THE BBC blanketed Bishop Auckland last week – day and night, television and radio, edgy perceptions of what’s now politically a marginal seat.

Coverage included star newsreader Clive Myrie – Bury boy, Manchester City fan – pitching up at Heritage Park, the football club’s home, to recall the glory days of the 50s. It also stirred memories of the last time, 19 years earlier, that one of the BBC’s best had dipped a toe into deep Northern League waters.

Sophie Raworth, now another Six O’clock staple, was then a 32-year-old Breakfast Time presenter. Murton was a former east Durham pit village whose football team had in 1999-2000 finished second bottom of the Northern League second division, scoring 21 goals, conceding 133 and garnering just seven points.

“Not the worst team in Britain, just the unluckiest,” Ms Raworth gallantly insisted.

The Corporation thought they could help. Over a three-month period they employed psychologists, nutritionists, therapists, dieticians and sundry other clever folk to make a Tomorrow’s World-style programme to test what the appliance of science might do.

The broadcaster bought them state-of-the-art rain repellent kit, even paid for squad and club officials to attend a bonding weekend in the Lake District, the same course used by the British Lions and the England cricket team, in which club chairman Tommy Torrence somewhat improbably found himself standing atop a 70ft lamp post.

What none could have foreseen was the 70ft hole which in the summer had opened up in the Murton pitch after a culvert collapsed, leaving them homeless for 18 months, or the regular vandalism which bordered on the systematic.

Let it not be supposed that the experiment was unsuccessful, however. Second bottom before technological transformation, they finished third bottom the following season – and they only conceded 76.

THEREAFTER things deteriorated, the semi-derelict Welfare Ground so short of minimum FA standards that at the annual meeting in 2004 Northern League colleagues voted to expel the club which a decade earlier had finished second in the top division, had a committee of 21 and which once drew a 3,500 crowd for a cup tie against Spennymoor United.

The club kicked around the Wearside League and the Northern Alliance then abandoned the unequal struggle. Now there’s only a Sunday side, half way in the Peterlee league.

Last sodden Saturday, first time for 15 years, I went back, Murton seemed all but abandoned.

Woods Terrace, the main shopping street, is mostly steel shuttered and wholly deserted. Even the bookie’s has just two customers, they having parked their bikes inside. Whether this is because they don’t want them to get a) wet or b) pinched is unclear.

The tattoo parlour, the funeral director’s, the pharmacy, two of the three beauty parlours – the collective noun may be a pulchritude – are all closed. Not even its own mother could call Murton centre beautiful, nor Murton dressed up as lamb.

Outside the Glebe Centre, a plaque records that Murton Colliery once produced a million tons annually, that in the 1920s it employed 3,600 men and boys, that 400 of them died underground.

The Methodist church has a Christmas tea – “visit from Santa” – for £6. Opposite it, the Dalton Park Inn offers shelter to a few men fitfully following the racing, a couple of cups sitting meretriciously on the shelves. They’re probably not for football.

In the 1990s the pub was called The International, home for several years to Northern League management committee meetings, proceedings overseen from the top of a filing cabinet by a baleful and near-salivating bulldog known as Nic, after a former league secretary.

Last Saturday there isn’t even a Sunderland match to fret over. In former times it would have been an International break.

TOMMY TORRENCE was magnificent, played as an emergency centre forward when he was 54, manned the gate, made the tea, sold the raffle tickets, even acted as manager when they were short. They won. “I just changed tactics,” said Tom, puffing one of his cigars. “Nee bollockings, nee back stabbing and nee heads rolling round the dressing room.”

He’d even defended the player who, filmed by the BBC the night before a match, had seen off 16 pints of lager and four or five pies. “It was his birthday next day,” said Tom.

By 1998, however, things had become so desperate that the league organised a fundraising match against neighbours Durham City. Portentously, it was Friday the 13th.

Tyne Tees Television broadcast live from the ground, urging football folk to come; Sunderland legend Jimmy Montgomery agreed to keep goal in a half-time penalty competition, a crowd of 313 – about 300 more than normal, one of them travelled specially from Devon – foregathered.

After 52 minutes, score 1-1, the lights phutted out one-by-one, like a four-year-old making the most of her birthday cake. Someone had forgotten to put diesel in the generator. Asked the reason for his suggestion that everyone raise their hands, a visitor explained that many hands make lights work. It seems funnier now than then.

“It was like Blackpool Illuminations being extinguished because the town clerk had forgotten to pay the electricity bill,” the column observed – and in 20 years as league chairman, it was definitely my darkest hour.

THE weather’s worsening, Murton still deserted, no one from whom to seek directions. The first half-forgotten foray leads past agricultural land – the phrase about sward into ploughshares comes to mind – but, drookit, is abandoned.

A second try is along a flooded road of the sort sometimes called unmade, though a bed that unmade would be in a dirty clothes basket.

Notices on what appears to be a farm building warn thieves that if they break in they won’t be reported to police. “What follows,” add the notices, “you will never be prepared for.”

The old Welfare ground is a bit further along, next to the cricket field, now encircled by a 10ft security fence. The adage about horse and stable door rears its head. The place seems little changed, dressing rooms steel walled, stand skeletal, mud everywhere. Floodlights lone gone, the picture’s gloomy indeed.

By now it’s almost dark, the Methodists have had their Christmas tea and probably had a word with Santa As well. The 265 bus departs at 4.20pm, and that’s the end of the news.