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Darlington Football Club

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Ray Simpson / 24th July 2020

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 13

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 13

Paul Hodgson's book on the official DFC website

Darlington fan Paul Hodgson has kindly given us permission to reproduce his book "When Push comes to Shove" on the official website -- here's chapter 13, which covers August 1999.

The 1999-2000 season kicked off in earnest with an away trip to Halifax Town.

Mike ordered a taxi for a quarter past nine so that we would be able to get to the station in time to catch our train. However, at half past nine there was still no sign of the cab at his house so he phoned up the company to be told that coming up past the White Horse Hotel the driver had noticed that there was something wrong with the wheel bearings and then the wheel had actually fallen off! This was certainly not an auspicious start to our proposed journey.

Eventually a replacement taxi arrived and Mike picked me up at my flat. The driver put his foot down and we managed to get to the station with only seconds to spare and boarded the quarter past ten service to York where we would have to change for Halifax.

 Since we had been unable to reserve a seat in advance, we were forced to sit in the corridor along with a woman who had a baby in a pushchair. “Only the best people travel this way,” she said, smiling, making light of our cramped situation. Now that’s the kind of attitude I admire in people: perseverance in the face of adversity. As the reader will appreciate, you certainly need that kind of mental rigour if you want to be a Darlo fan!

Half an hour later when we arrived in York Mike got me off the train without waiting for the station official to arrive with the ramp. “Bumpy landing!” said a female American tourist, as we hit the platform with a jolt.

Because the service to Halifax departed from another platform, we had to ask a station official to take us down in the lift and through a service tunnel underneath the tracks. An old woman with a posh accent who had difficulty in walking came with us – she was going to Manchester.

When we emerged at the other side, the two of us had a coffee in the station café.

We caught the half past eleven service to Halifax, but the interior of the train was scruffy and the journey took ages.

On arrival, we went up in a modern Stannah Lift to the exit.  A sexy female voice emanating from the loudspeaker told us that the doors were closing behind us. Mike joked that he expected to hear the voice of the late Thora Hird instead!

A group of men, carrying cans of beer, were turned away by police from the station entrance. They were obviously Darlo fans heading for the match.

We went for a drink in a pub en route called the Three Pigeons. In the bar we saw Neil Johnson, Roger Martin, Brian Elsey and Trevor Rutter. We had some Holsten Pils but there was no Budweiser, which seemed a case of déjà vu after our Durham excursion.

Trevor then showed Mike and me the Guardian – there was an article in it filched from The Northern Echo about the Feethams’ worms. By way of explanation, Darlington Football Club  had decided to use worms to aerate the pitch, like they had tried at Old Trafford, but this had ended in utter fiasco, as they all drowned.

 Roger was animatedly talking about David Hodgson (Hodgy) and how he reckoned that he only had until Christmas to get us top of the table. Anything less than automatic promotion would be deemed a failure by George Reynolds. According to Roger, you could see the fear in Hodgy’s eyes when George said this in his presence.

From the Three Pigeons Mike pushed me to the Shay pub, which was packed with Darlo fans, many of whom were sporting their new yellow away shirts. We also saw Ken Lavery there looking for somewhere to buy cigarettes, as well as bumping into Earl Gray.

Mike went over the road to a small outlet called Offside Snacks where he bought himself something to eat. After he purchased two programmes he went to fetch me from the pub. Since we had a choice of going in the uncovered away end behind the goal or in the Skircoat Stand, we chose the latter because the weather was a bit iffy and looked like it might rain any minute.

Once inside the ground, Mike bought me a burger from the stall, as I was rather hungry by that time, it was much better than the one I had the misfortune to taste the season before at Cambridge!

On entering the disabled area, a steward gave me a piece of paper with a number eight written it to be later exchanged for my half time cup of tea. I also received a complimentary programme, which was unnecessary as I had already purchased one for myself. However, what made me unhappy was the notion that I should be treated any differently just because I was disabled. I’d prefer to pay for one like everyone else rather than being treated as a charity case.  However, despite my feelings, it was a nice gesture by the club.

There were some Darlo fans behind us and a few Darlo players sitting in front such as our centre half, Steve Tutill, who was injured.

We scored a bizarre goal to win the match 1-0. The Halifax keeper made a hash of controlling a throw-in and Lee Nogan nipped in to pinch the ball, passed it to Marco Gabbiadini and he rifled it into the empty net.

Chants of “Sumo, sumo” were directed at Gabbiadini for most of the game by the home crowd, due no doubt to his rather portly physique.

When two opposing players squared up in the middle of the pitch, a disgruntled Halifax fan shouted to the referee – “Get on with it man, can’t you see they’ve put their handbags down?”

