Feethams was used for football from the 1860′s until the club left for the Arena in 2003. However it was not until Darlington FC was formed in 1883 that professional football was played there. Crowds were high during the early years of football clubs as people began to become more interested in what would turn out to be a national pastime. In response to this at the turn of the 20th century the club built the West Stand and in 1905 the South Terrace or the Polam Lane end was built. When it was first constructed the terrace was called the Cricket Pavilion. Also around this time the Town End had terracing built to allow fans to stand behind the Town End goal.
Whenever you mention the twin towers most football fans will think of Wembley, the spiritual home of football in our country. However for Darlington fans we will also think of our own twin towers. These were built in 1913. They were still there when the club left Feethams in 2003. The home fans walked through them to get to the cricket ground and the football ground. Walking to Feethams was quite unusual, to get to it you had to walk round the cricket pitch. During football’s formation, football clubs being twinned with cricket clubs was not uncommon. Darlington were one of the last to be twinned -- indeed, one one occasion, a football match was played on the cricket field!
In 1920 the club built offices and changing rooms under the East Stand as well as putting a roof on the stand. For many years nothing much happened at Feethams in terms of development. On the 19th September 1960 the club installed floodlights. However after the first game an electrical fault caused the West Stand to catch fire and it was gutted. The club rebuilt the West Stand but instead of coming up with a modern design they simply built the West Stand as it had stood before the fire. This was due to insurance issues.
Again things were quiet on the construction front for many years until 1997. The club decided to knock down the old East Stand and build a new stand. The new East Stand was all seated and made the ground look much neater. However the construction crippled the club and local businessman George Reynolds came in and saved it. One of his first actions was to start construction of a new 25,000 all seated ground on the edge of town. This spelled the end for Feethams as the home of Darlington FC. Times of course move on and change is unavoidable. However supporters will all miss Feethams. It has been the scene of some great games and Darlington fans will have taken their own individual memories away.
Any club leaving a football ground of course wants to celebrate the time spent there. Darlington was of course no different. The Darlington supporters’ trust were at the front of making sure Darlington left Feethams with a bang. Towards the close of the 2001/02 season the supporters’ club got together with Darlington Camera Club and took many hundreds of pictures of the final games that season at Feethams.
Their aim was to take the ones they liked the most and put on an exhibition of them. Many pictures of the ground had been lost or destroyed over the years so this was an important reason for the project. The exhibition launched at the Darlington Arts centre on July the 12th, 2002. It showed 40 black and white pictures of Feethams and captured what it was like on a match day. The exhibition was a massive success. Along with the pictures other older shots were also on display as well as loads of memorabilia.
The exhibition was not the only thing happening. A book was also published called ‘Farewell to Feethams’. Ray Simpson and Andrew Wilkinson called it a real labour of love. And it showed. The book was a collection of memories from fans and players as well as history about the club. It was a fantastic read and topped the book sellers' charts in the town. The Darlington fans also did their part and a group of them formed the Tin Shed on tour. Residents from the tin shed stand toured the ground in the remaining games taking in a view of the match from all the stands.
And in the last Darlington game at Feethams, many former players were invited back to the club and introduced to the fans one last time, players who had pleased the crowd so many times over the years: Bobby Cummings, Ron Greener, John Peverell, Ronnie Harbertson, Alan Sproates.
Newton Aycliffe (A)
Tue, 5th July, 7:30pm