Simon Weatherill takes us down memory lane
Simon Weatherill remembers the 2-1 away win at Bournemouth on 17th August 1991 in this edition of Memory Match -- our opening game in the old Third Division.
Darlington found themselves in slightly unfamiliar territory for the 1991/92 season. After relegation from the Football League in 1989 the Quakers, under manager Brian Little, had bounced back with consecutive championships, winning the Vauxhall Conference and Division 4 titles, so would be kicking off the 91/92 season in the rarefied atmosphere of Division 3. This would be only the fourth season that the club had spent at this higher level in 33 years, since the formation of Division 4 in 1958.
Brian Little had moved on during the summer, taking the manager’s job at Leicester City, with Frank Gray taking over the hot seat at Feethams. When the new season’s fixtures were announced, it was immediately obvious how much of a step up in standard the Quakers were about to experience. Their first five games would see them play Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. Only two years previously they’d been playing against the likes of Chorley, Fisher Athletic and Merthyr Tydfil.
Although the club had a new manager, there had been very few changes to the playing staff and the club would contest Division 3 with basically the same group of players that had served Little so well in the previous two seasons. The team which would kick off the new season at Dean Court on August 17 had a very familiar look about it with nine of the eleven having played more than 40 games each in the previous campaign. The two exceptions were Jimmy Willis, who’d missed the first half of the season with a broken leg, and Mitch Cook, who’d joined the club for a second spell in March. In contrast, Bournemouth manager Harry Redknapp had spent the summer wheeling and dealing and they would kick off with five new faces on show, including Northern Ireland international striker Jimmy Quinn (signed from West Ham for £40,000) and ex Liverpool and Southampton star Jimmy Case, signed after being released by the Saints. Case made a single appearance for Quakers when Billy McEwan was manager two years later.
A crowd of 6210 were at a sun drenched Dean Court to see the opening game of the new season and it was Darlington, looking resplendent in their new all sky blue away kit, who were presented with the first chance after only two minutes, Mitch Cook crossed from the left and two home defenders got in each other’s way and messed up their clearance, which fell kindly to Les McJannet on the edge of the box, but he blazed the chance wide.
Mark Prudhoe was pressed into serious action for the first time in the 24th minute when a deep cross by Jimmy Case found Paul Morrell at the far post but his header was comfortably saved by the keeper.
The Quakers surged into the lead in the 47th minute. David Cork found Gary Gill breaking clear down the right. His low cross into the box was aimed at John Borthwick but home centre half Alec Watson got there first, and his outstretched leg diverted the ball into his own net, past a helpless Bartram. Welsh international Andy Jones should have equalised three minutes later when a superb Case pass put him clear but Prudhoe plunged to his left to make a superb reflex save. Holmes was next to try his luck, but his fierce drive was again kept out by a brilliant Prudhoe save.
Cork should have had a second for the Quakers on the hour mark. Put clean through by Cook, he only had Bartram to beat, but miss hit his shot tamely at the keeper. Darlington made no such mistake three minutes later. Toman was fouled 25 yards out and his free kick, played into the near post, was fired home by Jimmy Willis from the edge of the six yard box, in front of a large contingent of travelling fans. The home side piled forward in an attempt to get back into the game and a shocking late challenge by Quinn left Prudhoe struggling in the visitor’s goal. Minutes later, Quinn himself was the victim of a heavy challenge and had to leave the field with a facial injury. From the resultant free kick Case found Mark Morris and his firm header beat the still groggy Prudhoe. 84 minutes gone and the Cherries were right back in it. In the tenth minute of injury time Jones very nearly grabbed a point for the home side. His goal bound header was brilliantly pushed up onto the underside of the bar by Prudhoe and then scrambled clear by his defenders. After an outstanding performance and some superb saves, Prudhoe had saved his best till last and secured the three points for the Quakers.
Although they went home with the points, the Quakers had been second best for long periods of the game, and it was obvious that Division 3 was going to be a real step up in standards. Over the next few weeks they struggled to put any kind of consistent run together and found themselves at the wrong end of the table very quickly. Gray eventually paid for the poor results with his job. He was sacked in late February and replaced by Ray Hankin, who was given the job until the end of the season, but couldn’t halt the inevitable slide towards relegation. Darlington only won two of Hankin’s fifteen games in charge and finished the campaign ten points adrift at the foot of the table.
Bournemouth produced a 32 page programme priced at £1. Coverage of their opponents was quite extensive, with one page containing a team photo and pen pictures of manager Frank Gray and skipper Kevan Smith. Another page with pen pics of the rest of the squad. Two pages of facts and figures featuring recent history, interesting facts, past league meetings and player connections, and then an interesting two page feature entitled Reminiscing featuring a previous game between the two clubs –in this case a 1-1 draw in Division 3 in 1967. The team line-ups appear on the back page.
Team v Bournemouth : 1 Mark Prudhoe 2 Les McJannet 3 Frank Gray 4 Jimmy Willis 5 Kevan Smith 6 Gary Gill 7 Mitch Cook 8 Andy Toman 9 John Borthwick 10 David Cork 11 Mick Tait Subs 12 Gary Coatsworth (replaced Tait, 52 mins) 14 Michael Trotter (not used)
Vanarama National League North
AFC Fylde (A)
Tue, 6th October, 7:45pm