The latest instalment of Paul Hodgson's book
During lockdown, we've been serialising Paul Hodgson's Book "When Push comes to Shove" on the official website.
Today, we're looking back at December 1999.
Our first game in December was a home fixture against Halifax Town.
Mike, Ian, Simon and I arranged to meet in the bar of Darlington Cricket Club for a change, where the talk revolved around a forthcoming fixture, rather than the one that was about to be played.
We hoped that the players would not be distracted by what had happened with regard to the FA Cup debacle. After Manchester United had decided to withdraw from the competition in order to take part in the World Club Championships, the Football Association, in their ultimate wisdom, came up with the novel idea of including the names of all the teams who had been knocked out in the second round. From these clubs a so-called “lucky loser” would be drawn to play in round three.
Since George Reynolds often claimed to have a personal hotline to God, was it any wonder that Darlo were pulled out of the hat! Not only that, we were handed a plum money-spinning draw away at Aston Villa.
The four of us then went to the ground and had a drink in the Centre Spot, where once again the forthcoming Aston Villa fixture loomed large in peoples’ conversations.
Mike pushed me into the disabled area then took his seat up in the East Stand while Ian and Simon sat behind me.
Despite the atrociously muddy conditions, Darlo played brilliantly from the kick off, clearly unfazed by the hype that the FA Cup draw had generated. Once again, Neil Heaney enjoyed a roving midfield role, which mesmerised the Halifax defence.
After twenty-five minutes Paul Heckingbottom was tripped in the box by Halifax defender Michael Williams and from the ensuing penalty Marco Gabbiadini blasted his spot kick into the roof of the net. After thirty-eight minutes the same defender then brought down Neil Heaney in the area and Gabbiadini tucked away his second penalty into the bottom corner. The fans in the Tin Shed then chanted, “The referee’s a hero!” Two minutes before half time Heaney hit a cracking shot right into the top corner, so Darlo left the field leading 3-0.
A minute after the restart Heaney delivered a perfect right-wing cross for Peter Duffield to head into the roof of the net from only six yards out. The massacre was complete and the players left the field to a standing ovation, whilst former Quaker players Steve Gaughan and Robbie Painter trudged off dejectedly. It was sad in a way to see these two trooping off like this as they were loyal players in their time at Darlington.
Ian and Simon took me to Strikers Bar where Mike later joined us. Ian then had a pint and headed home with Simon.
After they had gone, Mike and I decided to go down town for a few drinks and to discuss the latest developments regarding Flipper’s Side. Since George Reynolds had not been in touch recently regarding sponsorship, Mike had called director of publicity, Luke Raine, to obtain an answer earlier that week.
Luke promised to return Mike’s call, which he did later and told us that George was not interested. Although we were not bothered by the fact that he decided not to help us with financial assistance, what annoyed us was the fact that he had assured us in May that he would. Also, we were unhappy at the length of time we had been kept waiting. In the meantime, we had not attempted to come up with the money ourselves. Now we realised that if the book was to become a reality we would have to finance it, by hook or by crook.
In order to scrape together the four thousand pounds that we needed, I decided to cash in a life policy valued at half that amount. Mike said that he would provide the remainder of the money by using the deposit he had saved towards buying a house.
We were both happy that at last Flipper’s Side looked like it was going to be published, thus proving a lot of doubters wrong. It was a huge gamble, but we knew that it was risk worth taking as we had a good product.
After a few pints in the Nags Head we headed home, sober for a change!
The next match was an away fixture against Stoke City in the Auto Windscreens Shield.
I went to this game with Ian by car. As he was late in picking me up from work, by the time that we got to the Britannia Stadium, the match commentary was actually being broadcast on the car radio and we cheered when we heard that recalled striker Lee Nogan had scored after only four minutes.
We got to the ground with a quarter of an hour gone and went in the first entrance that we saw. Despite arriving late, a steward was kind enough to get me a match programme from the club shop.
However, the home side then equalised though Kyle Lightbourne and took the lead when the luckless Adam Reed deflected the ball into his own net.
After seventy-two minutes Stoke were reduced to ten men after their central defender Anders Jacobsen was red-carded for a professional foul on our trialist Jesper Hjorth. With a one man advantage we kept plugging away and got our reward with a goal from Marco Gabbiadini on eighty-one minutes.
