Posted by sean on April 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm in Bath City, Ventures Outside Of Bath with No Comments

Darlington 2-2 Bath City
Conference National
Saturday 14th April 2012 – 15:00

Since I last blogged, Bath City have played two games. The first on Easter Monday against Forest Green Rovers. This was our penultimate home match of the season. Bath City have never beaten Forest Green… OK, apart from that famous extra time 2-1 win in the First Round Replay of the Welsh Cup, during the 1988-89 season. Given our poor record against our Nailsworth neighbours, the fact we’re rock bottom of the Conference and Forest Green were flying high on their hippy owner’s bong (and admirable league position), I wasn’t holding out much hope. I was wise not to get too optimistic. It was a poor performance from both sides, in the pouring rain and City lost 2-0. A dishonourable mention for Rovers’ Reece Styche, who got booked for diving and was quick to take the “Inbred of the Month” award (won last month by Richard Brodie). The referee should also have given Jamie Cook a penalty too. Probably.

Nothing to do with Bath City or Forest Green, but as skips go, this is the best in the league

On the plus side, Bath City held the ‘name the stadium draw’. While I am a traditionalist and will always refer to Bath City’s home as Twerton Park, I welcomed the promotion which encouraged people to spend £50 on the chance to name the ground. If nothing else, it brought in much-needed revenue to the club. Of course, an embarrassing name could have been drawn out the hat, so I was pleased when The Mayor of Bath pulled out The Mayday Trust – a charity which helps people who are facing difficulties in their lives. Therefore, during next season, Twerton Park will officially be known as the Mayday Trust Park. Cue various wannabe comedians posting on the internet “Mayday, mayday, we’re going down”. Sigh. It wasn’t funny the first time. Or the second. Or the third, fourth, fifth or even sixth time the joke was made.

Enough about that and onto what you all came to read about. My sixteen and a half hour trip on a minibus to County Durham to watch a side bottom of the league and already relegated play a team third from bottom of the league and about to get relegated. El Classico this is not.

Despite being already doomed to play in the Conference South next season, I managed to convince myself that the ungodly early start, expensive trip and long day would be worth doing. Why? I attend most Bath City away games. Plus, I asked myself the question “Would I have gone if Bath City were top of the league?” From a personal point of view, the answer should be the same, regardless of league position.

Fourteen fans plus two drivers boarded the minibus to Darlington. Meeting at Twerton Park at 6.45am. Shortly before 9am, we arrived at the Tamworth service station, where coffee was bought (an essential purchase). We met some Forest Green fans on their way to Gateshead. There was little talk of the events from five days previous. City fans probably embarrassed about losing again, while Rovers supporters ashamed by Styche’s cheating. After a lot more driving, we arrived at Wetherby Services. This place is a haven for football fans. Last season, again on the way to Darlington, we met a crowd of highly intoxicated Sunderland supporters. One of whom fell over in the toilets, before shouting out to everybody that he had pissed himself. This time, there would be no drunken antics. We were however joined by Chesterfield and Wolves fans. A fight almost broke out following an argument about who has had the shittest season, although luckily that was stopped and we all had a relegation party instead. The relegation party was a success and much fun was had by all. Party games were played, including Pin the Tail on the Donkey Defender and Blind Striker’s Buff.

We arrived at The Darlington Arena at midday. I have been twice before, but I never fail to be amazed at just how big the place is. The stadium was opened in 2003, holding a capacity of 25,000. However, local planning laws restrict this to just 10,000, although not even that figure is ever close to being met. According to a Darlington supporter I met last year, one of the reasons such a grossly oversized stadium was constructed, was so that Darlington could one day host Champions League football. Given the fact Darlington were in League Two at the time, you may think that decision sounds a little mad. That’s because it was.

The Mayday Trust Park sounds better

You will have no doubt read or heard about the awful mess Darlington are in, so I won’t bore you with it all on here. If you want to find out exactly what has gone on, their sad plight is well publicised on the unofficial website and forum, Darlo Uncovered.

First thing Monday morning, I'm going to suggest to my Bath-based office we have our Crimbo party in Darlington!

Just looking around the ground, it was clear why they are financially screwed, which is a very sad state of affairs – not only for their supporters, but for fans of non-league and football itself.

Despite the club's problems, the fans pride themselves in having clean hands

We collected and paid for our tickets from an away ticket office. The previous two visits we went to the club shop. Why 15 or so away fans need to pay in a separate location to home supporters is a mystery to me, but assuming the man in the office was not a volunteer, it just highlights some of the off the field financial mismanagement involved at Darlington.

No smoke canisters! Dammit. May as well go home now

Due to our early arrival, we had lots of time before kick-off and had two options. Stay at the ground and try to locate the clubhouse somewhere within the vast arena, or walk to a nearby pub. The fans’ minds were quickly made up when a monsoon of rain and hail fell from the sky. Club house it is. A group of older Bath City fans were already drinking. It always amazes me just how much elderly gentleman can drink. They can easily put away five pints before a match. I would be on the floor if I had that much. After drinking a £3.60 bottle of Bulmers and visiting the club shop, picking up a pin-badge commemorating Darlington’s FA Trophy Final against Mansfield, I entered the north east’s answer to The Bernabeu.

1001 Ways To Boost Your Attendance - No.352 Take down sign

As we awaited 3pm, the hip hop classic Can I Kick It by A Tribe Called Quest was played across the ground. Given both Bath City and Darlington’s poor seasons, I thought this track was rather fitting, as the song’s title had probably been thought many a time throughout the season by demoralised players.

