NEVER too old, Tuesday's column half-recalled a 1960s FA Youth Cup final between Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion in which Sunderland had gone 3-0 down in the first leg and won the second by six.

There was good reason for the reminiscence: Whitley Bay had just ended the FA Vase semi-final first leg 4-0 down at Lowestoft. The return, secondchance saloon, is on the North- East coast tomorrow.

So is there still a Wembley way? "Of course there is, but what's really important is to score the first goal" says Richie Pitt, a member of the Sunderland side but perhaps still-better remembered for his final appearance four years later.

Richie, now 56 and a PE teacher in Seaham, still remembers Billy Elliott's team talk. "It was rather good. We'd just had an off day at West Brom, one or two people including myself hadn't performed as we could and we knew we could get it back.

"Billy just told us there was no way we were out of it, to score first and to apply ourselves like we could."

It was 1969, the Monday night that Leeds United secured the first division title with victory at Liverpool and that Bobby Kerr scored Sunderland's goal in a dour 1-1 friendly with Werder Bremen.

West Brom, said the Echo after the first game, had taken a firm grip on the cup.

Sunderland's youngsters thought differently.

"Even going back to the hotel on the bus we didn't think it was all over and were looking forward to getting them back to Roker Park," recalls Colin Beesley, scorer of one of the goals.

Colin's a Stockton council grave digger - "interment officer," he says. The Arngrove Northern league side, he insists, are far from dead and buried.

"Apart from the score line, we were still fairly happy with the way things had gone at West Brom. We knew they'd had a bit of luck."

Perhaps inevitably nicknamed Scobie, he made just three substitute appearances for the first team, failed to make a breakthrough when Bobby Robson took him to Ipswich and now manages Norton and Stockton Ancients in the Over 40s League.

The second leg was at Roker Park on Saturday May 3, the crowd just 8,500. "My granddad offered to take me. More fool me, I declined, thinking we'd no chance," recalls Paul Dobson in Bishop Auckland.

It was also the day that tickets for Newcastle United's Fairs Cup semi-final were snapped up within hours, that Lester Piggott was banned for six days for obstruction and that Bishop Auckland's plight at the foot of the Northern League was worsened by defeat at home to South Bank.

Sunderland's cause was doubtless helped when first Jim Holton - later a Roker Park man himself - and then Asa Hartford were sent off. "I would not say the referee wasn't right," said West Brom manager Alan Ashman, by way of convoluted admission of guilt.

Sunderland's team almost 40 years ago was Swinburne, Coleman, Lunn, McGiven, Pitt, Tones, Beesley, Lowery, Lathan, Park, McDermid. Paddy Lowery scored twice, Beesley, John Lathan and Bobby Park the others. Only Bob Lunn and George McDermid would never feature in the first team.

Richie Pitt, forced through injury to retire from professional football at the age of 24, remembers it like the elixir of youth. "We knew we could play so much better and we did. I'm sure the same can happen to Whitley Bay."

■ With thanks to Paul Dobson and to John Briggs, to David Barber at the FA and to Winston Young of the Sunderland Ex-Players Association.

Tom plans clear comeback,

UNABLE to get his beloved Northern Echo, and at ten to eight in the morning - a moral there somewhere - long-serving former Hartlepool referee Tom Harvey read in Another Paper of a chap who could see again thanks to a cataract operation.

With all the exuberance of a Lazarus raised from the dead, Tom - in turn - could see what they meant.

A week back Monday at Sunderland Eye Infirmary he had the cataracts removed from his left eye - arrived at 8.55am, called five minutes later, in the car and on the way home by five to ten.

"It was incredible, no pain, no patch, anything," says Tom, 75 next month - and he really noticed it at Hartlepool United's match on Monday.

"For the first time in years, I was able to see the ball. It was amazing. I can't remember when last I enjoyed a match so much."

Thus envisioned, Tom - also a senior Durham FA Council member - contemplates once again whetting his whistle.

"My legs weren't the problem, it was only my eyes. I had 47 years of refereeing; I wonder if I have one or two in me yet."

THEN there's former UEFA referee George Courtney, once famously self-portrayed as as fit as a butcher's dog and still attacking the proverbial bone.

Last week, however, the retired Spennymoor head teacher was still the junior partner - in age terms - when he took charge of a students' match at Chester-le-Street.

His assistants were 71-yearold Tom Smith, president of Durham Referees' Society, and Ernie Minto, a bit bairn of 69, who's also from Spennymoor.

"We were like vintage wine, better with age and still with an average under 70," says George.

And swearing? "I went into the dressing room before the game and told them what I expected. There wasn't a word our of place."


