Simon Weatherill takes us down memory lane
In the latest of his Memory Match series, Simon Weatherill looks back to the 4-1 home win over Accrington Stanley in the Third Division North on 17th October 1953.
The 1953/54 season would be manager Bob Gurney’s second full season in charge. The previous season had seen the Quakers finish fourth from bottom in Division 3 North, so Gurney spent the summer of 1953 recruiting new players, determined to improve the club’s fortunes. The opening games of the new campaign saw six of his new signings given their chance in a new look first eleven. George Gray (signed from Swindon), Jim French (Northampton), Ernie Butler (Southend), Eddie Carr (Bradford City), Charlie Nicklas (Hull City) and Les Robson (also Hull City) all began the new season in or around the first team, aiming to give Quakers fans a bit more to shout about.
The new players failed to make the required impact, however, as the team made a poor start. Only one goal scored and one point gained from the first five games meant that almost immediately the team found themselves at the wrong end of the table, facing a long hard season. By mid-October the Quakers sat fourth from bottom in the league with only two wins from their 14 games so far. Their next game would be at home to Accrington Stanley on October 17th. Stanley sat in 16th place in the table with 13 points, three more than Darlington. A lack of goals had been the main concern for manager Gurney, and he made one change to his starting eleven that had gained a point in a 1-1 draw at Carlisle on the previous weekend. Centre forward Jim Scarborough was left out and replaced by Johnny Dowson. It was an experiment to some degree as Dowson was usually an outside right. He became the fourth player to be used at centre forward that season after Charlie Nicklas, Ian Brydon and Scarborough had failed to provide the goals that the manager was looking for.
A crowd of 5,936 were at Feethams for the game. They saw the home side make a bright opening with Dowson looking dangerous in his new position leading the line. They created and missed two good chances in the opening minutes. First, Dowson played in Harry Clark but he wasted the chance with a weak shot that went wide. Then good work by Jim French found Dowson in a great position only two yards out but despite having two attempts at a shot, could only hit the ball straight at Stanley keeper Bill White who saved without difficulty. The Quakers were playing some neat football and deservedly took the lead in the 12th minute. More good work by French down the right saw him beat the full back, reach the bye line and cross perfectly for Dowson to head home. Accrington hit back immediately and very nearly equalised when Henry Eastham burst through the home defence, but his shot was superbly turned around the post by home keeper Bill Dunn. Darlington were well on top though and increased their lead in the 16th minute. Cliff Mason carried the ball into midfield and played a delightful through ball from the halfway line that Dowson ran onto and finished emphatically past White. The home side’s fast-moving forwards were too much for the Accrington defence and the third goal arrived on 30 minutes. Dowson was the provider this time as he collected the ball out wide and centred for Les Robson to score with a superb cross shot. Towards the interval the visitors had more of the play but only really threatened once, from a late corner, when Dunn saved well from Joe Devlin. Half time: Darlo 3 Stanley 0.
The second half began with the home side on top, French going closest with a rasping drive that went just over the bar. Stanley were starting to look dangerous though with left winger David Musgrove causing the Quakers particular problems. First, he picked his way through the home defence and fired in a shot that went just wide of the upright. Then he missed a further two opportunities when too slow to react to half chances that came his way. The threatened Accrington goal came on 67 minutes when right winger Devlin made progress down his wing and crossed the ball for Eastham to turn into the net. They should have had a second moments later, but Musgrove shot wide from close range when well placed. Darlington hit back and right winger Jim Keers went close four times in quick succession. His first two attempts were well saved by White, then he beat the keeper but had his shot blocked by a defender on the line, then he broke clear but shot wide. In the 85th minute Keers began the move that led to the Quakers’ fourth goal. He crossed the ball from wide right to Dowson on the left, who centred for French to run onto the ball and fire home. There was still time for Darlington to go close twice more in the closing minutes, White saving from Keers at the foot of his post and then saving superbly from Robson.
The experiment of playing Dowson at centre forward seemed to have worked, with him scoring two goals and creating the other two. The 4-1 victory lifted the Quakers up a couple of places in the table but they followed their best win of the season with one win in the next nine games, so that by Christmas Day they’d slumped to the bottom of the table with 15 points from 24 games. They rallied slightly in the second half of the season and eventually finished fourth from bottom with 38 points. Manager Gurney never seemed happy with the goals supplied by his centre forwards. Throughout the course of the season he tried six different players in the number nine shirt, including defenders Roy Brown and Joe Davison. Left winger Les Robson finished as top scorer with 14 league goals.
The programme for the 1953/54 season consisted of twelve pages, roughly half of which were adverts. The front cover was printed in a variety of colours, changing match by match. Pink, yellow or green mostly, and it cost 3d. Virtually the only half-time reading material appeared on the front cover under the heading Club Jottings, with news of what had been happening around the club. Other regular features were the half-time scoreboard, a sports quiz, a list of fixtures and results and the team line-ups.
Team v Accrington: 1 Bill Dunn 2 Joe Davison 3 Cliff Mason 4 Roy Brown 5 Denis Howe 6 Bill Rutherford 7 Jim Keers 8 Jim French 9 Johnny Dowson 10 Harry Clark 11 Les Robson.