A TREASURE trove of rare football memorabilia has come to light following the death of a respected North-East sports reporter.

The family of Frank Johnson, who covered Sunderland AFC for 42 years during a lengthy career with the Northern Echo, have revealed details of his personal collection of artefacts.

The 78-year-old, who died on Monday, October 1, started work as a teenager and amassed an incredible amount of paraphernalia during a career spanning six decades.

It was a career that saw him cover the Black Cats’ FA Cup glory, but also England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the World Cup final at Wembley.

His son, Simon, 50, said: “He was the North-East correspondent and he has got loads of stuff from the Hungarian team and the Korean team during the tournament.

“My dad was at the players’ party after the 1966 World Cup final and got the table plan.

“He was there as the match was on and he told my mam ‘here, we might win this, get yourself down’ so she got on the bus.”

Mr Johnson was also at Wembley in 1973 when Sunderland AFC gave their fans a dream FA Cup by beating Leeds United 1-0.

Simon said: “My dad caught the cork that Ian Porterfield popped in the dressing room.

“Some of his stuff should be in a museum.

“I used to say to him it should be on display because it is just in boxes. It is a shame, so one day we might do something with it.”

Mr Johnson was described by former Northern Echo editor Peter Barron as "old school" and people who travelled with him to games recall him sharpening his pencil with a pen knife to write his copy.

Simon said: “He has got tapes of different interviews with managers from over the years and it is unbelievable.

“Some of the ‘off the record’ things are amazing.

“He told us of the stories about players missing flights, and doing this and doing that. There were some absolutely corkers. There is a book in there.

“What he should have done, which saddens me because he never did, was write a chapter on each of the managers. He had stories about each. It was a shame he never did in the end.”

Some of the memorabilia his family have unearthed are undoubtedly collectors’ items.

Simon said: “He had a lot of fantastic football memorabilia, things like a programme from when Jackie Milburn played for Sunderland or when the Norwegians played against the Allies in the 1940s. The previous journalist gave him all of his memorabilia so he has got some really good stuff.

“His contact book is like every journalist’s dream. He had got every phone number you can think of.”

Simon said his father’s career also brought him into contact with a host of famous players.

He said: “I live in Scotland and I have met Ally McCoist who speaks very highly of my dad.

“When England and Scotland veterans played I met Chris Waddle at the bar and he said: ‘Your dad was the one guy who said to me when I was 17 that I was going to be a superstar.’

“He had been at the training ground watching and had told Waddle he was going to be so much bigger than he thought he was going to be.

“He was the one guy who gave him that confidence. My dad had seen them all.”

Mr Johnson, who had four children and eight grandchildren, lived in Bournmoor, near Chester-le-Street, before he died from throat cancer.

Friends and family will gather to say a final farewell at his funeral on Friday, October 19, at 10.45am, at St Barnabas Church, Bournmoor, followed by cremation at Durham Crematorium, then on to the Chilton Country Pub in Fencehouses.

Mr Johnson was a passionate Sunderland fan all his life and cared deeply about the club, so when he retired from the Northern Echo in 2002 chairman Niall Quinn told him was welcome back any time, with full hospitality.

Simon said: “We thought it was brilliant, but he just said ‘I’ll never be back there again’ and he never went back.

“He never watched another game.”

Brenda, Mr Johnson’s wife of 54 years, said he spent time his retirement fishing, gardening and spending time with his grandchildren.

She said: “He listened to the match but never went. He felt as though he had done his stint.

“He had covered Sunderland for 42 years. He always said that bank robbers did not get as much time as him.”