George Reynolds went on the pitch after the final whistle, milking the applause from the away fans.

As we were leaving the ground I had an argument with a young Halifax fan who kept saying that Darlo were crap and suchlike nonsense. 

To celebrate our victory, Mike and I first of all had a burger in McDonalds then a few drinks in the Portman and Pickles. We started chatting to a Scotsman who worked as a long distance lorry driver. That day he had picked up a load from Valley Street in Darlington. 

 We caught the train to Leeds. It was raining heavily and we went to Yates’ Wine Lodge. The music was far too loud for both of us so we tried another place, but this one only served Hungarian Budwar instead of the American variety. Then we had a drink in The Viaduct after which I promptly fell asleep.

We caught the quarter past nine train from Leeds.

We arrived back in Darlington at about half past ten and then went straight to the Dalesman to order a shared taxi back home.

Mike met me in the Dalesman at about six o’clock for the home match against Bolton Wanderers in the First Round First Leg of the Worthington Cup.

 We arrived early because we wanted to collar George Reynolds about sponsorship for our book Flipper’s Side. Mike had phoned Ken Lavery earlier that day but he’d said that George would probably be busy with it being the first home game of the season.

 Mike and I had a few bottles of Budweiser. Steve Keeney arrived in his best bib and tucker. He was going in the executive box with a work colleague. Mike gave me chapter eleven of Flipper’s Side and I proudly presented it to Steve so he could have a look at it, and give us his opinion.

 Then Ian arrived with a young lad called Simon Laurie. Shortly afterwards, Ian’s brother Graeme turned up but then went for some fish and chips in the Victoria Road chippie, catching us up at the ground.

 As Ian was buying me a programme from the kiosk, we saw George Reynolds in front of us, surrounded by a posse of pressmen, one of whom was holding aloft one of those furry microphones.  Since he was indeed busy, Mike and I decided against approaching him regarding sponsorship for our book.

We got to the newly named Strikers Bar at seven o’clock and queued outside to get in. It was really full inside and very hot. The stewards wouldn’t let Mike take me my pint in the corridor – so Ian had to push me inside, past what seemed hundreds of people.

 Mike left at half past seven because he wanted to make sure he’d be able to find his season ticket seat near John Gray, Andy Munro, Roger Martin and Richard Jones. I could see that there was already a queue of people snaking past the windows of Strikers, waiting to buy tickets.

  Simon sat with me in the pitch-side disabled area, with Ian going up in the seats with Graeme.

It turned out that Simon was a family friend of Ian’s and had asked him if he could go to the match with him. He was only fifteen, but very sensible for his age.

 The announcer made a mistake with the name of one of the Darlo substitutes as he entered the fray. He said it was Neil Heaney when it was actually trialist Ben Hickey.   I found this rather amusing.  Interestingly, Hickey was better known as a local cricketer rather than a footballer.  This was borne out by the fact that he never played for the club again.

 On the stroke of half-time, Michael Oliver netted for the Quakers, his first goal for almost a year, but halfway through the second period Per Frandsen equalised making the final score 1-1.

We went to Strikers Bar after the game and sat with Andy, Roger, Richard and John.

We talked about hiring a minibus to get to the Bolton game. In the end nothing came of it.

After a pint, Mike pushed me to the Dalesman. Eventually Richard and John turned up there.  Shortly after, Mike left and walked into town to catch a taxi back home leaving me with John and Richard.

The home league fixture against Macclesfield Town was always going to be a tricky encounter after our superb performance against Bolton Wanderers in the Worthington Cup.

I met Ian, Simon, and Mike in the Dalesman for this match. Over a few drinks, our thoughts drifted back to Tuesday night, and we hoped that the lads would not have been drained by that spirited display.

Ian also mentioned that Simon had enjoyed the Bolton game so much that he wanted to attend as many matches as possible. I wondered whether he would be another convert to the Darlo cause?  Only time would tell.

Talk in the pub also revolved around the BBC’s Football Focus programme that same day. George Reynolds and Darlington Football Club had featured prominently in it with a voice-over from Porridge saying “Norman Stanley Fletcher” which caused much merriment.

Since Mr Reynolds had continued his policy of reduced pricing (£5 per person) there were long queues outside the East Stand, just as there had been against Bolton.

 Again for this match, I sat with Simon, with the rest of the lads going up in the seats.

The visitors had obviously done their homework on us and played ultra-defensively. The first half therefore ended goalless.

