out the back so that he might practise his kicking, started with Consett as an eight-year-old, scored with his first touch on his debut for Newcastle Falcons, won a first England cap the day before his nineteenth birthday.

“The great blond hope of English rugby,” said The Times of the teenager who weighed just twelve-and-a-half stones.

“I need to beef up a bit, put on some bulk,” he said in a Northern Echo interview in 2005.

At Barnard Castle School he’d gained straight A’s in biology, geography and sports studies, deferring a place at Durham University in order to concentrate on rugby. George Carpenter, a contemporary on both the classroom and on the sports field, became a world class water polo player.

Now 33, Tait is being forced into retirement by an achilles tendon injury. The last of his 38 England caps was won when he was 24, most of his later career spent with Leicester Tigers.

He lives in Leicestershire with his wife and two young children, is studying for a masters in sports directorship, admits that there was “an element of status” as a top rugby player.

“In the real world, no one actually gives a s**t,” he again tells The Times. “You start from the bottom again.”

DICKIE ROOKS was understudy centre half to Charlie Hurley at Sunderland and assistant manager to Ken Houlahan at Esh Winning.

“The trouble was that he wanted to play every game and his knees were shot,” said Ken. “I had to tell him in the end.”

All this was recalled at Ken’s 65th birthday bash in Coundon last weekend. He’d also managed Evenwood Town and Spennymoor Town, gained three degrees while he was on, now helps his grandson run a junior team in Newton Aycliffe.

“We’re the Man City of the Russell Foster League spray the ball all over the park,” he says.

Dickie Rooks, Sunderland born, will be 79 in May. After just 40 appearances in eight years at Roker Park, he made 150 at Middlesbrough before a spell with Bristol City.

He managed Willington, Scunthorpe and Zanzibar, probably in that order, before becoming a self-employed builder. The effect on his knees is not known.

WE wrote three weeks ago of Tongan rugby international Talite Vaioleti, known universally as Vee, who now plays for Mowden Park and drives the country bus between Richmond and Barnard Castle. A few days later he was spotted behind the wheel sporting a tartan cap and ginger wig. Vee is clearly what’s called a colourful character.

MENTION in the Farewell to Bootham Crescent column two weeks ago of York City striker Keith Walwyn – second in the scoring records after Norman Wilkinson – reminded Darlington fan Brian Dixon of an early 90s match between Quakers and Carlisle.

Early in the game, the United left half committed a cautionable offence, though in the few seconds between crime and punishment it was Walwyn upon whom the ref’s disapproving eye alighted. In the days before squad numbers and the like, both players were wearing No 6.

“The look on Walwyn’s face stays with me,” says Brian. “The phrases ‘mistaken identity’ and ‘injured innocence’ hardly do the matter justice.”

Sixes and sevens, the kitman quickly found a No 9 shirt instead.

HAVING a bit of a clear out, as he puts it, Robin Hinds in Witton Gilbert discovers two of the classic Christmas cards sent over many years by long-serving Hartlepool United chairman Vince Barker.

These were numbers 14 and 16, 1963 and 1065. Back then they were Hartlepools, played in West Hartlepool and the club was “football and athletic”.

Barker was a Shakespearean, annually offering sheaves of quotes apposite to those with whom he had daily dealings.

Players might be “Here comes my clog” (All’s Well That Ends Well), referees “It shall be what o’clock I say it is” (The Taming of the Shrew” and treasurers “Words pay no debts” (Troilus and Cressida.)

There was even something on the cards, borrowed from Richard III, for the press: “I will be kind and gentle with my words.”

In that respect, nothing changes.

….and finally, last week’s column sought the identity of the Irishman who’s played for each of the North-East’s biggish three – and fooled even the regulars.

It’s Shay Given – 354 games for Newcastle, 17 on loan to Sunderland and 16 to the Boro.

Don Clarke emailed on Tuesday – “like a bairn at Christmas” – to record the start if the first class cricket season that day. A bit early for others, perhaps, but what specifically was unique about the starting date?

Seasonally adjusted, the column returns next week.