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Darlington Football Club

Ray Simpson / 14th September 2020

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 15

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 15

Serialisation of Paul Hodgson's book

Lifelong Darlington fan Paul Hodgson has given the official website permission to reproduce his book "When Push comes to Shove".

This latest chapter covers October 1999.

Ian picked Mike and me up from my flat in his car at about half past twelve for the derby game at Hartlepool, Darlo’s first match in October.

As he drove along the A19, he told us that he was gutted that he couldn’t go out that night in Colburn because his parents wouldn’t be able to babysit for him. His solution was to go out at midnight instead when they would have returned home from their holiday. I said he was a sad person!  After all, everyone around him would be drunk, whereas he would be stone cold sober.

We stopped off once again at the Owton Lodge pub on the outskirts of Hartlepool at about one o’clock for a few beers. While a group of old codgers in the bar concentrated on their game of dominoes, the three of us focused our attention instead on a short-skirted sexy barmaid who had the most amazing legs.

 Later, a group of Darlo fans arrived. Fortunately, the Owton Lodge is a good pub and far enough away from the town centre to be trouble-free on matchdays. In the past, Ian and I had used the pub as a stopping-off point during our sponsored wheelchair push to Hartlepool in 1991 and had always found the staff to be most helpful.

At a quarter past two we left the pub and drove the short distance to the car park of the Stranton pub opposite the Fire Station. We arrived at Victoria Park at twenty to three and after we’d bought our programmes a steward opened the gate for my wheelchair to let Mike and me in.

As Ian disappeared from view into the Rink End, Mike pushed me in the direction of the disabled area near the home fans in the Town End, even though we both had tickets for the away end. However, due to poor access, the stewards would not allow us in due to safety regulations.

 As we rounded a corner I saw Peter Shilton’s permed head in the distance. His son Sam was playing for Hartlepool at that time and he must have been there to watch him play.

Coming past a food kiosk, I then thoughtlessly allowed hunger to get the better of me and bought myself another awful tinned burger, which was a case of Cambridge United revisited! Once again, the said burger was unfit for human consumption, and this time ended up in the bin where it belonged.

 Once in the disabled area I saw Terry Soley. To my dismay, the view was restricted for Terry and me, and not much better for Mike who was standing next to me. To make matters worse, there was a man with learning difficulties bobbing up and down in front of me, obscuring my view. I complained politely to a steward, who took no notice and continued talking to someone else. I then said, “That’s the height of bad manners.” The steward then promised to fetch someone in authority to address my complaints, but by full time no one had turned up. Mike and I had each paid £11 for the privilege of not being able to see the game properly. Interestingly, Terry had only paid £8.

During the match, the Pool fans in the Town End were singing, “Hodgy takes it up the arse!”  Fortunately, they were referring to the Darlington manager!

With the score at 2-0 to Hartlepool, we left before the final whistle sounded, dejected and convinced that no Darlington player would score that day, except possibly in his own net.

 It was an excruciatingly awful performance during which only Neil Aspin stood out. Lee Nogan, Marco Gabbiadini’s strike partner, might as well not have been on the pitch. So much for me defending him to Earl Gray the week before.

In two years Hodgy had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a partner for Gabbiadini. He had tried Darren Roberts, Lee Ellison, Carl Shutt, Mario Dörner, Peter Duffield, Glenn Naylor, Martin Carruthers, Lee Nogan, Craig Russell and Michael Carter. Roberts was the best of the bunch but he had been released the previous season. It was hard to admit it, but we were outplayed that day by our bitterest rivals.

Then to compound our misery, as we headed towards the car, it started to bucket down with rain. We sheltered in a factory doorway near the Stranton pub which was shut. We had quite a long wait for Ian because the away fans had been held back to allow the home supporters to disperse. When he arrived we left for home. Ian dropped Mike and me off at the Nags Head. Mike wasn’t feeling very well so he booked me a lift bus for nine o’clock and then went home himself.

After Mike left I got chatting to a girl called Mary who seemed ok. We chatted for almost an hour, but she made it clear that she had a boyfriend. Better luck next time, I thought to myself. She called me a nice lad, but I wondered if she was simply being patronising towards me. She left at eight o’clock to meet her boyfriend. I then talked to some Darlo fans about the match who all said the same thing – we were second best.

