How the Other Half Live


With Pools away at Maidenhead and and not wanting to join the mindless moronic millions Christmas shopping on a Saturday - Bah Humbug - I decided to take to the A66 and join the mindless moronic few hundred and take in the Darlington v Nuneaton Borough game at Blackwell Meadows. Purely as a precautionary measure I took the Bride's car, as my own jalopy is covered in HUFC stickers.  I arrived in Darlo a good hour before kick off as I had heard that parking near the ground could be a bit of a nightmare unless of course, you wanted to be rapidly relieved of five pounds for the pleasure of using the club's car parking facilities.

I had planned to leave the car in the South Park area not far from the ground but on the day - not a hope, what with double yellow lines and the few available parking spots occupied by selfish parents taking their children/dogs to the park itself.

When I did eventually find a place to park, to my surprise I discovered that I was nearer to Darlo's old ground than their current lodgings. When I say old ground I mean Feethams and not Bishop Auckland. Got to be said, Polam Lane hasn't changed much since I was last here. After munching my way through a quarter pound of Lion Football wine gums, which,  unlike Maynards, have a full flavoursome taste at half the price (available from Home Bargains and Poundstretcher), I found myself at Blackwell Meadows, home of Darlington Rugby Club which, after my lengthy walk down a country road, seemed to be nearer to Northallerton than Darlington itself.

For an old codger like myself it is a tenner on the turnstile to get in and if you want a seat in the stand you part with a further two quid and in exchange you are given a raffle ticket to gain admission to the covered seated area.

The first sight that greets you when you enter the ground is that of a chap holding a collection bucket. Oh, how we laughed about their bucket collections back in the day, but at least when our chickens came home to roost we got Borer fans to rattle buckets on our behalf as Pools fans would not stoop so low. As I have no axes to grind with Darlo I threw a few bob in. I read recently that after their home game at York over Christmas period this bucket collector had raised nearly two and a half grand so far this season for the club so fair play to the lad. I also purchased a 50/50 half time lottery ticket and when one considers that only 1,050 fans were in the ground on the day yet £600 was given out to the winning ticket holder (...damn and blast - I was about six numbers out!), it makes Pools' £400 lottery prize look paltry by comparison. I also purchased a programme as I hadn't a clue who any of the players were and later forked out a further 20/40p? for an up-to-date team sheet.

I was all set to have a cheeky pint when this Darlo supporter who I got talking to told me that most fans boycott the bar as all the revenue taken goes into the rugby club's coffers and not the Loids'. Let's say that both clubs are not the best of bed-mates. With that in mind, I instead opted for a Bovril and - yes - pepper was also available to add to the stock. At £1.50 a cup, ten bob cheaper than Pools.

I spoke to a number of Darlo fans (told them I was a Poolie) and we shared our tales of woe. A few weeks back they sold their leading goalscorer and Gibraltar international Reece Styche more or less to get him off their wage bill. They reckoned that he was on £900 per week. Also during the week two other lads were let go rumoured to be on £700 per week. I was stunned to hear that several of their players who had to travel from other parts of the country had recently not bothered turning up for training sessions. They were tickled when I told them about the Pizza Express coach journey to Dover. It has got to be said that none of them had a bad word to say about Raj Singh and agreed that like Pools under the likes of Garry Gibson and Uncle Ken they had some good times under his tenure.

No one had a clue who the subs were and when they warmed up, had never seen them before. They all looked like primary school children who should be attending their school's Nativity play. I doubted any of them would actually get a game as they would either have to leave early to start their paper rounds or that their mothers would not allow them to play out in the dark.

On my way to the seats I saw an old familiar friend in the popular end, whom I had not seen in many a day, namely The Tin Shed, which has been resurrected and reinstated in all its glory. Many a derby match I stood on its terracing, honestly believing it was the away end as so many Poolies used to occupy it on match day. Good to see many of the old sponsors' names (such as the ever-faithful Glenwood Paints) still adorning the cladding. The match itself was a six pointer, with Nuneaton bottom of the table and Darlo a few points off the relegation zone.

