The column joins the Saints. It was only a matter of time.

Pigeon holed

We’ve just had a long weekend in Southampton – long story, too – a chance for the first time since Wembley 2014 to watch Sholing FC, known otherwise as the Boatmen.

Four years ago they sank West Auckland 1-0 in the FA Vase final, the first half so uneventful that a very well known figure in North-East football – no names, then as now – could be observed asleep in the royal box.

The crowd was a greatly disappointing 5,430, of whom around 3,000 were said to have sailed up with Sholing and to be supporters evermore.

This season they’re again in the last 32 of the Vase, had a 100 per cent record and an astronomical goal difference in the Wessex League.

Against Fareham, a few miles down the road, the crowd’s precisely 91, of whom a handful are Fareham weather fans and one’s an itinerant North-East journalist seeking shelter from the rain.

Sholing since 2010, they were originally Vosper Thorneycroft, a works team of the Solent shipbuilder. The higgledy-piggledy old Vosper Thorneycroft Pigeon Club hit still stands inside the gate, though it would likely fail an FA ground inspection.

The ladies’ has flowers in it, though, and the gent’s is identified as the dunny, Australian for netty.

Sholing record their 15th straight win, a very comfortable 5-1, 90 per cent of the 91 spectators mute and the vocal few offering nothing original.

Should they again reach the Vase final – a prospect which West Auckland and the Ebac Northern League’s three other last 32 survivors might view with some trepidation – we’ve been working on an alternative anthem.

With a nod to Flanagan and Allen, and to the winter sun setting over the Solent, we suggest “Sholing, just Sholing, by the light of the moon above”. But this May it’s the Northern League’s turn to win.

The weekly Non League Paper has a ground hoppers’ column, written anonymously. It’s wholly coincidental that, with hundreds of games from which to choose, the gentleman should be at the same Sholing match, his report spotted by Brian Dixon in Darlington. It’s perfectly OK, Brian supposes, though he’s sure that Backtrack will be better. Is this what’s known, he wonders, as compliments of the season?

Affectionately remembered at Southampton and at Bishop Auckland – perhaps less so at Sunderland – Lawrie McMenemy, now 82, retains a weekly column in the Southampton-based Southern Daily Echo.

Rather reversing the canonical order of things, the Saints still venerate their heroes.

The former Coldstream Guardsman’s latest piece is a plea for Southampton’s new manager to be given a chance, the refrain familiar. If only, he adds, he’d been given more of a chance at Sunderland.

None is more incorrigibly and indomitably itinerant, of course, than our old friend John Dawson, the retired Hartlepool postman.

Needing just three grounds to complete the Northern Ireland Premier Intermediate League set, John pitched up the other day at Tobermore United v Crewe United – “213 bus from Belfast to Derry, change at Castle Dawson park and ride.”

Castle Dawson, sadly, appears not to be on John’s side of the family.

Once there, the warmth of the welcome in direct contrast to that of the weather, he experienced all that’s proclaimed about Irish hospitality. “Wonderful people,” he says.

Back in England, needing to tick off three grounds to complete the 296 – including Guernsey – at steps 1-4 of the National League System, the lad headed for Basildon United.

As usual it meant leaving Hartlepool at 10.15pm, overnight coach from Middlesbrough, early breakfast at Victoria coach station –he has a loyalty card – and then a gentle ride out to Basildon, they of the Ho Ho Stadium.

“I knew that Christmas was coming but it seemed a funny name for a football ground,” he says. Then he spotted a hoarding above the entrance: “Ho Ho, your local Chinese takeaway.”

John Dawson is 77.

Travels and travails notwithstanding, John may still be just Tobermore’s second most famous visitor, pipped by George Best.

It was 1984 and Best, then 37, had agreed to play for the club in a cup match against Ballymena – the only time, other than internationals, in which he’d played a competitive game in his native land.

Much speculation surrounded whether he’d turn up, stirring memories of an occasion a few years later – the only time we met – when he’d agreed to talk at a charity do at the Barnes Hotel in Sunderland.

Never one to miss a trick, hotel manager Brian Murphy opened a book on the chances of George appearing – and, when he did, donated all the proceeds to the cause.

Besty, indeed, may have been rather more successful in Sunderland than he was in Tobermore. Despite his wing-heeled presence, they lost 7-0.

Like George Best a one-off, Trevor Brooking made just a single appearance for Newcastle Blue Star – April 28, 1985, a 2-2 Wearside League draw with Coundon Three Tuns. They paid him £500, it’s reckoned. Last Saturday, Storm Deirdre doing its fearful worst, the column was again on the former Blue Star ground for West Allotment Celtic v Ryton and Crawcrook Albion – Ryton secretary Stevie Carter unable to write his accustomed match report because the ink had literally frozen in his pen. That’s my story, to.