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Darlington Football Club

Ray Simpson / 22nd October 2020

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 20

When Push comes to Shove -- Chapter 20

Serialisation of Paul Hodgson's book

Darlo fan Paul Hodgson has kindly given us permission to reproduce his book on the official website. Today we look at Chapter 20, covering March 2000.


March opened with a home fixture against Rochdale.

For this match the Dalesman was our venue once again. One of the main topics of conversation was the fact that we had just signed goalkeeper Chris Porter from Sunderland on a free transfer, as cover for Andy Collett and Mark Samways. However, none of us knew anything about him.

Ian also mentioned the newspaper articles that mentioned that Marco Gabbiadini was in contract negotiations. Apparently, the sticking point was the length of the deal. The player wanted three years but the chairman was only offering two. Everybody hoped that a compromise would be reached.

On leaving the pub, Mike, Ian, Simon and I went to Strikers Bar where we bumped into Steve Keeney. We thought that Darlo might lose their unbeaten home record because Rochdale had the division’s best away record at that time. I disagreed, and said that the law of averages dictated that they must come unstuck sooner or later.

As per usual, I went in my usual spot with Simon and we were lucky to witness an exhilarating performance.

  After the dour 0-0 draw at Spotland, the return match was a much more one-sided affair. By half time we were 3-1 up and we added another goal to our tally by full time. The goalscorers were Peter Duffield (2), Marco Gabbiadini and Neil Wainwright, whose loan had been extended for a further month. Having been substituted the latter got a standing ovation after putting in a scintillating display, the highlight of which was the cross that led to Duffield’s second goal.

All four of us left the ground in a buoyant frame of mind, eagerly awaiting the visit of our next opponents.

The following Tuesday we entertained Barnet at Feethams. I met Mike at half past five in the Dalesman, with Ian and Simon agreeing to meet us later in Strikers Bar.

I told Mike that I had some news for him regarding Flipper’s Side, which could not be conveyed in a brief conversation over the telephone at his place of work. John Dean had called me at work to explain that he was willing to take the book on and act on our behalf with regard to editing and later marketing the final product.

Although we had to pay for the publication ourselves, we were still pleased that after all the hard work we had put in over the last three years, it was finally beginning to bear fruit and go into print.

Both of us had always been confident, despite many setbacks with both potential publishers and sponsors, that one day this would happen, and I thought it would eventually make a good film script. Mike agreed.

Mr Dean had told me that the projected publication date would be the first of August 2000.  Mike added that I couldn’t have wished for a better birthday present, as I was thirty-five years old that day.

I said that I was greedy and wanted another one, a Darlo win!

After finishing our drinks the two of us left the pub and went to meet Ian and Simon in Strikers Bar. For once, they were on time and there before us! I told them my news regarding Flipper’s Side and Ian was obviously delighted. “You’d better start practising your signature!” said Ian joking.

The game was yet another one-sided affair, but this time Barnet keeper Lee Harrison didn’t perform miracles to keep us out. With a 2-0 half time lead we capitalised on our goal-difference by banging in another two. The goalscorers were Peter Duffield (2) Michael Oliver and Neil Wainwright, who as in the previous game was substituted. This time the fans’ response was “Sign him on, sign him on.”

  Simon, who was sitting beside me, said that he hoped this would become a reality, although I cautioned him by saying that Sunderland would want a six figure sum for him. His influence on the game was apparent in the following day’s match report in The Northern Echo which simply said, “Wainwright stars in Quakers romp.”

  Eight goals in two games and now six straight wins on the belt, gave us grounds for even further optimism.

We next played Leyton Orient away. Mike booked a taxi for a quarter to eight but once again it turned up a good twenty minutes late. The driver was an Irishman who worked at Feethams as a security person.

As a result of the taxi arriving late we had to rush to the station and missed the train we had wanted to catch. We therefore got the next service at nine o’clock.

 When I had settled down I got Mike to buy me a cheese and ham toastie from the buffet as I had not had any breakfast. This was a big mistake! The strings of melted cheese just ended up unravelling and making the most appalling and unsightly mess on the floor. As ever, I had chosen one of the most awkward items on the menu. Sometimes I think it’s just the challenge that appeals to me!

