Well I had travelled to County Durham to see Tow Law play Bedlington Terriers but was sceptical with all the recent postponements due to the incessant rain we have had. With two days of clear skies and some sunshine all seemed promising but an early inspection ruled the game off due to a frozen pitch. I did have a contingency in Penrith v Sunderland RCA and after a nervous wait until the 10.30 pitch inspection my fears were well founded with that game also postponed for the same reason.
Around about this part of the country though there is always an alternative and it was Darlington v AFC Telford United. Before heading to the match I popped into The Bowes Museum (Possibly the most underrated Museum/Gallery in Britain) at Barnard Castle, to see the Norman Cornish exhibition. Norman Cornish (born in Spennymoor 1919 and died in 2014) was a miner and artist and the way he captured the mining life through its people is amazing. Non of the nostalgic feathery look back at the good old days, his pictures show it as it was, the bent bedraggled look of the miners walking along the pit road tells it all, you can see the desperation and pain. The exhibition runs to the 23rd of February and on the previous day we visited the Mining Art Gallery part of the Auckland Project in Bishop Auckland where some more of his paintings are on show to mark the centenary of his birth.
The restored Bishops palace is a new gem in this area and well worth a trip but there is more to come in the major regeneration of this part of town. The whole restoration of the area and heritage sites is being done to such a very high standard. I often find a football theme somewhere in the other things I am going to see and that was true of some of Norman’s paintings. Children playing football in the street was a common site and you can imagine the Charlton brothers being in the paintings.
I had forgotten the demise of Darlington FC and thought that I was going to the concrete monolith just on the A66 but when Google maps took me to the rugby ground at Blackwell Meadows I started arguing with the lady I call Betty. As usual she was right as she is nearly always, her major failing is some of the computerised american pronunciations of place and road names, it does give a fun distraction though to often lengthy journeys.
Darlington as a club was started in 1883 and have an amazing switchback history that could easily be made into an intriguing movie but I will only start in 2012 when despite strenuous efforts by fans to rescue the club the FA controversially demoted them from the Conference to the Northern League a drop of four levels.
The fans were made of strong stuff and left the 27000 stadium to ground share with nearby Bishop Auckland and won promotion in their first, third and fourth seasons to get back to where they are now in the National League North. The supporters raised funds and grants to get back to Darlington on Boxing Day 2016 to play at Blackwell Meadows which is rented from Darlington Rugby Club. A further promotion would have followed if the ground had been to the correct standards which it is now after raising the money to build a magnificent seated stand and a shed end for standing supporters. The club has even set up a new academy in September 2018, and joined the National League Under 19 alliance. To progress to the next level the club needs to balance its fundraising for further on and off pitch development.
AFC Telford has its own story, originally known as Wellington Parish Church Institute in 1872 and as Wellington Town from 1879 it changed its name again in 1969 to Telford United to reflect the growth of the New Town to incorporate Wellington. In 2004 financial problems forced the liquidation of the old club and the new one was placed into the Northern premier League Division One. A lesser demotion than Darlington.