Harry Clarke, probably the most prolific goals to games scorer in Darlington FC's history, celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday with a first visit to the echoing new stadium.

His other claims to fame include a distinguished career with Durham County Cricket Club, the alleged origination of the now-universal weather forecast about its looking black over Bill's mother's, and an occasional Quakers partnership with Harry Clark - Young Harry - 12 years his junior.

Clarke and Clark even worked together in the architect's department at Wear Valley District Council, and milked the confusion shamelessly.

We met for coffee and conviviality - Young Harry, Old Harry, one or two others - and inevitably to compare aches and afflictions.

"My memory's not what it was, I blame all that heading a leather ball," said Old Harry, who looked a bit like Private Godfrey. "I'd tell you my problem but I can't remember it," said Young Harry, who'd something of the late Robin Cook about him, He still recalled, however, the time that as a 12-year-old lad - October 13, 1945 - he was among a 9,484 Feethams crowd which saw his namesake score five against Rotherham in the swiftly arranged Third Division North-East. The town's Thanksgiving Week parade had been held that morning, the "This England" pageant no less jubilantly at the New Hippodrome at night.

"What a wonderful centre forward, all headers," said Young Harry, 73, but since two of them were penalties, it's possible he's mistaken. Old Harry wasn't called "Spot" for nothing.

It was also the day that Billy Dunn, a 25-year-old RAF man from Hebburn, made his debut in Darlington's goal, having a few weeks earlier been tried and failed at centre half.

"Dunn played with confidence and skill," reported the Echo's man, presciently. In a ten-year career, the grounded centre half went on to make 355 League and Cup appearances for the Quakers.

Harry Clarke, he with the 'e', scored 43 goals in 30-odd games in that triumphant post-war season. On the return of the Third Division North he hit 17 in 19, transferred to Leeds United for £6,000 - "I think they thought I'd improve, I didn't" - and in a second spell at Feethams bagged 25 in 37.

Contentiously transferred to Hartlepools United, where his only goal in six games was against Darlington, he returned to old haunts and in a third spell scored 12 in 14 before retiring.

A poem still framed on the wall of his Darlington home records the third coming: This is the tale of the man who came back When everyone said he was finished He was getting too old and getting too fat And the force of his football diminished....

It may even be the only poem in the great pantheon of English literature to find a rhyme for "opportunist", cartoonist drawing the appropriate line.

Undiminished yet, Old Harry remains the only man to have played both cricket and football professionally at Feethams, also pro for Seaham Harbour, Blackhall, Bingley, Bishop Auckland and Peases West - the Crook colliery side where it snowed on his debut.

His 46 all-round appearances for Durham County brought 24 wickets and 1,090 runs, a half century against New Zealand and 7-34 against Northumberland.

Young Harry - born in Newcastle, raised in Ferryhill, long in Darlington - scored 20 in 142 Football League appearances for the Quakers and 43 in 118 for Hartlepools, a single Sheffield Wednesday game - midweek, probably - sandwiched between them. He played cricket for Darlington, too.

"If Old Harry were playing today he'd be worth millions," he said.

They gave him a wartime fiver, instead, increased to £8 at Leeds. "I'd rather be remembered as a cricketer than a footballer," said Old Harry. "It was the game I preferred; still do."

Up front, positive, they made several first team appearances together in 1952-53 and on one occasion for the reserves at Workington when the older man, ever mischievous, told the local reporter they were father and son. It was all over the Pink that night.

They also recalled men like Harry Bell, long-serving Boro and Darlington wing half and Old Harry's best man when finally at 37 he was married, like Bob Thynne, Bob Hardisty, comedian and Doncaster Rovers centre half Charlie Williams ("kick anything above grass") and legendary Darlington trainer Dickie Deacon, said not just to be tolerant of the Feethams rats but to know each one of them by name.

Old Harry also remembered the time that Bobby Gurney, Sunderland legend and Darlington manager, told him that he was to be twelfth man.

"I'd rather be in the reserves," said Harry.

"I meant twelfth man in the reserves," said the manager.

The story about Bill's mother's has many parents. Bob Elliott, also in attendance, insists that Harry was playing at Bishop Auckland when Bill Proud, who lived in a foursquare house beyond fine leg, strode to the wicket.

"Harry originated it and Richie Benaud gave it to the world," said Bob.

"I first heard it in Shildon," pleaded Harry, adding (a little unnecessarily) that they say some weird and wonderful things in Shildon.

The crack lasted 75 minutes, could cheerfully have gone on all day. Wrinkled and twinkled, the Clark(e)s' tale has many chapters yet.

All-conquering last season, Shildon Railway FC are having a somewhat anti-climactic time in the Durham Alliance - but with the season's highlight due on Saturday.

The lads again host an RMT representative side, including general secretary and Millwall fan Bob Crow, followed in the evening by a sell-out dinner at which other workers' organisations will be represented.

The only problem - "Sod's law" says Shildon Railway secretary Alan Morland - is that there's engineering work on the line between and York and Darlington this weekend.

Nothing lost, the Shildon Community mini-bus will meet the railwaymen at York station instead.

Reading's promotion on Saturday was the earliest top flight elevation since March 23 1974 - Middlesbrough 1 Oxford 0. Boro's manager was Jack Charlton, the triumphant team Platt, Craggs, Spraggon, Souness, Boam, Maddren, Murdoch, Mills, Hickton, Foggon, Armstrong. Victory at Luton a week later ensured the championship.

Alf Hutchinson in Darlington passes on a little magazine called Cricket in the Memory, in which a two-page feature is headed "Cricket's Last Donkey Dropper."

It's supposedly Charles Palmer, who played for Leicestershire in the 1950s, thus ignoring Charlie Walker, who plays for Eryholme yet.

Among Palmer's victims - like the Demon Donkey Dropper of Eryholme, he was very good at it - was former Essex batsman and West Auckland footballer Gordon Barker, whose death we reported last month.

"He tossed it right up in the air, miles up," Gordon remembered. "I started by thinking I was going to hit it over mid-on, then over mid-wicket, then over square leg and in the end I was going to hit it back over the keeper's head.

"It dropped right on top of the bails. I couldn't do anything else but laugh."

Word also arrives that Eryholme Cricket Club's golden jubilee will be marked on June 11 with a posh do in a marquee. As he has been these past 50 years, the Demon will be at the heart of the matter.

Dancing at the wedding of Spennymoor Boxing Academy coach Gary Hodgson, last Tuesday's column noted that there wouldn't be a honeymoon - 12-year-old Ben Jackson, one of the lads Gary helps train, was in the national Golden Gloves final at Knottingley on Saturday. Ben duly won, stopping Claude de Lang in the second. The good news is reported by Paul Hodgson, father of the bridegroom. "It rounded off the celebrations perfectly," he says.

And finally...

The North-East footballer who's played in all four divisions, the Conference, Champions League and UEFA Cup (Backtrack, March 24) is Easington lad and Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper - with Newcastle, Bradford, Huddersfield, Stockport, Hartlepool and Gateshead.

Magpies' publications editor Paul Tully, first with the right answer, points out that Steve has played in the FA Cup final, too.

A gentleman in Bishop Auckland, whose first name sadly cannot be deciphered, today seeks the identity of the first team to score 1,000 Football League goals.

We're on target again on Friday.