However, only three minutes into extra time we went out of the competition on the “golden goal” rule when Lightbourne volleyed home.
Hjorth, though, looked an exciting prospect. However, Glenn Naylor limped off injured, which would limit our attacking options for our next match, given the fact that Gabbiadini would also be unavailable through suspension.
After the game we just headed back home, arriving back in Darlington just after midnight. Oh, well, at least I had been to a new ground, and there was always the next match to look forward to!
Our FA Cup third round opponents, Aston Villa, held a special significance for Mike, because during the 1980s he used to live only half a mile from Villa Park, so he knew the city like the back of his hand. I, however, had never been to the ground before and was eagerly looking forward to my visit.
Mike ordered a taxi to my house to pick me up. Then we went to the station and bought our tickets. The man behind the counter in the ticket office suggested getting a train all the way to Witton rather than to New Street station.
We caught a train at about eight o’clock, arriving in New Street station at about eleven thirty after an uneventful journey.
Since you needed to go up an escalator to exit the station, we had to get an official to take us under the platform – it was very wet down there, with pools of standing water, like some underground cavern. Then we went up in a service lift which took us to the exit.
Since I needed to use the toilet rather urgently, Mike wheeled me to a pub near St. Martin’s in the Bullring, but it didn’t have a disabled toilet. Worse still, the gents was upstairs! We therefore decided to give it a miss.
Mike wheeled me past the Yard of Ale, another pub that was completely inaccessible to someone like me in a wheelchair. We then went past the Lord Chamberlain and tried in there. Again, there was no disabled toilet! At last, we went to the Shakespeare where I managed to get into the gents after Mike had shunted me backwards and forwards, because it was a tight squeeze.
After I got myself a drink, Mike went to do some Christmas shopping as I was content to stay in the pub. He came back after half an hour and had a drink with me, before heading back to New Street Station, using the same route that we had come by.
We reached the station to find out that the train to Witton was about to leave. If we waited to use the lift it would be too late. So we went through the barrier and made our way to the platform. Fortunately, I collared a policeman who helped Mike lift the wheelchair down the flight of steps. Now we were faced with another problem. The train had very old carriages with narrow slam doors that were not wide enough to get a wheelchair through. So if we were going to get to Witton Mike needed to get me in the guards van instead.
Fortunately, the policeman was a gentleman and helped us by radioing for assistance. The guard soon had the doors open for us and I was safely stowed inside.
This brought back memories of travelling to matches in the guard’s van many years ago, which I have mentioned previously in Flipper’s Side. It was very hot inside there but Mike was at least able to rest and sit down on a seat. In any event, it was only two stops along the line – the train’s first stop was Aston then Witton. But our trials and tribulations were far from over!
We were horrified to find that Witton station was in the process of modernisation. Although this was a good thing in itself, and there would eventually be a lovely wheelchair-friendly ramp leading down to street level, the only problem was that the work wasn’t finished, so we had to get some assistance from the station officials to manhandle the chair down two flights of temporary steps.
By then it had also started to rain quite heavily, so the metal steps were slippery underfoot, and I was nearly tipped out of my chair. Luckily, we made it to the bottom in one piece!
As we turned into Brookvale Road on our way to the Yew Tree, Mike commented that the pub over the road had now been renamed the Cap ‘n Gown! Very different from what it had been like when he lived in Birmingham. Obviously, they were after the student market.
Some familiar faces then came into view at that moment, since we saw Ian, Graeme and Simon over the road. They had just arrived by car. Mike sheltered under his umbrella while Simon took charge and pushed my wheelchair to the pub. When we reached it we saw Stephen Lowson and Neil Johnson. John Wilson was also there with his wife Bev. While we were in the pub she took two photos of Mike with Stephen and her husband then a group photo featuring all of us.
We reached the ground only to come up against yet more trouble. We were led inside only to be taken back from where we had come and into another entrance to the disabled area.
Although Mike had paid for a seat in the away end he had to accompany me and sit near the corner flag where he could hardly see the game. He was annoyed by this and moved further along to the ordinary seats where he could get a better view.
During the game, a Brummie policeman on duty behind me moaned constantly about the standard of football on offer – mind you he was a Birmingham City fan. There were also some Cardiff City fans in front of Mike cheering for the Villa. As their game against Bolton Wanderers had been called off, it seemed as if they had come simply to cause trouble by winding up the Darlo fans.
