ALTHOUGH I have written about sport professionally for over half a century, I never enjoyed a particularly distinguished career on the field.

Like most young men of my generation, football was my first love – the trouble was, I was never very good at it.

I had a powerful left foot, but that was about the sum of my prowess with the round ball. I used to play at left back in our undistinguished primary school team. I once pulled off a spectacular goal line stop to prevent a certain goal, but my subsequent clearance struck our goalie on the back of his head, and bounced back over the line for an own goal.

I did once embark on a spectacular dribble against big rivals Bollington St John’s, and wondered why no-one was tackling me. Then I noticed our opponents were all convulsed with laughter, and at the same time felt a little draughty amidships. The elastic in my shorts had snapped and the voluminous garment was flapping somewhat round my knees.

I think we only won one game that season, and our opponents Daybrook Street were so embarrassed at losing they and their supporters attacked us in a mass brawl after the game.We won that one too!

When I passed the 11 plus and went to grammar school, I was devastated to learn that there was no football on the sports curriculum. It was rugby in winter, and cricket in summer,

Because I was fat and round, I was made a forward, and soon learned that the adage that rugby is a sport for ruffians played by gentlemen was far from the truth.

In one of my first games, we were up against a team from one of the less salubrious parts of Merseyside, who played their own version of the game.

Very early on in the encounter, I received a pass, and was immediately enveloped in a crowd of pimply Scousers from the wrong side of town.

As I clung grimly to the ball, I heard an opponent shout: “Quick lads, drop his kecks!”

Within seconds, my shorts were round my ankles, and I let go of the ball to cover my dignity at what was a mixed school. The ruffians in the meantime had snatched up the loose ball, and taken it to the other end of the field to score one of the many tries they touched down that day.

My rugby career did improve somewhat in subsequent years, when I shed some puppy fat and became a winger and did well enough to be selected for a trial for Cheshire, but got no further.

My rugby career ended in some ignominy, when I played for the school in a prestigious sevens tournament at Banbury in Oxfordshire.

I found myself back among the forwards, as a prop, and was somewhat disturbed to note that at every scrum, my opposite number insisted on rubbing his cheek against mine with some relish, and then giggling in a sinister fashion.

What he was up to did not become apparent until a few days later, when I developed an itch on the side of my face which turned into an unsightly scab – the swine had deliberately infected me with impetigo, a loathsome skin disease!

I never played rugby again, as soon afterwards I started work as a reporter, and had to work every Saturday covering football matches – not actually seeing any games, but telephoning copy from the sports editor to the Manchester Evening News from a phone box outside the ground.

I did eventually graduate to covering Macclesfield Town in person some years later, when they were a top non-league side, and were in fact the first winners of the FA Trophy at Wembley, beating Telford United 2-0 in the final.

That day in 1970 remains the only time I have been to Wembley. When I joined the Courant in 1973, I covered local football, covering matches every Saturday and Sunday, when local football was really booming. The Hexham and North Tyne League was in full flow, and the Hexham and District Sunday League had two divisions.

Teams like Kielder Hearts, Rochester, Matfen, Newbrough, Hexham West End and the Blue Back Club from Whitfield provided more entertainment than the professionals and standards were high.

The referees too were a breed apart, with their own interpretations of the laws, with John Pickworth pioneering the 10-minute sin bin before it had even been brought in on the rugby field, and the legendary Billy Barker being pragmatic to the nth degree.

Rumour had it that he once sent a player off, who refused to leave the pitch, so Billy retorted: “Well, just go out and play on the wing out of the way!”