Long before Bill Taylor set up home in the other Toronto, the one that that isn’t quite capital of Canada, he lived near Toronto, Co Durham. In Bishop Auckland, to be precise, home of great conker trees in the Bishop’s park and – during his boyhood – the all-conquering Two Blues at Kingsway. Bishop Auckland amateur football club won trophies galore, looked down on those of us in places like Shildon and Ferryhill and, in the eccentric but outstanding goalkeeper Harry Sharratt, had a clown prince of their own to rival Len Shackleton. Bill looks back on a magical era …
Clichés tend to become clichés because they’re true. So I make no apologies for repeating one now – the opening line from L P Hartley’s fair-to-middling 1953 novel, The Go-Between:
“The past is another country; they do things differently there.”
My past is in another country – England, where I grew up during the 1950s watching what was probably the finest amateur football team of all time.
You could do a lot with sixpence in those days. It would get you into the downstairs mosh pit – decades before the term was coined – at the Odeon Saturday kids’ matinee. (Posh and milksoppy kids paid ninepence to go upstairs and the woman who played the accordion before the films deserved the George Cross.)
Sixpence would also get you a glass of dandelion-and-burdock (when it WAS dandelion-and-burdock and not that overly fizzy muck they foist on you nowadays) and 10 candy cigarettes, with a penny left over for the trollop-in-training down the street to show you her knickers.
Or it would get you into the boys’ entrance at Kingsway, the Bishops’ home ground.
Trips to Roker Park were irregular enough to be in the nature of a pilgrimage, though I was there on Boxing Day, 1962, when Brian Clough’s playing days effectively came to an end in that horrible collision with Bury goalkeeper Chris Harker. (Colin reckons he was in that crowd, too, but I didn’t see him.)
Watching Bishop Auckland was where I learned to appreciate good football. Good by any standard.
During the World Cup, I posted a link here to an old Pathe News clip of the Bishops playing Corinthian Casuals in the 1956 F.A. Amateur Cup Final – an event that used to draw 100,000 spectators; as many as the “real” Cup Final.
Google “bishop auckland, wembley and pathenews” and you’ll find several more five-minute vignettes of another era, where the spectators wore suits and ties, sported rosettes and waved rattles; and the players, equally well-groomed, played the kind of game you just don’t see any more. And a bloody game it is, too.
The club had its roots in a team formed in 1982 by Oxford and Cambridge scholars studying divinity at Auckland Castle, the Bishop of Durham’s residence. Their strip featured the dark and light blues of their universities.
The Two Blues, as the team has always been nicknamed, played in the Amateur Cup Final 18 times, winning it 10 times, three of those in a row – 1955, ’56 and ’57. No other club ever got near those totals.
They were also Northern League champions six years out of seven between 1949 and 1956, with arch-rivals Crook Town breaking up two three-year runs. In 1955, the Bishops reached the quarter-finals of the full F.A. Cup.
More than 50 years later, the names still trip readily enough off the tongue: Seamus O’Connell, Corbett Cresswell, Jimmy Nimmins, Derek Lewin, Jacky Major, Ray Oliver. . .
But two will always stand out: Bobby Hardisty – pictured below with the trophy after Bishop won the 1955 Amateur Cup Final, 2-0 against Hendon – and Harry Sharratt, shown above.
Hardisty – who has a street named after him in Bishop Auckland, where he also played cricket for the town – was a half-back by choice, but equally effective as a striker.
How good was he? Fifteen England amateur caps, three Olympic Games appearances, six Amateur Cup Finals, six Northern League championships. In 1954, when Raymond Glendenning – then a household name as a BBC radio sports commentator – chose what would now be called his “dream team” from every footballer in the country, he chose Hardisty over the likes of Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Docherty and Billy Wright.
And in 1958, after the Munich air disaster, it was to Hardisty that his old friend Matt Busby turned to help rebuild the devastated Manchester United side.
Hardisty, Derek Lewin and Warren Bradley not only coached new young players, they played in United’s first game after the tragedy. Bradley stayed on and became the only English player to garner both amateur and professional international caps in the same season.
Hardisty played for the love of the game, in an era where some top players couldn’t afford to sign for a professional club with a cap on salaries, because they were being paid so much under the table by their “amateur” sides.
Hardisty didn’t even like taking money for his expenses.
Harry Sharratt, who also helped with coaching at ManU after the disaster, was cut from the same cloth. He played, he often said, “because I enjoy it. It’s only a game.”
The stories of his clowning are well-documented:
Borrowing a spectator’s newspaper when the game was all at the other end of the field; scrounging cigarettes and sweets from them; starting snowballs fights; being cautioned by the ref for building a snowman, “a good one, too;” sending a small boy with a note to the trainer saying Sharratt was bored and needed someone to talk to.
He would save the ball and then throw it to an opposition player and invite him to have another shot. In one cup-tie game, with the Bishops murdering Kingstonian 12-0, Hardisty told the team to ease up a little. So Sharratt leaned on his goalpost and let them score four times.
I have a clear memory of seeing him elect himself to take a penalty, which the opposing goalie saved and booted down the field. Sharratt had to run like hell to get back into his own goal.
Only a brilliant goalie could get away with that sort of thing. Sharratt was as good as they made ’em. He liked the game a lot less after the rule came in forbidding players from shoulder-charging the goalkeeper.
Lawrie McMenemy managed Bishop Auckland from 1964 to ’66. In that short time the team, which had been floundering, won a league championship and reached the third round of the F.A. Cup.
When I joined the Northern Echo in 1968, my duties included covering the Bishops’ home games and writing a weekly roundup of Northern League news – not so easy when half of the team secretaries weren’t on the phone.
The team was a bit run-of-the-mill by then, with its glory days behind it. Since then, the Bishops’ fortunes have been mixed, climbing into a higher league one year, falling back another. I long since lost touch with their fortunes.
But I do know their ground, Kingsway – one of the oldest in the country – was taken over for property development. I believe the Bishops’ small new stadium will open later this year.
Over the past couple of seasons, they’ve played their “home” games at Shildon, Spennymoor and West Auckland, all long-time rivals.
Try to imagine Sunderland borrowing St. James’ Park or Middlesbrough making itself at home at the Stadium of Light. I guess at the less-exalted level of the game, they still do things differently. That’s almost enough to renew your faith.
* Click on the frame below to see coverage of that 1955 Amateur Cup Final …
F. A. AMATEUR CUP FINAL – BISHOP AUCKLAND V HENDON
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