|The view from Symonds Yat Rock|
Back in the long, hot summer of 1976 an interest in the club was born. My Dad already had an involvement at Waverley Road, he was by then on the committee that ran the club having been drawn in by its then Chairman, the quite literally, larger than life Reg Cooper. Dad knew Reg through their involvement in the Road Haulage Association. Reg was the Managing Director of Coopers Road Services (1972) Ltd and Dad worked for Haywards Transport of Walsall. Both men loved football and Dad still does.
For a few years in the 1970s an annual fixture took place between Darlo and Merthyr Town. They took it in turns to play at either ground for the curiously named Stan Stennett Cup. Why is was called that and who he was I have no idea but it was always a good day. In 76 it was Darlo's turn to make the trip to Merthyr. A coach took the players and wives and some committee members, whilst all of my family traveled in Dad's car. I recall it was a scorching hot day, not ideal for 90 minutes of rough and tumble non-league football and I do not remember the score although I believe Darlo lost.
76 was the infamous "year of the drought" and in places like Merthyr the water was turned off after a certain time each day. One of my abiding memories of the day was using the toilets and rather wishing I hadn't drunk so much lemonade! Following the game we were treated to a fabulous sit down meal at the club and lots of people made lots of rather boring speeches. It was a good day.
On our return to the Midlands, we took a break in our journey at Symonds Yat. This was a most unusual occurrence for a journey with my Father, as it was always a case of "have you been because we're not stopping again until we get there?" and woe betide you if you did need to go. The bulk of my memories regarding journeys during childhood are accompanied by an awful nagging pain in my lower tummy, desperation for urination and the agony of numb muscles and then pins and needles from permanently crossed legs!
I was 14, I had been watching men running around a football pitch all afternoon and yet the most haunting memory of the many happy memories of that day was the view of the River Wye at Symonds Yat. It is quite simply beautiful. It is a memory that has stayed with me all my life. My first return visit was last week and as I gazed once again upon a view that had not changed in over 35 years I was overwhelmed and tears slowly fell from my eyes at thoughts of my last visit there with Mom and Dad and my siblings. And that is how I came to be standing in front of a beautiful scene and thinking of Darlaston Town FC!
Following that day I was a regular at Waverley Road and at the grounds of away game clubs in exotic places such as Armitage, Paget, Lye, Halesowen, Willenhall, Warley and Rugby for a few years. I freely admit that part of the attraction were a couple of the younger players but I also enjoyed the football, the friendly, family atmosphere and the babychams that Jack Faulkner and Reg Cooper used to get for me in the clubhouse following a game! I used to help out on the turnstiles and sell the odd programme and help with the tea urn.
If everyone who says they attended the famous fixture in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in November 1976 against Kettering Town had actually been at Darlo, Wembley Stadium wouldn't have been large enough to contain them all! I was there though. I sold a lot of programmes that day. It was magical. I was so excited by the thought that Darlo could make it to the first round proper of the most famous cup competition in the world and so were many other people as 1500 actually turned up, a record that will now perhaps stand for eternity. I was also excited at seeing 'The Doog' who was then player manager of Kettering and doing a fantastic job as Kettering were riding high that year. As a Wolves fan he was one of my football heroes.
On the morning of the match I answered the phone to hear what was a very dodgy Irish accent ask to speak to my father. I asked who was calling to be told it was 'The Doog'. I wasn't sure if the voice really belonged to my hero or not but paying it safe I explained that my Father wasn't available at that moment and could I give him a message and take a number so that he could return the call. The caller then launched into a rant about the 'slope' at the City Ground and how were his players expected to cope with playing on the slopes of The Wrekin? I held my breath. I knew then precisely who was calling and despite being a little upset that I was not actually speaking to my hero I managed to laugh out loud and tell my Dad's friend and colleague that I wasn't fooled. He bought me a babycham after the game as way of recompense!
The rest of the day passed me by in a blur of activity and excitement. Kettering went 1-0 up but brave Darlo kept fighting and pulled the goal back. It finished 1-1. The atmosphere in the clubhouse following the match was electric. Everyone was buzzing with what had been achieved that day. Darlo hadn't won but they may as well have done. I enjoyed a lot of babychams and my Mother was none too pleased with the state I was in when me and Dad finally arrived home.
I wasn't allowed to go to the replay at Kettering because it was a school night but I was on edge all night waiting for Dad to call with the result. Darlo lost of course, 2-0 and there was some dispute as to whether the game should have been played at all as it was so foggy you couldn't see the goalposts from the opposite end of the ground, or so I'm told!
I gradually stopped attending matches at Darlo when I got a job selling programmes at Molineux and the fixtures clashed but it's always been a well formed habit to check on their results every Saturday. Alas, a habit now to be broken.