Darlington 2 Hull City 0

The inconsistency of City rears up again, as a weak performance cedes 3 easy points to Darlo on our last ever visit to Feethams.  Mike Scott squeezes down Polam Lane for the last time and tells the story.
I’m suspicious and I smell a rat. Big time. How can it be that a Darlington team so obviously inept and ignorant to even the most casual observer can all of a sudden, in response to two muffled claps of thunder from behind the South Terrace at Feethams, score tidy goals and rob Hull City of, err, a million points. On leaving the ground the incriminating evidence was found – a large Rolf Harris style wobble board with “property of Tecwen Whittock” stamped on one corner. Case closed. What a shocker. A first half bereft of quality, skill and effort came and went, only enlightened by a half-hearted brawl between the entire Darlo eleven and a ready-for-fisticuff-action Damien Delaney. The second half meandered along much the same until Yellow Pages wielding Cold Feet star James Nesbitt, guesting up front for Darlington with the name “Conlon” on his back, sprang into life and turned the game on its head with a powerful display of forwardsmanship. Sign him up on the strength of this performance I say – it worked a treat with Ryan Williams, after all! City lined up in a remarkable (as in remarkably confusing and dreadful) 4-5-1 formation thus:

Fettis Otsemobor Anderson Whittle Joseph Regan Delaney Keates Elliott Burgess

I believe Melton was also on the pitch, but gracing him with an allocated position would be stretching a point. Yes, we’re going down that line again ….. The referee, a well proportioned gentleman with a much more natural body shape than these under-six-foot-less-than-seventeen-stone freaks you get these days, whistled the game on its way in a pair of high ankled boots with white laces that came straight from the 1950s, and immediately Elliott nodded an acceptable chance just wide. Fettis scrambled frantically across goal but couldn’t prevent the corner. At the other end Burgess was winning most headers in a repeat performance of Saturday, but his lack of a strike partner meant that penetration was far less prevalent. With Elliott stationed wide left I suspect Melton was cast in the role of lung busting kerosene fuelled midfield powerhouse crashing through tackles to latch onto Ben’s flicks. How Peter Taylor must’ve ruminated excitedly on this tactical masterstroke as Melton grazed idly on the long grass of the centre circle. It was therefore left to Delaney, who once again showed admirable willingness to cover at least three positions as several of his teammates tossed it off, to do what he could to match Burgess’s powerful performance. Darlo weren’t much better, useful forward Conlon rarely broke out of a jog while the odd chance that they had – a Nicholls volley and a ponderous Pearson free kick – failed to trouble Fettis beyond the need to bend awkwardly as he placed the ball on the six yard line for another goalkick. Only a Pearson snapshot, gifted to him after Melton kindly trapped a Keates clearance and rolled it across the face of our goal 20 yards out, drew a save out of Fettis, but that threat was dealt with in Gordon Banks style. My notes indicate a run of City chances in the quarter hour running up to half-time, but in truth a Joseph long shot, a Delaney curler, an Elliott cross-shot and an Anderson header were mere blips in an otherwise uneventful half, played out in the balmy spring sunshine in front of an entirely silent Darlington support of, I am told, 703. Deafened by all the pins dropping, half time couldn’t come quickly enough for me. Within thirty seconds of the restart the lumbering ex-Shayman Clarke performed a neat airshot on the edge of his own box, Burgess took the ball and twisted and turned in a manner that belied his six feet and four inches and the resulting shot was smothered by smiling Darlo goalkeeper Robin Askwith, wearing the name “Porter” on his back, at the eighth attempt. This signalled the start of a period of dominance for City as the midfield finally complied with the instructions to get past Burgess and accept his knock-downs. Melton was freed by one such manoeuvre and only some surreptitious shirt tugging by Clarke prevented the fuel injected goal machine from adding to his impressive Tigers tally of, err, none. But just as it came, so it went. Keates and Delaney went for the same ball deep in Darlo territory and the ball fell to Newey who scuttled down the left before swinging a tasty pass wide right to Conlon. The Irishman threw down his slippers, pipe and lace fringed blackout mask and advanced on the City penalty box without attracting much attention. His sweet cross was then met by the unmarked Newey, who had kept going after his pass in rather unfair fashion I thought, and the ex-Leeds man thumped a low shot past Fettis’s right hand. 1-0. On Saturday the opposition goal was the catalyst for City to spring into action. On Monday it ….. wasn’t. Jevons replaced the limping Keates and we reverted to 4-4-2, except Melton’s invisible man trick and Jevons’ apparent disinterest in earning a City contract conspired to make it 4-3-1. Add the fact that Regan had a game just about as wretched as he will ever experience at any level, and the deficiencies become readily apparent. Darlo carved more chances as Nicholls headed an unchallenged cross wastefully over the crossbar and Clarke repeated the same trick moments later. City escaped a scare when they could’ve gone to a 3-2-1 formation as Joseph cut across the path of Nicholls and felled him when the Darlo man was 1-on-1 after a hopeful punt from the defence fell nicely. Joseph escaped with a yellow – while he was clearly last man, the challenge was ill-advised rather than malicious which perhaps saved him from seeing red. In the last minute a ropey freekick was awarded to Darlo on halfway and after dropping into the City box it was cleared to Conlon who swiped at it hopefully and was pleased to see it thud into the stanchion within the goal high up to Fettis’s right. 2-0. Fair result. The closing seconds saw the game summed up neatly. A hasty City through ball fell to no one in particular but the willing Delaney – to whom I have warmed considerably in the last few weeks – ran 60 yards to chase it down and harry the defender into conceding a corner. From the resulting flagkick and short corner routine released Regan along the goalline – his cross spannered, I exaggerate not, twenty yards beyond the far post when he hit it from no more than fifteen yards shy of the near post. Shockingly wasteful and careless. That was City today, Delaney and Burgess excepted.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Anderson, Whittle, Otsemobor, Regan, Delaney, Keates, Melton, Elliott, Burgess.  Subs: Jevons (for Keates, 58), Smith (for Otsemobor, 72), Reeves, Webb, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Jevons, Joseph Sent Off: None   DARLINGTON: Porter, Valentine, Liddle, Whitehead, Clarke, Newey, Keltie, Pearson, Nicholls, Conlon, Corbett.  Subs: Collett, Clark, Maddison, Mellanby, Wainwright. Goals: Newey 56, Conlon 90 Booked: Pearson, Valentine Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,487

