BISHOP Auckland Football Club may have been at the heart of the local sporting community since 1886, but, yesterday, members of the public got a chance to explore all 135 glorious years of the club with the opening of a new store commemorating the historic footballing side.

Aptly named ‘The Bishops’, after the club’s nickname, the store on Newgate Street explores the humble beginnings of the club as Auckland Town, the ‘golden years' of Bishop Auckland FC, which saw the club become one of the most successful amateur sides in the UK, right through to the modern-day – where they find themselves in Northern League Division One.

Featuring memorabilia of some of Bishop Auckland FC’s most famous matches, including pendants, footballs, shirts, programmes and trophies, ‘The Bishops’ finally gives the club a ‘legacy moment’ in the heart of the town.

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As well as delving further into the rich history of the club, the store also features a modern club shop, ticket stubs of classic amateur games of years gone by and newspaper clippings of reports and news items dating back to the 1800s.

The idea for ‘The Bishops’ came from the current chairman and former player of Bishop Auckland FC, Steve Coulthard, who created the historical archives in just under three months.

Steve only played for Bishop Auckland from 1972-1974 but has always had a special place in his heart for his beloved team, and now flies the flag for the club wherever they go.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Katie Eliot, Mayor of Bishop Auckland, chairman of Bishop Auckland FC, Steve Coulthard and Bishop of Diurham, Paul Butler, at the opening of 'The Bishops'.Cllr Katie Eliot, Mayor of Bishop Auckland, chairman of Bishop Auckland FC, Steve Coulthard and Bishop of Diurham, Paul Butler, at the opening of 'The Bishops'.

He said: “We’ve wanted to create a shop like this for years, but we’ve never had the location. As soon as the opportunity came along, we jumped at the chance, and the store is now a reminder that Bishop Auckland FC is one of the greatest and most famous amateur sides in the country.

“It was always a privilege and honour to play for the club and everyone who has pulled on that jersey for the club since 1886 has thought the same – it’s a proud moment.

“The amount of history we had to fit into this place is amazing, we’ve managed to get in so many photos, bits of memorabilia, and I hope people of the town enjoy it as much as we do.”

The Northern Echo: Ticket stubs, ties, programmes and team sheets adorn the wall of 'The Bishops'.Ticket stubs, ties, programmes and team sheets adorn the wall of 'The Bishops'.

At the opening of ‘The Bishops’ yesterday, there was a ‘who’s who' of former players, managers and influential people of Bishop Auckland who had come out to witness the historic day for Bishop Auckland FC.

The VIP guest of the day, though, was given to former Bishop player, Bob Thursby, who played in the club’s historic amateur cup final match at Wembley Stadium in 1957 at the age of just 19.

In the match 64 years ago, The Bishops came out 3-1 winners against Wycombe and was watched by a whopping 92,000 spectators. This capped off the ‘golden years’ of Bishop Auckland FC, which saw them win three cup finals on the bounce between 1955 and 1957.

The Northern Echo: Bob Thursby, who played in the 1957 amateur cup final at Wembley in front of 92,000 people, was the VIP guest for the opening.Bob Thursby, who played in the 1957 amateur cup final at Wembley in front of 92,000 people, was the VIP guest for the opening.

As well as having the honour of playing for his local side, Mr Thursby went on to win 17 caps for the England Amateur side and captained both club and country in what became an illustrious career.

Looking back on his career and the 1957 cup final, he told The Northern Echo: “Back in those days, Wembley Stadium was also used for dog racing and had to have the track dismantled on game day. This meant that the fans were a little way away from the pitch – but the 92,000 fans in that day made some noise, let me tell you.

“There were people everywhere – standing, sitting, getting space wherever they could. I remember starting the celebrations on the pitch, carrying them into the dressing room and then heading straight out to the nightclub – they were special days.”

The Northern Echo: Programmes of games gone by for Bishop Auckland FC, including one from the amateur cup final match against Hendon in 1955.Programmes of games gone by for Bishop Auckland FC, including one from the amateur cup final match against Hendon in 1955.

Alongside bits of memorabilia from Bishop Auckland FC, there are other items of interest for people who follow the Durham Amateur Football Trust – including programmes from clubs that are no longer active and have folded along the way.

According to the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who attended the opening of ‘The Bishops’ – “it’s important to keep the traditions of the town and football alive”.

The Northern Echo: As well as becoming known as 'The Bishops', Bishop Auckland FC are also known as 'The Two Blues'. As well as becoming known as 'The Bishops', Bishop Auckland FC are also known as 'The Two Blues'.

The Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Cllr Katie Eliot, who was also in attendance, added: “It’s fantastic that this history of the club could be brought together in a three-month timeframe.

“Football has always been a passionate and big thing in County Durham and Bishop Auckland, and I hope people in the area get behind the club and give it a visit.”