A presentation tonight will acknowledge a memorable double for Haughton Cricket Club and some welcome good news for the grass roots game.

Compelled to submit apologies for absence, the column caught up with club president Norman Sturman and vice-president Brian Dobinson over coffee last Sunday morning.

“Stormin’” Norman is 83, with Haughton since 1965 and overall winner of the Northern Echo Local Heroes award in 2002. “The embodiment of everything that is good about grass roots sport,” said the citation.

He retired from playing when 75, though his whites remain in an upstairs drawer, pressed and ready for a call to action.

It’s a bit like the Great Steam Engine Reserve, somewhere beneath a hill near you.

Brian’s 65, with Haughton since 1976 and a former Darlington and District League president. His kit’s long since been thrown out, knackered knees lowering his expectations.

Both are still never away from the ground. “It has its problems,” says Brian, “but there’s still nothing to beat cricket at this level.”

Haughton’s tacked onto Darlington’s south-east skirts, the ever-improving ground in Great Burdon. The first team won the district league A division, the resurgent seconds claimed the B division title after escaping relegation by a single point the season before.

It’s the first time that a village side has completed the Darlington double, though Richmond managed it 41 years ago.

Yet more good news is that Lands CC, whose demise we reported in the Spring, are on the verge of re-forming. Haughton’s success is also good for our friends at Cliffe, reprieved from A division relegation because two teams from one club can’t play in the same division. No such luck for Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The bad news is that both Brian and Norman believe that the league, presently with three divisions, will be down to one within a decade. One of the league’s oldest clubs, with two teams, is said particularly to be struggling.

At Haughton, they also lament the loss of the game’s social spirit. Once, they recall, they might have 30 or 40 back in the Highland Laddie, the nearest pub, for post-match unwinding. Now the visitors rarely turn out at all.

“You don’t get wives and girlfriends, either,” says Norman. “”When we were young cricket’s all there was to do. Now all they want is their computers.”

The firsts took 76 points out of a possible 80 from nearest rivals Raby Castle and Nunthorpe, achieving a last ball tie and a last ball win against the Middlesbrough side.

Champions before the last day, they were presented with the trophy at their own ground, travelled to East Cowton for the season’s final game and were back at Burdon to witness the seconds triumph with a win over nearest rivals Spennymoor.

Brian was on holiday in America. “I was getting texts every five minutes,” he recalls.

The second team has been strengthened by a youth recruitment drive. “We promised that if youngsters were available, no more than five older guys would play at the same time,” says Norman. “We had to do something, we were all growing old together.”

The presentation evening is at All Saints church hall in Darlington, licence obtained though the highlight is reckoned to be the pig racing – the contestants battery operated but still squealing like, well, stuck pigs.

“The excitement’s amazing,” says Brian. Sometimes, it’s whispered, owners might have as much as £1 on their chosen pig, though best not tell the good folk of All Saints.

It may be, as Mr George Orwell tried to suggest, that all pigs are equal – but in the Darlington and District League in 2018, some are more equal than others.

Stormin’ Norman is also a prolific recorder both of Haughton’s fortunes and of local history. His latest is a little book on his life as an assistant surveyor in the East Cleveland ironstone mines in the 50s and 60s.

As an apprentice, required to attend day courses at Sunderland Tech, he’d rise at 4 30am and catch the 5.15 miners’ bus from Hinderwell to Loftus.

Thence a bus to Middlesbrough, an hour’s wait for the train to Sunderland, a walk from the station and arrival half way through the first lesson.

The return journey deposited him back in Hinderwell at 10.50pm, getting on 19 hours after he’d left – “a shade weary,” the book recalls, and definitely no time for cricket.

After morning coffee with the Haughton hierarchy, we head across town for something a little stronger at Darlington Cricket Club, where booklets detailing the summer’s statistics are available.

Among much of interest is that Liam Coates was responsible for the seven highest first team scores, including the only century. Has anyone ever managed the top eight?

The Feethams clubhouse is also the venue, this very evening, for the highlight of the North-East social calendar. It’s for that reason that we really must give Haughton a miss.

….and finally, the six Southampton players in 1983-84 who’d also captained England (Backtrack, October 27) were Alan Ball, Mick Channon, Kevin Keegan, Mick Mills, Peter Shilton and Dave Watson.

When Wilfred Zaha “won” a penalty for Crystal Palace against Arsenal on Sunday, it was his 11th awarded for a foul against him in the past five seasons. Readers are invited to name the only Premier League player to have won more.

On the spot as always, the column returns in a fortnight.