With time running out, Hodgy at last decided to make a substitution, bringing on Neil Heaney in place of Michael Oliver in the seventieth minute. Immediately, the tide turn-ed, and Marco Gabbiadini netted our first goal after eighty-three minutes. We went on to register a comfortable 3-0 victory, with further goals from Gabbiadini and Peter Duffield in injury time. Heaney created two of the goals, thus making it an inspired substitution.

On 16 August George Reynolds called a Supporters’ Club Forum in The Ambassador Suite of the East Stand, so Mike and I decided to attend. When George entered the room, he spotted me immediately and said, “Hello, Flipper!”

He then regaled us with his visit to Halifax for the first match of the season. At the gate was a jobsworth official. “Can I get a drink somewhere?” asked George, lowering the electric window of his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. “No” said the official, “there’s no kettle.” “Can I have some food then?” said George. “No”, said the official. “Where do I park?” asked George. “Don’t know” said the man. All the while George mimicked his broad Yorkshire accent.

As George stepped from his vehicle and strode towards the nearest door the man interjected once more, “You can’t go in there pal, this lounge is for the directors’ wives.” As a parting shot the man said, “Tha’s come ‘ere to get beat.” “We’ll see,” replied George, confidently.

After the game, which we won 1-0, George asked, “Can I go over to the fans?”

“No” said the same official.

“In that case,” said George, if you don't let me go over to them the fans’ll come over to me.”

“OK” said the official.

Then George talked about another one of our recent opponents, Bolton Wanderers. Their manager, Colin Todd, had swaggered into the ground and boasted, “We’re a former Premiership Club. Our players cost millions of pounds.” When they arrived at the club they marched in with an air of supreme confidence and superiority. They entered almost disdainfully. George imitated their haughty bearing.

When the game was over their heads were downcast as they shambled through the Ambassador Suite. So much for their misplaced confidence.

George was wound up by now, relishing his role of comedian and impromptu entertainer. You could tell that he was a born showman, the sort to grace a circus or fair-ground. Roll up, roll up. A barker, I think that’s the correct word.

Like a kid with a new toy he unveiled the stadium plans. He took the rolled up drawings from a cardboard tube and then held them aloft and walked amongst the fans. Then he rounded on the protestors – who were opposed to the project. 

 He then shot down the idea of the building of a new railway station to transport fans to the new stadium – it was just not feasible because of the gradient and the cost. He mentioned the car parking and that there would even be places for bikes and the lengths he had gone to minimise the impact of the stadium on the local residents.

The village idiot – there’s always one at a meeting like this – wanted coaches provided for the reserve games held at Durham! George diplomatically pooh-poohed this crazy idea but said that there would be football specials laid on to transport fans to the new ground.

At this point I interjected and said that I wanted to be able to buy a season ticket if I so wished in the East Stand, not the Tin Shed. I didn’t want to be considered a charity case. This received a round of applause from the fans in attendance.  However, my idea was never acted upon, so I decided to sponsor a player instead.

There was a spy from the protestors' committee at the Forum. George took great delight in theatrically pointing him out.  The protestor, finding that his cover had been blown, made a hasty exit, much to everyone’s amusement.

George then let the fans in on his master plan which involved pinching supporters from Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle to fill the new stadium. His aim was to attract five thousand from each club.

He also went on to say that it would cost a tenner for a seat, and only a fiver behind either one of the goals, as he wanted to bring football back into the price range of the average working family. As a result, he said that the cost of a ticket would be pegged.

To illustrate his point, he told us about his chipboard deal when he had undercut his competitors. That was what he wanted to do with football. By bringing the prices down, he hoped that this would encourage more people to go to the games.

George explained that he wanted Feethams to be used by local youngsters for sporting events. It would be his gift to the community.

 George ended the proceedings with a funny comment about our former goalkeeper, David Preece. Having been sold to Aberdeen for £200,000 a few weeks prior, he had just let in six goals against Celtic. According to George, it was a good job we got the money for him already otherwise we might have got him back with a note attached saying “return to sender!”

I went on the supporters’ coach to Shrewsbury with Earl Gray and Roger Martin. I met John at a quarter to nine outside the health centre in Park Place. I sat next to disabled Darlo fan Terry Soley on the bus and during the journey we discussed disability issues. I said that some disabled people had no drive and were happy with their lot and didn’t strive to better themselves. Terry agreed and said that in some cases there’s too much parental control. His mother taught him to be independent and so now he is able to live on his own.

We stopped at a service station where John, Roger and I went to Burger King for something to eat.

We arrived in Shrewsbury at half past one. Having bought some programmes in the car park, we went to the Crown pub where I had a few pints.  Roger then decided to make for the ground. John, however, insisted on ordering another pint and missed the kick-off. To comfort me he said “That’s the price you pay for going with me!” Well, at least he was honest.

