Almost 65 years after he became the youngest hat-trick scorer in Football League history – a record claimed later by Trevor Francis – Ken Chaytor was back watching his beloved Oldham Athletic last Sunday.

In January 1965, then just a fresh faced lad from Trimdon and said subsequently to have resembled a young Dennis Bergkamp, he’d hit three for Oldham when just 72 days past his 17th birthday.

On Sunday, with sons David and Steven, he went to Gateshead – against whom he’d made his league debut in a 2-2 draw as a 16-year-old – again to watch Athletic in the FA Cup. “We just paid at the gate and sat with the Gateshead fans,” says David.

“We were like three old fashioned football watchers, me with my sandwiches, Steven with his Werther’s Originals and my dad who’d snuck a miniature of Glenlivet past the sign which said no alcohol beyond this point. The PA guy said there were 772 Oldham fans but there weren’t, there were 775.”

He also earned a mention in the programme, just as he had on October 23, 1954, among the differences that in 1954 the programme was threepence and now it’s £2.50.

Ken, who’ll be 82 on Monday, had played against Gateshead at the former Redheugh Park ground, where the surrounding greyhound track was said to be a factor in the club’s failing to gain re-election in 1961.

“It was lovely to watch a match out in the fresh air instead of on television,” says Ken, still in Trimdon. “Gateshead seemed to me to be the better team, but I was very glad that Oldham won.”

He’d been courted by Sunderland, manager Bill Murray so confident of signing the 15-year-old that he’d arranged an apprenticeship in Hartlepool while Ken trained with the youth team.

Sunderland, however, had counted without the charms of Oldham player/manager and Middlesbrough legend George Hardwick and the persuasiveness of Oldham trainer and chief scout Owen Willoughby, himself from Trimdon.

On January 29, 1955 he’d already hit a hat-trick against Mansfield when brought down by the Stags’ goalkeeper. Oldham refused to let Ken take the penalty, citing inexperience. The older hand missed.

The same afternoon, 15,000 crowded the Kingsway ground at Bishop Auckland to watch York City’s 3-1 win in the FA Cup fourth round.

The hat-trick record stood for 16 years, Trevor Francis just 16 years and 307 days when hitting three for Birmingham City against Bolton Wanderers on February 20, 1971.

Coincidence, it’s 60 years gone Thursday since Oldham travelled to Shildon in the FA Cup first round, Ken still on the books but not in the team. Shildon led until the last minute when a contentious header from former Manchester City man Bill Spurdle gave the Lancastrians a 1-1 draw. I was there; we wuz robbed.

Owen Willoughby, who discovered celebrated North-East players like Terry Fenwick and Colin Cooper, was a truly remarkable man – known to Paul Gascogine as Dr Who because of a perceived resemblance to William Hartnell and to Colin Cooper as Catweazel, apparently because of his long hair. Like Samson, Owen was never very keen on visits to the barber.

He’d played football for Darlington Reserves but gained greater renown as a foot runner, winning at Powderhall and at Shildon Show, said to be the local equivalent. After RAF service he joined George Hardwick at Oldham, spent 14 years working in newspaper sales in Canada, scouted on his return for Terry Venables at Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers and Spurs.

Though left permanently on sticks after a car crash in 1987, he continued to watch football at every opportunity and to help run South East Durham Boys and Trimdon Juniors. He died in 2003, aged 84, the day after being told he was to be a guest when Tony Blair met George Bush for lunch in Sedgefield.

“Extraordinary, indomitable, incorruptible and fervent about football,” said the column. And so, of course, he was.

Ken Chaytor’s story is told in One Dead Ref and a Box of Kippers, a splendid 2002 collection of potted biographies of former Football League men in the old Sedgefield Borough Council area – Shildon, Spennymoor, Newton Aycliffe and so on. It was written by Steven Chaytor.

Known as the Durham Wonder Boy, his dad played for St William’s RC school in Trimdon – coached by Owen Willoughby – and for the county schools side. The day before the Latics clinched promotion to the old second division in 1953, Hardwick drove personally to Trimdon to take the 15-year-old to his new digs in Oldham.

At Oldham he became an apprentice toolmaker, trained after work and (says the book) was force fed rice pudding and cheese and onion sandwiches – “he’d once said that he liked them” – by Mrs Holt, his landlady.

His debut at Gateshead, aged 16 years and 330 days, was greeted by “infamous” Gateshead wing half Tom Callender. “Come near me and I’ll break your bloody legs,” he said, paternally, but was man enough to add “Well done” at the final whistle.

Ken was so exhausted that after being dropped off with his parents at Ferryhill, he collapsed at the bus stop. Extensive medical tests could find nothing else wrong.

As an Oldham apprentice he earned £6 in winter, £4 in summer. After his youthful hat-trick he attracted attention from first division clubs like Manchester City and Sheffield United. “With any luck he’ll play for England before he’s 20,” said Hardwick. “He’s the only boy I’ve known who doesn’t need to be taught anything.”

He also played in the same team as former Manchester United man Harry McShane, father of the actor Ian McShane. “My dad played with Lovejoy’s dad,” says David Chaytor.

Ken’s fortunes began to change after George Hardwick left Oldham in 1956, however, replaced as manager by Ted Goodier – “a man not given to the subtleties of the beautiful game,” says One Dead Ref.

Players, the book adds, were told to wear old fashioned boots with hard toe caps – “because they’re better for clogging with.” After 20 goals in 77 appearances he left Oldham, spent three years with Witton Albion, joined Ashton United and then returned to Co Durham where still he lives happily with wife June, the girl he met at a Hill’s Store dance.

“The grounds have changed an awful lot, but I’m not sure that the game’s changed all that much, except that it’s much faster,” he says. “I like my football but it’s mainly on television. We didn’t want to make a fuss but seeing Oldham win away was a really lovely treat. It’s been a very long time.”