Derek Leck was a valued member of that remarkable Northampton Town side which rose from relative obscurity in the bear pit of the Fourth Division status in successive seasons.

The feat was unique and a genuine story of rags to riches. An equally mind-blowing fact of that meteoric, but sustained journey spanning 1961-65, was the reward for each player.

The princely sum of £14 was paid for each appearance in the clinching season and in Leck's case he had 42 games and picked up just £588. Apart from an historic tie-up with the footwear industry it was no wonder that the club rejoiced, and still do, in the nickname of Cobblers.

They were never a moneybags club. But imagine what the stakes would be today for any League club verging on such an achievement. Forty years on the foot soldiers of a club living a largely hand-to-mouth existence were glad of a windfall that, by present standards, would rate as no more than loose change compared to the wages of super stars.

Derek Leck only copped another hand-out and that was the £850 signing-on fee received from Albion when he put pen to paper for Archie Macaulay in 1965.

Derek and his wife Jean had only recently started to raise a family and were looking for security. The money was straightaway used as a deposit on the club house where they still live in Portslade.

The area is an enclave well favoured by former Albion players. John Shepherd, Jack Bertolini and Denis Foreman live just up the road. All are from an era when earnings were on a par with supporters wages, unlike those in the present when the life styles of the most famous are light years away from that of the average punter who goes through the turnstiles.

If that sounds like sour grapes it is not meant to be by 60-somethings like Leck, although he is pleased to have a part-time job to help boost his pension and keep his car on the road.

He didn't know it at the time when coming up 30, but Derek's days as a League player were numbered. Just 33 appearances stand to the credit of this impressive wing-half who cost £6,000 after Dave Bowen, the Northampton manager, decided a move to Albion was in the best interests of Town and the player.

Derek was truly an influential figure in Northampton's glory years, being an ever-present in 1964-65. There was the not inconsiderable statistic of 45 goals in 246 League games before joining Albion in the November.

He had just put behind him 16 First Division games and, like most of his colleagues, was on a year-to-year contract which hardly made for peace of mind among those with family responsibilities. Derek didn't ask Bowen to go on the list but Albion, having failed when making an earlier approach, were successful second time around. Archie wanted a good ball player and dependable half back with plenty of experience and he got it in spades from Leck.

He said: "I was as high as I was going to get in the game playing against the Bests and Charltons and there was the future to think of. Jean and I both came from the south and the move was more for security than anything else and the signing-on fee was a nice deposit on the house."

Few players can have made such an auspicious debut. When Leck stepped out on November 27 to face Southend at the Goldstone he figured in a 9-1 cakewalk. "I thought, this is easy," he recalled.

Yet the optimism was short-lived. By the end of the season Derek picked up an Achilles tendon problem. Trainer Cyril Hodges sent him to Bert Parker, the physiotherapist, who got him ready in three weeks. But valuable time, through no fault of Parker's, had been lost and at the end of the season Derek was released.

"I had no argument with that. I was fit again but to remain in the League I would have had to go north and I didn't want to do that."

Instead he chose to join Hastings United and from there signed for Roy Jennings at Crawley Town and had three very enjoyable seasons at Town Mead.

"My time at Brighton was so bitty due to that injury. I had come from Northampton where there was a great team spirit as you might expect with so much success and it wasn't the same at Brighton," said Derek.

"I got on alright with Archie and having said that about team spirit, I intend no disrespect to the Brighton lads. We all got on very well. During the summer a number of us worked on the buildings for Alec Stone.

"There was Jimmy Collins, Bill Cassidy, Nobby Upton and Charlie Livesey, when he wasn't leaning on a shovel. Yes, Charlie did work, when he was to be found. But what a skilful player. He had been at Northampton and, on his day, few could match Charlie."

Derek's start in the game was in Wanstead where he made school soccer captain and got into the Essex County youth side at centre-forward. Spotted by a Millwall scout, he signed pro for Ron Gray at 17 and did his National Service as a radar operator in the RAF. In those days Johny Shepherd was knocking in the goals for Millwall and for years now they've been near neighbours.

A League debut against Crystal Palace at The Den was all the more memorable as Derek scored in the 3-1 win and prompting headlines: "Leck lights-up the Old Kent Road". He had three seasons on Millwall's books including RAF service, but when Jimmy Seed became manager and Leck had scored 20-odd goals in the reserves one season and was only 21, there came a clear-out.

"I thought, maybe, that was the end. But I got a call from Dave Smith at Northampton and he took me on as a centre-forward. I'll never forget when we were going for a First Division place and we beat Bolton 4-0 in a crunch game at our place and I scored. That victory virtually gave us promotion.

"Dave Bowen switched me the following season to wing half although after nine games I was the top scorer in the division. He originally asked me to play inside forward and play deep, especially away from home. It was my brief to get into the gaps."

So what happened to Derek Leck once the football stopped? He worked for a bakery firm as store supervisor in Crawley and Worthing totalling close on 23 years. There were opportunities for games with the firm team and he enjoyed two seasons with Denis Foreman playing for Swiss Cottage.

The wear and tear of the game caught up with him as it does with many and hip replacements were necessary in 1990 and 1996.

Now 64, Derek works at the University of Sussex five mornings a week in the refectory department. He got out of the habit of watching games as he worked on Saturdays and has never been to see Albion at Withdean.

"I watch it on the box but avoid knowing the score in advance. That would ruin it. I wouldn't watch a Premiership game on grounds of cost."