 We got in the ground at about ten past three. I saw Terry in the disabled area. John stayed with me for the first half and went in the away end for the second. Darlo scored the only goal through Neil Heaney and as a result Terry thought that we’d be top of the table.

 After the game, I spoke to George Reynolds. He called me “Flipper” and shook my hand and said that he’d almost read Flippers Side, but he made no mention of the sponsorship of the book and neither did I. He ran on the pitch and shook hands with lots of supporters – he must have been there almost for ten minutes, revelling in the adulation. 

  I got back on the coach and again sat with Terry. I slept most of the way. The coach got back to Darlington at half past eight so I went to the Dalesman with John and Roger and was home for ten o’clock.

Mike was already in the Dalesman at half past one when I arrived for the Worthington Cup Second Leg at Bolton. Janette Marquiss arrived shortly after me. She was one of my work colleagues and had never been to the Dalesman before. I had some lunch – burger and chips since I’d gone there straight from work. After three bottles of Bud we headed by taxi to meet Ian and Simon in Colburn.

During the journey, I tried to get a price from the taxi driver for the fare from Catterick to Darlington for the Millennium celebrations. Sixty pounds was his verdict.

After we arrived at the Colburn Lodge pub it wasn’t long before Ian and Simon turned up. Simon was wearing a new Darlo shirt – the yellow and black away top.  This was further evidence that he was becoming a regular fan.

After a few drinks we got in Ian’s blue Ford Fiesta car. Mike sat on the back seat next to Janette with Simon on the driver’s side.

 On the way we saw quite a few Darlington fans going down to Bolton with scarves hanging out of their windows. Ian told me about his lovelife (or lack of it). He told me how he’d kissed this lass then she came in the pub where he worked – apparently she was not very attractive – with him working behind the bar he had nowhere to hide.  I laughed then told him to sort his life out.

Further on we went past a retail park on the motorway called Botany Bay. The nautical theme was continued when we saw the diamond-shaped floodlights of the Reebok Stadium which were set at an angle and painted white like the masts of a sailing ship. Furthermore, the shape of the stadium roof was like a ship’s canvas sails. There were massive bolts in the base of the floodlight pylons. The Reebok stadium was like some giant four-legged creature. It looked really striking and unusual.

 We met Mike Copeland, a lifelong Darlington fan from Colchester and Karl Alexander from London in a pub near the ground called the Horwich Park Inn. Since there were bouncers on the pub door, together with a sign saying ,“No colours” Simon had to zip up his jacket to hide his new Darlo shirt from view.

 Inside the pub, Mike Copeland was moaning about the £5 parking charge at the Reebok stadium. Meanwhile, Mike Jarvie left to get some money from a cashpoint and was gone longer than expected because according to him it was quite a hike.

Poor Simon was sweltering in the pub, sweat forming on his brow, with his jacket zipped right up to hide his shirt!

We headed for the ground at half past seven since the kick-off was at eight. I went in the disabled area with Janette while Mike sat with Ian and Simon.

A steward got me a programme and Janette pushed me to the disabled toilet. After five minutes she knocked on the door – she thought I’d fallen asleep (as if!!!) This was the first time that Janette had been to a game with me and I found her to be good company.  Since then we have become firm friends.

 Darlo fought back from two down to equalise – Janette and I went wild when Lee Nogan got his second goal. After Bolton stepped up a gear they scored three goals in quick succession and we only managed a further reply through Marco Gabbiadini, which meant that we were knocked out of the competition, 5-3 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate.

We left Bolton at approximately ten o’clock. All of us agreed that we had played exceptionally well, despite the fact that we’d just been beaten.

About 40 miles north of Preston we stopped off at a service station. Further still we stopped off again at the Tebay services for a quick toilet break. We arrived in Darlington around midnight – Ian dropped Janette off first and then Mike. I was the last one home at a quarter past midnight. When I checked the teletext I discovered that Hartlepool had lost as well – so not such a bad night after all!

Our next game was at home to Brighton & Hove Albion. Mike met me in the Dalesman at two o’clock. Ian and Simon arrived later. My nephew Adam was already there. Steve Keeney who was there before any of us, looked to have drunk a few pints by the time we all arrived!

We left for Strikers Bar, but it was too hot in there for Mike so he went to take up his seat, leaving Simon to take me to the pitch-side disabled area.

The “Darlington Divas,” our very own version of American cheerleaders, were entertaining the crowd in the centre of the pitch, as Simon and I took our places; I hardly noticed them as I had my head buried in the matchday programme.

