The Boys in Blue


Darlo 1 Pools 2 (Durham Challenge Cup)
Tuesday 22 January 2019
Blackwell Meadows

I could not believe that I was making my second trip to Blackwell Meadows in less than six weeks (See last edition of M.B) to see Darlo again but on this occasion it was in the Durham Challenge Cup quarter finals against Pools.

In truth after my previous visit re parking/location etc. I wasn't really that fussed about going but my very persuasive mate said even if it is basically the second tier of both teams playing it was nearly eleven years since the two sides met in any competitive fixture of any sort. So off we set.

It has got to be said that the hierarchy at Darlo probably took the view that this game was a late cash Christmas present or cash cow for the club to capitalise upon a rare visit from their friends up the coast, so much so that there was talk of switching the venue to the Arena.

From up the A689 the whole event was more a very low key affair, not much publicity or build up from the club or in the media itself. Most Poolies I spoke to before and after the game considered it a youth/fringe players match and not worth the effort or the fuel travelling down, and 'getting your kicks from route A66.' which turned out to be the case -  only 139 Poolies turned up for the proceedings. I don't think that the at the food van in the away end, specially brought in for the occasion, they were overly pleased with their takings on the night, having paid for a plot and selling only a handful of burgers.

I notice the permanent price list on the side of the van showed curry and chips priced at £3. However this was over-ridden by a hastily put together price list, written in black ink marker on a scrap of paper and placed on the counter, to inform any potential punter that £4 would be the going rate for the same item.

I managed to stick to my principles of not getting ripped off by this opportunist, but only until half time, when in an effort to warm myself up, I parted with four of my English pounds and tucked in to my curry-soaked chips, and very nice it was too ...and to sod my principles altogether, I nearly went back for seconds!

It was obvious that Darlow were taking this match very seriously as they fielded their first starting eleven and Pools to a certain extent showed willing by putting out 6 players with first team experience in their line including Lewis Hawkins who was obviously being put in the shop window on the night. Probably the reason why he did not celebrate his equalising goal was that he might end up playing regular first team football at Blackwell Meadows?

Even though Pools went behind early in the first half ,owing to a blooper by Ryan Catterick, they, especially Newton and McLaughlin, played the more controlled football and looked a division above technically.

The second half, with the home team kicking towards their fans in the Tin Shed, was a horse of a different colour altogether with Darlo pressing, probing and creating all the chances, hitting the bar and and being backed by a very vociferous crowd throughout, even if some of the chanting was from the 70's. They still got behind their team whenever they won a tackle or had an attempt at goal.

With all due respect it has to be said it was Darlo's and their fans' Cup Final.

Hawkins silenced the crowd eight minutes from time when he equalised with a header - yes, a header. I had never seen him jump previously, let alone seen him head a ball. You could visibly see the Darlo players' heads drop and the ground went silent.

Only seconds, and I mean seconds, after the restart, it was all over as two Darlo defenders conspired to go into self-destruct mode trying to boringly play the ball around the back like Man City/Liverpool do, only for Muir to close them down and the ball fell loose for Hawkes to slot in. If it was quiet before the equalising goal, the ground was now like a morgue. I was expecting tumbleweed to be seen blowing across the pitch.

Probably out of respect to their opponents, or not wanting to spoil their party, or perhaps plain not being bothered, the Pools goal celebrations were low key and muted. The last few minutes saw Pools smartly run down the clock until the ref blew for full time.

Overall you had to feel a little bit sorry for the Loids - still smarting from Eifion Williams' second goal at the Arena all those years ago. You could say that, not unlike Pools, if they had a striker of sorts, the result on the night could have been different. After much reflection, I think not. The reason Darlo lost was that when they took to the field they looked as if they were about to embark on a polar expedition, or worse still, a wander round the Headland on a January night.
"If it was quiet before the equalising goal, the ground was now like a morgue. I was expecting tumbleweed to be seen blowing across the pitch."

Excluding their centre half they all wore base layer shirts under their tops, thick thermal gloves and their stockings were so far pulled up that they were coming over the elastic of the tops of their shorts. I could not swear to it but a couple of them were wearing duts. On the other hand Pools came out wearing short sleeved shirts socks and shorts as if it was a summer's day. Psychologically Pools had won the battle even before a ball had been kicked.

From Darlo's point of view 1,750 went through their turnstiles, their second highest gate of the season (ohh, they must really miss us), only York topping this figure on Boxing Day. Their previous match a few days earlier was against their new derby rivals Spennymoor, which drew a disappointing crowd of just over 1,600. Even with their team pushing for promotion as well as with free buses being provided by the club, only 350 Spenny fans bothered to make the 15 mile trip to the Durham / North Yorkshire border.

I thought that Darlo might have made a much-needed killing financially on having such a large crowd but I reconsidered this thought as we left the ground as I have never seen such a police presence at any match since the 1970s/80s,  when football violence was rife. I counted 20 Police Transit custody vans all in one line, two smaller vans as well as three SUVs.

The short walk back to the car saw me having counted 50 Police officers and I wager there were a good many more scattered round the South Park area and the Darlo end of the ground. Add to that the around two dozen stewards, in the ground outsourced from a company that covers big concert events and the like and that to me looks like one hefty bill for the club if they have to cover these costs. Added to that they lost out on other possible additional income as a prohibition order had been put on the club house, preventing alcohol being sold on the day.

I am not sure how the gate money is shared, but if it is a three-way split between the clubs and the Durham FA I reckon on the gate they would each realise £5k. Even if Darlo got all the gate receipts I doubt very much if that would clear the additional police numbers as I am sure that Durham Constabulary would not be using public money to cover the cost of policing this fixture. I recall when the Loids were in deep trouble Pools offered to play a friendly with them to raise revenue on their behalf but it was a no-goer because of police costs. If that is the case it is tough on our old rivals.

On the plus side, perhaps some of their former fans (4/500 up on the night) might have got a taste for what they saw or what they were missing and will make a return to the terraces.

Strange Days. In a press interview the following day Man of the Match Paddy McLaughlin was saying that he hoped,  based on his performance against Darlington, we might see him back in the next first team starting line up. Little did we (or he?) know that that same day he would be named in York City's starting line up!

Front Page