A trip down Memory Lane with Simon Weatherill
Simon Weatherill continues his Memory Match series with the 3-0 win over Macclesfield on 14th August 1999.
The start of any new season is always greeted with excitement and a certain degree of optimism, but twenty years ago, as the 1999/2000 season kicked off, supporters of Darlington FC had more reason than most to be optimistic. George Reynolds had completed his takeover of the club and there was to be investment in the team, reduced ticket prices and plans for a new stadium, making it an exciting time to be a Quakers fan.
Manager David Hodgson had spent the summer strengthening his squad. He brought in Martin Gray from Oxford, Neil Aspin from Port Vale, Neil Heaney from Manchester City and Lee Nogan from Grimsby. Then, in the week before the big kick off, he lost goalkeeper David Preece, who was sold to Aberdeen. Hodgson replaced him by signing Andy Collett from Bristol Rovers.
His new look side started the season with a 1-0 win away at Halifax Town, courtesy of a second half Marco Gabbiadini goal. Their first home game would be on the following Saturday, August 14th, against Macclesfield Town. The Silkmen were managed by Sammy McIlroy and they were in only their third season as a Football League club. They’d been relegated from the division above in the previous season but they were heavily tipped to go straight back up. They’d started the season with a 1-0 home win over Northampton Town. Hodgson named an unchanged starting eleven for the game. Centre half Steve Tutill (dead leg), striker Glen Naylor (knee ligament damage) and midfielder Gary Himsworth (dead leg) were all out injured. New signing Heaney declared himself fit after an ankle injury but he would have to settle for a place on the bench, one of the five permitted substitutes. (The 1999/2000 season had seen the introduction of squad numbers and five named substitutes.)
A healthy crowd of 5117 turned out at Feethams for the first home league game of the season. They saw a determined and well organised Macclesfield team cancel out most of what the home side were trying to create. A long ball forward by Brian Atkinson in the 9th minute was met by Marco Gabbiadini at full stretch but the striker could only poke the ball over the cross bar. Then Lee Nogan almost scored his first goal for the club with a low right foot shot but he was denied by Macc goalkeeper Ryan Price, diving full length to save. They were virtually the only chances of the first half as the visitors took a vice like grip on the game. They got men behind the ball, stopped Darlington wing backs Craig Liddle and Paul Heckingbottom from getting forward and tightly marked Gabbiadini, who barely featured in the game after his early chance. Half time: Darlington 0 Macclesfield 0.
The second half very nearly began in spectacular fashion. Only 30 seconds after the restart, Liddle played in a deep cross, it was flicked on by Heckingbottom and headed goalward by Gabbiadini but it was brilliantly saved by Price. The game then quickly reverted to the pattern of the first half with the visitors midfield in control of things and their forwards looking increasingly dangerous on the break. The game changed completely in the 64th minute with a double substitution and a reshuffle by manager Hodgson. Off came Adam Reed and Michael Oliver, to be replaced by Martin Carruthers and Neil Heaney, making his Quakers debut. The changes very nearly backfired two minutes later as the Quakers were reorganising, and Macclesfield created their best chance of the game, but Andy Collett pulled off a superb save to deny Kieron Durkin. Then Chris Priest went close for the visitors when he fired over the bar when well placed, but the influence of substitute Heaney was starting to show. His pace and control gave the home side a new dimension and his passing and switching of play began to cause Macc’s defence all sorts of problems, as the Quakers began to find space in their opponents half. The deadlock was broken on 83 minutes. Gabbiadini sent Nogan away down the left, then made his way into the box. Nogan crossed to the far post where the waiting Carruthers headed the ball down for Gabbiadini to slot it into the bottom corner. Within a minute the Quakers were two up, as Gabbiadini, Nogan and Martin Gray combined well to release Heaney down the left and he crossed perfectly for Gabbiadini to fire in his second off the inside of the post. Substitute Peter Duffield added a third in injury time. He’d only been on the field three minutes after replacing Nogan but he was on hand to meet a low right wing cross from Liddle and turn it into the net.
From a game that had looked to be heading towards stalemate, the Quakers had hit three goals in the last seven minutes to secure a victory that probably flattered them, but none of the home supporters were complaining!
The early season form continued and the Quakers maintained their position towards the top of the table. They were in the promotion places most of the season, but then things went horribly wrong and a disastrous run of only two wins in the last twelve games of the season saw them slip into fourth and have to settle for a place in the play-offs.
In the play-offs, after two comfortable semi-final victories over Hartlepool, the Quakers headed for Wembley to play Peterborough, but were beaten 1-0 in a farcical final on a waterlogged Wembley pitch. A season that had promised so much had ended in crushing disappointment.
The programme for the 1999/2000 season consisted of 32 pages and cost £1.70. Full colour throughout, the programme was full of interesting reading, including 3rd Eye (detailing what was happening elsewhere in the division), General Information (Luke Raine giving you the inside word at the club), Connections (where Leigh Edwards profiled former players who’d played for both clubs), and Looking Back at matches 10, 20 and 30 years ago. The team line-ups were on the back cover.
Team v Macclesfield: 1 Andy Collett 2 Craig Liddle 3 Paul Heckingbottom 4 Adam Reed 5 Gary Bennett 6 Neil Aspin 7 Martin Gray 8 Michael Oliver 9 Lee Nogan 10 Marco Gabbiadini 11 Brian Atkinson Subs 12 Phil Brumwell (not used) 13 Mark Samways (not used) 14 Peter Duffield (replaced Nogan, 88mins) 15 Neil Heaney (replaced Oliver, 64 mins) 16 Martin Carruthers (replaced Reed, 64 mins).