Travellers derailed

The column, it may be recalled, is titular president of Darlington Travellers Rest, who began as the Technical College Old Boys and successively became the Greyhound, the Cricketers, the Model T and the Hole in the Wall, not necessarily in that order, before getting their pipe at the Travs.

“Not so much a pub team, more a pub crawl,” said Alan Smith, secretary throughout those nomadic years.

The motto’s supare possomus, which translates as pretty much anything you might want it to but generally means “Ah well, we tried.”

In truth I’ve been a bit like one of those South American banana republic presidents who oversees events from a six-star hotel in Zurich. On Good Friday morning, however, they were in the final of the Crook and District League Cup – the Norman Wright Cup – for the first time. Attendance appeared obligatory.

They faced Shildon Railway at Willington, the crowd positively basking in the sunshine. Last Easter, recalled Crook League chairman Maurice Galley, their two cup finals were postponed because of snow.

On the council notice board, a message from town mayor Fraser Tinsley – splendid in Santa hat – wished everyone a merry Christmas. It seemed particularly belated.

Once there were a dozen or more Saturday afternoon “district” leagues between Tyne and Tees. Now only the Crook remains, 17 clubs in two divisions. They’re a good bunch, reluctant to prop any pyramids, so affable that most players just call the ref Brian – though occasionally one or two other things as well.

Tommy Lye, one of the assistant refs, seems sprightly on his new hip. He’s 70.

Shildon – forever the BR, no pesky privatisation round here – score after three minutes and win, fairly comfortably, 4-0. Morghan Claydon hits three and is man of the match.

The weary Travellers trudge off to the shade, anxious for a beer. Supare possomus all round.

That evening to Billingham Synthonia v Redcar Athletic, a quite breathtaking match – so much for end-of-season stuff – ending 5-5. It reminded Harvey Harris, also in attendance, of being at St James Park on December 10, 1960 when Newcastle United (Bell, Mitchell, McGuigan, White 2) drew 5-5 with West Ham. That season the Magpies also drew 4-4 at home to Wolves, 3-3 at home to Arsenal, scored 86 first division goals – and were relegated in 21st place.

We first wrote of Apollinaire Quedraogo, Apollo to all, in 2005. He’d arrived on Teesside five years earlier, an asylum seeker from Burkina Faso, an impoverished west African country of 11 million people.

The name translates as The Land of the Incorruptible Men.

Apollo had kept goal for Burkina Faso Under 17s, played once for Norton and Stockton Ancients – they lost 5-4 – reckoned his ambition to manage his country in the World Cup finals.

Last summer he became chairman of Thornaby in the Ebac Northern League second division, last Saturday saw them win promotion after a run of 15 successive wins culminated with a 3-1 against Esh Winning.

He’d also introduced parmos and reggae music to Northern League crowds but on this occasion wasn’t wearing his chicken costume. A bit hot for that they said.

“A real flamboyant character, a breath of fresh air,” says club secretary Trevor Wing, though it hadn’t always been easy.

When his Middlesbrough restaurant business failed, Apollo spent six months living in his car – “layby surfing” – once spending the night at the top of the road leading to Thornaby’s sylvan Teesdale Park ground.

“Something really extraordinary happened there,” says Apollo, but insists the story’s too long to tell.

“It was very strange but that’s when things changed, when I felt at home. Whenever I come to this ground I think of those dark times.”

He now owns a restaurant in Hartlepool and factories in Middlesbrough and Peterlee producing Kilimanjaro Sauce – “the authentic king of African and Caribbean-inspired sauces,” says the programme ad. Flying off the shelves, says Apollo.

And his World Cup ambition? “Maybe not as manager but I’ll be on the FA,” says the ebullient Apollo, 40. “One day I’ll go back home.”

On Easter Monday to the Ebac Northern League Cup final, Newcastle Benfield v West Auckland at sunny Seaham. It’s an occasion likely to be remembered for the upturning of two remarkable records – one cherished, the other joyfully shed.

The first was that, after 393 successive games without seeing a 0-0, Russell Wynn had to sit through 90 minutes without a goal and not much of a sniff of one.

The second was that, when penalties ensued, West won 4-3 to lift their first knock-out trophy since 1964, when they beat Crook Town 4-0 in the Durham Challenge Cup.

Not quite a win-Wynn situation, but the result was rapturously received. “We’ve been waiting 55 years for this,” said club chairman Jim Palfreyman. “I think we might have a drink.”

….and finally, the reason that Fifa has a special rule for penalty kicks on the Faroe Islands (Backtrack, April 20) is that it can get so blustery another player’s allowed to held the ball still. Michael Mullen was first to get wind of the answer.

Readers are today invited to suggest what Wolverhampton Wanderers achieved in their goalless draw with Brighton last Saturday that no other Premier League had done since 2003.

Thrown to the Wolves, the column returns next week.