I’ve blogged more than once about my uncanny ability to be able to factor in a new ground visit whenever the family decides to take itself off on a vacation, but rarely does it work out quite as well as on this trip. Celebrating my own and my wife’s birthdays at our regular North Yorkshire bolt-hole, this time we rashly invite the kids to accompany us to the land of no-phone-signal and erratic wi-fi – any teenager’s nightmare!
Quite sensibly, I’d long been looking for a convenient ground tick somewhere in the region of the Moors, but saw one after the other fall victim to an unsympathetic F.A. Cup draw. Until, that is, the mighty Darlo – one of my pet teams – won the right to take on West Auckland, owner of a Northern League ground I’d yet to visit. I couldn’t have hoped for a better scenario.
So after persuading the wife and daughter that swinging downtown Darlington is THE place to go shopping, myself and former-ball-chasing son say our farewells, pay our respects at what remains of Feethams (diggers at work), and head off across the A1M and up to the former mining town of West Auckland. Eschewing the free car parking laid on for the occasion, we park in the middle of town, where with the help of an informative mural and iconic statue I explain to my son that Auckland were the Chelsea of their day, laying claim to the title of World Champions not once but twice. He is doubtless well impressed, though you can never tell with teenagers.
A large crowd is expected, with the home side one of the better-supported Northern league teams, and Darlo invariably attracting a good away support, so we arrive at the ground early and scout out potential viewing points. The Seagraves Stadium benefits from a raised uncovered terrace running the length of one goal, plus a decent sized main stand on the half-way line. Between the two is an area of covered standing set back from the fence. Grass banking all around also adds some elevation. The clubhouse is a good size, although nothing respectable in the way of beer is available therein. There’s a catering hatch adjacent, plus a burger van on the opposite side of the pitch which attracts a sizeable queue prior to the game. Chips and curry is the order of the day here.
We have a female ref for the game, and she has a good match although it is slightly strange to hear such a high-pitched voice shouting at errant players. With both physios also being of the fairer sex, she must feel well at home.
Though Darlo are a division higher, the home team have the better of the opening stages, and go in front on 10 minutes after a smart turn and shot. It’s a bright sunny day but the strong wind affects the progress of the ball, particularly when it is airborne, and with the visitors having it at their backs, play starts to concentrate itself round the Auckland goal, which leads a charmed life at times. Ironically it’s not until 4 minutes after the break, kicking into the wind, that the Quakers equalise with a follow up after yet another woodwork strike.
Despite huffing and puffing by both sides, the game peters out all-square, with a replay due in a few days time. Sadly, we won’t be there, as our digs are only booked until Monday. Inexplicably, I hadn’t factored the extra match in. Remiss of me – must do better next time!
Programme: £1 from inside the turnstiles. Colourful if somewhat erratically printed and stapled. The typeface used throughout isn’t the easiest on the eye.
Floodlight pylons: 4
Birdlife: Nothing noticeable
Toilets: In the clubhouse and in a block adjacent to the main stand (in an area be-devilled with flies, which might just be a coincidence!)
Club Shop: In the clubhouse
Music the players run out to: Glad All Over by the Dave Clarke Five
Kop choir: Not really
Away support: Darlo fans outnumbering the locals by at least 2-1, but not too much chanting going off.
What’s in a Name: West Auckland’s Ashley ‘Instant’ Coffey