Before considering last Saturday’s momentous events in Japan – and today’s, come to that – it’s necessary to admit that Darlington Rugby Club and I have history, though some might suppose it pre-history.

It was Saturday, September 4, 1965, the end of my first wet-eared week in journalism, Darlington playing Carlisle at the old McMullen Road ground and the news editor seeking someone to provide roseately running reports for three different Pinks.

Objections were fourfold: firstly that I’d never watched rugby in my life and hadn’t the first notion of the rules, secondly – then as now – that I couldn’t see the ball, thirdly that the mechanics of telephoning multiple reports from a call box without sight of the pitch were a mystery and, fourthly, that the National Union of Journalists had long since agreed that it should be a five-day week, not six.

“We’ll give you a lieu day,” said the news editor, mendaciously.

What happened next needn’t really occupy us, suffice that luck was firmly and customarily on my side – and Darlington’s, faint memory murmurs, as well.

What prompted last Saturday’s visit was that it seemed a good idea to watch the World Cup semi-final over breakfast at the newish Blackwell Meadows ground, and no matter that I’ve still no notion of the rules.

It seemed a mite disingenuous, however, to ask which was the team in the black.

An 8.30am breakfast – full English, inevitably – is fine, table shared with Andy Kosaba, Geoff Scott and John Harvey, Tyneside lads down for a weekend motorbike rally at Hurworth Grange, a couple of miles away. Overnight it’s poured, by day the cascade continues.

“It was a toss up between sitting roond in a soaking wet tent or coming up here and having a few beers,” says Andy, over the first of them. He looks like he might have had a few extra Shredded Wheats, an’ all.

None doubts the significance of the clash with New Zealand – “the most intense rugby match ever,” The Times has forecast – or that it really is a battle of the heavyweights.

Back in 1991 the average weight of England’s team had been 14 stones 12 lbs. Now it was sixteen-and-a-half stones.

Andy thinks England can win if they can close out the last 15 minutes, Geoff’s heart says England but his head New Zealand, John has another sausage.

The telly, making light, seems only to be playing commercials, Ant and Dec and blooming meerkats, as ineluctable as the Kiwi forwards.

The lads are all keen rugby men, no longer bothered about football. Andy says he’d been a Magpie until 1974 when United played Liverpool. “Supermac wound them up and they howked us. I was only a kid, but I gave up on it after that.”

The game’s just a few seconds old when England charge upfield and a parallel suggests itself with the sixpenny seats at the kids’ matinee at Shildon Hippodrome, circa 1955. The moment that the US Cavalry appeared over the hill, all the big lads in the ninepennies jumped to their feet. So with rugby.

When Manu Tuigali touches down for England after 97 seconds, a great maelstrom of hands and feet like a collapsed hum-dum-dum back outside Rinaldi’s Café in Coundon, there’s not an occupied seat in the place.

Remembering the column’s shortcomings, Darlington club chairman Mike Wilkinson strolls kindly across the clubhouse. “That’s 5-0,” he explains and adds a couple of points when Farrell converts. 7-0 inside two minutes: the evening previously it had taken Leicester City an hour to score that many.

Barely ten minutes have passed and Andy admits to being over-excited. “It’s nee good for fat lads, this, and I forgot me blood pressure tablet this morning,” he says and, alone, declines to be photographed.

John’s more measured. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing. We’re playing them off the field,” he says.

How are they planning to spend the rest of the weekend? “Few more beers here, stand around a wet field watching motor bikes, few more beers, sober up on Sunday.”

Outside they’re inspecting the pitch ahead of the afternoon’s Northumberland and Durham second division game with Gosforth. The chairman’s pessimistic for Darlington, optimistic for England. “I think we’ve got this,” he says.

The aggression’s relentless, the collisions thunderous. Were such violence to feature on Coronation Street, there’d have to be a warning to those of a nervous disposition.

Excitement accelerates, atmosphere arcs but fails to impregnate. When the players cry for a forward pass I’m singing American Pie; worse yet, when they talk of Yokohama I’m mentally recalling the surrey with the fringe on top.

Occasionally codes and cultures collide – “How, ref, that was NIVVOR a penalty” – occasionally the exasperated hurl imprecations at the telly, as they do in the other game. As they do in the other game, the referee pretends not to hear.

Geoff compares Sam Underhill to Mickey Skinner – “nearly as good”. On Tyneside that’s praise, indeed. Slightly surprisingly, no one’s swinging low. Perhaps they haven’t a music licence.

At half-time it’s 10-0, the first time that New Zealand haven’t scored in the first half of a World Cup game since Captain Cook was a cabin boy. In the gent’s, Andy – the man reluctant to be photographed – finds himself next to the photographer.

“Aa knaa now how Lady Diana felt,” he says.

Not even the Kiwis’ 57th minute try, 13-7, can dent optimism now. A group of kids is running round playing chasey, but since one’s carrying a rugby ball, they’re forgiven.

On the table in front, a huge guy with Popeye muscles becomes ever more carried away. The temptation to tell him to sit down and shut up is fairly easily resisted.

Andy, unexpectedly, says he likes the Kiwis’ antipodean moustaches. “It’s a YMCA thing,” he says by way of explanation.

On the telly, the producer’s told the breathless commentator to give the following day’s South Africa v Wales game a plug. “About the most pointless promo in the world,” he says.

John Harvey’s waxing ecstatic. “Did you ever think there’d be a day like this?” he says, though hardly expecting an answer.

The whistle’s greeted wildly, a chap on the next table euphorically and subsequently contritely phoning a friend. “I never thought I’d hear myself apologising to a Scotsman for swearing,” he says.

“Two great teams and a great advert for rugby,” says Mike Wilkinson, inarguably.

So to this morning’s epic events in Japan, though in truth it’s a foregone conclusion. As we knew all those years ago in the kids’ matinee at Shildon Hippodrome, the goodies always win in the end.