A walk down Memory Lane with Simon Weatherill
The 1984/85 season turned out to be one of the better seasons in the history of Darlington Football Club, although bad news on the transfer front in the summer threatened to derail the season before it had even started. Star striker Alan Walsh left the club and signed for Bristol City for £18,000, a fee set by the transfer tribunal. Manager Cyril Knowles wasted no time in signing his replacement, paying Barnsley £6,000 for Carl Airey, a signing that was to prove inspired over the coming months. Knowles also added winger Mark Miller (from Doncaster) and midfielder Mitch Cook (from Scarborough) to his squad. The new signings still meant that the Quakers kicked off the new season with a threadbare squad and injuries to Mitch Cook and Mike Angus meant that in the early weeks Knowles often only had 11 or 12 fit players to choose from. Despite the shortage of numbers his side made a solid start to the season with two wins and four draws from the first six games that saw the club sat comfortably in sixth place in the Division 4 table with 10 points.
Knowles was always looking to bolster his squad and signed two extra midfielders, Graeme Aldred, released by Newcastle, and Steve Tupling, initially on a month’s loan from Carlisle. He also brought in the vastly experienced Willie Young as defensive cover. The 32 year old centre half had played nearly 300 top flight games for Tottenham, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest and had played alongside Knowles in the Spurs defence in the 70’s.
All three reinforcements would be in the team for the long trip to Aldershot on Saturday 29 September, the Quakers’ seventh game of the season, where once again they were struggling to find eleven fit players. Regular central defensive partners Kevan Smith and Phil Lloyd would be missing from the game, after both were injured in the previous week’s victory over Scunthorpe, Smith with a dislocated shoulder and Lloyd with ankle ligament damage. Willie Young would make his second appearance for the club alongside Peter Johnson, who moved across from his more familiar left back position to play in the centre. Dave McLean would drop back from midfield to play at left back. The only regular member of the defence playing in his correct position would be John Craggs at right back, although he had to pass a fitness test on a troublesome ankle before being cleared to play. Mitch Cook would be making his debut for the club on the left side of midfield. He’d missed the start of the season after injuring his knee in a pre season friendly and although not fully fit he was pressed into service due to a shortage of numbers.
Finances dictated that the Quakers travelled down to Aldershot by coach on the day of the game. Heavy traffic meant that the team only arrived at the Recreation Ground 90 minutes before kick off. Hardly ideal preparation, but the side made light of the hardship by taking a first minute lead. Mitch Cook made an instant impact on his debut with a superb through ball into the path of Kevin Todd who lashed a fierce shot past home keeper David Coles to give the Quakers the early lead and stun the home crowd of 2045. Aldershot stormed back and put the makeshift Darlington defence under real pressure but squandered several chances when a bit of composure in front of goal would have seen them level. During this period of pressure, the visitors always looked dangerous on the break with the pace of Kevin Todd and Carl Airey always a threat. The Quakers suffered a blow in the 25th minute when Colin Ross had to leave the field with a recurrence of an old knee injury. He was replaced by John Hannah who went up front with Todd dropping into a deeper position. The Shots eventually equalised in the 37th minute with a close range effort by Martin Foyle, a £20,000 summer signing from Southampton. The leveller was already Foyle’s fifth goal of the season. Hannah had an immediate chance to restore the Quakers’ lead but his header from a Todd cross was just over. He made no mistake two minutes later though when he picked up a Steve Tupling through ball on the edge of the box and hammered it on the turn past the helpless keeper to give Darlington a 2-1 half time lead.
An assured second half performance, with Young looking particularly dominant at the back, should have been enough for the visitors to comfortably take the points, but in typical Darlington fashion, they managed to make life difficult for themselves. They increased their lead in the 76th minute with another Hannah goal. Airey’s shot was blocked but Hannah found himself unmarked in front of goal to walk the rebound into an empty net. The two goal cushion lasted only two minutes however, as Fred Barber gifted the Shots a second. His poor clearance went to Dale Banton who swept it straight back into the net to make it 3-2. Barber redeemed himself with two outstanding saves as the home side looked for an equaliser, but Hannah made the points safe in the 91st minute when he headed home Cook’s cross to complete his hat trick. There was still time for Aldershot to hit back as a scramble in the Quakers goalmouth allowed Banton to fire home his second with the last kick of the match.
The 4-3 victory moved the Quakers up to fifth place in the table and maintained their unbeaten start to the season. Unfortunately it proved to be Colin Ross’ last game as a professional footballer. His knee injury was serious enough for him to retire from the game. He was 22. The hat trick in the Aldershot game were the last goals that John Hannah, a former miner, would score for the club. He only made two more appearances before losing his place to Mark Forster. Forster had spent the summer playing in Sweden and returned to the club in mid October. Hannah slipped further down the pecking order later that month when Knowles signed Garry MacDonald from Carlisle as he continued to reshape his squad. Hannah joined Mark Miller in Malta as the pair tried their luck abroad.
Aldershot produced a 16 page programme costing 40p. There was limited coverage of their opponents, just a double page spread with a team photo, pen pictures of the players and previous results between the two clubs. The team line ups were on the back page.
Team v Aldershot : 1 Fred Barber 2 John Craggs 3 Peter Johnson 4 Colin Ross 5 Willie Young 6 Graeme Aldred 7 Mitch Cook 8 Kevin Todd 9 Carl Airey 10 Steve Tupling 11 Dave McLean Sub John Hannah (replaced Ross, 25 mins)