Before our next away game at Lincoln City, the Reserves were due to play local non-league side Cockfield at Feethams in the First Round of the Durham Challenge Cup. Mike and I decided to attend, especially once we found out that Mark Prudhoe, who had re-joined the club on loan from Bradford City, was playing.

 In Strikers Bar before the match, we talked to John Goodall, otherwise known as “Darlo John” who was a rather eccentric, but avid Darlo fan, who, without being disrespectful, looked like one of the anorak fraternity.  I happened to mention to him that I had a copy of the 1961-62 season Hartlepool away programme.  That particular copy, from what I’m led to believe, is extremely rare, due to the fact that less than ten were printed as the printing machine broke down.  John cheekily offered me £5 for it!  I told him to add two zeros on and I would consider selling it. He declined my offer.

From what I’d heard from Roger Martin, Mr Goodall possessed every home Darlo programme from the 1970’s bar one, which I have to admit is very impressive. While we were chatting, he happened to mention a second hand shop on Linthorpe Road in Middlesbrough that sold football programmes.  Since I was four programmes short for my collection, I made a mental note of it.

On leaving the bar, I bumped into Clive Nattrass – a former Quaker player from the 1970’s and 80’s. He was now coaching the under sixteen teams at Darlo. He seemed to be enjoying it.  When he was playing, he always came over to me before the game for a chat.  I always liked him after that.

The crowd numbered some five hundred. They witnessed Darlo thrash Cockfield from the Auckland and District League 5-0. Our goalscorers that night were Adam Reed, Craig Skelton, Michael Carter, Glenn Naylor and Justin Keegan.

 Mark Prudhoe stood with his arms folded for much of the second half or sat on his haunches, which was quite funny to see. Some young lads attracted his attention and he talked to them whilst keeping an eye on the game. Mind you, I could have played in goal that night!

After the game, Mike and I went to the Dalesman for a few bottles of Bud, after which he booked me a lift bus for half past ten as it was really quiet in there.

Overall, it had been quite an enjoyable evening also; it was good to see some goals for a change.

I was unable to go to the away game at Lincoln City, which we lost 1-0, due to work commitments.  Interestingly, this is the only time that I have missed a Saturday due to having to work.

 However, Earl Gray went and told me that I hadn’t missed much and that the Quakers had been poor. He added that Darlo badly missed the injured Marco Gabbiadini and therefore were lacklustre up front.

For our home game against Cheltenham Town, I met Ian, Simon and Mike in The Pennyweight in the town centre for a change.

Ian reminded us of the fact that when we played at Cheltenham in the Vauxhall Conference, Andy Gray, the former Scottish international was in their side.  Gray, who became a co-presenter for the football on Sky Television, must have been preparing for his future role, as he moaned for the whole match which Darlo won 1-0.  We all hoped for a similar scoreline this time around.

After a few drinks, the four of us headed to the ground and then Strikers Bar.   One of the people we bumped into was Richard Jones; he was waiting for Earl Gray to arrive.  He said that Martin Carruthers, our centre forward looked like going to Southend, after impressing whilst being there on a month's loan.  Richard added that Hodgy had already lined up a replacement in the shape of Jesper Hjorth, a Danish forward from OB Odense. Where Carruthers was concerned, I was disappointed in him considering that Darlo had paid £35,000 for him.  This is borne out by the fact that he scored only two goals in nineteen appearances for the club.

 Eventually, Simon and I left the others and took our places in the pitch-side disabled area.

We were both surprised to see that Youth Team goalkeeper Keith Finch was on the bench as Mark Prudhoe had been recalled by Bradford City and first choice keeper Andy Collett was injured; his place taken by his understudy Mark Samways.  

We won 1-0 through a solitary Paul Campbell goal scored after twelve minutes.  However, it turned out to be a nervy performance.  I, for one, was relieved when the final whistle went.

After the game, Mike and I went for a quick pint in Strikers, with Ian and Simon heading home. We then moved on to the Nags’ Head, since Strikers was too quiet for our liking.

 After a few more drinks, I decided that I’d had enough for the night and mentioned to the barmaid that I needed a taxi to take me home, so she kindly ordered it for me. However, a minibus arrived outside the pub without a lift which was no good to us at all, so we sent it away in disgust.

