TO begin at the end, and by no means for the first time, Glossop’s claim to football fame (Backtrack, February 24) is that it’s the smallest town ever to play host to a top division Football League club.

Lots knew. Mick Kirkbright, a former Marske United player who will be at United’s FA Vase quarterfinal tie at Glossop this afternoon, even recalls that we’d previously posed the question in June 2004 – “part of a bizarre column about Cynthia Payne and George Reynolds.”

So it was. We’d bumped into ameliorating Mrs Payne in Llanwrtyd Wells, recalled that she’d once asked George Reynolds if he were looking for business.

It was strictly commercial, of course. She’d been a guest at George’s gaff in Witton-le- Wear, and was seeking a backer for Madama Cyn’s Show Bar, a menu with lots of roly-poly.

She’d quite taken a shine to old George. “He put all that money into Darlington Football Club because he wanted to feel loved. I sussed that out the first time I met him. We all need love in our lives, don’t we?”

KEITH Belton in Stockton even has a programme – or to be exact, he bought it for Sheila Middleton, his partner – of the FA Cup tie between Middlesbrough and Glossop, January 14, 1911.

It advertised Bass Ales (“specially brewed for family use”), Amos Hinton’s new luncheon room and, then as ever now, a furniture shop sale.

Boro won 1-0, Sam Cail’s goal two minutes from the end, though the Echo’s man at Ayresome Park was impressed by both teams.

“Once more serenity reigns in the Middlesbrough camp,” wrote Erimus, “but Glossop’s amateurs showed remarkable virility in every movement.”

Cup holders Newcastle United beat Bury 6-1 that same January afternoon, South Bank surprisingly lost to Rotherham in the Amateur Cup and Sunderland went down 3-1 at Norwich. Again, however, we are led back to the Quakers.

Then in the North Eastern League, Darlington had won 1-0 at Sheffield United of the second division – “the biggest blow United have received for some years,”

wrote our Darlington reporter (who for some etymologically unknown reason styled himself The Nut.) Though it was 10pm before the party returned to Bank Top station, thousands formed a welcoming committee. Cockerton Band, hastily turned out, led a procession through the town to the team headquarters at the Bridge Hotel.

At the pub, the crowd proved so great that club chairman James Bell had to address them from a bedroom window. “It was a staggering result,”

concluded The Nut. Happy days.

GLOSSOP had had just one second division season, 1898- 99, before being promoted to the 18-club first alongside the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle United and champions-elect Aston Villa.

The town on the edge of the Peak District of Derbyshire had a population of just 25,000, most prominently Samuel Hill- Wood, a mill owning millionaire who, shape of things to come, paid the players and bankrolled the club.

He’d been born Hill-Wood.

The hyphen, now long familiar in the Arsenal boardroom, was obtained by royal licence.

Not even Hill-Wood’s money could sustain the top division challenge, however.

They finished bottom and returned whence they came.

Perhaps the most remarkable of all the players was Joe Frail – name but by no means nature – and that leads us back to the Boro.

Dave Twydell’s book Rejected FC records that Frail was a tramp who approached Hill-Wood looking for work. Asked what he did, he said he was a goalkeeper.

Though none had heard of him, Hill-Wood invited Frail for a trial at his Glossop mansion with its own cricket and football fields and a great many retainers. Coachman, butlers, gardeners and gamekeepers all dinned boots for the game, Frail so magnificent between the sticks that he was signed on forthwith.

Five years later he joined Middlesbrough, lived throughout his Teesside time in a caravan, always played with a knotted handkerchief around his neck.

Frail made 74 league and cup appearances for the Boro between 1900-05, once saving three penalties in a match.

He supplemented his income with a stall in the town centre, a rudimentary Beat the Goalie.

“One of the most colourful characters in the club’s history,”

says the Boro World website, perhaps inarguably.

In 1905, however, the fearsome Frail obtained what’s described as a criminal conviction, after which the gentleman of the road was sent back on his travels. He was transported to Stockport County.

BACK in the 21st century, the Middlesbrough fanzine Fly Me to the Moon had a splendid cover before Saturdays game with Wigan – “Boro unveil commemorative ‘Wins of 2009’ shirt.”

“We’ve said it before and perhaps we’ll say it again, but there won’t be any better time for a victory,” said the editorial.

Ninety minutes, and two months, later the league total remains zilch. They’ll have been awfully glad about Tuesday night, though.


JUST sixteen travelling fans were in attendance, as Tuesday’s column noted, on the night that Hartlepool United first won promotion.

It was at Swansea, May 6 1968.

“That was quite a good turnout for us,” says Ray Shackleton. “I’ve been there when there were just four or five of us, on one occasion just me and my friend Mike Bell.”

He was a Knaresborough lad, liked the underdog, thought the Pools a perfect pedigree and began thumbing his way round the country in their sedulous support. We’d promised a hitchhiker’s guide to the fourth division.

It started at school.

“Everyone supported Arsenal or Liverpool or whoever, but I was never much in favour of the form teams,” says Ray.

His first match was in October 1963, at York. Pools lost. Though many away games followed it was another three years before his Victoria Ground debut, a 1-1 draw with Bristol City on the day that John McGovern made his debut.

“The ground was very ricketty,” he recalls. “Barbed wire, old stand, holes in the roof. I loved it.

“My dad thought it was stupid, ‘bloody Hartlepool’ he’d say, but it got into my blood and it stayed there.”

