A trip down Memory Lane with Simon Weatherill
In the latest of his excellent series, Simon Weatherill recalls the League Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday on 27th August 1975.
The summer of 1975 supplied fans of Darlington Football Club with even more drama and upheaval than normal. The Quakers had finished the 74/75 season in 21st place and so had to apply for re-election, along with Swansea, Workington and Scunthorpe. All four clubs successfully retained their league status at the AGM at the beginning of June. Three days later manager Billy Horner left the club to become a coach at Hartlepool. He’d had a long running battle with chairman George Tait and quoted “a clash of personalities” as his reason for resigning. “It is in the club’s best interests that I leave” he said.
Horner was the seventh manager to have resigned or be sacked during Tait’s four-year reign as chairman. In those four years the club had never finished in the top half of the table, had never got beyond the second round of any cup competition, the club’s reserve team had been disbanded and there was not a single apprentice player on the staff.
Things looked bleak, and at a stormy board meeting the following week, Tait retained control of the club and appointed club coach Peter Madden as the new manager. Madden immediately started strengthening the playing squad and preparing for the new season. He signed goalkeeper Alan Ogley from Stockport, defenders Bobby Noble from Southport and Jimmy Cochrane from Middlesbrough, midfielder Dave Crosson from Newcastle and striker Eddie Rowles from Torquay. Pre-season preparations went well, and the team were unbeaten in their six friendly matches, so everyone was in confident mood as the first day of the season drew near.
Darlington began their season with a 2-0 home win over Scunthorpe, then switched their attention to the League Cup. They had been paired with Sheffield Wednesday in the two legged first round. Wednesday had been relegated from Division 2 in the previous season and were tipped by many to make an immediate return. A crowd of 3581 were at Feethams for the first leg to see Wednesday grab a fortunate 2-0 win with late goals by Mick Prendergast and Eric Potts. The Quakers had fought well and more than held their own, but few people gave them much hope for the following week’s second leg. In between the two cup ties Darlington travelled down to Bournemouth for a league game and came away with a 2-1 win, so it was a confident group of players who set out for Hillsborough on August 27.
Manager Madden made changes for the trip to Sheffield. Club captain Colin Blant had served a three match suspension and came into the team for his first appearance of the season. He replaced Norman Lees, who in turn had played in place of the injured Bobby Noble at Bournemouth. Last season’s top scorer Stan Webb missed out with damaged ankle ligaments and his place went to the fit again Colin Sinclair, who’d missed the last two games with a thigh injury. Wednesday would be without England international Colin Harvey, who had a thigh strain. His place went to Ken Knighton.
A crowd of 7452 were at Hillsborough to see both sides make a bright opening. Darlington nearly struck first in the fifth minute when a fierce shot by Steve Holbrook brought home keeper Neil Ramsbottom to his knees. Wednesday hit back, and Quakers’ keeper Alan Ogley had to be at his best to keep out Phil Henson after he had been put clear by Eric Potts. Then Brian Joicey was brilliantly denied when Ogley went full length, diving at his feet. Wednesday’s main threat was tricky right winger Eric Potts, but once Jimmy Cochrane had got to grips with him the Quakers began to take control of the game. The best chance of the half fell to Colin Blant but he headed over from five yards out after running onto Cochrane’s floated free kick. Half time 0-0.
The Quakers grabbed the lead five minutes into the second half. Steve Holbrook robbed home full back Jimmy Quinn. He moved into the area while holding the defender off and fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net from an acute angle, giving Ramsbottom no chance. Things got even better for Darlington ten minutes later when Colin Sinclair added a second. Eric Young won the ball in midfield and advanced towards goal before sliding the ball to Sinclair. His first time shot from the edge of the box screamed past Ramsbottom into the net. The keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out. Wednesday then had their best spell of the game as they searched for the goal that would put them through, but the Darlington defence held firm with Ogley in particular in superb form. He saved well from a Mick Prendergast shot and a Dave Herbert header, then Cochrane headed off the line to keep Henson out. In the closing minutes Joicey put in a dangerous looking header that just cleared the bar, but the Quakers held on for a famous 2-0 victory.
The only bad news on the night came after the game when Madden lost the toss to decide the venue of the replay, so Darlington would have to travel to Hillsborough again on the following Wednesday.
In between their two trips to Sheffield, the Quakers beat Elton John’s Watford 1-0 at Feethams to take them to the top of Division 4 with a 100% record. Three wins out of three. Their best start to a league campaign since 1948!
The replay at Hillsborough on September 3 brought even more good news. After playing out a goalless draw in front of a crowd of 6276, the Quakers won the penalty shoot out to advance into round two. They successfully converted all five of their penalties through Colin Sinclair, Jimmy Cochrane, Stan Webb, Alec Smith and Eric Young, while for Wednesday Mick Prendergast fired wide and Ogley saved from Danny Cameron. Darlington’s reward was a home tie against Luton Town, who were beaten 2-1 with two Stan Webb goals in front of a crowd of 6601. This earned them a third round tie at Upton Park, where West Ham proved too strong for the Quakers and ended the cup run with a 3-0 victory.
Wednesday produced a 16 page programme called “The Owl”, priced at 10p. It devoted three pages to the visitors, with a brief history of the club and pen pictures of the players expected to be on duty. The team line-ups were on the back page.
Team v Sheffield Wednesday: 1 Alan Ogley 2 Clive Nattress 3 Jimmy Cochrane 4 Gordon Cattrell 5 Alec Smith 6 Colin Blant 7 Steve Holbrook 8 Colin Sinclair 9 Eddie Rowles 10 Dave Crosson 11 Eric Young Sub Don Burluraux (not used).