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Tales From Darlington

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 20/03/2005

IT’S the time of year when the league tables need to be scrutinised, and all the possibilities considered. Nowadays we even have ‘relegation calculators’, a far cry from the days when I had to those hours doing sums at Bursar Street into practice, working out points and goal difference.

In the early days we had to calculate goal average. I think they call this Applied Maths. I imagine they must run Applied Maths courses in William Hills, because my mate Mick is always talking about odds, and he spends a lot of time in there. Mick is right in his summary of relegation calculators - they cut out the aggravation. My wife Sam can’t understand this for some reason.

But is it relegation we long-suffering Mariners should be concerned about? Darlington, who we play today, are in 6th place, 7 points above us. A win would in theory would put us within 3 points of a play-off place, assuming of course that no-one between us won. It’s hard at this time of year. There’s a lot to think about. It’s even harder imagining that Town could drum up some consistency and leap up the table. My daughter Revis was keen to come with me to find out, and support our Mighty Mariners.

The mention of Darlington sends a shiver down my spine. It all goes back to the evening of January 16th, 1979. I made a horrendous error of judgement on this date. No, I didn’t decide to run away and join a dredger, nor did I decide that haddock was the food of the devil. I didn’t decide that I wanted to embrace the culture of Yorkshire. Here’s my confession. I didn’t go to Grimsby versus Darlington. In fairness, this was a joint decision with my mate Swanny. Complacency had set in. We’d just beaten Bradford City 5-1, so a dismal draw or defeat was bound to follow. The only time I’d ever seen Darlington was in the 1968/9 season (1-1 at B.P.), an unmemorable game which hardly set my blood racing at the prospect of seeing these two play each other again. So Swanny and I decided to have a nice evening in the Sub (actually called the Pier, now some trendy establishment called The Bucket and Spade) in Cleethorpes, drinking Tetleys. And a nice evening we were having until at about 8.30 someone asked if we’d heard how Town were getting on. We explained that we had passed up this mouth-watering opportunity. ‘They’re winning 6-0’. No way. The man must have overheard us and was taking the mickey ... except that he wasn’t. Town were winning 6-0. The game finished 7-2, but it taught us a harsh lesson. Others should learn from this too. Strange as it seemed at the time, we signed Darlo’s defender John Stone soon after - it’s hard to believe he excelled that night, but what a solid player he proved to be, as his name suggests. A Might Mariner indeed.

So, Darlington brings back memories of a game I didn’t see. Weird. Anyway, now was the chance to make up for lost time. 19th March 2005. Grimsby Town v Darlington.

My last encounter was the Oxford away game, where our Mighty Mariners transformed from panic-stricken no-hopers to heros in the last 45 minutes, achieving a level of skill and commitment I’d all but forgotten about in this team. The French, when referring to commitment, refer to ‘engagement’ and write books about it. This is surprising really because they’re not exactly noted for it. Grimsby’s second half performance oozed ‘engagement’ and more besides. Encouraging signs.

The journey from my exile in Basingstoke was uneventful as far as Doncaster. It did prove to be informative for Revis, who now understands the well-known (but not to your average 10 year old) phrase ‘If Harwich is for the Continent, then Darlington must be for the Incontinent’. Who said that educational standards were declining in this country?

At Doncaster, we took a walk via the town centre for something to do, as we had a while to wait for the train to Civilisation. Doncaster is not a happening place. Except today, when there was a market. ‘Why is that man not speaking English?’ enquired Revis. To assist her education further, I was about to explain that he was probably from Barnsley, when I realised the man was speaking French. A French Market in Doncaster. Doncaster goes Continental. Things aren’t what they used to be. My mobile phone rang. It was Andy Humberstone, now back in Grimsby after completing his missionary work down south. ‘Where are you mate?’ ‘At a French market in Doncaster’. Silence. Andy knows me well enough to know that I don’t belong to the sanity department, either that or he thought his phone was making strange noises. It’s a good job I didn’t tell him I’d just bought a ‘tartelette vegetarienne’, else he’d have been certain that I’d sold out to the devil. We agreed to meet up later for the Festival of Football. As Revis and I walked back to Donny station, I saw a man sitting on a chair staring into space. That’s more like it. If I lived in Doncaster, I’d stare into space. A lot. To derive entertainment. ‘Eeh, fresh air and poverty’, as they say in these strange South Yorkshire parts, usually to no-one in particular.

Back at the station, Revis spotted a freight train. ‘What does it mean by bogie centre?’ A lecture followed on bogies, axle loads and weight ratios. Revis was disappointed. It wasn’t what she’d hoped. Education, education, education.

The article continues in Part Two.

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