Seamus O'Connell, that most celebrated and most enigmatic of 1950s' footballers, is recovering from a stroke at his home in Spain.

In these parts he is best remembered as a free scoring forward for both Bishop Auckland and for Crook Town; down the Kings Road his memory is still toasted by Chelsea pensioners.

Always an amateur, he hit 11 goals in 16 games for Chelsea's first division championship winning team of 1954-55, including a debut hat-trick against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. United won 6-5.

That he didn't stay with Chelsea is mischievously said to have been because the Northern League side better rewarded him.

News of his illness comes on the day that stars from the Bishops' glory days have their annual reunion at the town's golf club- Seamus, almost alone, has never attended.

He returned to England for the 50th anniversary of the Chelsea triumph, but as usual came nowhere near Bishop Auckland, where still he's remembered with much affection.

"I was quite disappointed, I'd love to have shaken him by the hand if nothing else," says Bishops' chairman Terry Jackson. "There are still plenty of people in Bishop Auckland who regard Seamus O'Connell as the best player they ever saw, at any level."

The club has recently had an e-mail from Spain, however, seeking memorabilia - an old programme or something - to help raise funds for medical treatment for O'Connell, who also has a serious ankle problem.

"Lawrie McMenemy saw him when he came back last year and he was almost crawling across the floor. He has quite a severe level if disability" says Terry.

"I think he still owns a restaurant but he's asset rich and cash poor. I hope to go out to see him later this year. We'll do anything we can to help."

Born on New Year's Day 1930, Seamus O'Connell became a cattle dealer in Carlisle, joined the Bishops in the early 1950s and won the first of four amateur international caps in 1954.

Jim Lewis, another amateur - he was a travelling Thermos flask salesman - also made his debut in the game with Manchester United on October 16, 1954, 56,000 crowding Stamford Bridge despite a London bus strike.

Known as Drake's Ducklings, the side was managed by former Arsenal centre forward Ted Drake and captained by Roy Bentley, transferred from Newcastle United for £12,000 six years earlier.

Players travelled by Tube to Fulham Broadway, trained on the Thames towpath and earned £12 a week, receiving a £50 bonus for winning the league.

Though their 52 point total was the lowest since the first division was extended in 1919 - the side went 11 weeks without a home win, missed five successive penalties - Chelsea clinched the championship with a game to spare.

O'Connell played in Bishops' Amateur Cup final triumph the same year, was in the successful Wembley team in 1956 and helped Crook Town beat Barnet in 1959.

He has long been in Spain, in the house which former Bishops' colleague Derek Lewin helped find for him.

"We've made all sorts of efforts to track him down but he doesn't seem to want to be contacted," says Derek, 76, who helps organise the reunions.

"The last time someone saw him he was walking on crutches, but I don't think anyone from those days even gets a Christmas card. I'll tell people on Friday that he's ill; they'll be very sorry to hear it."

More on Ted Drake, coincidentally, in a book of "Unexpected obituaries from Wisden", published this week.

Better remembered at Stamford Bridge, and for his 42 Arsenal goals in 1934-35, he was still a Southampton gasworks apprentice when scoring 45 on his Hampshire cricket debut in 1931 - a total which in 15 subsequent matches he never managed to better.

He married the girl he met at the gasworks dance - "not a detail," adds Wisden, "associated with modern football stars of his magnitude."

Just about the only local we come across in the yellow-backed obits is Viscount Mountgarret, Ripon way, who may better be remembered for taking pot shots at a hot-air balloon which flew across his grouse moor. (Fined £1,000 for endangering an aircraft.)

Unexpected chosen to be Yorkshire CCC's president in 1984 - at a time of the usual dissension and threatened Boycott's - he proved, says Wisden, the ideal choice.

"He was helped by being rather deaf, which meant that he never had to listen to the overheated nonsense talked by both sides in the dispute."

Back to the football grounds of west London and to Craven Cottage, affectionately remembered by Malcolm Macdonald from his days as Fulham player and manager.

We bumped into Malcolm, a dedicated president of North Shields FC, at the Shields derby on Tuesday evening.

Among the first letters he received on becoming manager, he recalled, was one from distinguished Sunday Times football writer Brian Glanville, whom he knew.

"Brian spoke Italian very well and used lots of Italian phrases. I'd waded through about two pages of this when finally I got to the point. Would it be all right if he fastened his bike to the water spout outside my office.

Wasim Raja - from Test grounds to Sacriston

Wasim Raja, who died on Wednesday while playing cricket, became almost as familiar on the village playing fields of North-East England as on the test match arenas of the world.

In the 1980s the Pakistani all-rounder lived at Ouston, near Chester-le-Street, married an English school teacher and was professional for County Club, Shotley Bridge, Sacriston, Philadelphia, Durham City and probably one or two more.

Ann, his wife, taught English at Chester-le-Street but had known nothing about cricket before 1978, when she met the man everyone knew as Waz.

Soon she was offered trials for Yorkshire Ladies and, on a June night in 1988, found herself playing for Philly in a cup game at Evenwood after a car carrying four of the team conked out.