Hull City 0 Darlington 1

56 years encapsulated in 90 minutes.  Steve Weatherill sees off Boothferry Park for the last time.
It’s not today’s tottering old Kempton, its roof drizzling filth and rust onto its cowering occupants and creaking menacingly as if about to collapse whenever the ball lands on top of it. It’s the vivid, raucous swell of tribal fervour that for fifty years has taunted its opponents and roared its approval at Tiger feats of daring and inspiration, home to a thousand rattles, ten thousand Woodbines, adoration earned and returned, heroes all, from Raich Carter to Justin Whittle via Bill Bradbury, Ken Wagstaff and Les Mutrie, and sweatshop charged with the task of manufacturing countless snarls and the choicest East Yorkshire insult. It’s not the barren soulless brick back wall of a supermarket. It’s the cavernous North Stand, reaching back darkly into the teeth of its long even ranks of seating, proudly carrying the load of the Hull Savings Bank clock that John Hawley always wanted to hit, and fronting boldly, hugely, on to the cinders of the car park, full of eddying humanity spilling off Boothferry Road. It’s not the Main Stand with its peeling paint and its shabby sulk, it’s a dignified and gleaming cruise liner from which to watch the once-young ground grow in grandeur, adding a roof, a bank of seating, a set of floodlights, six of them, to rank with the best, a new stand, one man’s dream building towards a worthy though ultimately fruitless aspiration to host World Cup matches in 1966, that memorable year when Harold Needler smiled down from his self-crafted perch and witnessed a thrilling Tigers team score over 100 League goals and sweep the 3rd Division title with a flourish never seen before and never since. It’s not the desolate weed-infested corner that splits Bunkers from Kempton, it’s where you stood in awe, crammed shoulder to shoulder with your Dad and his mates at the Cup Quarter-Final with Stoke in 1971, gasping at the unimaginable noise made by over 41,000 people, screaming with joy as Waggy slid one, and then two goals past Gordon Banks, smelling the stale beer and realising the Stoke fans weren’t quite so happy, in fact they were ready for an argument but not with someone as small as you, and then you collapsed in inconsolable tears as the lead was cut, then wiped out altogether before it was our throw-in, but the linesman got it wrong and John Ritchie had won the game for Stoke and City were out of the Cup. Boothferry Park is no longer our home. But it is not gone. It is never gone. Not while we remember. Yeah, well, that was well over the top, wasn’t it, and as unnecessarily soft and flowery as a pot of pink pansies. But, come on, you expected that, didn’t you? I would have liked to have been able to tell you that reliable old Darlo hadn’t come to spoil the party. But they did – but more pertinently, it was our own players who unceremoniously ruined the occasion. We played very badly yesterday. The first half was as barren as any witnessed these last 56 years inside the fortress – I appreciate the enormity of this allegation but I stand by it. We looked much livelier in the second period, but by then Darlo had been reduced to ten men. And we still couldn’t score against them. O dear. Justin Whittle was dropped, and we carded a 4-4-2 of sorts:

