Harry Stott, known more familiarly as Harrystottle, was my first chief reporter – today he’d probably be called a line manager – in the Bishop Auckland office of the Northern Despatch, conveniently situated above a money lender’s. It was August 1965.

Probably he was about 60, though he looked older, round and hairless. He was a truly lovely man, genial and generous, though not a great journalist.

Bishop back then had a dozen or more resident reporters, three of us on the Despatch and four representing the Middlesbrough-based Evening Gazette in a no-less carcinogenic office 100 yards up the street. The Gazette’s chief reporter, about the same age as Harry, was Charles Verdun Browne.

Both Charlie and Harry liked a drink, particularly on Thursdays – simultaneously market day and pay day – when the Cumberland Arms was open all afternoon.

It was also the day when Charlie’s mole down the pit, or at least in the Spennymoor office of the Coal Board, would surface with regular tip-offs about the latest colliery closure. The coalhouse door closed an awful lot in that part of Co Durham.

Charlie would play poor Harrystottle like a particularly rotund and red-gilled salmon, tell him there might be something of interest in that evening’s Gazette, deign upon receipt of a second or third pint to give him enough information to make a 15-word stop press in the Despatch.

Millie, Harry’s wife, ran a lorry drivers’ B&B in North Lodge Terrace in Darlington, the street itself in the news last week. Harry was initially recruited as breakfast cook but returned to the inky trade after burning the Weetabix.

His last paper had been the weekly Wythenshawe Recorder and that’s the coincidental, almost symmetrical, bit. It was to Wythenshawe that the Railroad to Wembley headed last Saturday and after almost 55 years in journalism, it’s suddenly to be my last column. This is the finished article.

Wythenshawe’s the southernmost district of Manchester, near the airport, said in the 1920s to be the biggest council housing estate in Europe.

Tyson Fury, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, always claimed to have been born and raised in Wythy but admits in his new autobiography that it was untrue, an attempt to sound hard. He was a Cheshire chap, really,

The Sunday Times called the place “gritty”. The New York Times, back in 2007, went further – “an extreme pocket of social deprivation and alienation,” it said.

Several years earlier, the Duke of York’s former wife spent several weeks in Wythenshawe for an ITV programme called Duchess on the Estate, though there were perfidious folk in Wythy and beyond who claimed it to be a self-serving publicity stunt. (Oh surely not: ed.)

Four of us are on the late running 9.34 from Darlington to Manchester, followed by a festive livener in Peveril of the Peak – Manchester’s best pub, apparently named after a Sir Walter Scott novel – and then the ever-dependable MetroLink tram out to the suburbs.

As ever, the TransPennine train’s risibly rammed, congestion compounded at Northallerton because the two previous stopping trains have been cancelled. We’re shovelled vertically into the vestibule, a maelstrom through which hen partygoers wearing Christmas jumpers and drooping antlers periodically ask to squeeze.

The scriptural reference that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle is quoted at them: they affect not to understand.

The conductor (“my name is Claire”) prefaces every apology with the invocation “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls”, as if in a nod to pantomime season. It’s always pantomime season on TransPennine.

Joined in Manchester by the near-omniscient Mr Gary Brand, we start in Peveril of the Peak on pints of Rocking Rooster and on one of Mr Nigel Brierley’s fabled true or false quizzes. Is it true that a tube of Smarties has ten different colours (nope, seven), that the UK has had “more than ten” second places in the Eurovision Song Contest (yup, 15) or that the great Gary Sobers was born with six fingers on both hands?

Apparently it is, which can’t have done much for games of this little piggy went to market.

Most contentiously, Mr Brierley posits the truth of the statement that a sheet of paper folded 42 times – were such a piece of paper to exist – would be as thick as from here to the moon.

His own brain the size of one of Pluto’s smaller satellites, if not quite of the moon, Mr Kit Pearson exercises about six seconds’ mental computation before agreeing that it’s true. As ever, he’s right.

Wythenshawe Town of the North West Counties League first division south – that of Alsager, Stone Old Alleynians and Cheadle Heath Nomads – host Consett of the Ebac Northern League, last 64 of the FA Vase.

Wythy are structurally a rung lower than Consett in what football calls the National League System. The programme reckons them 6-1 to win.

The sun’s shining, the place looks pleasant enough – more gritty pretty than pretty gritty, anyway. The ground’s called the Ericstan stadium, a nod to founder members Eric Renard and Stan Hahn, further remembered by the depiction of a fox and a cockerel on the crest.

Renard’s French for fox, apparently, and Hahn – give or take an umlaut – German for cockerel.

Among the 302 crowd are Lee Stewart and his partner Katie Wallace, lovely folk from Peterlee, trebly delighted because they’ve ticked off a new ground, a new Wetherspoons (“our 235th” says Katie) and because they’ve paid homage at the statue of Frank Sidebottom, no relation of Arnie, up the road in Timperley.

Frank Sidebottom was a 1970s singer – “perhaps the strangest pop star in history,” the Guardian once observed – who, stranger than fiction, turned to comedy in the 1980s and knocked around in an outsize papier mache head.

“I think he was quite shy, really, didn’t want to talk to people,” says Lee.

“Lee’s even more pleased because he got to shake Frank’s hand,” says Katie. It may have been the title of a Last of the Summer Wine episode: “Shaking the hand of Frank Sidebottom’s statue.”

He died in 2010, aged 54. Both funeral and statue were subscribed by his admirers.

The first half’s forgettable, the travelling drummer and bell ringer reduced pretty much to silence. Many appear reluctant to leave the half-time clubhouse, citing that Airbus United are losing 9-0 after 62 minutes and that they’re anxious to learn the final score.

Snacks include something called a “ploughman’s lunch” from Openshaw’s of Lancashire, a little sachet in which are secreted two dry crackers, a sliver of processed cheese and a further sachet in which two lachrymose little onions await their fate. It may be easier to get out of Strangeways Jail than it is to get into that packet of onions.

To think that the county which once gave us ‘ot pot and Eccles cakes now majors on Openshaw’s ploughman’s lunches/.

The second half’s much better, Wythy’s 70th minute penalty, soft as clarts, soon cancelled out by Dale Pearson’s header at the other end.

Extra-time cannot divide them, the sides living to fight again. Sadly, alas, it does not apply to us all.