We lost a thrilling game 2-1, Paul Heckingbottom scoring our only goal by putting in the rebound after David James had saved Peter Duffield’s penalty kick. If only Marco Gabbiadini had played we might even have earned ourselves a replay at the very least.
After the game we returned to the Yew Tree pub, where I bought a copy of the Sports Argus from a newspaper seller. We then ordered a cab, not wishing to repeat our experiences at Witton station. A young Asian man came in the bar and we made for his car. He was quite pleasant and helped Mike to get me in his car, but with my legs being pretty stiff it was a struggle.
Mike made sure that the driver knew that he used to live in Birmingham and asked him which route he was taking so that he didn’t overcharge us.
He dropped us off outside St Martins bar where it was still raining quite heavily. Then we got back to the station and used the lift again to gain access to the right platform, where we saw a few Darlo fans already waiting.
When we arrived in Darlington, we went to the Dalesman and got a taxi home at around half past eleven.
For the mid-week fixture against Chester City at home in the league Mike, Ian and I met in our customary venue, the Dalesman.
On arrival at the ground, Ian took me straight to our regular spot in the disabled area as it was almost seven thirty. Mike took his usual seat in the East Stand.
Chester were lying bottom of the table and after the heroics of the display against Villa, the Darlo fans were expecting a comprehensive victory.
After the beautiful turf of Villa Park, it was now back to earth with a bump when we were confronted with the muddy conditions of the Feethams pitch.
Following a spell of Chester pressure, Darlo took the lead on thirty-five minutes when, after Michael Oliver’s header had rebounded off the post, Peter Duffield lashed home the rebound. A minute later Duffield snatched his second goal of the game after a perfect cross from strike partner Marco Gabbiadini.
The second half was pretty much one-way traffic as Quakers carved out several good chances. On seventy-five minutes the referee then controversially ruled that our goalkeeper, Mark Samways had carried the ball over his line. However, two minutes from time the newly-signed substitute Jesper Hjorth made the game safe with his first goal for the club. That 3-1 result took us to second place in the table.
After the game, Mike and I went straight to the Dalesman for a change. Ian’s car was parked near the pub, so he joined us for a quick pint before heading home.
We talked about Jesper Hjorth and hoped that he would provide the perfect foil for Marco Gabbiadini. He certainly looked a better prospect than the departed Martin Carruthers.
After Ian left, Mike had another pint before heading home at eleven o’clock.
Our next opponents were Rotherham United away. Mike picked me up by taxi and we got a train at about nine thirty.
On arrival at York, we changed at Doncaster. Before the next service arrived we went to a café, its doors proving a tight squeeze for my wheelchair. We then got on board a local service to Rotherham with the aid of a ramp.
We got off in Rotherham and Mike pushed me up the ramp then we turned right. We saw Nellie Deans again but on this occasion made for a pub called the County Borough instead, which was virtually empty. We therefore sat in the back room and drank a few bottles of Bud.
Mike pushed me up the hill to Yates Wine Lodge. When he got the drinks in we both ordered a meal. My cutlery, however, was filthy and so I complained and got it changed.
After our meal, Mike pushed me to the toilet, but on our return we found that our bottles of Bud had been cleared away, even though they were almost full. He went to the bar and got two replacements. Overall, we were not impressed by the standards of service so we decided to leave.
Our next port of call was the Moulder’s Rest. Here we saw Trevor Rutter who arrived at a quarter to one. Other Darlo fans then started to turn up and the pub rapidly filled up.
We left the pub at a quarter to three and a steward with a facial disfigurement let us in the ground on our arrival.
After the game, which we lost 2-1, we went back to the Moulder's Rest. Then in the company of some Rotherham fans we went to a pub called the Rhinoceros and another called the Phoenix. We saw Earl Gray in the latter with Richard Jones and Andy Munro.
We then went to the station and caught a train back to Doncaster. There was a connection for Darlington almost immediately so we got it, arriving home without a hitch.
Our Boxing Day opponents were Hull City at Feethams. Mike came round to my flat to collect my nephew Adam and me. While he was there he saw a piece of paper sellotaped to the door of one of my kitchen units. It was my morning care plan.
The grammar and spelling left a lot to be desired and Mike was particularly amused by the simplicity of it all. It was the definitive idiot’s guide for personal care assistants! This is what he read:
Even my eight-year old nephew would have done a better job, although even I found it really funny.
