A NEW play chronicling the links between Manchester United and Bishop Auckland after the Munich air disaster will be launched next year.

Its co-authors are United historian Roy Cavanagh, who has written more than 20 books on the club and other subjects, and – a little loss probably – former Bishops chairman Steve Newcomb.

“The only time I’ve written anything in my life was a sick note,” says Steve, a successful Highland cattle breeder.

Roy, a former Old Trafford programme editor, grew up just five minutes from the ground in the Salford slums – “we didn’t know they were slums back then” – and was among the 19,000 crowd which watched the reserves against Wolves on the Saturday before the disaster.

Called Bishops United, the play will have a private premiere at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park ground on February 6 – the 62nd anniversary of Munich – and a public bow the following week. They hope to take to a bigger stage soon afterwards.

It tells how Bishops players Warren Bradley, Bob Hardisty and Derek Lewin joined depleted numbers at Old Trafford, Bradley becoming the only Englishman to win amateur and full international caps in the same season.

“We knew about Bishop Auckland even then,” says Roy. “In those days the only matches live on television were the FA Cup final and the Amateur Cup final. One was often Manchester United and the other always Bishop Auckland.”

His identity still secret – “we just call him Jocko” says Steve – a “fairly well known” Scottish actor has been lined up to play United manager Matt Busby. They’re still looking for local thespians to take the roles of the trans-Pennine players and of men like Seamus O’Connell, Duncan Edwards and United assistant manager Jimmy Murphy.

Former World Cup referee George Courtney will be narrator. “It was either me or Tim Healy,” he says.

The writers are hoping for a substantial Arts Council grant, partly needed to meet the £6,000– £10 a second – which Pathe are asking for permission to use old newsreel footage which will be incorporated into the play.

Steve’s confident they’re onto a winner. “It hasn’t been easy at times but it’s like everything else in life – if you’re enthusiastic enough, you’ll get there.”

Interested thespians can contact him on 07525 128847.

Last Thursday, coincidentally, the Bishop boys of the distant past gathered for their annual reunion. The two-blue line grows ever thinner.

The Northern Echo: Bob ThursbyBob Thursby

Though three others are thought to survive, only 81-year-old Bob Thursby represented the side which in 1957 completed an historic hat-trick of Amateur Cup wins at Wembley. Peter Cook and Bill Roughley stood for the 60s, the rest supported ever more (and one of them supported Shildon.)

Bob was but a bit bairn back then, became a dentist in Chester-le-Street, still manages a round of golf – “I can swing a club but can’t walk 50 yards” – fears it may need surgery to sort out his bad back.

“Not as bad as Tiger Woods but getting on that way,” he says.

The team had been beaten the previous evening, continuing a disappointing start to the season. The oldie conversation turned to Shippam’s paste sandwiches instead.

The Northern Echo: Steve HarmisonSteve Harmison

The August issue of Cricketer magazine carries a splendid story of formidable former Durham fast bowler Steve Harmison, described as “the nuclear warhead who was never quite comfortable going to war” and as a man who never felt entirely comfortable when anywhere south of the Tyne, either.

In 2000, when first called into the England test squad, Harmi was travelling by train to London, happy to talk in the same carriage with a group of young adults with learning difficulties.

Nearing York, their destination, they were rounded up by the person in charge – “a right battle axe” – who started a headcount, got to three and asked the rather anxious big feller if he were one of their number.

Steve explained that he was on his way to play cricket for England at Lord’s. The battle axe pointed at him and continued. “Four….”

All this VARifocus is having an effect on football travellers. Brian Dixon, who faithfully commutes to Stamford Bridge from Darlington, was so concerned at possible delays while remote officialdom made up its collective mind that he booked a later train back. It was the nine o’clock, two-and-a-half hours after the scheduled finish. “That should do, shouldn’t it?” he says.

A mite belatedly, a very happy 90th birthday to former Amateur Swimming Association president Eric Wilkinson, who plunged into his tenth decade on August 1.

Himself a former national champion, and a long-serving telegraphist on The Northern Echo, Eric now lives near Middleton-in-Teesdale – “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” it says at the end of the road, though none might need reminding.

“We still love it here, the peacefulness and the fresh air are lovely,” says Eric, whose daughter, Emma, is the Premier League’s director of communications.

These days, however, he no longer daily goes swimming in the river at the bottom of the field. “I’m starting to feel the cold,” he says.

….and finally, the footballer who has scored for most Premier League clubs (Backtrack, August 24) is Craig Bellamy, whose seven include Newcastle United.

Following the remarkable events at Headingley, readers are today invited to suggest England No 11 Jack Leach’s batting average from eight county championship innings this season.

Way above average, the column returns next week.