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Jeff Brown is one of the best known figures in North East England. For years he has fronted BBC TV’s ‘Look North’ programme with a special brief for sport. In addition (and few may know this) he also takes a keen interest in sporting history having studied History and Economics at York University and completed a thesis on the development of professional football in the North East.

Not long ago while tidying his loft Jeff discovered some material relating to Ashbrooke. The material was from his youth and (being a good historian!) he knew it would be of interest to Ashbrooke’s historian and archivist Keith Gregson. Keith has now put the material together in a file and has placed it in the archive at the club.

Jeff has fond childhood memories of Ashbrooke both as a player and spectator. In his early years at secondary school he completed a successful rugby trial for Sunderland Schools here. A combination of the photographs and programmes he has now handed over points to some of the sporting events he also attended.


One was for a rugby club 1st XV match between Sunderland and Alnwick in February 1977 (JB/01)*. Another was an interesting game between the Dolphins International XV and Cambridge University in September 1982 (JB/02 &03). The Dolphins were a sort of Barbarian side put together from time to time by former international referee and touch judge Hartley Elliott. Hartley was a well-known administrator with links to Ashbrooke and Durham University/Colleges. The strong Dolphins side that day contained British Lion Peter Squires and Scotland international brothers John and Finlay Calder.


Fascinating as the programmes are, it is really the photographs which are the cause of excitement. According to Jeff they were ‘taken with a little Kodak 126 Pocket Instamatic (which I think is still somewhere in my loft!)’ All five were of the same event – and something of a key event at that. This was the famous and controversial victory of the Minor Counties cricket side over the touring Australians at Ashbrooke in August 1977. At the time, Australian cricket was torn over what was called the ‘Packer Crisis’ where cricketers became divided over the path their professional careers should take. The Australian press slated the side which failed to win a single Ashes Test. Losing to the Minor Counties was the icing on the cake for critics and heads eventually rolled. This was the case in particular as the Australians declared their second innings leaving the home side chasing what was considered an impossible total. That total was reached with relative ease.

Jeff found five photographs in all in his attic – mostly of the Australians warming up or entering/leaving the field (JB/04-08). One (JB/08) is pure gold. It shows legendary fast bowler Jeff Thompson kicking a rugby ball during the warm-up. The members’ lounge at Ashbrooke has a glass case which contains that very ball signed by the Australian side. Nothing could be more appropriate than the combination of rugby and cricket which has been served up at Ashbrooke for more than 130 years. As far as the club archivist is concerned the coming together of photograph and ball is pure serendipity.

Thanks, Jeff

If you cannot make the club to see the archives contact Keith via for jpgs of JB 01-08 plus a photograph of the actual rugby ball (JB 09). For more on the infamous Minor Counties’ match see Keith’s ‘Australians in Sunderland’ booklet. * Access code in the Ashbrooke Archive.

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