Still sniggering about the care plan, Mike pushed me to the door as our taxi arrived at one o’clock to take us to the Dalesman.
The pub was full of Hull City fans. Ian, Simon and Graeme then arrived. I tried to pin Ian down regarding the departure time for our next away game at Northampton, but he couldn’t tell me.
Adam insisted on leading me astray by going on the fruit machine. He lost money along with me and wanted to try again. I told him to drink his coke as we had lost more than enough already.
The six of us headed for the ground and went to Strikers Bar. It was that full that not for the first time Graeme bought two rounds at a time.
As we were leaving, we bumped into Earl Gray. “Bought anyone a Christmas present this year?” I asked him, at which he just laughed.
I went in my usual place with Simon and Adam, while the rest of the lads took their normal seats. Mike took his seat in the East Stand and sat next to Roger Martin who, as Mike later told me, was all doom and gloom after the defeat at Rotherham and was adamant that we would miss out on promotion.
Before the game kicked off a banner was unfurled in the centre circle saying, “Thanks for all your support.” George Reynolds stood next to it, waving his scarf at the fans.
The Hull City supporters responded by taunts of, “Darlo, Darlo give us a song” and “Jingle bells, oh what fun it is to see Hull City win away.” The Darlo fans replied with, “You're so s*** you’re worse than Hartlepool.” Let battle commence, I thought.
Unfortunately, despite the bumper crowd of over 7,000, the match didn’t live up to expectations. The quagmire of a pitch and the visitors’ tactics of packing their defence, led to a lot of long balls being played, rather than Quakers’ normal passing game.
The floodlights went out in the second half, just as in the match against Scunthorpe the previous season. The tannoy reassured us that they would be back on in fifteen minutes and that the fault had been located. And then we heard “Things can only get better” by M People, being played over the tannoy. As promised, the lights came back on.
However, despite plugging away, the Hull keeper, Nick Culkin, on loan from Manchester United, was in inspired form. The match therefore finished a disappointing goalless draw, with Darlo slipping to fourth in the table.
After the game, leaving Adam to be collected by a family friend, and Ian, Simon and Graeme to drive back home to Catterick, Mike wheeled me to the Nags Head.
From there we went to McDonalds where, due to having consumed too much alcohol, I ended up making an absolute mess on the table. I tried to eat my fries as best I could but most of them ended up on the floor. Mike was not amused and claimed that I had showed about as much etiquette as a savage!
Then we went to the taxi office and ordered a cab back home.
For the last game of the Millennium, we travelled to Northampton by car with Ian.
He picked Mike and me up at about half past ten from my flat. All was going well until we hit some traffic congestion caused by a major series of accidents on the motorway. As a result of the car being stationary, Ian’s engine suddenly overheated. At the time we were about sixty miles from Northampton, somewhere near Nottingham.
We therefore pulled over to the hard shoulder as police vehicles and fire tenders with their sirens blaring streamed past us. Ian opened the bonnet and steam billowed from it. He got a bottle of water from the boot and poured it in. After a while, the engine was cool enough for us to continue on our journey and we managed to move off, leaving the wreckage of the mangled cars in our wake.
We managed to build up speed again and reached the Sixfields Stadium with ten minutes to spare.
As we pulled into the car park, we noticed a white van with a Middlesbrough phone number on it in front of us. I commented that they must be Darlo fans. Sure enough, Earl Gray and Richard Jones almost fell out of it!.
When we got into the ground we saw Stephen Lowson and John Wilson. Stephen and I exchanged Christmas presents.
The match turned out to be a wonderful way to end the century. The Darlo fans couldn’t help singing, “Jingle bells” and also “We wish you a merry Xmas” to the home fans ten minutes before the end of the match as their dejected supporters trooped out in droves. We had comfortably won 3-0 with goals from Marco Gabbiadini (2) and Jesper Hjorth.
Saying our goodbyes to Stephen Lowson and John Wilson, we got straight in the car which Ian had parked next to the Darlo supporters club coach.
After a fairly uneventful journey, we arrived back in Darlington for about half past eight and Ian dropped us off outside the Dalesman.
Mike and I then went for a celebratory meal, after which we continued on to the Nags Head before heading home at closing time, both of us very happy (and merry!)
Vanarama National League North
Sat, 31st October, 3pm