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Darlington Football Club

Ray Simpson / 13th January 2022

Ten years on: Is this the end?

Ten years on: Is this the end?

Looking back at Barrow

Just over a year ago, we all went to Barrow fearing that we might be watching our last ever Darlo game -- here are some more accounts of that day from the "In the Dying Seconds" book.

Coming soon -- the unforgettable events of Peugeot Day

 

 

 

Doug Embleton – “Into the Furness or into the furnace?”

Most football fans remember certain matches largely for what took place on the pitch. Unless they are Darlo fans, that is.

The away game at Barrow was an overwhelmingly emotional day when events off the pitch took precedence. And, yes, I’m sure that the players themselves carried many of those emotions onto the pitch with them. How could they not have done so when, via the amazing efforts of Uncovered and of many others, a large amount of money was raised to help fill the huge void in their paypackets? As an example of fans and team bonding, it could not have been bettered.

And, the icing on the emotional cake was the manner in which the Barrow fans so visibly yet so powerfully expressed their empathy with a situation which, as we know, is being increasingly experienced by clubs at all levels of the game.

Where to begin? Well, by the day of the match I was already very closely involved with the Rescue Group which had been set up on January 2nd with the vision and energy of Mark Meynell and Steve Weeks and the involvement of myself and Pete Ashmore (we had been the very first two chairs of the Supporters’ Trust and knew Mark and Steve well, especially from Darlo away games). The simple precept for the Group was; “better to do something to try to save the club than sit back and wait for others”.

On the day before the match, the Rescue Group had met with our MP, Jenny Chapman and the editor of The Northern Echo, Pete Barron. Andrew Cawkwell, of Muckle LLP, was introduced to us when we arrived. After the meeting, I had my first baptism of media fire when, having been nominated as spokesperson for the group, I was bundled out of the front door of the MP’s office to give an interview to Tyne Tees TV. Little did I know that speaking to a TV camera was quickly to become a several-times-a day experience for the next month or so.

On the Saturday morning there seemed to be a never ending convoy of Darlo fans en route to the North West. The opposition, Barrow, involved a strange quirk of fate for me personally. My very first Quakers’ game had been when my Dad took me to Feethams in 1954 when the opposition was….Barrow. Now, some 58 years later, would this be my last Quakers’ match?

The queue outside the ground was very long but in good humour. The latter was enhanced by the appearance of ex-player Neil Wainwright. He must have good- naturedly posed for a photo with every Darlo fan that was there.

Emotions? How can you begin to describe them? Partly numb. I wasn’t sure if I was there to watch a football match or to attend a last rites. And then that wonderfully inspired banner was unfurled by Barrow fans on the opposite side of the pitch. Goosepimple time? Certainly. Thought-provoking? Absolutely. Inspirational? Well, it definitely was for the Rescue Group as the four of us stood on the terraces. I can’t remember too much of the game itself. It was never going to be about the result, was it? I spent as much time bumping into people I knew.

At the end of the match, emotions were raw. An outpouring of feelings from the fans to the players; and vice versa. I stayed on the terrace until the stewards (very politely) asked me to leave. I’m sure they realised that as it was quite a windy day, I had more than one piece of grit in my eye. But not before a big hug from that gentle giant, Steve Harland, of Mission Impossible; a tearful hug from Karen Glencross of the Supporters’ Club. We were all agreed. “We can’t let this club die”.

As events unfolded during that January, I kept in touch with Barrow FC. They were to prove that their banner was not merely words.

 

Alex Eden – “The last match I would ever see Darlo play”

I didn't really enjoy the journey over to Barrow. Firstly because it looked a real certainty that it would be the last game for Darlo and also because the journey included going over the Pennines which were very windy so I didn't feel very safe in the car!

From where my dad and I stood, we couldn't see what the Barrow banner said, so it wasn't until after the match that we knew what was on it. All I remember when I saw the banner, was just clapping the Barrow fans as they experienced a crisis about ten years before us.

I remember when the last substitute came on for Darlo, and I said to my dad; "This is the last ever sub for Darlo," because by the mood of our fans it was going to be the last match, so just enjoy it whilst it lasts. Also, when all the fans came on the pitch to see the players, I was in a sad mood as the fans were tapping the players on the back basically saying "thanks for all you have done for us". Jamie Chandler was probably the player who really seemed upset at the situation with the words on his thermal saying "thanks for all the memories".

I don't think I will ever forget that day for numerous reasons such as it being one of the coldest matches I have ever been to! Also I had never stood at a football match before as I was used to sitting in the stand. Lastly, the most obvious reason, it looked as if it would be the last match that I would ever see Darlo play.

