The designated driver being in Singapore, the bus service from Houghton to home not exactly frequent, the column missed the tribute night at Philadelphia Cricket Club to honour Malcolm Pratt’s 60 years service. It climaxed when the function room was formally named the Malcolm Pratt Lounge.

Told when he was an 18-year-old coal board clerk that he’d been elected Philly’s assistant secretary at the annual meeting – “I didn’t even know it was on” – Malcolm’s playing ability was modest but his leadership and administration skills unequalled.

He was 79 yesterday, still combines the roles of president, chairman, treasurer and fixtures secretary and in his time led Chester-le-Street district council and was appointed MBE.

“I was telling the doctor about all my jobs just the other day,” says Malcolm. “She just waved her hands in the air and said to carry on the way I was. As long as I’m still fit, that’s what I intend to do.”

Barry Hindson, former junior school headmaster and for 29 years a non-league football reporter on BBC Newcastle, has produced his autobiography.

It recalls a particularly bleak match day at Bullocksteads – something like that – in north Newcastle when just about the only spectators were Barry and Northern Alliance secretary George Dobbins, standing together.

From the other side of the pitch, however, a chap wearing an ankle-length raincoat and pushing a bike slowly – for neither bike nor owner might have been considered youthful – could be seen heading their way.

At last alongside them, he took two minutes to clean his glasses and then finally spoke. “Have either of you two thought of making a friend of Jesus?” he said.

Told that they hadn’t since the match began, the pedalling proselytiser muttered “Hey ho” and was gloomily on his way.

A Random Man by Barry Hindson costs £10 with all proceeds to an Alzheimer’s art group in North Shields. Details at

Fives and threes took us to Middleton St George Cricket Club, ever hospitable, home also to carpet bowls and one or two other things. Posters proclaim a forthcoming drag show, not until February, at which an added attraction is listed as “sex bingo”. Sadly most of the domino lads are in their 70s; none claimed to be able to remember the rules.

First time this season we bump into John Dawson, king of the ground hoppers, at 78 still weekly tearing up and down the country on the overnight bus to and from Hartlepool in the Sisyphus search for pastures new. “Only about 70 games this season so far,” he says.

Of the 300-or-so grounds at steps 1-4 of the National League System he now needs to tick off just two – or, strictly speaking, three.

The third party is Wantage Town in Oxfordshire, who’ve lost all 13 games to date, scoring just four goals and conceding 65. “I’ve written them off,” says John. “Next season they’ll be at step 5.”

John rings a few days later, having stayed closer to home to watch the Durham Minor Cup tie between Norton and Stockton Ancients and Darlington Deacon (a pub, not a cleric.)

The ref failed to show. After some debate it was agreed that an official from one club would referee the first half and someone from the other the second.

At half-time, the pitch was mutually considered unfit to continue, so they moved to an adjoining pitch, the first time in all those thousands of games that he’s seen one match played on two pitches.

John subsequently checked on the referee, a gentleman from Newton Aycliffe. Driving to Norton, it transpired, he’d taken a call from someone identifying himself as Paul – Paul being the name of the Norton secretary – telling him that the surface was a quagmire and the match was off. He turned around and went home.

Paul was also the forename of the Sunday club secretary where the ref was due next day….Norton and Stockton Ancients 4 Darlington Deacon 1.

Frustrated by weeks of postponements, Tow Law Town FC secretary Steve Moralee had a few quid last Saturday evening on a horse called Game is On, out at Wolverhampton. It was at 17-2.

The column two weeks ago reported the death at 88 of former Darlington centre forward Jimmy Scarborough, who also played for Scarborough themselves.

Not many like that about, though both Arthur and Fred Blackburn appeared for the Rovers, Vic Burton was in the Burton Swifts side in the Football League’s early days, Andy Lincoln had a few games for City and Sid Swindon was in the Wiltshire club’s side in 1937-38.

Nick Loughlin recalls Jon Sunderland – Newcastle lad – playing for Hartlepool under Mick Tait in 1996, coming on as sub and scoring against Lincoln. “It’s the only time I’ve heard the Mill House terrace break into chants of ‘Sunderland, Sunderland, Sunderland’….”

….and finally, the only Shildon lad to win England football honours (Backtrack, November 23) was Dickie Downs, his one cap coming against Ireland at Roker Park in 1920.

No more questions and, goodness knows, no answers. After 34 multiple-award winning years among sport’s grass roots – bi-weekly from 1985-2011, weekly in semi-retirement thereafter – this is the final Backtrack column and my swansong after almost 55 years, all with the same company, in what folk once called the inky trade.

There’ve been countless millions of words and these are the last. Backtrack has become a cohesive and a collaborative community and I’ve loved it. None of it would have been possible without a gracious and generous army of readers, correspondents, contributors and colleagues, many now departed. To them my gratitude is unending.