Mike then decided to push me to the taxi office where he asked in the office for a lift bus but was told that none was available, even though we had seen one parked outside. They explained that they didn’t have a driver for it which was why it was off the road. He then tried to order a cab instead but was told that they wouldn’t be able to get me out at the other end.

By this time, Mike was fuming and we left in disgust.

We then decided to ring another taxi firm from Bar Rio on Gladstone Street. They put the phone down on Mike twice when he mentioned that we needed a vehicle suitable for a disabled person. We eventually got a taxi from the United office on Gladstone Street. What an effort, eh, just to get back home!

I met Mike in the Dalesman straight from work for our midweek home game against Carlisle United. Ian and Simon didn’t turn up for our usual rendezvous. However, Trevor Rutter and Brian Elsey did make the journey from Sheffield and we chatted to them for a while

They were both happy with the way the season was going but like us were concerned about the lack of fire power up front, when Gabbiadini was either injured or suspended. Brian informed us that trialist Jesper Hjorth had played in Europe for his former Danish club and that he could be the answer. Only time would tell, I thought.

On leaving Brian and Trevor to finish their pints, we headed for Strikers Bar where we met Ian who had just arrived. He had been delayed and knew that by this time we would no longer be in the Dalesman.

 We also bumped into Roger Martin to whom I mentioned that I’d spoken to John Goodall at the Cockfield game. Roger told us that “Darlo John” once saw over 250 matches in one football season and was a typical example of a “ground-hopper.” This was later confirmed in apiece by Mike Amos in The Northern Echo which stated that he had managed 279 games in the 1998-99 season! I thought that this was an incredible feat.

With Simon not being at the game, Ian sat with me in the disabled area, leaving Mike to sit in his usual seat. We were both pleased to hear that, when the team was announced over the tannoy, Andy Collett had recovered from injury and replaced the hapless Mark Samways in goal. Later The Northern Echo revealed that he had played with a pain-killing injection in his knee.

We witnessed one of Darlo’s best performances of the season, and but for the heroics of on-loan goalkeeper, Michael Ingham, Carlisle would have suffered an even heavier defeat than the eventual 3-1 scoreline.

In first half stoppage time, Phil Brumwell and Marco Gabbiadini combined well to set up Craig Russell for our first goal. Two minutes into the second half Carlisle defender, Peter Clark, pulled down Neil Heaney just outside the box, whereupon the referee produced a red card. From the resultant free kick, Gabbiadini, who had an outstanding game, curled a shot around the wall and into the back of the net. He then scored again two minutes later. After seeing the team struggle to score in previous matches it was a pleasure to see that our forwards had found their goal-scoring touch again.

Our next game was one of the longest away trips in the division. It was to Plymouth Argyle. I reluctantly went on the coach with Earl Gray. John picked me up at a quarter past five on Saturday morning in a taxi to meet the coach at which was leaving at half past five from Park Place, near the ground.

 The coach was only half full. Given the early start, I slept until we arrived at Tamworth services where John and I ordered a breakfast. At £7.00 each, I felt it was a rip off, but service stations can charge what they want and generally speaking tend to do so.

On the second part of the journey I sat next to Jim – a 68-year-old Darlo fan. He had supported the club since 1984. He told me that the reason he started to go was because his nephew had asked him. Even after his nephew went on to university, Jim carried on going.

 He regaled me with some funny anecdotes as I sat next to him. One that I remember in particular related to his youth when he worked for a newsagent. 

 On the way, we got held up due to an accident on the motorway, and arrived in Plymouth at about a quarter to two. To save time, I got Jim to buy me my programme. John and I then had a couple of pints in the Embassy snooker club, not far from the ground. A young Plymouth fan trapped his hand in the door as he was leaving at which I sniggered out loud. John, however, just shook his head at my callous indifference to the young lad’s misfortune.

We left the club and headed for the ground at ten to three. On this occasion John resisted the temptation to order another pint!

John and I managed to get into the away end and found that the stewards were very helpful. There was no cover in the open end but luckily it didn’t rain.

At half-time John got us both a burger, which I have to admit was very average, only just about edible.

