Darlo Revisited

BILLY'S CONTRACT on old foes we've forgotten

Can you believe it is nearly twenty years since the evil empire of Cleveland County Council was abolished. For twenty two years under that insidious regime Hartlepool was annexed under the repressive rule of Middlesbrough.

Allegedly Cleveland County was originally going to be named Teesside County but some enlightened people in the know felt that this would be seen as a goosestepping annexation of the northern territories. Teesside, thank goodness, was dropped in favour of Cleveland to keep the natives happy. Can you imagine Poolies calling themselves Teessiders. I think not.

At the time of this occupation by this foreign power, whenever I sent any written correspondence to an address north of the Tees of a business or private nature I always put County Durham on the envelope - not once did I use the moniker Cleveland.

In 1991, at the time of what looked like Pools' final demise, I purchased two hundred shares from them to help keep them afloat. (Oh, how my wife laughed when I told her …not!)

Some weeks later a really smart share certificate arrived complete with the resplendent club crest (The one with the Hart and the letter H in the background).

My name and address adorned the certificate in black Quink* ink, which I would like to think was applied by a scribe using a duck feather quill* or at the very least a fountain pen* andfinally drying off the ink with the dab of some blotting paper.*

The only thing that took the gloss off the whole montage was that the club had written my address down as Eaglescliffe, Cleveland.

The certificate was sent back by return of post to the club for the attention of none other than Garry Gibson with a covering letter saying that, although the part of Eaglescliffe I resided in was exactly one mile away from the banks of the River Tees, historically, despite what the politicians may think, it is still in County Durham.

Fair play to the bearded one, within a short space of time, at no extra charge, a new certificate arrived with the words Co. Durham in place of Cleveland.

I was even more impressed that due to the club's perilous financial situation at the time, they did not just Tippex* out the word Cleveland from the original certificate and smugdingly over-write 'Co. Durham' on the wet liquid eraser.
Said document, now framed, has pride of place on the lounge wall of 'Contract Mansions'.

I was not born in Hartlepool, but having spent most of my life there, whenever I was asked where I hailed from I would proudly say “Hartlepool, County Durham, near Blackhall Rocks.” I still do.

Imagine, in a few years time, there will be no such thing as a Hartlepudlian as everyone will have been born at North Tees Hospital in Stockton. There is currently some talk of shipping some of the baby units from North Tees over to James Cook hospital. Now that would be the worst case scenario, as future generations of Poolies would all be from The Boro. Can you imagine hearing your child's first words “C'mon Boro”. Talk about a migration crisis.

My solution to this problem would be to have a special birthing unit built for Hartlepool mothers in Stockton and Middlesbrough hospitals constructed on top of Holy soil imported over from The Headland and West then consecrated and blessed with Monkey Pee to ensure that the Hartlepudlian lineage continues.

Forty years have now passed since Hartlepool left willingly or were kicked out of County Durham and I can understand why, over this time span, young Hartlepudlians now have little or no affinity with The Land of The Prince Bishops, and even less still with Cleveland, which, painfully kicking and screaming, passed away two decades ago.

Barring the Monkey incident in Napoleonic times, very few Poolie youngsters I come across know much of the town's heritage because time moves on and many are just at the present and not the past. This concerns me as similarly I can see the same thing happening with regards to Darlington F.C. (henceforth I will refer to them as 1883, not for ease of writing, but because their supporters really dislike this reference!)

It is now approaching six years since The Quakers relinquished their league status. If their God and their outstanding creditors are with them we could see them regaining league status within three years. In reality it is going to take far longer than that for a myriad of reasons.

As time goes by, I fear that a new generation of Hartlepool supporters will know little or nothing about the historic rivalries between our two clubs. One young'un recently asked me who Willie Waddell was, for goodness sake.

Even now very little gets written about Darlow 1883 on any of the Pools message boards. Less still gets written on 1883's message board about Pools. When was the last time you heard the Town End singing 'Off went the train with the boot boys in it' or 'We hate Darlo'?

At The Vic we never get to hear 1883's half-time score, which previously would have been eagerly anticipated as a source of mirth.

On match day you never hear Hartlepool fans asking ask each other “How are Darlo getting on?” or “Who are they playing today?” Not now, but I did recently overhear someone say “What league are Darlo in these days?”