Though he moved to London in 1970, the allegiance continued. “I was so keen I once rode my push bike to Aldershot for a night match.

It was bloody scary coming back into London in the dark.” Pools lost.

Now 57 he lives in Montana, USA, still plays football – or soccer as they insist over there – wore his Cyril Knowles shirt to the 1994 World Cup final in Pasadena.

“I find the team, wash the kit, play anywhere where no one else will,” says Ray.

“I do feel a little left out over here, but I can’t tell you how much it affects my weekend when Hartlepool lose. Last Saturday was terrible, after being beaten by Leyton Orient.”

We spoke last Monday. “If we lose tomorrow night at Swindon, we’re really in a relegation struggle,” said Ray. Glory be, Pools won.

TUESDAY’S column also noted that Kenny Simpkins, our All-time Hero (goalkeeping division) had missed Hartlepool’s centenary do because of continuing back problems.

All-time leading scorer Kenny Johnson was there, though, and just two weeks after a triple heart bypass.

“I wanted to show Joe Kinnear how it’s done,” he says.

Ken’s now 78, still works as a match day host – “Tell a few stories, a few lies” – still plays golf.

“The doctor said it would OK to attend the dinner so long as I didn’t go charging about,” he says. “I stayed sitting down, but I feel fine.”

His chances of a Victoria Ground comeback are, he supposes, quite limited – “but I hope to be back on the golf course within six months.”

WHAT Kenny Johnson was to Hartlepool, Norman Wilkinson was to York City – same age, same era and with 143 goals still the club’s leading scorer.

A note from Norman Robinson reports that Norman – renowned for his sportsmanship, feared for his heading – was 78 last week and is still holding the gate at Annfield Plain FC, near his north-west Durham home.

It’s coincidental because, further to the Shakespearean football team we’ve been trying to select, Roger Dent in Low Coniscliffe, near Darlington, nominates Norman’s old striking partner Arthur Bottom.

Bottom, it will be recalled, was the weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Thus encouraged, Roger comes hastily back with Speed – “a clownish servant in Two Gentlemen of Verona.” This, of course, has no connection with Mr Gary Speed whatsoever.

LIKE Kenny Johnson, Bill Blenkiron has cause to be grateful to the heart team at the James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough.

The former Warwickshire cricketer, Stanley United footballer and sports shop owner had a heart attack last April, has since had a defibrilator fitted – “a safety valve, really, it might never be needed” – but is well on recovery road.

Last Sunday, Bill and his wife Margaret held a wine and savouries lunch at Bishop Auckland Cricket Club, with which he has long been connected, raising around £1,000 for the James Cook cardiac unit. “I’d just like to thank everyone who came. The support’s been great,” he says.

Down to fourteen and a half stones, Bill himself didn’t touch a drop. “I’m on the wagon,” he says. “Someone might still need a good all rounder.”

MALCOLM Dawes, another well-remembered Hartlepool United man, is finalising plans for the big Fishburn Juniors reunion next Tuesday. Particularly he’d still like to hear from Harry Wood, Eric Thompson, Frankie Birchall, Tommy Foster, Brian Acton, Ray Webster, Jimmy Donnelly, Jack Pike and Dave Carr, a Wheatley Hill lad who played for Darlington, Workington and Watford.

The do is at Fishburn WMC from around 7 30pm; Malcolm’s on 01740 620514.

WINGS clipped, wind from their sails, our friends at Tow Law FC have been obliged to withdraw their application for a wind turbine at the draughty old Ironworks Road ground.

It’s the pesky bats. Afraid that a fly-by-night might do itself a damage – and no matter that it’s years since anyone saw a bat in Tow Law – the council demanded a bat risk assessment from a qualified ecologist. The cheapest the club could find was £400 + VAT.

“In the present economic climate we just can’t afford it. It’s a great shame after all the work we’ve done,”

says club secretary Steve Moralee.

The club, winner by an icy avalanche of the poll to find the skilltrainingltd Northern League’s coldest ground, may consider a resited proposal.

Mr Moralee’s opinion of bureaucracy had best remain private until after that. For now, batty will suffice.

FIFTY years since those heady times, the Durham Amateur Football Trust’s latest exhibition at the National Railway Museum in Shildon tells the story of how the Railwaymen of Shildon reached the FA Amateur Cup quarter-final in 1958-59 – raising hopes of finally joining more famous neighbours at Wembley.

On February 21 they hosted Walthamstow Avenue, drawing 1-1. A week later, however, the Londoners won the replay despite Keith Hopper’s goal.

The exhibitions opens on Monday and runs throughout March. There’s a section on how Crook Town won the cup the same season, beating Barnet in the final, but those guys had a season ticket.

A NOTE of congratulation to 88-year-old George Hutchinson, known in his footballing days as Whippet Hutch but perhaps no longer so quick off the mark. George is still a dab hand at dominoes, though, plays 5s and 3s for Middleton St George Cricket Club and on Monday comfortably beat Mr David Legg of the Brainless Britannia B team. Is Whippet Hutch the oldest games player in the North-East?

And finally...

JOHN Briggs in Darlington invites readers to name the Australian cricket legend who spent wartime service at RAF Ouston, near Chester-le-Street. Bonus marks, probably, for the naming the village side for whom he played.

Today off with Marske United to the Peak District, the column returns – high or low – on Tuesday.