We should have stayed 'til Sunday

The game was poor. You could tell both sides had experienced long and unsuccessful seasons. Mistakes were made and the atmosphere was subdued. If it weren’t for the freezing cold, it could have been mistaken for a pre-season friendly.

The ground was filled with photographers, however most appeared to have their lenses focused on the home crowd. It was no secret that if Darlington failed to beat Bath City that afternoon, they would be mathematically relegated. Given the fact they had not won for seventeen games, the chances of seeing grown men crying (hilariously) at the prospect of going down was high. Every football photographer wants to get one of them on camera.

Never mind the carvery, I'd come back just to see those pennants again - impressive collection

Few chances were created by either side, but Jamie Cook did manage to get the ball in the back of the net. We saw the linesman’s flag raised ages before Cook’s strike, so did not even attempt to celebrate the clearly offside goal. That did not stop a group of 30-or-so home fans mocking us for NOT cheering a disallowed goal. Strange.

Hilarious use of drawing pins to deface a photo

At the other end of the pitch, Bath City defender Andy Gallinagh almost scored what would be the most impressive own goal ever – attempting to lob his own goalkeeper. Thankfully Glyn Garner dealt with it, but had he not, at least Bath City would have found their way onto Danny Baker’s Own Goals and Gaffs 2012.

Living the dream. Next season it'll be a cloakroom ticket from Tonbridge Angels... if I'm lucky

As if trying to gift Darlo a lead with an attempted own goal wasn’t enough, the generous City defence totally capitulated moments later, allowing a Darlington forward to find himself in a one on one position. Luckily their strikers are worse than our defenders and the ball was well saved by Garner from just 6 yards out.

Jeez, all I wanted to do was sell a few James Bond video tapes

However, Darlington did make it 1-0 before half time. A player, unmarked, managing to give the home side the lead. I was annoyed. Very annoyed. Not by the fact we had made yet another mistake in defence. Not because Darlington had scored. No, because Darlo play goal music. Worse still, Tom Hark. Why clubs do it, I have no idea. It is so embarrassing.

OH. MY. GOD! Darlington lampshades at only £1. MUST. STAY. CALM....

As half time approached, City tried to equalise, although only managed to shoot wide of goal. The fans who jeered us earlier on responded to the miss with a song of “That’s why you’re bottom!” Thanks for that.

Had the players lost the match, they would have traveled back on the minibus

Two substitutions were made at half time for City – Scott Murray and Sean Canham entering the field to give the away side a more attacking line up. It was needed. Darlington were clearly vulnerable in defence, so it was worth exploiting in an attempt to salvage some kind of a result.

Oil paintings in the toilet cubicles. Fantastic.

A pair of policemen entered the segregated away stand, which consisted of the fourteen fans who made their way up on the minibus and six other supporters who I have never seen before, who had decided to sit with us. Strangely, I think they were locals. There was also a dozen stewards to keep the drunken Bath City pensioners under control. I did wonder what the police were doing. Either they had been mistakenly informed that we are the Millwall of the Conference and were about to start a riot, or they were heading for the press box in an attempt to keep warm.

Believe it or not, I did actually attend a football match yesterday. Here's proof.

Darlington scored again. 2-0. Game over. More goal music. Darlo’s first home win in 18 games. The sad thing is I could see this coming and even said pre-match that I suspect they’ll win…

“Sean! Wash your mouth out with soap and water!”

“OK, sorry, Sean! I’ll keep the faith…”

My faith was repaid when, with a few minutes to go, Alex Russell lobbed the Darlington goalkeeper. A great goal. 2-1. Game on. At this point, Darlington collapsed like a pack of cards. Scott Murray broke through their frail defence and with the sweetest of strikes equalised. That really was game over, both for the match and Darlington.

Cue mayhem in the away end as along with thirteen other supporters, I celebrated like we had won the World Cup. Remembering the fans who had mocked us earlier in the game, we responded with a rendition of “Going down, going down, going down” It felt great and for a moment, I almost forgot that we had been relegated ourselves.

I later learnt following his equalising goal, which mathematically relegated Darlington, Scott Murray ran to the home fans gesturing them to ‘shhhh’. Some supporters had abused him pre-kick off and Murray had promised a reaction if he scored. This reaction clearly upset the home fans. I do feel sorry for the Darlo supporters who did not wind-up Murray or mock us Bath City fans. It is awful to be relegated (believe me, I know) and the last thing you need is to have the fact you are down rammed down your throat. However, those who were involved in any mockery of Bath City and Murray can have little complaint. After all, if you are not prepared to take it, don’t dish it out.

The referee blew for full time. A few boos echoed across the mostly empty and amply named Northern Echo arena, while most home fans just left in silence. Bath City supporters, already relegated, yet elated after the late comeback, celebrated with their players and management.

Certain players from both sides at risk of being arrested by The Football Police this season

We wouldn’t get back to Bath until gone 10pm, but the long journey home would be much sweeter following the fantastic fight back. I am glad I made the trip – for many reasons. One being I do not know the next time I will spend almost seventeen hours on a single away day again – it’ll be the likes of Basingstoke, Eastleigh and Boreham Wood next season. Sob.

A wheelbarrow. Always an exciting sight. Especially if you're from Somerset.

On a final note, I really hope Darlington manage to sort their problems out. While Bath City supporters are upset at going back down to the Conference South next season, at least we know we’ll have a club to follow. Darlo fans may not even have that. It made me sad to see a previously well-established Football League side in such a dire state. Good luck to their supporters, whatever happens in the future. Our five recent encounters have been fun, even if you did give us two hidings last year.

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