"I'd love to play more regularly, but the men keep throwing spanners in the works," she told the column. "I can't always rely on a car breaking down."

Her husband thought her a really good bowler and fielder but suggested that she couldn't bat at all.

"Yes, I can," said Ann. "I just don't slog like he does."

She was also credited with influencing the decision to bowl when Pakistan won their first-ever one-day international in Australia. "They thought I was a stupid women until then," she said.

Wasim made occasional guest appearances in the column, too, not least in 1989 when Etherley skipper David Wilson won the "Most charitable contribution to third world cricketers" award at the club's annual presentation, after Wasim had taken him for 29 in seven balls.

Cream Teas and Nutty Slack, Jack Chapman's glorious history of Durham county club cricket, recalls how a six he smashed at Seggerston also broke a Crypton tuner in a nearby garage, though without explaining why someone should want to tune Crypton.

Four years ago, the column unearthed a photograph taken at a Minor Counties match at Stockton in 1981 with Durham players Lance Cairns, Chris Thomas and Wasim sunbathing on the boundary. A precautionary umbrella was nearby.

"I felt like a little boy in a chocolate shop, just being on the same field as players like Lance and Wasim," said Chris, now sports master at Yarm School.

Wasim, public school educated, was the son of a top Pakistani civil servant. Like his brother Rameez, whose comments on Sky Sports last Sunday so reflected his country's anger at the ball tampering implications, he made 57 test appearances. Unlike Rameez, Wasim was dropped 28 times.

He particularly enjoyed playing - sans helmet - against the West Indies, became an international match referee and a geography teacher in Surrey.

"Wasim could have made a good Pakistan captain but his elite background, not to mention that he studied at Durham and married an Englishwoman, may well have counted against him," said his obituary in yesterday's Times.

He was 54 and is survived by Ann and by their sons Ali and Ahmad.


The Times carries a piece on Keith Agar, chief executive of Stockport County, railing against the injustices of football's youth system. The name may be familiar.

Keith's 58, still lives in New Marske, worked in the commercial departments at Middlesbrough and Darlington FCs - the second last time he was in the Echo, cash-strapped Quakers owed him £12,000 - and was Scarborough's chief executive when Brooks Mileson briefly took over.

He is, he insists, publicity shy - "I watched Darlington last weekend, it was wonderful, no one recognised me" - but is happy to talk about snatching them young.

Agar's anger was kindled when Manchester City allegedly poached a 14-year-old whom Stockport had nurtured since he was ten. At a subsequent tribunal he described the boy's agent as "the scum of the earth" and a bloodsucker after his own pound of flesh.

He also claims that clubs like County are a breeding ground for such creatures.

"It's a big problem in football," he tells Backtrack. "Clubs like Manchester City stick to the rules but it's the system that's wrong. They're playing big brother, there's no neighbourly spirit around here.

"We spend a lot of money on these kids and then they're taken from under our noses. The system stinks.

"Clubs go round the playing fields, tapping up parents, telling them that the kid's the next Wayne Rooney and filling their heads with nonsense."

That apart, he's much enjoying being part of the County set-up - though he stays during the week in hotels and is eagerly back to Teesside at weekends.

Stockport are now run by a supporters' trust, but too near the foot of League Two for his liking. "We're really getting it together," he insists. "We're a big club and in five years time we want to be in the Championship. I'd love to be around to see it."

Stan Evans reports that last Monday he celebrated 60 years' membership of Hartlepool Referees' Society - his first match in the middle, November 1946, for a fee of 2/6d.

"Now it's £15 a local match and leagues are so short, that referees are booked up until Christmas."

He still attends meetings. Has anyone, he wonders, served the Referees' Association for longer?

That unlikely cricket match earlier this month between Cover Bridge and the Awali Camels from Bahrain prompts an inquiry almost as improbable from Ian Munro.

Ian's in Kilmarnock. Archibald Munro, his grandfather, spent most of his life in the East End of London, Poplar way. He worked for Spratt's, the pet food people, didn't earn much, never went far.

Yet Ian has just turned up his granddad's prized silver cricket medal - Coverdale CC, 1927.

It's awarded not just by the C&DCA but the C&DCA division two....

Coverdale, Cover Bridge at the eastern end, is probably the smallest (and among the nicest) of the Yorkshire dales, running just south of Wensleydale.

There are four or five small villages and, probably then as now, fewer than 1,000 people. A Coverdale and District Cricket Association division two?

Ian has made extensive nationwide investigations, had several county boards still checking records, is assured by the MCC that the most likely answer lies in Yorkshire.

"I'm not someone who gives up easily," he says, self-evidently. He's on 01563 527573, or we'll happily pass on information.

And finally...

Our last column sought the identity of the club which had scored and conceded most goals in English football's top flight. In both cases it's Everton For 6,323 Against 5,684.

Everton have also suffered most top flight defeats, 1,402 - but it's their neighbours Liverpool, with 1,672, who have most victories.

Martin Birtle in Billingham today invites to readers to name the former North-East boxing champion nicknamed Newsboy or The Sunderland assassin. Slaying 'em, the column returns on Tuesday.