The latest instalment of the best seller
In today's instalment of Farewell to Feethams, Dick Corden, who was chairman between 1989 and 1991, talks about the Conference and Fourth Division title winning years when Brian Little was manager.
(Remember that the book was written in 2002)
Here are the previous F2F stories:
Before you read on, why not contribute to our Boost the Budget campaign here: https://darlingtonfc.co.uk/news/boost-the-budget-202021-launches
What are your memories of Feethams? Drop us a line on email@example.com
Dick Corden was club chairman when Quakers won the GM Vauxhall Conference and Fourth Division titles in 1990 and 1991, possibly the most exciting years in the club's history.
He brought Brian Little to the club as manager in February 1989, and gave him encouragement to build a side to bounce back from relegation to the Conference on that sad day in May 1989.
Dick, owner of a scaffolding company, had joined the board following a meeting at the old Little Chef restaurant on the A66 near Sadberge.
"I met director Peter Boddy there and he said the board needed new blood,” he said. “Soon after I arrived, we lost at home to Leyton Orient, and were bottom of the League. We had a board meeting straight after the game, and decided to sack manager Dave Booth.
"Archie Heaton, chairman at the time, wanted Billy Bremner to replace Booth, but he, and other possibilities, might want an arm and a leg.
"Just before that, Brian Little had left Middlesbrough. We wanted somebody hungry to make a name for himself, so I suggested Brian. Archie said: "All right, clever fella, go and get him." This was at 11pm after the Orient game. I didn't know how to find Brian, so the next day rang everybody of that surname in the Middlesbrough phone book. I started at 10am, and at 1pm rang a chap who said that Brian was no relation, but he gave me a number for him in the Midlands.
“Having contacted him, I travelled down immediately. He said that he would take the job until the end of the season. He travelled back with me, and the following morning we met Archie at the Blackwell Grange Hotel.
“Brian wondered what salary he should ask for. I knew that Booth had been on £15,000 per year, so I suggested £20,000.
“Archie didn't want to pay £20,000 on principle; so he paid fifty pence per week less! Then we took Brian to meet the players. I said to them: "Here's your new manager" and left Brian to get on with it. Archie stood by the dressing room door, and I told him to come with me, as Brian didn't need him there.”
Little almost saved the club from relegation. But the question was should Quakers go part time, like the rest of the Conference clubs?
Dick said: "Archie resigned, and the directors asked me to take over. I told them that I was heavily involved in my business, but they persuaded me. I wanted the club to stay full-time for a couple of years, to give us a chance of returning to the League. Brian felt that if we went part-time, he might not be able to get the players necessary to strengthen the team.' He brought in Kevan Smith, Andy Toman and John Borthwick among others.
Winning the Conference took priority, but Quakers also set their sights on a big pay day by reaching the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
"We thought we could make £100,000 out of it, and budgeted for it," said Dick. "We were favourites for both competitions, but in the Trophy lost at Leek Town, two divisions below us, in the quarter final."
However, Quakers clinched promotion on the last day of the season. "That was one of the greatest days in my life. I enjoyed the Conference, and we came across some good people," said Dick. "I never thought we'd miss out, even though Barnet gave us a run for our money. We let in the fewest goals in the league, and Brian always did his homework. He said before the season that if he built a
defence, he would win promotion."
There were one or two scares, not least when Wycombe, managed by Martin O’Neill – who later made his name at Leicester and Celtic – won 1-0 at Feethams with six games remaining to give chasing Barnet hope.
"They scored in the first minute, and we didn't come near equalising. I thought we'd blown promotion, and was wound up. I went into my old office and sat in the dark.
"The door opened, and in came Brian I didn't know it, but he used to escape to my old office for reflection as well!"
Quakers kept up their momentum, went up, and the following season stormed through the old Fourth Division. "At Christmas, I told Brian we could win promotion. He asked if we could afford it, and I told him that we could.
"In that season, he added only Mick Tait to the squad. The spirit in the dressing room was fantastic."
Quakers clinched the Fourth Division title on a nail-biting last day, when defeat could have meant the play-offs.
They beat Rochdale 2-0 in front of a 9,160 crowd, an attendance never since surpassed at Feethams.
The chairman/manager relationship worked, but Little's success attracted bigger clubs.
"Leicester chairman, Eddie George rang me, and asked for permission to speak to Brian. I told him that if I said no, he would approach him anyway.
"I told Brian, who said: "Oh, no, I don't know what to do."
"I replied: "My heart says stay, my head says go." So Brian went, after two fantastic years."
His assistant Frank Gray, also a player, succeeded Little.
Dick was heavily criticised by fans for a programme piece he wrote at the start of the following season, stating he would be delighted to finish one place above a relegation spot, because the Third Division was the limit for the club.
Dick reflected: "Stockport, in the same division, splashed out £250,000 for a player, and that was something we couldn't compete with. I got a sackful of mail but was only being realistic.
"Maybe if Brian had stayed, we would have finished in the top half."
It wasn't a good season under Gray, and after a 3-0 defeat at Torquay in February 1992, he was sacked, with Ray Hankin appointed as replacement.
"Frank told me that it wasn't a good weekend for him, because his wife had left
him while he was in Torquay."
Dick denied the rumour that Gray returned to Feethams after the last game of that season, and collected his severance pay in cash in a black bin bag. "That never happened," says Dick. "He took the club to court, and was paid by cheque."
There were money problems all through that season, and crowds dwindled by around half.
Quakers made a desperate attempt to avoid relegation, by signing striker Nick Cusack from Motherwell for £95,000, a club record fee at the time. Cusack, featured elsewhere in the book, couldn't save the club from relegation.
At the end of the season 1991-92 - Dick asked the bank to back the club throughout the close season, pointing out that Quakers had valuable youngsters such as Sean Gregan.
"But the bank manager told us that for the club to survive, the directors each had to pay £50,000 and hand over the deeds of their houses.
"He told us that if the club went bankrupt, the bank would sell our properties.
"I resigned there and then, because I couldn't afford that."
It was a sad end to Dick's reign, because without his drive and enthusiasm, Quakers might never have recovered from their relegation to the Conference.