Few could have imagined the significance of the occasion when Darlington travelled to Hinckley United on November 1, 2011.
Shortly after Mark Cooper’s exit as manager, Craig Liddle was in charge for only the second time of his spell at the helm, his first game having been two days earlier at The Northern Echo Arena when Quakers and Hinckley drew 1-1, so the teams met again at the Leicestershire to settle their FA Cup first round tie.
Darlington were dumped out 3-0 and that’s when it really began to unravel. On the team bus afterwards the recently-signed Exodus Geohaghon’s sing-song about wanting to be released angered chairman Raj Singh and, fast forward a couple of months, the club was in administration.
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The reality is more complex, but that’s the legend and since then Darlington have been demoted four divisions, promoted once and played 131 matches – none of them in the FA Cup. That ignominious match in a chilly night in Hinckley remains Quakers’ most recent outing.
But their purgatory ends on Saturday with a return to what’s regarded as the world’s greatest club competition and a game in preliminary round stage –a trip to West Auckland. Typical.
West doubled admission when attempting to exploit Darlington supporters in November 2012, charging £10 instead of the usual £5, so there remains friction. Northern League chairman Mike Amos tried to talk West out of it and this reporter encouraged a boycott, but West did not break any rules and refused to budge.
Two years on and the issue remains a sore point among supporters. It will for a long time yet, such stunts are not quickly forgotten.
However, there’ll be no boycotts this time, no need for a UN peacekeeper to negotiate, because admission at Darlington Road has been settled amicably with the clubs agreeing on £6 and £3.
West missed out on a pay day two years ago, but profits must be split equally in the Cup so both clubs will make a few quid from a bumper crowd with Quakers fans eagerly looking forward to a long-awaited FA Cup tie. The host club are expecting a gate of around 1,000.
The status of competition is routinely called into question – Scott Wilson of this parish has an annual moan – but there’s no question that among the non-league community the FA Cup retains a sense of magic, not least due to the financial incentives on offer.
Winners on Saturday receive just short of £2,000, good money at Step 4 and 5 level, as well as home tie in the next round with Blyth Spartans, a club with a tremendous affinity to the competition and such a game would draw another large crowd.