A BIT of a contrast to today's boys, a PS to last Friday's piece on 1960s' Sunderland favourite George Herd.

Now 71 and happily coaching at Sunderland RCA in the Arngrove Northern League second division, George tells the RCA programme of the time he broke his ankle in Scotland's 5-2 win over Ireland at Hampden Park.

"It was the first half. I didn't know it was broken, just that it was hurting. Dave Mackay pulled me up, told me to think of the badge, and I just carried on."

Afterwards, boots in a brown paper bag, he hobbled to the bus station. "There were two old winos sitting in a corner and they started asking me what the matter was.

"I told them I thought I'd broken my ankle against Ireland at Hampden and got an absolute mouthful back, cursing for me being a lying soand- so for saying I'd played for Scotland when I was waiting for a bus."

Seen and Herd? "The moral,"

says George, "is never to get big headed."

A SPLENDID tale of devotion to sport from Mike Fox, longtime landlord of the Buck Inn at Thornton Watlass, in Wensleydale - behind the bar on Maundy Thursday when a stranger came in off the 144 bus to Bedale.

Mike asked where he'd got the bus from. "Inverness," he said.

The Highland laddie, it transpired, had won a competition to spend a day at Ferdie Murphy's stable at West Witton. Unable to drive, he'd taken a coach from Inverness to Edinburgh, stayed overnight in the capital, and then caught another coach to Scotch Corner.

From there he'd found a local bus to Richmond, another up to Leyburn, a Dales and District to Bedale and the 144 to Thornton Watlass. Not what you'd call a quick Buck.

After a couple of nights in the dale, he'd then gone with Ferdy's assistant trainer to Haydock - and following that lowland fling, Mike's now had an email that the busman's holiday ended safely.

"I got a lift back to Kinross from Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore in the horsebox, managed the last room in the travel lodge and next morning faced another three-hour journey, ploughing through a foot of snow around the Cairngorms."

He's hoping to haste back; not a hurdle in sight.

THAT the column's train journeyings to East Anglia last weekend were also relatively uneventful was despite strike action by RMT members on the electrical side. It probably explains why RMT general secretary Bob Crow is expected to miss tomorrow's now-annual match (1.45pm) between Shildon Railway and a union XI. Shildon official Alan Morland isn't labouring the issue. "Bob has work commitments," he says.

THE Ipswich papers report that Kevin Beattie, invariably reckoned by Sir Bobby Robson to be the best English player he ever saw, is to receive a UEFA Cup winner's medal 27 years after he missed the final through injury.

Beattie, who final comeback attempt ended at Middlesbrough, had been so disappointed after the final that he'd even gone to bed early. "I was the only one next morning who didn't have a hangover. It wasn't like me at all."

AN email from Mike Parnaby suggests that the little big time - the table-topping Subbuteo tournament at the Darlington Arena on May 24 - could be in danger through lack of funding.

A chance meeting in the pub with Nottingham-based Quakers season ticket holder Colin Fletcher downsizes the risk.

Colin insists that proceedings will flick-off as planned. "It's just that people got a bit upset because Darlington wouldn't let us bring our own sandwiches," he says.

He's been a Darlo fan since 1972, a combination of the stillremembered David Frost programme on the club's misfortunes - also starring Paul Trevillon and Kathy Kirby - and of Stenhousemuir's own inadequacy.

"I'd just taken up serious Subbuteo," Colin recalls.

"Stenhousemuir was my first team and Darlington my second, but in the first season I played as Stenhousemuir I was crap and finished bottom of the table.

"The second season I played as Darlington and was top.

Since then we've never looked back."

Mike Parnaby would still welcome word from anyone willing to sub the Subbuteo.

He's on

DOWN to the bare eleven, as they say, Sunderland Redhouse were forced to field treasurer Cliff McGuinness - just his second game in two years - in last Saturday's Over 40s League game. By the end, however, the poor chap had so greatly seized up that a wheelbarrow had to be commandeered to get him to the showers. The treasurer, we hear, now has a new nickname: he's Stiff McGuinness now.

And finally...

THE former Newcastle United legend whose career continued at Whitley Bay (Backtrack, March 24) was Jinky Jimmy Smith - the Magpies' first £100,000 signing when arriving from Aberdeen in 1969. John Phelan in Howden-le- Wear was first up with that one.

Terry Wells in Whitton, near Stockton, recalls that the presently exalted Ryan Sidebottom is one of only three Englishmen to claim a wicket with his first ball in test cricket. Who, asks Terry, were the other two?

First and last, the column returns on Tuesday.