When we arrived at Kings Cross we hailed a black cab off the rank. 

While the driver ferried us to Leyton he gave us an insight into his own life. Apparently, his old lady (i.e. his mother) had broken her hip and been left for two days on a hospital trolley in a corridor.  He was therefore unimpressed with the state of the National Health Service, and after that experience who could blame him?

On our journey we passed The Royal London Hospital. The driver was a season ticket holder at Millwall of all places. Hardly the most even-tempered club with regard to its fans’ tolerance towards members of the ethnic minorities!

We ended up being dropped off at the wrong place by our mine of information – pity his knowledge didn’t extend to local geography – and him being a taxi driver of all people! We were also charged about £25 for the privilege of being in his company.

I think we ended up close to Leytonstone train station if memory serves me right. We therefore had to get another taxi, but this time it was a minicab to the Coach and Horses pub on Leyton High Street. Ironically the driver was from the same ethnic background that our previous driver had slated. Fortunately, he knew where he was going and charged us a very reasonable fare of £4!

By this time, it was about a quarter to one. We then made our way to another pub called the Birkbeck Tavern on Langthorne Road, as mentioned in my previous visit to Leyton Orient, which was only about half a mile from the ground. In there we met Earl Gray and Richard Jones, both of whom were confident of Darlo recording their seventh consecutive victory.

At half past two we left John and Richard and headed for the ground.

I went in the disabled area at the front of the stand with Mike. We witnessed a hard-fought match which looked to be heading for a 1-1 draw until the sixth minute of stoppage time when Steve Watts scored the winner for the home side.  Marco Gabbiadini’s forty-sixth minute goal therefore counted for nothing

Mike and I were fuming as Watts looked to be a mile off side.

After the game, with the aid of Earl Gray and Richard Jones, we caught a tube from Leyton to Liverpool Street Station. From there the four of us wandered to a pub called the Flying Scotsman where we were served some awful watered-down lager in plastic beakers at extortionate prices.

In the squalid back room with its sawdust covered floor, there were strippers performing on a rudimentary stage. One of the girls was going amongst the customers collecting money in a glass, which must have been the only one that they possessed, given the fact that the punters were drinking out of plastic ones!

We made our way back to Kings Cross station and noticed that there were quite a few Hartlepool fans hanging about on the platform, having played at Barnet. We ignored them and went into Coopers’ Bar. Later, we saw them fighting with some Darlo fans and the police had to restore order.

On the way back there were further scuffles on the train. In fact more than a dozen Darlo and Pool fans were arrested once they got off the train, when fighting erupted again at Darlington station.

Keeping our heads down, once Mike and I disembarked we headed straight home in a rank cab while John and Richard headed off in another direction.

Our next opponents were Swansea City at home.  Mike, Ian, Simon and I decided to meet up in the Hole in the Wall. I asked the other lads what they thought of Conference team Rushden and Diamonds making a £200,000 offer for Marco Gabbiadini? As Ian pointed out, they too had a multi-millionaire chairman in the shape of Max Griggs, who had made his fortune out of the Dr Martens brand. We were all relieved that the offer had been turned down flat by George Reynolds and I pointed out the fact that it would have been almost impossible to find a forward who would score as many goals as Marco had done, given the fact that transfer deadline day was fast approaching.

At about one thirty we headed for Strikers Bar, where the main topic of conversation was the same as we had had in the pub previously.

On this occasion, Simon wanted to be with Ian in the seats, so Mike offered to sit with me in my usual place instead.

The Swans had obviously done their homework and managed to shackle both of our wingers, thus cutting down the supply route to our forwards.

When the teams emerged for the start of the second half, Mike and I noticed that Neil Heaney was shaking his head at the state of the pitch. Rather than being waterlogged it had now gone to the opposite extreme and was bonehard underfoot as well as being uneven.  We could understand his sense of frustration, as the pitch was still in a right mess. As a matter of fact, three days later The Northern Echo reported that the club had received a complaint from the Football League Referees Association about the state of the pitch.

