A wander down memory lane with Simon Wetherill.
In this week's Memory Match, Simon Weatherill looks back at the 4-0 home win over Northampton Town on 8th September 1984 in this week’s Memory Match.
1984/85 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. A tribunal set the transfer fee at a paltry £18,000, even though Darlington had turned down a £50,000 offer for the player from Colchester only months earlier. Walsh had scored 100 league and cup goals from 278 appearances and £18,000 seemed like a bargain price for the club’s record goal scorer. 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.
The team started the 1984/85 season with a 1-1 draw at home to Bury in front of 1442 spectators, Mark Miller scoring the Quakers goal. A mystery stomach bug then swept through the club and led to the postponement of the second game – the long trip to Southend. Ten players were laid low with the bug leaving only two players to train together and the league accepted the request to postpone the game. This meant that the second game of the season would also be at Feethams, against Northampton Town on September 8th. With Cook and Angus both still missing the only change to the Quakers’ line up was at right back, where John Craggs missed out with a sore achilles tendon. He was replaced by Dave Hawker, with Craggs dropping to the bench. Hawker had signed on a non-contract basis to try and earn a full-time contract with the club. He joined striking Yorkshire miner John Hannah who was in the same situation. Northampton were managed by former Aston Villa boss Tony Barton and captained by much travelled midfielder Ray Train. (Train had played for Watford, Sunderland and Carlisle, amongst others.) Town had started the season with two defeats, 5-0 at Exeter and 3-1 at home to Chesterfield, so would be keen to get something from their trip North.
A disappointing crowd of 1110 were at Feethams for the game. They saw Darlington make a bright start and grab the lead after only five minutes, Kevin Todd playing a delightful through ball into the path of Carl Airey who calmly slotted past Cobblers keeper Peter Gleasure for his first goal for the club. It was very nearly two, five minutes later when Dave Hawker, Dave McLean and Mark Miller combined well to set up Colin Ross, but his first-time shot was turned around the post by Gleasure. The Quakers kept up the pressure and it was no surprise when the second goal arrived on 14 minutes. A Miller corner was missed by everyone in the goalmouth and ran through to John Hannah at the far post who drove home. The Cobblers tried hard to get back into the game but looked short on confidence in front of goal. They should have made more of an indirect free kick in the area after 32 minutes. Neil Brough squared the ball to Brian Mundee but his shot was blocked by Fred Barber and the ball was hacked clear following a goalmouth scramble. Then just before half time defender Russell Lewis missed the best chance of the game when he scooped the ball over the bar when it looked easier to score. Half time: Darlington 2 Northampton 0.
The second half began with the Quakers comfortably in control and they added a third goal after 55 minutes. Miller was held back as he advanced towards the penalty area but the referee waved play on. When the tricky winger got into the box, he was tripped by Mundee and a penalty awarded. McLean made no mistake from the spot, blasting home. The home side made it four on 64 minutes when Hawker made progress down the right and fired in a cross cum shot that bounced back off the post and was volleyed home from close range by Airey. Northampton had one last chance to get themselves on the scoresheet on 76 minutes when Trevor Lee sent a free header wide, but they finished the game a well beaten side. Full time: 4-0.
The good results continued as Knowles worked wonders shuffling his threadbare squad around. The team only lost one game from their first 21 to sit within the promotion places at the turn of the year. The team which had started the season was much changed by then. Colin Ross played in the first seven games before a serious knee injury ended his career at 22 years of age. Mark Miller and John Hannah started ten games between them at the start of the season before both left to try their luck abroad with Floriana in Malta. And John Craggs started nine games before a long-standing ankle injury got the better of him. Knowles was continually reshaping his team as the season went on. Mark Forster had spent the summer playing in Sweden and he returned to the club in October. He was joined in the forward line by Garry MacDonald who was signed from Carlisle. Also joining the club and becoming regulars were Graeme Aldred after his release by Newcastle and Steve Tupling who signed from Carlisle.
The Quakers remained in or around the promotion places for the whole season and eventually clinched promotion with a 2-2 draw at Crewe on May Bank Holiday Monday. They finished in third place with 85 points from 46 games. Carl Airey top scored with 16. After a slow start, attendances had gradually improved as the side started having success and the season finished with an average home league crowd of 3772. There were three league attendances of over 6,000 (Swindon, Tranmere and Blackpool).
The programme for the 84/85 season consisted of 16 pages and cost 35p. (Increasing to 40p later in the season.) Contents consisted of a column by manager Cyril Knowles, At Feethams Today (profiling todays opponents), Fact File (fixtures, results and tables for first and reserve teams), action photos from previous games, Encounters (describing previous games with the opposition) and the team line ups on the back cover.
Team v Northampton: 1 Fred Barber 2 Dave Hawker 3 Peter Johnson 4 Colin Ross 5 Kevan Smith 6 Phil Lloyd 7 Mark Miller 8 Kevin Todd 9 Carl Airey 10 John Hannah 11 Dave McLean. Sub John Craggs (replaced Hannah, 75 mins.)