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Melton Keates Alexander Jevons

“Of sorts”? Well, Ashbee played deep, just in front of the back four, so Green didn’t have to stick rigidly to the right side, but rather could roam around as his creativity saw fit. Most of the better moments early on were inspired by Green with the ball at his feet, but, the white-booted dynamo aside, it was mostly humdrum midfield scrapping. Alexander had a couple of opportunities to break into space but seemed more intent on diving than running, and his foolishness deserved, but did not get, a yellow card. The visitors had opted for an ambitious formation, with the lightning-quick Turn-to-Page-50 Offiong paired up front with the giant wet-clay-quick Conlon and supported by Hodgson, sporting a Paul Mariner-style mullet, but, measured by the entertainment on show, the game was very rapidly groaning to a halt. Any excuse built on the effect on our players of an emotion-laden atmosphere couldn’t have survived the first ten minutes, by which time the old ground had fallen sullenly silent, horrified at the poverty-stricken football on offer. It was just another dismal Boothferry afternoon. Keates was injured, and went off for Elliott, a switch that seemed likely to improve our flair, and duly did, as Elliott darted down the left and whisked a cross in to Alexander’s feet at the near post. Our once lethal, now morose, striker missed gruesomely. Then Green shot straight at the keeper who attempted a comedy “spill the shot and let it through my legs” Taibian routine, but thought better of it at the last possible second, and rescued the ball on the line. But the half concluded with even this brief Tiger flicker extinguished as determined Darlington took the lead right on the whistle. First, mullet-man’s free-kick was nodded against our bar by Liddle with the Muss beaten, and then a slick move down their left resulted in a hard low cross skidding across our box, which the first-arriving Darlo missed, but the second clouted into our net with gusto. 0-1, half-time, bloody rubbish. It had to improve, or else the assembled 14,100 was more likely to be invading Boothferry Road at half-four on the way home than the pitch at the end of the game. And it did. Almost immediately after the re-start Ashbee and Melton combined to set up a shooting chance for Elliott: his effort was beaten away by the keeper at his near post. Then Jevons broke away, only to be hauled back by a desperate Liddle … red card! Umm. There weren’t any Darlo defenders behind Liddle, but two or three were level, and running across to cut off Jevons before he’d’ve seen the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes, and I think this was a pretty harsh sending-off. No matter, Green’s free-kick whistled into the side-netting, but we had our boost and would surely rescue this game now. Whittle had replaced Alexander at half-time, with Joseph moved to right-back, Regan to right-side midfield, and Elliott to partner Jevons up front. And, with the extra man, we could afford to play Green further forward and expect him to devastate. And we had the chances to win the game. We made them, and we didn’t take them. Two stand out like ugly scars. Green and Elliott burst clear of the Darlington back-line, the offside trap sprung, dismantled and tossed into a bin by our giggling starlets. Green has the ball at his feet, the Darlo defence stranded ten yards and more in his wake, and the keeper coming off his line to narrow the angle more in hope than expectation. Elliott has checked, he’s too canny to run offside, and he waits for the square ball that he will be able to roll into an unprotected net in front of an exultant Bunkers. Green sees his team-mate, but ignores him, shoots, and the keeper blocks the effort. A few minutes later Joseph wins the ball in midfield and feeds Regan on the right. He transfers the ball to Green, in space on the edge of the box and our newly-flawed hero smacks a vicious swerving shot which the keeper can only parry straight back out to John Anderson. The big centre-back has time to savour the opportunity, he’s six yards out, there are no defenders even close, and the goalkeeper is still reeling from the power of Green’s shot. Anderson wraps his right foot round the ball and carefully guides it a foot the wrong side of the far post. O dear, o