TOMMY DOCHERTY was telling the other night about how he’d slept with Alan Foggon.

He didn’t say if he’d slept well, or what it did for the bed springs.

It was a hotel room in Montreal, the middle of the 1976 Olympics. The Doc, then manager of Manchester United, wanted to sign him from Middlesbrough.

Foggon was 26, an England youth international. He’d scored for Newcastle United in the 1969 Fairs Cup final – a 40th anniversary shortly to be commemorated – spearheaded Boro’s second division championship side in 1973- 74, hit 45 goals in 115 Ayresome appearances.

Fans talked of his pace and natural talent, his flapping shirt, half-mast socks and anarchic hair, but – most of all – they talked about his girth.

Harry Pearson, in his classic The Far Corner, had also noticed the tufts of black hair above Foggon’s ears. It made him look like a Magellan penguin, he supposed.

Like Billy Foulkes, the gargantuan goalkeeper of the early 20th century, his particular misfortune was to have a surname beginning with the letter F. To Harry Pearson he may have been a Magellan penguin, to the rest of North-East football – alliteratively, inevitably – he became Fatty Foggon.

“He’d scored a hat-trick against us for Boro at Old Trafford, really looked a class act,” recalled the Doc.

“Did I?” says Foggon. “If he says so, it must be true.”

He was playing summer football for Hartford Centennials in the USA – “trying to keep fit, for whatever reason” – when Boro manager Jack Charlton rang to report United’s approach.

“Then as now, if Manchester United were interested, you listened.

Unfortunately Tommy couldn’t get a US visa so they got me on a little six-seater plane to Montreal, when the Games were on.

“I had dinner with the Doc and then we went to bed. Unfortunately it was the only hotel room in the whole of Montreal.”

Deal done, he made just three substitute appearances in three months before signing for Sunderland, one of an elite group to represent each of the North- East’s big three. Before his professional career ended, he also made 18 loan appearances for Hartlepool, the only man ever to play for four of the League five.

By the age of 28, however, he was playing Northern League football for Consett, the rest of the time laying gas pipes. Like the hotel waiter in the familiar story about George Best, it is tempting to wonder where it all went wrong.

Best didn’t have Tommy Docherty in his bed, though, he had Miss World.

HE was born in West Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, in February 1950, soon moving up the road to Craghead, where his father was a miner.

In 1967 he joined the Magpies as an apprentice, just 19 when called upon as a second leg substitute against Ujpest Dozsa in that faraway, fairy tale final.

One of Paul Joannou’s books recalls the goal: “The youngster streaked away down the middle onto a (Wyn) Davies flick on, raced clear of two men and hammered a vicious shot which was pushed against the bar.

“Foggon’s reflexes were quickest and he slid the rebound home.”

After 14 goals in 61 appearances, he joined legendary United hard man Jimmy Scoular at Cardiff City – 17 games, one goal, two seasons – before being signed by Stan Anderson for the Boro.

Though a section of the Ayresome Park crowd knew him as The Flying Pig, it proved for three seasons to be a shrewd decision. No matter how strange bedfellows he and Manchester United proved to be, he was happy to make the move.

“I was hardly getting a game at Middlesbrough. I didn’t fall out with Big Jack, we’re still pals, but everyone had sussed out the way we played and he had to change it. I accepted that.”

Surplus at Old Trafford, he was signed by Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe – “It took me a moment to decide” – and played the handful of games before Stokoe resigned. When Jimmy Adamson finally succeeded, he played – “for whatever reason,”

there he goes again – just once more.

“Tommy Dochery was fine, no problem, obviously good at his job and a lovely guy as well.

Jimmy Adamson was different , a horrible man, not a nice person at all although his staff were fine.

“”He surrounded himself with players who’d been with him at Burnley. If you weren’t in the clique, you didn’t play.”

He joined former Newcastle assistant manager Dave Smith at Southend, didn’t take to it. “To be honest, you were spoiled at the so-called big clubs. I ended up playing at places like Rochdale, in front of 2,500 people and two sheep. I just wasn’t enjoying it.”

Hartlepool followed, two goals in 18, then Consett and Whitley Bay.

Just about the last time we’d written of him was eight years ago, when briefly he became player/manager of Duggie’s Tavern, a Hebburn pub team – Foggon the Tyne – in the Over 40s league. Like Tommy Docherty, team secretary Ian Phipps had been enthusiastic.

“Alan’s lost quite a few pounds,” he said.

“I doubt if he can be much more than 16 stones these days.”

HE’S now a manager for a security firm and after a spell at the Wheatsheaf in Spennymoor is also landlord of the Simonside Arms, a big old roadhouse on the way into South Shields. It’s there that we arrange to meet at 5pm on Wednesday.

He’s not there. The Weakest Link has a question about the biblical name for eternal damnation – “Is it a bottomless pit or a topless bar?” – the news, even the Anfield memorial, cedes to the music machine. He’s still not there.

Finally he arrives at 6 35pm – apologetic, ample, amiable. He’s drinking Coke, which wasn’t always his preferred tipple. At the Boro, he admits, they’d have a good Tuesday night at the Club Fiesta in Stockton – “even Big Jack came on those” – but would sweat it out next morning.

At Newcastle, they’d land back from a London match about 10 30pm then head for the La Dolce Vita for a few hours.

“I was unfortunate, most of my pals were club stewards. I also lived near the Horse and Jockey (in Stockton) and I got to know him as well.