 

Peter Haygarth - “This could be the last time I would see all these familiar old faces”
I can recall very clearly those increasingly dark days towards the end of 2011 - it was like the countdown to war.
We all knew something very bad was about to happen but it seemed there was nothing much we could do and we had no idea when "the day" would arrive. I actually chose to miss the short trip to Braintree in Essex, so annoyed was I at how our standards had dropped.
Amid all this though, I remember having two last great days out as a Darlo fan. The away trip to Ebbsfleet was a great win and the last away win of the season - and indeed the last away win for the "old" club. A few weeks later was the Boxing Day trip to The Heed and it was amusing that there were double the number of away fans to home fans!
After that game the downhill plunge truly started. I got a call the day we went into admin which only confirmed the inevitable. At that moment I felt that the last two seasons had been a waste – the club had failed to capitalise on the Wembley win, the chairman had just kept murmuring about the state of finances - but never actually bothered too much to engage in any great lengths with the fans for a buyout, partnership or any other solution.
It wasn't until the Friday of that week that I heard that the Barrow game might be our last ever. Rather hastily I started checking train times from London - and ticket
prices - it would mean a very early departure from home that day. In the end I paid £95 for a train ticket - and when that was added to the money I had given to the Duff fund, money paid to get into the ground, souvenir programmes for folk, as well as a few drinks, the day cost me well over £200!
I arrived at London Euston at some ridiculous time before 8am and was surprised to see many other Darlo fans there - of course there were the "usuals" but also many others whom I didn't even know and had made a late decision to travel as I had done.
A couple of hours later we were at Lancaster changing trains – more Darlo fans now, from other parts of the country (so many exiles!!!) - then around the very scenic Morecambe Bay on to Barrow.
Arrival in Barrow and straight off to the ground and into the club shop to buy programmes - I was bombarded by requests via text messages for programmes (including from people who were on their way to the game by car) and I ended up being rather heavily weighed down by them. The bloke in the club shop, who was getting concerned they would run out, claimed he could actually get more printed before kick-off! I have no idea whether he achieved that or not.
Football-wise it was a day to forget - but I felt very sad from the time the bar started filling up with Darlo fans from around 1pm – it occurred to me that this could be the last time I would see all these familiar old faces.
A few more old faces in the ground - including the old fanzine editor Steve Harland who hadn't been to Darlo games in recent years – good bloke him - always printed my letters. Full-time and for the first time ever as a Darlo fan I had a tear in my eye - I looked around the terraces at the Darlo fans and thought to myself, we must not let the club die!
Then a mad dash for the train and a sombre journey south. A few beers in the Euston Tap helped me feel slightly better about things though. I broke two personal records that day - longest ever day trip time-wise to watch a Darlo game - I left home before 7am and got back well after midnight; and most text messages sent in a day - a record the Darlo crisis caused me to break a few more times in the weeks following!

Mark Meynell – “Surely this isn’t the end?”

Just like everybody else, I’d heard the rumours about the club going into administration again and when Darlo went to Gateshead on Boxing Day 2011, there was something about the body language of Craig Liddle and the rest of the players that told me more than what had been public knowledge up to then.

I realised that the club was going to go to the wall and nobody was doing anything about it. So on the way out of the ground, I started ringing other people – Doug Embleton, Steve Weeks and Pete Ashmore – and the Rescue Group was formed.

When I first started watching Darlington back in 1985, I went to Feethams with some school friends to watch Darlington against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup replay. Cracking game, edgy atmosphere, amazing feeling of togetherness...I was hooked. I will never forget that game. Barrow away brings back the same emotions of togetherness and community, but for different reasons. Like many fans I went to the Barrow game only half thinking that this was the last ever time I would see Darlington play a game of professional football. I felt that this couldn't be it, we've been down before and somehow we've come back. Surely this isn't the end?

I managed to get a lift with a couple of lads I only knew by sight, not by name and whose names I've since forgotten. The talk on the drive over to Cumbria was of glory games and away days past, of the time we went to Barnet, or Peterborough away in the Cup, Maine Road...memories, happy memories. Was this all we were going to be left with? It felt like we were being called to see our dying friend one last time, we weren't just saying goodbye and thank you to those players who had tried so hard through such difficult circumstances to play for our club. After all, they could have left when things started going downhill for us and had tried to fulfil the league fixtures so as not to face further sanctions.

Instead, we were saying goodbye to our club, this club that had made us laugh, cry, scream, swear, end relationships, begin friendships.

First thing I remember about Barrow is the blistering cold - how do the locals survive those temperatures? - then going to a big chain name gastropub to meet up with others who had made the trek across country. Despite the possibility that this could well be our last game ever, spirits seemed high. There was a variety of shirts from different seasons, most notable the ones with the name of our ex-chairman’s company blacked out in masking tape.

We, and hundreds of others, queued for what seemed like an hour and that led to the kick-off being delayed for ten minutes. Amazingly when the attendance was totted up, we made up almost exactly half of the total attendance, credit to the Barrow fans for turning up for this. Speaking of Barrow what a fantastic club and what wonderful fans. No Darlington fan that was at that game will forget the famous banner: “Our football clubs are for life, not for business”. It brings a tear to my eye even now.

The result was irrelevant; what mattered was that we were there for each other, the players and our club. The resigned handclaps from the players at the end summed up their mood. They had done everything we fans could possibly have hoped for. They may not have got us a victory but that didn't seem to matter. We, and a sizeable contingent of Barrow fans, clapped them off and home.

So was it the end? We didn't know but it felt like it.