 Darlo played reasonably well, with Steve Tutill and Paul Heckingbottom both outstanding in defence. We didn’t really look like scoring apart from a few chances that fell to Craig Russell, all of which he squandered. Lee Nogan also had a poor game up front. Gabbiadini, who did not travel down with the squad on the Friday due to a bout of laryngitis, was badly missed. Nevertheless, John and I were satisfied with the nil-nil draw and we left Plymouth at around five o’clock.

 As we got on the coach we learned to our dismay that, according to Radio Five Live, Darlo had slipped to fifth place in the league table. I again chatted to Jim on the way back. He told me that he was technically disabled like me, since he had one arm shorter than the other.

 On the return leg, we stopped again at Tamworth services. By this time my legs were aching so I stayed on board the coach. I bought a can of Coke from the “driver’s stock” and then nodded off after drinking it. When I awoke, just before midnight, we were on the outskirts of Darlington.

 Having decided against going for a drink in the Dalesman, John booked us a taxi home. When I was dropped I went straight to bed. It had been a long, tiring day after a fourteen hour round trip.

 Stephen Lowson once said to me, “There’s a thin line between loyalty and stupidity.” As I lay in bed that night my legs were killing me, as a result of being lugged on and off the coach. With this phrase ringing in my mind, I realised I had crossed the line that day! I knew that I wouldn’t be able to travel by coach much longer.

For the First Round FA Cup match against Southport Mike and I met up in the Dalesman as usual. Steve Keeney was also there. The topic of conversation revolved around my charity night at a bar called Route 66 in Darlington, where I had booked a rockabilly band called The Skip Rats to perform. This event was for the benefit of a work colleague called David Fionda who had undertaken a sponsored cycle ride across India.

Two of my carers accompanied me to the event. According to Steve, who was also in attendance, they were both “as rough as sandpaper.” He went on to say that they were both drinking shorts that night which simply exacerbated their uncouth behaviour. Then, smiling broadly, he explained that the shorts must have contained a mixture of Tequila, meths and cocaine! Fortunately, they both eventually collapsed and fell asleep on the stairs of the pub. Thus, we thought, temporarily bringing to an end the embarrassment they were causing.

After re-living the events from the charity night, Mike took me to the ground, where we met Ian, Simon and Graeme at the programme seller’s kiosk. Since the doorman wouldn’t let me in Strikers Bar as it was just too full, Simon took me up in the lift to the Ambassador Suite instead, leaving the rest of the lads downstairs in the bar

 With already being upstairs, Simon and I decided to watch the match from the viewing gantry for a change.

Interestingly, the visitors included centre forward Lee Ellison, who had been released by us at the end of the previous season. Also, their manager, Paul Futcher had the unenviable record of never winning a game while in charge of the Quakers for two months during the 1994-95 season.

After Darlo took the lead in the thirty-sixth minute through central defender Steve Tutill, things looked like going pear-shaped after half time when seventeen-year old Keith Finch replaced the injured keeper Andy Collett and conceded a goal after only seven minutes of his debut.

However, he regained his composure, and went on to make several excellent saves, thus earning him the man of the match award in The Northern Echo the following Monday. The match was settled in controversial fashion, by Marco Gabbiadini who converted a hotly-disputed penalty in the seventy-seventh minute.

Simon and I were mightily relieved that we had overcome the non-league minnows, meaning that Paul Futcher still hadn’t won at Feethams!

After the whistle sounded on our victory,  Simon took me back down in the lift to Strikers Bar where I met  Mike and Ian, who were sitting I next to Andy Munro, Richard Jones and Earl Gray. Mike told the rest of the lads he had sat next to Roger Martin during the game and that they had both been amused to see Earl Gray miss our first goal because he’d gone to get some pie and mushy peas from the kiosk! John was not amused by Mike’s anecdote.

Mike and I left Strikers and went to the Nags Head. Mike got twenty quid out of his bank for me and returned to the pub, putting it in the pocket of my tracksuit bottoms and then zipping it up. Then he ordered a lift bus for half past eight and left to catch the bus back home at about half past seven.

Like a fool I decided to cancel my taxi as I was chatting up a woman in the pub and fancied my chances with her. While she was talking to me she had her hand on my leg. Later, I discovered that the twenty quid that Mike had withdrawn from the cash machine was missing from my trouser pocket! I hoped that she enjoyed spending it!