BEFORE Wimbledon, long before the first test match, the day after the summer solstice, football returned last Saturday – Richmond Town v Penrith on what’s twice been voted England’s most scenic ground

Since officially it’s still the close season, debate ensues over how the match might most legitimately be described. Beach volleyball seems most popular.

Though it might not be said that crowds flock to the Earls Orchard ground, in the shadow of Richmond’s ragally ruined castle, some of the insatiable old favourites have turned out, nonetheless.

As if the premature turn of events has taken Town themselves by surprise, the chalk board outside the ground announces that the next home game is on April 13.

John Dawson, king of the ground hoppers, has travelled from Hartlepool debating if it’s the last match of 2018-19 or the first of 2019-20 and decides upon the former.

He also recalls when spectators weren’t allowed into football until mid-July. “Billingham Town played Aberdeen’s first team once. They let me put out the corner flags. That way I wasn’t a spectator, I was a helper.”

Willie Fyvie’s down from Sunderland – No 21 bus to Darlington, hour and 55 minutes on a good day, followed by the No 27 to Richmond, 40 minutes on a bad un. “It’s a match, innit?” he argues, inarguably.

Willie thinks it definitely 2019-20, his 2018-19 season having ended a fortnight earlier when Scotland played Cyprus.

You can tell the ground hoppers, they’re the ones toting the sort of rucksack with which the more adventurous essay Everest. Officially they hold waterproofs, experience promoting precaution, though there are thought to be several pork pie pockets as well.

Another of the travellers has spent much of the week at the Island Games on Anglesey – “seven matches in three days” he enthuses – a competition attracting the likes of Jersey, Shetland, the Isle of Man, the Western Isles and St Helena.

Goodness knows where St Helena is, but it may be even further than Sunderland.

The weather’s lovely, the setting perfect, the spectators’ only grumble that the tea hut’s shut. They’ve need of intravenous Bovril, these boys.

After a goalless first half there’s also a faintly morose debate over whether it could be the first no-score draw of the season, or the last of the year before.

It ends 2-2, a 35-yarder from Penrith’s Robbie Jebson staking an early claim for goal of the pre-pre-season.

The visitors head back to Cumbria, the column for an ice cream and to the cricket – Richmondshire II beating Whitby by a single wicket on a lovely summer afternoon, and that’s greatly scenic, too.

For those who can wait no longer for the winter game, Richmond Town play again this afternoon – home to Thornaby, 2pm.

BILLY TEESDALE, he with the facial resemblance to a bulldog chewing a wasp, hit 70 last week – the day after his 35th wedding anniversary to the wonderfully stoical Pamela.

“It was the luckiest day of her life,” he is fond, impotently, of observing.

Bulldog Billy helped form Evenwood Cricket Club, played formidably for many years, became umpire and Durham County League committee member and still, we’re told, pretty much holds the club together.

Little Billy, his lad, is currently unavailable for selection as he recovers from a burst appendix. Thomas, Billy’s grandson, plays on.

The Bulldog is among the column’s oldest friends. May he long bat on towards his century.

A REAL downer, we reported a fortnight ago on the mid-season resignation of Spout House – where the pitch slopes like a Gre4nadier Guardsman – from the delightful Feversham Cricket League in North Yorkshire.

Now the good news: Glaisdale, one of those verdant little villages with a station on the railway to Whitby, have accepted an invitation to take their place while continuing in the Esk Valley League.

For this season at least, the Feversham will revert to five clubs.

League secretary Charles Allenby reports that the other four have happily accepted some fixture rearrangement. “All we need now,” he says, “is some half-decent cricket weather.”

BACK in autumn 1985 – oh, gosh – the very first Backtrack column pondered unsuccessfully the origin of the term “flapping track”, the name for an unlicensed greyhound stadium.

It arose again with last week’s news that 84 houses are to be built on the site, long abandoned, of Spennymoor dogs.

Fifty years ago the North-East had at least ten flapping tracks. Now there are reckoned just five in the UK, including Wheatley Hill, in east Durham, running since 1930 and reckoned the oldest.

The journalist Matthew Engel spent a night at Wheatley Hill dogs – after evensong at Durham Cathedral – for his excellent 2014 book Engel’s England. It rather flummoxed him.

“This is part of a secret world hiding in plain sight, as mystical in its way as choral evensong,” he wrote but made no attempt to explain the flipping flapping etymology.

The website devotes much to the flappers, too. “It is essentially the greyhound racing equivalent of the Wild West,” it concludes though that should not be supposed a description of Friday nights at Wheatley Hill.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites multiple uses of the term – “there was trouble at the ‘flapping meeting at Blaydon on Saturday”, Daily Express, September 1916 – without attempting its origins.

The OED does, however, offer a definition of “flap” as to knock or to beat. Could it be that flapping meetings – in horseracing, too – were those in which the runners were allowed to barge one another?

After 34 years and more than 3,000 columns, could the flap be over at last?

….and finally, last week’s distinctly two-blue column asked how many times Bishop Auckland had won the FA Amateur Cup. It’s ten, the last Wembley win in 1957.

Now that Royal Ascot’s over for another summer, readers are today invited to suggest how many women jockeys have won there over the years.

The answer when the column returns in a fortnight.