Simon Weatherill remembers Fred Barber’s debut in the 3-1 home win over Stockport County on March 26...
Simon Weatherill remembers Fred Barber’s debut in the 3-1 home win over Stockport County on March 26th 1983 in today's Memory Match
Serious financial problems had blighted the 1981/82 season but manager Billy Elliott had still led the team to a creditable mid table position. The fans had raised £50,000 to ensure that the club completed the season and the coffers were further boosted in the summer as Peter Skipper left for Hull City in a £10,000 tribunal transfer and David Speedie was sold to Chelsea for £65,000. Elliott was given no money to replace two of his most influential players however and the club kicked off the 82/83 season with a threadbare squad of only fifteen professionals. Elliott would have to supplement his squad with loan signings and former youth team players as and when required. The youth team had been disbanded and a reserve team had been entered in the newly formed Northern League Division 2. Many of the previous season’s youth team were still with the club and made up the bulk of the reserve team.
The Quakers started the 82/83 season in fine style, beating Rochdale 3-0 at home on the opening Saturday, followed by a 5-2 away win at Crewe the following week. Eight goals scored and maximum points from two games saw Darlington top the table. They were still there after four games played, but then a run of only two wins in the next 23 games saw the club drop through the whole Division 4 table to occupy bottom place by the beginning of February. In an attempt to stop the rot, manager Elliott signed two players on loan from Newcastle, Kevin Todd to play up front, and David Barton to fill the problem position of centre half, where Peter Skipper had never been properly replaced.
The introduction of Todd and Barton to the side had an immediate effect as the Quakers went on a run of four wins and a draw in the next eight games so that by the time Stockport County visited Feethams on March 26, the Quakers had lifted themselves to third from bottom in the table. They had injury problems for the game against County. Goalkeeper Pat Cuff had been injured in training and would miss the game. This would mean a debut for Ferryhill youngster Fred Barber. The 19 year old keeper had impressed with his displays in the reserve team but had to wait for his chance in the first team as Cuff had made 111 consecutive appearances. Regular left back Harry Wilson was also out with an ankle injury and his place was taken by 18 year old David Young, another product of the youth team. Peter Cartwright had been signed from Newcastle during the week and he would make his debut in midfield, taking Brian Honour’s place, who dropped to the bench.
The recent run of good results didn’t seem to inspire the supporters too much and only 1012 turned out for the Stockport game. (Even this was an improvement on the previous attendance of 952 for the game against Mansfield.) The crowd witnessed a stuttering start by the Quakers, who despite their recent improvement in form had still only won one home game in the previous four months. Their nervousness showed as the visitors enjoyed the best of the opening half. County took the lead on 38 minutes with a straightforward corner routine. Dean Emerson’s flag kick was met by Tommy Sword who scored with an unstoppable header. They could have increased their lead before half time but Barber produced two brilliant saves to keep out Nigel Smith and Mike Power. Stockport went into the break with a comfortable 1-0 lead, with the Quakers seemingly sliding towards yet another home defeat.
Barber continued his man of the match performance by saving twice more from Power at the start of the second half, before providing an assist for the Alan Walsh equaliser on 65 minutes. He launched a hefty kick deep into Stockport territory that found Walsh breaking through a gap in the centre of County’s defence. He rounded visiting keeper Brian Lloyd and slotted into the net from an acute angle.
Peter Cartwright, not to be outdone by his fellow debutant, then took centre stage by creating the opening for the Quakers’ second goal ten minutes later. He ploughed through three tackles in a determined run in centre midfield and played the ball out wide to Walsh, who made progress down the left and crossed to the far post, where the ball was met by the onrushing Dave McLean, who headed home. The victory was completed in the last minute when Tony McFadden outpaced three defenders before drawing Lloyd and sliding the ball wide of the advancing keeper.
Three goals in the last 25 minutes had turned, what looked like being Darlington’s eighth home defeat of the season, into an important victory that moved the Quakers up another two places in the table. Man of the match Fred Barber continued his great form and kept his place in goal for the remainder of the season. He became regular first choice and went on to make 163 appearances for the club over the next three years before being transferred to Everton in March 1986. He was one of six of the previous year’s youth team that had progressed through into the first team during the 82/83 season. As well as Barber, Brian Honour, David Young, David Wakefield, Gavin Liddle and Jeff Wilson all turned out in Division 4 games.
The team finished the season in 17th place with 52 points from their 46 games. Attendances were really disappointing and hovered around the thousand mark for much of the season. The average league attendance for 82/83 was only 1454, the lowest figure ever for Darlington as a league club. It wasn’t the worst figure in Division 4 that year though. Our dear friends up the road in Hartlepool averaged only 1369.
The club made a real effort to improve the match programme for the 82/83 season. The Match Day Magazine, as it was now called, was compiled and published by Space Takers of Newcastle. 16 pages for 30p and virtually no adverts. Content varied from programme to programme, but generally consisted of an action shot on the front cover, columns by manager Billy Elliott and secretary Dave Thorne, Encounters by Frank Tweddle (looking back at previous matches with our opponents), two pages of pen pictures and a full page team photo of our visitors, Division 4 Formations (with what was happening elsewhere in the division), Personality Profile on a member of the first team squad, Action Photos from a previous game, Quaker Quiz, Northern Soccer Scene by Alan Page and fixtures, results and league tables for first team and reserves. The team line-ups appeared on the back cover.
Team v Stockport : 1 Fred Barber 2 Alan Kamara 3 David Young 4 Kevan Smith 5 Dave Barton 6 Peter Cartwright 7 Tim Gilbert 8 Dave McLean 9 Kevin Todd 10 Alan Walsh 11 Tony McFadden Sub Brian Honour (not used).