A walk down Memory Lane with Simon Weatherill
Simon Weatherill takes us down Memory Lane with the home game against Wimbledon in 1977
The first half of the 1970’s were not a good time to be a Darlington fan. Three applications for re-election (plus another three near misses), nine managers, dwindling crowds and a constant fight for survival on the financial front. By the 1977/78 season though, Peter Madden had at last introduced some stability and hope to the club. He’d taken over the managerial post in the summer of 1975 and so was in his third season at the helm. In the previous season he’d led the club to 11th place in the league, their best finish for seven years, and so hopes were high that he could lead the club to an even better finish in the new campaign. He would have to do it with a wafer-thin squad though as finances dictated that he ran a tight ship. They started the new season with a squad of only fifteen players and with no reserve or youth team, the club had no pool of players to call on in an emergency and so the team quite often picked itself, and players often had to turn out, even when not fully fit.
Initially, this didn’t seem to affect the team too much. After a dodgy start, with three defeats and a draw from their first four league games, things improved and a run of just one defeat in the next ten games lifted the club into a comfortable mid table position. By the time Wimbledon visited Feethams on 29th October the Quakers sat in 14th place in the Division 4 table with 14 points from 14 games. Wimbledon would be making their first ever visit to Feethams after being elected to the Football League in the previous summer, at the expense of Workington. The Dons had won three successive Southern League titles and enjoyed some FA Cup success with high profile games against Burnley, Leeds and Middlesbrough in recent seasons. Workington had been making their fourth successive re-election application, so it was perhaps no surprise that the clubs had swapped places. Wimbledon had struggled with their early season form and travelled to the North East four places and three points worse off than the Quakers. Darlington were on a six-match unbeaten run and with injuries to goalkeeper Martin Burleigh, midfielder Eric Young and winger Lloyd Maitland, the team virtually picked itself so manager Madden had no hesitation in naming an unchanged side.
A crowd of 2,710 were at Feethams for the Saturday afternoon fixture. They saw the home side very nearly take the lead after only two minutes when centre forward Ron Ferguson cut in from the right and drove a low cross cum shot into the goalmouth. Dons defender Dave Donaldson deflected the ball and it seemed to be sneaking just inside the far post before keeper Dick Teale launched himself full length and clawed it wide. The game then developed into a scrappy, hard fought stalemate with chances at a premium. The stalemate was eventually broken after 30 minutes with a spectacular strike by Neil Hague. Barry Lyons intercepted a clearance and made progress down the right. His cross into the box was headed wide by Dons centre half Billy Edwards. From the resultant corner Jimmy Seal headed towards goal but it was hacked clear by full back Dave Galvin. The clearance fell perfectly for Hague who smashed a left foot volley into the top corner from 30 yards out with Teale absolutely helpless. Wimbledon scored a shock equaliser a minute before half time when the ball bounced awkwardly in the Quakers area and referee Mike Peck ruled that John Stone had handled. Billy Holmes stepped up to send Phil Owers the wrong way from the spot. Half time: Darlington 1 Wimbledon 1.
The second half began with the home side on top and they nearly regained the lead when Eddie Rowles broke clear down the right and squared the ball into the middle where Lyons volleyed just over. The Quakers were back in front after 58 minutes. Jimmy Cochrane played a short free kick to Stone whose deep cross to the far post was missed by Steve Galliers but met by Clive Nattress. He completely mishit his shot from an acute angle but the ball bobbled across the goalmouth and into the net just inside the far post. The visitors tried to respond and went close to an equaliser when Owers misjudged a left wing corner, but Derek Craig was on hand to head the ball out for another corner from under his own crossbar. Darlington made the game safe in the 81st minute with another controversial penalty decision by Mr Peck. Ferguson went down just inside the box after an innocuous looking challenge by Edwards. Referee Peck thought it worthy of a penalty and Dennis Wann sent Teale the wrong way from the spot.
The 3-1 win lifted the Quakers to 11th place in the table but inconsistent results meant that they failed to improve their position any further. The club’s season was further hampered by the sale of top scorer Eddie Rowles in December. The Quakers struggled along with their tiny squad and eventually finished in 19th place with 41 points, only securing safety from the bottom four with one game to spare. They only used a total of 17 players throughout the whole season. This included Chris Jones (who was signed on loan from Doncaster to replace Rowles) and coach Len Walker who had to step in and play as an emergency centre half for two games at the end of the season when the club were down to ten fit players. Rowles finished the season as joint top scorer, even though he left the club after 21 league games.
The programme for the 77/78 season cost 10p and featured action photos of Ron Ferguson and Eddie Rowles on the cover. Content varied, but usually consisted of a Managers Column, a page spotlighting the opponents, Encounters (describing previous games with today’s opposition), Fourth Division Scene (with news of what everyone else was up to in Division 4), a page of fixtures and results, and the team line-ups on the back page.
Team v Wimbledon: 1 Phil Owers 2 Clive Nattress 3 Jimmy Cochrane 4 Neil Hague 5 Derek Craig 6 John Stone 7 Barry Lyons 8 Eddie Rowles 9 Ron Ferguson 10 Jimmy Seal 11 Dennis Wann Sub Dave Crosson (not used).