 Our former defender, Andy Crosby, who had played for Chester against us the previous season, was in the Brighton team that day as was Rod Thomas, the former Watford striker.

The shirts of the Brighton players were sponsored by “Skint”.  A classic case of princes versus paupers one might say; given the fact that Darlo now had a multi-millionaire chairman.

The game ended up a 1-1 draw, Darlo’s goal coming courtesy of  Brighton defender Jamie Campbell.

Our last match of the month was Peterborough United away.

The taxi driver that picked us up to take Mike and me to the railway station, was rather dim.  When we left, he took us round in a circle, turning into Lyonette Road (near where I live), which is a dead end. When he realised his mistake he tried to reverse, and nearly smashed into a telegraph pole, missing it by a matter of inches, as I shouted a warning.

We arrived at the station at twenty past nine and purchased our tickets, then caught the nine thirty train to Peterborough. On entering the carriage, we noticed that a couple with a baby had left a massive push-chair obstructing the disabled space, so the guard asked the man to move it. He obliged by taking the baby out before collapsing it. Couldn’t they read the sign on the side of the carriage, I thought to myself? It distinctly said: “This space is reserved for wheelchair passengers. Please do not put luggage here.”

To while away the time, Mike read three chapters of Flippers Side, which I’d brought for Stephen Lowson to read, and I suggested some minor changes.

We met Stephen at Peterborough station at about a quarter past eleven and headed straight for the Great Northern Hotel.

Stephen gave Mike and me a newspaper article regarding Virgin trains, which contained lots of complaints about the standard of their service.   We both agreed with much of what was said in the article, especially the piece mentioning that a large percentage of their trains were late.

Shortly afterwards Trevor Rutter arrived. He explained that he had bought a cheaper train ticket over the Internet. It had cost him £10 from Sheffield to Nottingham and then £8 from Nottingham to Peterborough, whereas if he had bought the ticket outright it would have cost him £35.

At about this time, Mark Trenholme from Ryeslip also appeared along with John Wilson from London.  John said that he was being made redundant – Stephen assured him that it should be fairly easy for him to find another position in London.

By this time, it was a quarter past twelve so we made our way to the ground in leisurely fashion. We had to negotiate a bridge over the busy main road with many steps. Stephen pushed me, having had long experience of doing so.

 The first pub we entered was the Wortley Almshouses, which had difficult access with steps and a sharp right turn, so it took some effort to get me inside.

From there we went on to Charters, as previously described in Chapter Ten. On this occasion, there was a beer garden at the back with people having meals. After Mike had returned from the boat carrying two pints of lager, he mentioned that he had bought some food. I was put out because he didn’t order me a meal as well, the greedy sod!

After he had finished his chilli, we headed for the ground and managed to get in the packed away end. By this time, the lager had been processed through my system, so Mike had to take me rather urgently to the toilet.

 As I emerged I heard the sound of the Post Horn gallop over the tannoy as the players took the field. Since Mike had not offered to get me any food at Charters, I made do with a pie instead. However, since it was rather hot to handle and soggy, Stephen had to feed me, which proved to be a very messy business indeed!

During the game, I remained with Stephen while Mike went and stood right at the back of the Moys Terrace to get a better  view.

 After only five minutes, Jae Martin sent a cross into the area allowing Tony Shields to score for the Posh with a free header. Then a cross came in from the left from winger Matthew Etherington, which was met by the head of Martin, and it was 2-0 after only nine minutes. On seventeen minutes, a thunderbolt of a shot from David Farrell found the top corner of our net and it was 3-0!

The second half started brightly for Quakers and after forty-eight minutes Lee Nogan won himself a penalty, which Marco Gabbiadini converted. Then after fifty-one minutes he grabbed another goal from a shot in the box, to reduce the deficit to only one goal. However, not to be outdone, after fifty-four minutes Etherington scored goal number four. Game over. A 4-2 defeat was not in the script!

There was some trouble after the game, mostly minor skirmishing by young kids. Heading back to the station, we had a drink in the College Arms. However, we went in the wrong direction at first for the station. Eventually we ended up at the Great Northern Hotel.

We caught a train back to Darlington at about half past seven. Since the disabled place was taken, we had to sit in the corridor until we arrived at Bank Top at about ten o’clock. At the station, we caught a taxi off the rank back home. However, the driver whinged whilst putting the wheelchair in the boot, to which I replied, “Temper, temper.”

Nevertheless, his eyes lit up with greed when he found out where we were going and that the fare would be over £10. 

The defeat at Peterborough left us sixth in the table still handily placed.