I was trying to remain neutral but it was hard to do so as Nuneaton came out wearing a strip almost identical to Pools' but without the big white patch on the rear.

Another thing that shifted my allegiance towards the away side was that as the teams came out this almighty noise started up from the Tin Shed. No it was not the crowd cheering but the little drummer boy whom I first encountered at the Arena (Darlo v Barnet in 2008), who was still banging away for all his worth. I must confess that his technique had not improved at all over the passing years. Drums, much like bad referees and smoke flares, should not be allowed in football grounds. The only plus side was that on this occasion I was 50 yards away from him 'banging on' whereas at the Arena he was half a dozen terraces behind me. Luckily, there were only 1,300 fans in the Arena that day so we were able to move out of sound's way and find other seats without too much hassle.

Darlo had the better of the first half but went in one-nil down at half time due to a stonker of a goal from whats'isname, the Nuneaton midfielder.

The two left wingers on either side stole the show playing like proper wing men ought to, tearing down their respective flanks and running their markers ragged and putting crosses in. Darlo's winger had just signed on loan from Sunderland and boy was he quick and rained in numerous crosses that unfortunately from Darlington's point of view nobody seemed to be able to convert. He, sadly for Darlo, as well as the home fans and the neutrals alike, faded as the second half wore on (I think he was only 17 years old). Having equalised shortly after the restart, Darlo with their tails up had several chances to take the lead but it was not to be as Nuneaton's outstanding winger left his marker for dead and rifled in a shot that, if the Darlo keeper had got hold of it, would have required reconstructive surgery on both of his hands.
"It has got to be said that none of them had a bad word to say about Raj Singh"

The strangest thing I have ever witnessed at a football match occurred after the half time interval when after only ten minutes in their dressing room Tommy Wright, the Darlington manager, sent his players back on the pitch and they lined up statuesque in their starting formation. After a couple of minutes the fans started shouting at them to warm up or start running around to prevent their muscles seizing up. Towards the end of the match much the same thing happened when a Nuneaton player spent 6 or 7 minutes receiving treatment before being carried off. The Darlo players stood around like tailor's dummies while the Nuneaton players had balls thrown to them for a kick around to keep warm.

For old time's sake I spent the last few minutes of the match in the Tin Shed, at which stage the players were being abused for each chance missed or a bad pass but when the final whistle blew the atmosphere became worse as the dejected players left the pitch. Yes, on occasion teams do get beaten by the bottom club at home but I did not think that Darlo played that badly and the players, management and directors certainly did not warrant the vitriol that was directed at them. I later read that it all got very heated and that the wife of one director had been subjected to abusive language by the fans.

The fans I witnessed who were hot under the collar were only kids, most of whom had probably never heard of Pools and were too young to have attended a match at Feethams.

In the main, a very enjoyable afternoon. I met a lot of real, loyal, die-hard Darlo fans who care deeply and passionately about their club, as many Poolies do about their own, and bear their plight stoically without the hysterics of some of their younger fans and for that I wish them and their team well ...just as long as Pools are always one step ahead of them!

Postscript: Since this match Darlo have signed four or five more loan players and their form has dramatically improved.  They have played four games. winning two (including a 5-1 thrashing of York), losing one (by the odd goal in three, away to the league leaders Chorley) and a draw (goals for: 12, goals against: 8.) One of the loanees, Andrew Nelson from Sunderland who Pools previously had on loan, has bagged himself six goals in four matches. Ged McNamee needs to be getting on the telephone to his Mackem contacts when this lad's loan period at Darlo expires .One other Darlo player who caught my eye was Luke Trotman the right back. I'll give in, not the greatest defensive performance that I have seen, but very good going forward. Could be a decent midfielder ...alongside Liam Noble.

For the record Nuneaton Borough have lost all their games since their encounter with the Loids.

Right, I must dash because my rehab session is about to start as it seems I am developing a soft spot for Darlington FC and I need to be shouting for Pools when they meet in the next round of the Durham Challenge Cup at the end of Jan. Wish me luck.

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