dear. Anderson’s only a centre-back. It was a golden opportunity, but he missed it, and these things happen. But I cannot begin to understand why Stuart Green didn’t pass that ball across to the waiting Elliott. There was more, as the Muss spent the entirety of the half spectating at the North Stand end. Elliott put a left foot shot just wide after receiving a Smith pass; Elliott and a defender combined to place a header on to the top of the Darlo bar; Green hit a low shot that was grasped on the very whitewash of the goal-line. A contrite Anderson was hauled off for Webb, an enthusiastic lad who is taller and more physically imposing than his Dad ever was (but will do well to be even half as mean). But we’d had our chances and we’d wasted them. Darlo defended with spirit, Melton and Smith were poor, Regan is no midfielder, at least not a creative one, and our main man, Stuart Green, fell at the final fence yesterday. Even the 4 added minutes brought nothing but shapeless hoofery as we slid to defeat. The pre-match Walk of Legends had been reliably dismally organised, a procession of, initially, elderly and then less infirm gentlemen scuttling out from the tunnel, wrapped in raincoats against a grey blustery afternoon, while the public address blared out their names in tones that were, in Kempton at least, largely inaudible. It got better as the ex-players walked slowly round the perimeter of the pitch, and we smiled at Stan McEwan, proudly escorting his daughter, Billy Askew chortling mightily, Linton Brown, who had slipped a hundredweight sack of spuds inside his clothing for the occasion, and, finally, we marvelled that Sam Sharman had shown up at all. Then, bringing up the rear, Waggy, Chillo and Ken Houghton made a long lingering meander around the pitch and we remembered some very good times indeed. The astoundingly appallingly Straight As Quo spoiled a nostalgic mood, and then the game began and we quickly remembered how much rubbish we’ve seen inside Boothferry Park these last few years. A rotten game, a defeat and, afterwards, the absurd witless nonsense of the Reverend Bagshawe. And then Boothferry Park – the Boothferry Park of the here-and-now, the faded ambition and the decades of neglect – was gone, all gone. The way matches sparked like shooting stars as you looked across to Kempton from the Main Stand on winter afternoons … trains stuffed to bursting with amber-and-black hordes, trundling up from Paragon and disgorging a human torrent on to the platforms and into the ground …. men in ties and trilbies, working of a Saturday morning and then off to the football … the shiny white outfits of the Golden Goal girls … Tigercola … beating Spurs and Leeds, Manchester United and Manchester City, West Ham and Chelsea … Les Mutrie ripping the guts out of Sheffield United as we began to claim repayment on fifteen years of Blade knavery by destroying them 4-1 one special afternoon … Andy Payton taking a nubile football on a glorious waltz from just outside his own box, past the entire Brighton team and most of the population of Sussex before sliding the ball into the net at the North Stand end … Ken Houghton going up for a header in the Anglo-Italian Cup tie with Lazio and getting an acrobatic boot full in the face … Blackburn in the fog … Brentford, a plodding 4th Division side, dominating a 5th Round Cup tie at Boothferry Park before an outrageously generous referee donated the tie to us in a disbelieving final ten minutes. Waggy’s unparalleled poaching helped too, mind. We drew Stoke in the Quarter-Finals. And we led by two to nil as the first half raced towards its close. But we lost, and that 70/71 season’s very real, very serious challenge for promotion soon petered out too, and it’s been downhill ever since for Hull City and Boothferry Park. Until now. See you on Boxing Day. Another time. Another place.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Smith, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Keates, 23), Whittle (for Alexander, 45), Webb (for Anderson, 72), Holt, Deeney. Goals: None Booked: Anderson, Ashbee, Jevons Sent Off: None   DARLINGTON: Ingham, Liddle, Clarke, Whitehead, Betts, Nicholls, Keltie, Hodgson, Valentine, Offiong, Conlon.  Subs:  Wainwright (for Offiong, 73), Pearson, Clark, Melanby, Porter. Goals: Betts 45 Booked: Conlon, Whitehead Sent Off: Liddle   ATTENDANCE: 14,162