Nevertheless, we did eventually manage to get a goal in the first half, when Marco Gabbiadini provided an inch-perfect cross for Peter Duffield to head home at the far post.  However, in the second period former Quaker and record signing, Nick Cusack, equalised for the visitors, making the final score 1-1.

With the next game being a long distance away trip to Torquay, I reluctantly decided to give it a miss, as the only way that I could have attended would have been by travelling on the Supporters Club coach. After my previous experiences on the journey to Plymouth where I was in agony by the time that I got home, I knew that I couldn’t travel on the coaches any more.

The morning after the game I was surprised to receive a phone call from Earl Gray. He told me about the game which we lost 1-0.  According to John, Tony Bedeau scored the only goal of the game after eight minutes. To make matters worse Craig Liddle was sent off after sixty-five minutes after receiving his second yellow card for deliberate handball. The Northern Echo aptly summed up the defeat in its headline, “Hodgson fury as Gulls fly away with points.”

Three games and only one point was not what Mike and I had expected.  Perhaps promotion was slipping from our grasp, I thought to myself after that defeat.  Worryingly, we also learned that Rushden were still in the hunt for Marco Gabbiadini, and made two further offers for the player, the final one being £300,000.  It came as some relief when we heard that they had both been rejected.

 Our final game in March was away at Hull City.

Before getting us on board the train, one of the station officials who by this time knew us by name, said that he thought Marco Gabbiadini would leave the club if we were not promoted at the end of season. Mike replied that this wouldn’t happen because we would be promoted anyway. I personally still had my doubts.

When we arrived in Hull we went to Yates Wine Lodge in the pedestrian precinct on Jameson Street opposite the station and both had a meal.  I had fish and chips which were average to say the least; the chips were hard and the fish frizzled. It goes without saying that I left most of them.  Mike said that his burger wasn’t much better.

   From there we moved to Masters Bar in the same area where we bumped into some Hull fans.  They seemed cocky to Mike and me and said that they would beat Darlo easily.  We both just smiled at them knowing that if the lads played to the best of their ability we would be the ones celebrating at five o‘clock, not them. 

 After leaving our rival supporters, we booked a taxi from a company called Cream Cabs and made our way to the Five ways to a pub called The Priory Inn on Priory Road where we met Earl Gray and Richard Jones.  They had caught an earlier train than us and by now were quite merry.  Richard said that he’d heard from a fan ‘in the know’ that Marco Gabbiadini wasn’t playing..  I hoped that he would turn out to be wrong, as at that stage of the season, we needed our best players on the pitch.

After a couple of pints, the four of us headed for The Three Tuns on Boothferry Road which is the one nearest the ground.  We only had time for one pint before leaving John and Richard and going to the ground.

I sat in the disabled area with Mike where we witnessed a hard fought game with Darlo winning 1-0 thanks a Lee Nogan goal.  Overall, we just about deserved the win.  An interesting point, as the whistle went, I thought of those Hull fans we’d had the misfortune to meet earlier in The Masters Bar.  I bet they weren’t as cocky now!

One final point regarding the match, Richard Jones had been right; Marco Gabbiadini didn’t play.  Instead he watched the game from the main stand due to him having an ankle injury.

After the game, Mike and I went into the city centre and ended up at Flares 70’s revival bar, which is a theme pub a version of which is also in Darlington. We chatted to a Geordie girl in there, who was really attractive with long brown hair probably in her late twenties.    She said that she was from Gateshead and had been out most of the day drinking.  Having hardly been able to stand, she sat on my knee whilst we continued our conversation.   Eventually, Mike and I had to leave and she gave me a peck on my cheek before we said our goodbyes.

At half past eight we then caught a train to York. Some more Darlington fans got on at Brough station. “Flipper, let us past” they shouted as I blocked the aisle.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t move and they had to climb over my wheelchair.  One of them slipped and fell on his arse.  I found this really amusing, although, for some reason, he didn’t.

  On arrival at York, we managed to catch the ten o’clock train with only seconds to spare, arriving in Darlington for half past ten.

 Darlo ended March still lying third in the table, although four points from a maximum of twelve between the middle and the end of the month was not exactly promotion form. Despite the hard-fought victory that day; in the words of the proverb, ‘March came in like a lion but went out like a lamb’.