Darlo rarely get a mention on local radio these days. Ray Simpson, God bless him, the Darlo commentator who always described Darlo as wearing black and white “stockings” - where is he now? Most young Poolies would wonder who on earth we are talking about. Perhaps there is now a mutual understanding between the two sets of supporters that it will be a case of never the twain shall meet for a good few years, if at all. Should we ever clash with them again in the near future it will probably be down to Pools being relegated to The National League rather than 1883 regaining full league status.
"At The Vic we never get to hear 1883's half-time score, which previously would have been eagerly anticipated as a source of mirth."

At some stage I am expecting my grandson, who is just getting into football, to ask me who is Pools' derby team. If, as it stands, Carlisle do get promoted and York get relegated this season, the answer will probably be Accrington Stanley or Morecambe.

Out of curiosity, as well as badness. I had a look at the League Two table for 2009/10, the year Darlow last opted for non-league obscurity. It makes very interesting reading. If you think Pools were bad last season, Darlow's record is lamentable: won 8, drew 6, lost 32 (thirty two!), just failing to avoid relegation by a mere 18 points.

Good job Pools were not in the same division at the time or Darlo would have lost a further two games.

Eleven of the teams in that season are now playing at a higher level. One of them being Bournemouth and, albeit temporarily, we all know where they are. Eight clubs, including 1883, have dropped down to non-league level, and Hereford have sadly gone out of business.

What of 1883 these days? To their credit, at time of writing, they currently sit top of The Evostik Northern Premier Division in all its glory. No mean feat when you are competing against the likes of Mickleover Sports, Barwell, Ramsbottom United and the mighty Rushall Olympic. It is the kind of league you would expect Barnstonewith United of “Ripping Yarns” fame to reside in.

1883's challengers are Blyth Spartans and the Neville brothers' Salford City, all of whom have games in hand over the Quakers.

1883 ground share Bishop Auckland's Heritage Park, which has its problems. Whilst home attendances average a very respectable 1,200, it is a thirteen mile trek for their fans to get there. That's the equivalent of Pools having to travel to Stockton for their home games. Although Heritage Park is a fine stadium, even in a light drizzle the pitch is prone to flooding and numerous games are regularly postponed each season. In order to increase support 1883 are looking to relocate back to Darlington but ongoing negotiations regarding ground sharing with Darlington Rugby Club at Blackwell Grange have recently stalled (equivalent to Pools ground sharing with Rovers.)

It has to be said that, in the unlikely event of their winning a succession of promotions, neither Blackwell Grange nor Heritage Park comply with Football League regulations, and so they would not be allowed membership of League Two (and I may be wrong, but possibly not even membership of the league formerly known as The Conference.)

I do not know what the situation is regarding The White Elephant stadium, which is currently occupied by Mowden Park Rugby Club, To my mind it would make perfect sense for 1883 to ground share with them. The stadium would be used regularly, the fan base increased and it would be another source of revenue to whoever it is that owns the Georgie Porgie Arena these days.

There must be a good reason (unpaid debts?) as to why the football club and The Arena have not come to some arrangement. Maybe it is because of the lasting memory of Pools' first (and last) visit to that stadium which has permanently psychologically scarred Darlington 1883 for life.

To sum up, before we all become part of the Tees Valley. It should be mandatory that schools in Hartlepool provide history lessons detailing the town's 900 year connection and links with County Durham, to give Poolies a sense of pride and being.

These lessons would also cover in depth, the period between 1908 and 2009 known as “The Hundred League Years War” between Hartlepool and Darlington. The first lesson would cover the first battle which took place in Darlington on the 19th September 1908, and ended in a two-all stalemate.

The lesson would then move on to the second encounter between these two adversaries which took place that same year on the 28th December, when The Loids tried to storm the gates of Hartlepool and were thoroughly routed 8-1 by Pools manager Fred Priest's warriors, in what has now become written in Hartlepool folklore as “The Repulse of the Repulsive.”

I am convinced that these tales of derring do will make every young Poolie chest fill with pride in rediscovering their history, so much so that they will lobby the government to create a new bank holiday known as Saint Eifion's Day, which would be commemorated quite naturally on the 25th of March ,the day he slew Darlo at The White Elephant Stadium.

* To find out more on these items either Google them, or pay a visit to Beamish Museum.