TWO or three times in recent years we’ve reported from Barningham Cricket Club, in Teesdale, where biffing a six into the next county is made easier because part of the ground’s in North Yorkshire and part in Co Durham.

They’ve been playing cricket there for more than 200 years, notes Jon Smith in an extraordinary new book about the village and its environs, the post-war side including “formidable” fast bowler Geoffrey Smith, who went on to yet greater things elsewhere.

Born in Barningham, boarded – to his dismay – at Barnard Castle School, he presented Gardeners World on television for 30 years, renowned for the observation that if you put the brown end below the ground and the green end above it, you had a better chance. He died in 2009, aged 80.

Cricket wasn’t Barningham’s only sporting activity, however. Jon’s ingeniously presented 180,000-word epic recalls the Milbank Arms Indoor Pub Olympics in 1980 at which events included beer mat quoits, drinking a pint of beer through a straw, emptying a baby’s bottle filled with lager, swallowing three cream crackers in under two minutes and throwing a crisp packet held in the teeth backwards over the shoulder and into the fireplace.

The Milbank’s much gentrified of late, but Jon has no doubts: “a second Olympics is well overdue.”

*Round the World: an A-Z Miscellany of Barningham and Its Neighbours costs £9.99. Details from

LONG in the Darlington and District League, Barningham last season also entered a team in the geographically fluid Wensleydale Evening League. Next summer, we hear, there’ll be three more.

Eryholme, by the Tees near Darlington, will be joined by Barton and by RAF Leeming, where security requirements have already been outlined.

Bucking the village cricket trend, it also means that the league will grow to three divisions and that – since North Yorkshire evenings can be a mite crepuscular and sight screens are seldom seen – the league will buy each club three pink balls for use at the beginning and end of the season.

In the pink? “If they didn’t,” says our man in the gloaming, “no one would see the ball all night.”

AS Wednesday’s column noted, we spent a congenial couple of hours in the company of John Burton, Tony Blair’s long-time constituency agent in Sedgefield. It was only a couple of minutes, however, before conversation turned to football.

Now 79, two new knees, John played for several Northern League clubs and in 1965-66 hit 75 goals – “all competitions, mind” – for Stockton in the Wearside League.

His biography, published in 2003, claimed that the record could never be beaten as the Wearside League had folded – which may be a considerable surprise to them.

John’s finest hour, he reckons, was scoring both goals in the Durham Challenge Cup win over the mighty Bishop Auckland, then managed by the callow Lawrie McMenemy – “one of them a header, I didn’t get many headers, especially when marked by George Siddle.”

Big Lawrie was furious, says John – “he wanted to win everything that season.”

The Wearside League, happily, is still very much alive. Though no historic scoring records exist, league secretary Kevin Harrison reports that in recent times John Butler’s 57 in all competitions for Ryhope CW in 2011-12 leads the way, followed by Kallum Hannah on 55 in 2014-15. He was a Stockton player, too.

ENGLAND’S 1000th football international has been and gone and the papers have been listing the oldest surviving players. Gordon Astall, twice capped when with Birmingham City in 1956, proves the most senior citizen at 92; former Sunderland man Colin Grainger – 86, bit arthritic, otherwise fine – is in at No 9.

Colin was the singing winger, appeared on the same bill as Bassey, the Beatles and (for that matter) Old Mother Riley, earned more in a night than the Bank of England club paid him in a week.

Reversing all that’s said about a prophet not being without honour save in his own country, he even thrived at the once-notorious Farringdon Social Club in Sunderland – more than could be said for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Colin recalled that night when we met 19 years ago. “They paid off the Dog-doo Band after the first spot and gave me double to come on again.”

THE antidote to former Sunderland football manager Peter Reid, 75 f-words in a 30-minute talk, came at the North Yorkshire and South Durham cricket league’s annual dinner last Friday.

Guest speaker Charlie Dagnall, reckoned a pretty ordinary county cricketer but a first class commentator, swore just once in 40 minutes – “stories beautifully told,” reports our man at the non-striker’s end.

The evening was also memorable for Barnard Castle skipper James Quinn, named the league’s player of the season for the second year running. Only Neil Riddell of Darlington in 1975 and 1976 and Guisborough’s Graham Shaw in 2000 and 2001 have previously done the double.

….and finally, the last footballer to be transferred directly from Newcastle United to Sunderland (Backtrack, November 16) was Robbie Elliott in 2006. John Allison in Shildon was first with the answer.

Speaking of Shildon, readers are today invited to name the only England football international from the town – capped while with Barnsley. Those of us still awaiting the country’s call return, after a short break, on December 7.