“LITTLE Darlington, the Quakers, haven’t been at home to a First Division side for nearly 30 years,” begins the commentary in clipped, patronising tones on the flickery black and white British Pathe footage, “but when they kick off against Chelsea in a fourth round replay, it is hard to believe the Quakers are struggling to keep out of the Fourth Division.”

From their current lowly position, the Quakers now look up enviously at whatever the Fourth Division is called these days, and they look back fondly on what is probably their greatest moment in their long history. Exactly 60 years ago, they knocked the mighty Chelsea out of the world famous FA Cup.

Not just knocked but “smashed”, as the Northern Despatch newspaper indelicately said that evening on its front page. Afterall, the score was a thumping 4-1.

Loading article content

The Echo said the next morning: “Darlington sent their supporters delirious with delight, and in the whole history of the club there has been nothing quite like the scenes when, early in extra time, the forwards, in five short minutes, slammed three goals past a bothered and bewildered Chelsea defence.”

In the 1957-58 season, the Quakers’ Cup run had begun by knocking out Rochdale, Boston United and Norwich City before they had been drawn away at Chelsea in the fourth round.

On Saturday, January 25, 1958, in front of a crowd of 40,759 at Stamford Bridge, Darlington took the lead in the fourth minute, doubled it in the 28th minute and extended it further in the 51st minute.

A sudden thaw had turned the London pitch into a quagmire that perhaps suited the more agricultural style of the Quakers, who were captained by club legend and Easington Colliery blacksmith Ron Greener – the Quakers’ team had cost £3,000 and included five part-timers.

“The temerity of it!” said the Echo. “A lowly Third Division club having a three-goal lead on the ground of a First Division side freely tipped as Cup winners.”

There were 2,000 Darlington fans at the match, and those in the Regal cinema in Northgate were kept up-to-date by score flashes on the screen.

But Chelsea quickly responded, scoring three goals in 16 minutes to draw the match. Young Jimmy Greaves hit the post three times, so the Blues might have felt hard done by.

The Quakers were ready for the replay – under chairman and garage-owner John Neasham they had already had tickets for the replay printed before the first match kicked off, and were able to hand Chelsea their allocation on the final whistle.

“They regarded it as a huge joke,” said club secretary CB Brand.

Because Feethams didn’t have floodlights – the Tin Shed end didn’t even have a Tin Shed – the replay had to kick off at 2pm on Wednesday, January 29. This provided a huge dilemma for everyone at work or at school: dare I bunk off? Eastbourne School, for one, overcame this by piping the radio commentary, by Alan Clarke, into every classroom.

Pre-match speculation revolved around whether attendance would break the ground record of 19,184 for the First Round replay against Cardiff City on January 14, 1925. There was also talk that if Darlington got through, they would play away at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who featured Billy Wright, the pin-up of his day, and who were on their way to winning the title.

Two pubs close to the ground – the Falchion and the County – were granted licence extensions so they could open until 5.30pm to refresh the fans. “We realise there will be a lot of hoarse throats after the match,” said Insp JC Dowse.

And as the thaw spread north, the fire brigade was called in to pump standing meltwater off the pitch into the River Skerne.

When the match kicked off – Chelsea had dropped Greaves – there were 15,150 in the ground, and the Pathe news cameras lingered on every grinning, toothless, cloth cap-wearing, working-class northerner they could spot (the two minute highlight package, which was shown exclusively at the Regal the following day, is online at britishpathe.com and worth a watch).

Darlington, managed by Dick Duckworth and trained by Eddie Carr, took the lead late in the first half through Tommy Moran, but Chelsea soon equalised. There was no further scoring in the second half so the replay went to extra time in which every commentator expected the superior fitness of the full time professionals to triumph over the plucky colliery amateurs.

But the Quakers came alive. “Extra time produces one of the most extraordinary six minutes ever seen in a cup tie,” said the Pathe commentator. “Darlington cut through the weary Pensioners like a knife through better.”

They rattled in three goals, the last being scored by Bedlington colliery fitter Ron Harbertson – his seventh goal in five cup ties that season.

On the final whistle, “the Darlington players were mobbed as they left the field”, said the Echo, “and goalkeeper Joe Turner reflected the joyous feeling by doing a somersault as he disappeared towards the dressing rooms for a well-earned bath”.

The Pathe commentator concluded: “How’s that for a giant-killing? And no one dares to call a 4-1 victory a fluke.”

And, by the same token, in the next round, no one dared call the treatment handed out by Wolves anything other than a drubbing: the Quakers lost 6-1. So we’ll forget about that and concentrate on the sweet smell of the club’s greatest victory.