A DEFLATED Hartlepool United football has helped raise more than £260,000 for disadvantaged children.
Every year the ball is auctioned off as the booby prize at an annual sportsman's dinner and every year the ball is returned to go under the hammer again.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the event held annually in County Durham for children's charity Barnardo's.
Businessman Keith Johnson, chairman of the dinner organising committee, said the ball was donated 18 years ago and is believed to have been signed by the Pools team of 1986.
“To be fair I didn't think there would be much demand for the ball but orthopaedic surgeon Howard Epstein paid £60 for it.”
Mr Epstein – a Sunderland fan – returned the ball the following year so it could be auctioned off again - and a tradition was born.
This continued for several years until a Hartlepool supporter attended the dinner and decided to put a stop to the good-natured mocking of his club.
“He said he was absolutely fed up of us taking the mickey out of his club and so offered us £500 if he could keep the ball.
“Obviously I accepted, but he came back the following year, said 'I get the joke' and handed the ball back.”
Last year the football was won by North-East property developer Trevor Cartner, of Helios Properties, who honoured the tradition and returned the prize.
Helios will sponsor this year's dinner, along with Rowlands Accountants and Swinburne Maddison Solicitors.
Mr Johnson, who is chairman of JW Wood Estate Agents, said all the money raised helped disadvantaged children in the region.
“We've now been selling the ball for 18 years and is probably responsible for raising somewhere in the region of £7,000.
“Over the years it's deflated – just like Hartlepool United – but it's still been a fantastic servant to our money raising efforts.”
This year's charity dinner will take place at the Ramside Hall Hotel, in Carrville, near Durham City, on Friday, October 4.
The guest speaker will be BBC sports commentator John Inverdale with entertainment provided by comedian Brendan Healy.
Tables for ten people cost £600. 18 prizes will be auctioned off, including holidays and use of an Aston Martin car. A raffle will also be held.
For details, or to donate a raffle prize, email Mr Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Raffle prizes can also be dropped it to JW Wood branches in Durham, Darlington, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Consett and Stanley.
Source: The Northern Echo