A MAGNIFICENT milestone and a tribute to tenacity, the Wensleydale Football League marked its centenary at Tennant’s in Leyburn last Friday.

In other leagues and in other places so splendid an occasion would have been called a gala dinner. In North Yorkshire it was a bit of a do.

The dale scrubbed up well, one young lady seemingly even wearing her wedding frock (and very nice she looked.) Its being midsummer, it poured down.

We’re old friends. Among much memorabilia were Backtrack columns, lavishly laminated, from hard times at Spennithorne – the headline was “Spenny dreadful” – to similar stories of Hawes B being beaten, Hawes whipped, every match.

There was the tale in 2011 of Carberby Rovers’ £125,000 grant from Mars to build a new pavilion, the concomitant commercial filmed by Peter Crouch, and of the pre-season match between the league and a Middlesbrough XI.

“I’ve got Steve McQueen,” enthused a young autograph hunter, though it’s possible he meant Gordon.

The first league championship trophy was subscribed by Edward Rayner, who bred brood mares at Middleham and cost 100 guineas – more at the time than the FA Cup.

It’s still lifted – last season by Richmond Mavericks, 24 wins from 24 games – and can hold 14 pints. “Usually alcoholic,” said former league chairman Len Scott, perhaps superfluously.

A poster framed on Leeming Bar station, eastern end of the Wensleydale Railway, promoted special excursions to finals day at Redmire in 1926 – Hawes v Catterick ATVC, Askrigg Juniors v Bishopdale Valley – 2/9d return.

Former players include Newcastle United and Scotland goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson, while with the Royal Lancers at Catterick, and Aysgarth goalie Harry Walker – known sometimes as the Cat and sometimes as Gobbler, in both cases affectionately – who made 50 appearances for Darlington before winning an FA Cup medal with Portsmouth in 1939 and becoming a Methodist local preacher.

More recently we’d told of Hawes United player Andrew Fagg, another Methodist preacher, who on Easter Day 2016 led the service at the glorious little chapel at Hawes Junction, near Garsdale station on the Settle and Carlisle.

The previous day Andy had finished night shift at the BBC in London, caught the 8am train north, dashed home for his football kit and soon found his side 3-0 down to the Buck Inn (formerly Buck Inn Broncos) from Richmond.

Despite the heavy kick in the face accidentally but visibly sustained when starting the fight back, Hawes won 4-3. For an Easter Day sermon it was allegorically ineluctable.

“We seemed absolutely finished, dead and buried,” he told them, accent – as the column observed three years ago – as broad as a prize bull’s buttocks. “Like Hawes United remember the Easter story, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.”

The Wensleydale League lives joyfully, too, and while others fall by the wayside, plays football with a smile.

TIMES change, of course. Once there were two divisions, even Aysgarth reserves. Now there are ten teams, several from Richmond, in one division.

In 1935, Bishopdale Valley – based in West Burton, up’t top – felt able to write to the league imploring them not to abandon the three-mile rule, restricting teams to players who lived within that distance of the ground.

Goodness only knows how many ambulant footballers lived within three miles of West Burton, but there were probably an awful lot more sheep.

Len Scott, now chairman of North Riding FA and an FA councillor nationally, recalled that in his youth in Bellerby they’d train under street lights on Thursday evenings, watched (he insisted) by the selectors who’d then announce the team.

“It would make or break your weekend, no subs in those days. You’d pray that someone would catch flu, or else they’d stand on a rake.”

LEN, still chiming in Bellerby, enjoys a deserved reputation as an after-dinner speaker. Last Friday he continued to recall younger days.

“No one laughed at you when you said you were going to Redcar for a week and the most popular marriage proposal was ‘Oh, you’re not are you’?”

He also recalled sherbet, that white powdery stuff oft-ingested through a stick of liquorice. “And do you know,” said Len, “I was never once tempted to shove it up my nose.”

AMONG many familiar faces, it was good to see former teacher Jim Wilson, a Wensleydale League referee for 43 years and retirement thoughts postponed by the FA introduction next season of the sin bin.

This, it should be understood, is not for what old Catholics called mortal sins but for the venial sort – a ten-minute suspension for advising the poor ref of the error of his ways, what the law book calls dissent.

Jim, lovely man, is renowned for his zero tolerance towards swearing and for not taking too kindly to being told he’s mistaken, either.

“I’m going to another couple of years at least,” said Jim. “I’ll have to have about seven watches up my arm to keep track of them all.”

He continues despite deafness, hearing aids affected by the sweat of his brow. Jim’s learned to lip read instead. “Let’s face it,” he said,. “There’s not a very big choice of words, is there?”

THE evening’s principal speaker was former Boro boy Craig Hignett, now Hartlepool’s manager, an accomplished raconteur aided by having been in the same dressing room as Ravanelli, Merson and Gascoigne.

Heard the one about Gazza turning up for training in a diving suit, with flippers? Ask him.

Higgy’s best story, however, still concerns his first days at Middlesbrough, injured on his midweek debut and told to report to Tommy Johnson, the physio, at nine o’clock the following morning.

Tommy, however, kept telling him to come back a bit later. Finally, Higgy pushed his head around the door and discovered a greyhound on the treatment table.

Tommy, who died last December, was unapologetic. “You still have four days to get fit,” he said. “The dog’s running tonight.”

….and finally, the two Welsh teams in the Third Division in the 1920s, long vanished from the Football League – last week’s column – are Merthyr and Aberdare.

The Non League Paper reported last weekend that Richmond Town had again been named the country’s most scenic ground with Matlock second, Esh Winning – glorious Esh Winning – third and Fisher Athletic, near Canary Wharf, fourth.

It prompts Neil McKay to ask readers to identify the person after whom Fisher was named – and are any other football clubs named after people?

Name of the game, the column returns next week.