“Sometimes it bothers me when people still bang on about me being fat. I’m quite a shy person really. I’ve always been big, I was twelve-and-a-half stones when I was 15 and there wasn’t a picking on us.

“If I’d been Fatty Foggon, I wouldn’t have played at the level I did and I wouldn’t have been as quick as I was, but you can end up protesting too much.

“If people think that that’s the way it was, then there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Simonside’s going so well that when the Fairs Cup team regroups next month, he’s turned down – with impeccable reason – the chance of hosting a do with Benny Arentoft, the bacon-lean Dane.

“They wanted it on a Wednesday.

Wednesday’s quiz night.

Benny’s a lovely guy but he comes here once every 40 years, all those other people come every week.”

There’ll be other nostalgic occasions, of course, by which time Newcastle United may already have been relegated. “To be honest, it’s too close to call,” says Footy Foggon. “It could well be that two of the North-East teams will go, but I don’t think you could pick a good team between the three of them.”

He has to go to sort out the quiz, pleads for – and hopefully has – a fair hearing. “I was just a kid from Cragheed,” he says, “everything was just a big adventure to me, nothing planned.

“I sometimes wish I’d never left Newcastle United but that was the decision they made. You might always do things differently but you can’t have any regrets, because they don’t do you any good at all.”

I’m in time for the second half of South Shields v Penrith, discover that someone’s pulled the plug on the entire Metro system and have to summon the cavalry, bless her, from 45 miles to the south. It’s turned midnight but so, as they say, to bed.

Backtrack briefs....

TWO years after their centenary was marked by a Red Arrows flypast, our friends at Wearhead United FC have reached the final of the South Durham Bowl.

“After they’d confirmed, I rang to ask time they’d be flying across,”

recalled Cliff Dalton, whose idea it had been. “I expected them to say between two o’clock and four o’- clock. They said 15.21 and that’s the moment they appeared.”

Though the ground’s 1,107 feet above sea level – reckoned England’s loftiest – Wearhead haven’t always been high flyers themselves.

In those 102 years, it’s just the third “outside” final – open to teams from other leagues – which they’ve reached. They’ve yet to win one.

In 1959-60, remembers the stalwart Raymond Snaith, they lost in the final of the Haltwhistle Hospital Cup. Three years later they tottered to the final of the Crook Aged Miners but went down to Hamsterley.

In the South Durham Bowl, the Crook and District League second division side beat the lachrymose Happy Wanderer from Durham, dethroned the Royal from Stillington and on a day windy even by Wearhead standards converted against Darlington Rugby Club, who’d already beaten four Crook League first division sides.

“It was quite a shock for us to reach the final,” says Raymond, self-evidently.

The big one’s on Monday April 27 (6 45pm), Shildon’s Dean Street ground, against the locally celebrated Coundon and Leeholme.

Should Wearhead win, we’ll be phoning the Red Arrows first thing the following morning.

ends Speaking of finals, Monday’s Guardian (with thanks to Julian Tyley) carried a piece by Joe Moran – author, academic and Glossop Town fan – on their upcoming Wembley clash with Whitley Bay.

The Peak District town, as earlier columns have observed, is the smallest ever to host top division football. Hadfield, nearby, is the setting for the Chubby Brown-inspired village of Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen.

“Naturally Glossopdale residents weren’t thrilled that their locality was portrayed as an insular community of weirdoes, sadists and secret cannibals but they rose above it,” wrote Moran.

Now, however, Hadfield has a Café Royston and a butcher’s advertising “human flesh” sausages.

Glossop itself is to be the setting for a “cosy” BBC drama series called All the Small Things. “I know Glossop,” wrote Rachel Cooke in the New Statesman. “It makes the League of Gentlemen look like Terry and June.”

Tommy Docherty lives just four miles from Glossop. “I never go there,” he tells the column, “It’s horrible.”

ENCOUNTERED at the Durham Challenge Cup final, Billingham Synners wonderfully atoning, 76- year-old Tom Harvey reports that no fewer than eight active referees – including himself – are now members of Hartlepool Male Voice Choir. “We don’t sing,” says Tom, “we whistle.”

THE COUNTY CUP final was at West Auckland, victory toasted with a couple of bottles of Lipton Ale. “We can’t make it fast enough,” reports Mark Anderson of the Maxim Brewery.

“I didn’t know I was supping that much,” says West Auckland secretary Allen Bayles.

Sir Thomas Lipton, of course, was the tea merchant who pioneered the first World Cup, the centenary of which is presently being celebrated.

Maxim Brewery, very much more recent and based at Rainton Bridge – between Durham and Houghton-le-Spring – is run by former Vaux employees.

“We only did a short run. We never thought it would be so popular,”

says Mark, who was Vaux finance director. “There’s a chance that it might become a cask ale, too.”

Lipton is also on sale at the Gala Theatre in Durham, where the World Cup play Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather opened on Thursday.

We attended last night; more next time.

And finally...

TUESDAY’S column sought the identity of the only international footballer to have played in all four English divisions, the Conference, La Liga in Spain and in the World Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League.

It’s the Irishman Steve Finnan, 33 next week, who was with Wellington in the Conference, played principally for Notts County, Fulham and Liverpool at a higher level and is now with Espanyol.

It stumped everyone except the faithful Terry Wells, who in turns seeks the identity of the ex-Aberdeen star who appeared on Top of the Pops twice on the same night.

Music making as always, the column’s back on Tuesday.