The Darlington Arena – Darlington

9 Jan

Darlington – 0

Altrincham – 1

Football Conference – 26th March 2011

Being a non-league fan you often dream of going to large all seater stadiums to see your side play, however most only experience it once, if they’re lucky, and its usually on the one in a life time FA Cup run. However when the news that Darlington had been relegated into the Non league family, it caused much anticipation – they had one of these stadiums.

The first game against the Quakers set the tone for the season – 2-0 up, only to draw 2-2 late on in injury time – and by the time we were scheduled to play them in March our season hadn’t improved that much (although we’d moved up to 22nd).

In the months leading up to this game, I’d spent the time with a few other fans (RR Team) building up a commentary service (Radio robins) and Darlington was my debut on air.

In Non-league you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly (and that’s just the fans…) in terms of stadiums, from practically parks with a fence up to top class arenas such as Rushden, but Darlington takes it to a new level, stadium and ticket wise – £18 a ticket!

The trip down, as normal, was full of optimism and thoughts on what McKenna may do to try and get a mere point from the game. Once we arrived I can remember thinking this is what it must be like drawing a League 1 side in the FA cup first round. Firstly we had to go to a ticket office, and purchase a ticket (cleverly I bought a few under 16 tickets for the group – saving £9 quid per ticket) before entering the ground.  Most Premier league fans will remember the first time they walked up the steps into a stand and saw before them the noise, the views and remember being in awe of the vastness of the stadium – only difference with Darlington is it is silent and the view is of empty seats….

I received a call from Brian at this point enquiring where I was – Id gone in the wrong entrance! – So I then left the ground and made my way to the Official entrance where people looked at me like I shouldn’t be there (bright yellow hoody and flowery shorts aren’t exactly the correct attire). In truth, I had thought about wearing something smarter, but as others normally wore casual clothing I expected to be fine. After signing in, and being given a press pass, team sheet and program I attempted to get to the Press Box, which were according to the staff “up the escalators to the top floor and through the doors and a steward will escort you” however this was easier said than done. When kids start secondary school, they often hear rumours of people telling them the wrong directions and getting lost. This is how I felt after ascending and descending those escalators’ several times and interrupting a meeting and lunch in the executive boxes, and to date is the only time I’ve got lost inside a non league stadium…. Eventually I found a steward and he escorted me from reception up, just in time to find brain going on air.

The opening minutes were pretty even, and the only real effort was saved comfortably by Coburn. The game came to life when Darlington’s Arnison was luckily cautioned when he grabbed Piergianni round the neck which should have been a straight red. The final moments of stoppage time involved Brian Flynn screaming for the ref to blow his whistle. The first half was of stark contrast to previous games in which Altrincham had held their own.

The second half started brightly and sense they may be able to push on Alty made a double attacking change as Clee and Johnson replaced Twiss and Danylyk. This change worked wonders and gave Altrincham a new lease of life, and after Dale Johnson had won a free kick, and Greg Young came close to breaking the deadlock.

Most football fans know the score… when you play against an ex-player, they will evenably score…or so the script says. In this game, it was time for the introduction of former Alty striker, Chris Senior, and he causes no end of trouble for his former employers forcing Coburn to make several top draw saves. The game was now end to end as Clee and Johnson, ably supported by runs from Smith, and helped Alty to get forward. Alty really should have broken the deadlock when Clee individual skill allowed him to whip a ball across however Reeves’s volley at the back post could not match the brilliance of Clee and was sliced wide from ten yards. Altrincham the must have then thought it wasn’t their day when Reeves was clearly brought down in the box but no penalty was awarded and then Johnson’s shot seemed to cross the line before keeper Russell kicked it with 5 minute left on the clock.

There are some games you always remember, and one with a late goal either way usually stand out. With 3 minutes remaining, Clee again did well on the left and from his cross Reeves headed firmly home at the back post, the ball flying diagonally across goal into the far corner (Cue wild celebrations in the away end, and two very happy commentator getting angry looks in the main stand).

The game finally finished with Coburn making two world class saves (one from Chris senior) making sure the Altrincham team travelled back with all 3 points. This game showed how much the team were up the fight; especially at the final whistle they celebrated by running to the away fans like they won the FA cup final.

I finally made it back to the away end, to celebrate with the home fans and players, and I just couldn’t stop smiling. I can remember thinking “this is why I go to away games”.

About Jack Jolly

Jack Jolly, fan of away days and an Altrincham fan. You can follow him on Twitter at @jaka03.

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