THE Railroad to Wembley in 2018-19 has been a course of recurring disappointment, barely offering anxious adventurers the chance to cross the Tees.

Were it formally to be run by Northern Rail, and not fancifully by The Northern Echo, the RMT would surely come out in protest.

So Saturday gone, last 16 of the FA Vase, and the two surviving Ebac Northern League clubs – Hebburn Town and West Auckland – are drawn almost magnetically together.

Such the strictures, we’d also been to Hebburn in the previous round, thus exhausting every celestial play on words. Hebburn in ordinary, this must be the last of them.

Neither Newcastle United nor Sunderland being in action, the 10:18 from Darlington is almost empty, not so much as the customarily clucking hen party. A chap from Whitley Bay has a letter in The Times complaining that watching rugby at Twickenham or Murrayfield is being spoiled by others constantly getting up to go for a drink or, cause and effect, a pee.

The gun-toting police at Newcastle Central watch dispassionately, if not perhaps disarmingly. At the Metro ticket gate a cheery official asks if I’m going anywhere nice.

I tell him Hebburn.

“That’ll be a no, then,” he says.

Erik’s abating, sun’s shining. I’m in Hebburn, cue strings, by 11.15am.

CHECKED solicitously, the internet offers “Ten best things to do in Hebburn.” They include St James’ Park, Roker beach and the Angel of the North but nothing, not a sausage, in the south Tyneside town itself.

Where once the shipyards went hammer and tongs now stands Riverside Village (prices from £89,950.) The library has leaflets on fly tipping, glue sniffing and adolescent to parent assault but nothing on Hebburn’s treasures.

From the riverside path, and quite likely halfway to Dogger Bank, is visible the 190ft steeple of the former St Andrew’s Presbyterian church. It has a story to tell.

The great Hebburn shipyard was founded by Andrew Leslie, born in 1818 to a Shetland crofter whose parents were evicted six weeks after his arrival.

The family moved to Aberdeen where Andrew became an apprentice boilermaker and in 1853 used his £198 capital to launch himself onto the Tyne.

Much of the workforce followed him south, the riverbank area becoming known as Little Aberdeen. For three decades from 1883, Hebburn even had its only Highland Games.

Leslie not only built his ain folk houses but gave £9,000 for the construction of the magnificent, Gothic style church, known locally as the Presbyterian Cathedral and now Grade II listed.

That it was dedicated to St Andrew may be supposed coincidental. Scotland had quite a lot of Andrews from whom to choose.

Leslie built Coxlodge Hall in Gosforth, died there in 1893 despite the ministrations of Dr Gibb, perhaps better remembered for his part in the Blaydon Races. His yard had built more than 200 ships.

Crowds thronged the four-mile route to Newcastle station, from where a special train took the coffin for burial in Edinburgh. Leslie, it was said, was awa’ hame.

The shipyard merged and ultimately closed, population declined, the Presbyterians became part of the United Reformed Church but the great building fell into disrepair and was sold three years ago.

It is now the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a meditation centre for Buddhist monks from Thailand.

THOUGH one or two have sniffles, Hebburn seems not to be suffering football fever. The wind tunnel Mountbatten shopping centre – Mountbatten captained HMS Kelly, launched from Hebburn in 1935 and lost with 130 men – is sepulchral and semi-shuttered.

BetFred – “No racing, no problem” – offers odds on Brighton v Burnley but nothing on Hebburn v West Auckland.

In the previous round, it may be recalled, we’d had a pint in the Hebburn Protestant Conservative Club, to which is annexed the Orange Hall.

In the spirit of what church folk call ecumenism, it seems only right therefore to have one in the Iona, the Catholic club, a couple of . It’s quiet, like the television. One or two talk briefly about Fulham v Man United but none of the town’s biggest ever game, just half a mile away.

Come to think, no one mentions the Pope, either.

HEBBURN folk have done well for themselves. Brendan Foster was a Hebburn lad, as were the late and lovely Arsenal double winner George Armstrong and Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood, who joined Busby’s Babes from Darlington.

Perhaps less well remembered is Ian Chipchase, gold medallist in the 1974 Commonwealth Games hammer throwing event.

The most fascinating of all Hebburn men may, however, have been Dominic Bruce – himself a good Catholic – for whom escaping from German prisoner-of-war camps became, officially, a sport. Goon baiting, as the PoWs liked to call it, became his second string.

Not even Colditz Castle could hold the intrepid Bruce, said to have made 17 separate escape attempts, to have been one of them behind the wooden horse ploy and to have been “the most ingenious of all World War II escapees.”

One successful escape was in a tea chest, another disguised as a Swiss health visitor. He fled Coldiytz in a crate, leaving an “Auf wiedersehen” message for the guards.

Bruce had started young, fleeing home – or more likely his strict Jesuit school – on a train to London, only to be recognised by a Metropolitan policeman who was married to his sister.

Even when awarded the Air Force Medal in 1938, Bruce referred to it as the Away From Mother.

Just 5ft 3ins tall, he’d try to convince fellow prisoners that it was the British male’s average height and thus became known as the Medium Sized Man.

For his determination to get back to where he belonged, the Medium Sized Man was awarded the Military Cross – the only man ever to win both MC and Air Force Medal. He moved to the south, was appointed OBE for services to education and died in the year 2000, aged 84.

QUICKLY it becomes clear why there’s hardly anyone in Hebburn town centre. They’re all at the match. It’s all-ticket, the crowd put at 1,310. Three flags, none in the least sectarian, fly to attention in the breeze.

Hebburn are a club transformed these past two years, facilities unrecognisably improved, youth teams springing up as if left there by the stork, almost as many excited mascots as once they had spectators.

West have been Vase finalists twice in the past seven seasons, long for a chance to make it third time lucky, have been drawn away in every round in this season’s competition but have yet to concede a goal.

Attacking the cemetery end, where stands a memorial to the Kelly dead, they score after 20 minutes when Hebburn defender Jack Donaghy slices a cross past his own keeper.

From the travelling support come the first familiar strains of the song about not being home for tea.

Erik’s blowing out, Hebburn similarly gasping. When Amar Purewal – Sunderland lad, Punjabi international – conjures West’s second after 71 minutes, the home side’s fate, unlike Colditz Castle, is inescapable.

The quarter-final’s next Saturday, West Auckland at home to Chertsey, railroad no further than Bishop. Would it be wholly disloyal to hope for a sunny day, a replay and on March 2 a day return to Kings Cross?