Year after year the open-topped bus would edge down the thronged main street, town band to the fore, before decanting Bishop Auckland’s triumphant footballers at the Frenchified town hall.

Annually they’d ascend with the FA Amateur Cup to the balcony, recalling Buckingham Palace on state occasions, and for the caffey-hearted among the thousands in the market place below every bit as fearful.

As with the palace, that balustrade seemed so low as almost to be a trip hazard. The photographer who snapped that most evocative of crowd scenes must have been happy with the high-ups, too.

Last Saturday the crowd was altogether smaller – probably about 10,000 smaller – as family and friends gathered to remember Derek Lewin, gifted footballer and true gentleman. He died in March, aged 88.

Later they travelled to Heritage Park, the Bishops’ home this past decade, where Derek’s ashes were spread in the goalmouth. Then we went off for lunch.

Sheila, his widow, recalled that they’d planned a family trip to Bishop in the Spring – “there seems to be so much going on these days” – until his last illness. “It wasn’t to be so today’s been massively important and it’s been perfect,” she said.

“Derek would have loved it. He’d be smiling down on us right now.”

Derek was a Lancashire lad, played for Shildon during national service at Catterick, made his Bishop Auckland debut on Christmas Day 1954, coincidentally against Shildon.

In the preceding decade they’d lost four Amateur Cup finals, most galling of all to arch-rivals Crook Town the previous season. “When Derek came everything changed,” recalled Durham Amateur Football Trust secretary and Bishops’ stalwart Dick Longstaff.

Uniquely, they completed a hat-trick of wins, Derek scoring five goals at Wembley and many more en route.

The drum beat perhaps a little slower, they’d also processed to the town hall after final defeat. Dick recalled 1951, down 2-1 to Pegasus, when winger Benny Edwards – Peterlee lad, was he not? – stood on the balcony to apologise for missing two headers.

“He was just a little chap but it was a very big gesture,” said Dick.

Now they recalled happier days, talked of Saturday mornings half a century earlier when Bishop market place would be set out with maybe 100 stalls and with many more buyers than sellers.

Now there’s just one stall – “all there ever is” – though they reckon the bananas are tip-top.

They remembered Doggarts’ store, great cornerstone of the market place, recalled Shildon lad Laurie Brown who worked there as a joiner before an outstanding football career with Arsenal, Spurs and Norwich City.

They remembered, too, a victory parade of a different sort when 1968 Grand National winner Red Alligator – Bishop-trained and owned, pretty much Bishop-ridden – enjoyed the same celebratory spectacle.

“Great evening that,” someone said. “I’m not sure how they got the hoss onto the balcony, mind.”

Derek won five England amateur cups, was in the British Olympic squad in 1956, answered Manchester United’s call after Munich, remained a familiar face at Old Trafford and was president of Lancashire FA.

He also made several Football League appearances for Oldham Athletic at the time when Middlesbrough legend George Hardwick was manager. “Lovely man, George” said Sheila.

He worked for the family bacon importing firm, drove across the Pennines on Friday in a succession of sports cars, once wrapped his bright red Morgan around a lamp post after swerving to avoid a cat.

The cat, it was said, would have been more important to Derek than the car was.

“He just loved it at Bishop Auckland,” said Sheila, who also recalled buying her husband’s boots – “about six pairs at a time” – from Timpson’s. “I knew what he liked,” she added.

Most team mates from the fabled fifties have also died. Retired dentist Bob Thursby, who appeared in the 1957 final, was absent, ironically, because of a tooth abscess. “Face up like a balloon,” it was reported,

Bill Roughley, capped by England a few years later, now lives in the apartments which stand on the old Kingsway ground. “Lovely flat, lovely views,” said Bill, “and the memories are unbeatable.”

Many family members joined club photographer Peter Jackson on the town hall balcony, special permission having been obtained by club director Terry Jackson, who organised the whole memorable event.

“Usually you have to wear a safety harness if you’re up here these days,” said Peter, though some of us wouldn’t have gone up with a parachute.

Back down to earth, they had a tour of the Heritage Park ground where a gallery of wonderfully evocative photographs recalls the club’s unparalleled history. One’s of Derek and the great Bob Hardisty, leaving Kings Cross with the cup – Derek’s favourite, said Sheila, but only because it was such a good shot of Bob.

All adjourned to the Bridgewater Arms at Winston, once the two-roomed village school between Darlington and Barnard Castle, where Peter Jackson’s mum once taught and where Sheila Lewin presented the club with Derek’s Olympic blazer.

Sheila also insisted upon picking up the tab. “It’s not me who’s paying,” she said, “it’s Derek.”