A story about the Quakers in difficulties was news even back in 1973, particularly when the television reporter was a young David Frost

'It's Saturday afternoon. It's big match afternoon. Here in Darlington. Here at Feethams.'

David Frost, large sideburns encroaching down the side of his face, is wearing a long brown suede jacket with enormous cuffs and collars, and chunky buttons. Behind him is an empty, windswept terrace.

'The crowd is estimated at a little over a thousand compared to the average at Manchester United of 50,000, ' he says. 'They are fighting for survival. We'll find out what happens. . .'

DURING a snowy mid-February in 1973, David Frost, the legendary broadcaster who died on Sunday, spent a week with Darlington Football Club recording an episode of The Frost Programme for ITV.

At the start of the show, after its jangly theme music, he explained why he was there. "We all hear a great deal about cup finalists and who's going to win the First Division, but what about the story of the 92nd team in the football league?" he said in his dramatically dry style.

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CHEERING CUP: David Frost has a cup of tea at Feethams after training with the Quakers.

"It's a different type of story. The story of a team fighting for survival and keeping up morale while they are doing it.

"It isn't just a football story, it's a people story: the people of the club, the people who play for the club, the people who support the club and, indeed, the people who don't support the club."

And indeed, it is a fascinating story from the days when everyone smoked, wore luridly coloured clothes and the women sculpted their hair into strange shapes on top of their heads while the men allowed furry whiskers to scurry across the cheekbones.

But Frost was right. It was more than a football story. It was an insight into a town's heart-aching relationship with its football club, and a reminder of the ridiculous resilience of optimism.

With hindsight, looking at a DVD with a timecode at the top of the screen, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the hour-long documentary is that the Quakers should last another 40 years before finally imploding.

In 1973, Frost found the team bottom of the Fourth Division. The club on the brink of financial collapse. The chairman deeply unpopular, and attendances plummeting.

Over footage of a meeting of the Darlington Supporters' Club, chaired by supermarket owner Ken Warne, Frost said: "Unfortunately, the fully paid up membership of the supporters' club is eight, which means they are outnumbered two to one by the number of players." His trademark deadpan delivery brought out both the humour and the pathos of the Quakers' plight.

His week in Darlo began at the crack of dawn on Saturday, February 10, as the bleary-eyed players loaded themselves onto a bus outside the twin towers of Feethams.

They were off to Chester in search of their first away win for nearly four months.

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On the journey, the coach was overtaken by a gold Vauxhall Viva, black-and-white scarves trailing out of its windows. It contained the full contingent of Darlington's travelling fans - "an optimistic trio", said Frost.

At Chester, the Quakers played in blank, blood red shirts and the tackles were blood-curdling.

"Five-nil, " said Frost as the final goal went in. "An outcome more disappointing than the worst fears Darlington might have had."

FROST, then 34, was near the peak of his career, hosting shows on both sides of the Atlantic. But he still found time to immerse himself in the Quakers following the Chester defeat, training with them on a snowcovered Feethams. Although not fully fit, he looked a tidy player as, in his youth, he had turned down a contract at Nottingham Forest to go to Cambridge University.

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AT HOME: Don Burluraux, left, and Ernie Adams lived in Newton Aycliffe when David Frost called for a chat

After training, he went to Newton Aycliffe, where four of the players - Don Burluraux, Steve Holbrook, Colin Sinclair and goalkeeper Ernie Adams - lived, and he interviewed them standing against a wall in Burluraux' dining room.

Sprouting 1970s hair, ear-picker collars and wildly-coloured floral shirts, the foursome looked like an audition for a Slade tribute band.

They told him of the difficulties of playing in front of Feethams' small crowds.

"It's depressing, " said Burluraux, glass in hand, "wag" by his side. "They all come in second half when they can get in for nothing.

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1970S WAGS: Two of the female companions of Darlington’s footballers interviewed in Newton Aycliffe by David Frost

The crowd doubles when you kick off in the second half."

Burluraux was the star of the show with a David Essex twinkle in his eye. Despite his exotic name, he came from Skelton in Cleveland. He played five games for Middlesbrough before his ankle was shattered in a tackle. He lasted three years at Darlington - 13 goals in 112 games - until, aged 24, he was forced to retire through injury. In that troubled 1972-73 campaign, he was the Quakers' Player of the Season.

Frost also talked to two veteran Quakers - Bill Hooper, from a local family of footballing legends, and Davy Brown, a prolific scorer from the 1920s - and to apprentice goalkeeper Phil Owers, who he described as "17 and nursing a dream".

Owers had leaked seven goals on his debut a few weeks earlier. With his mother alongside him on a leather sofa, her hair rigidly permed above her forehead, the Shildon youngster said: "I want to get Darlington out of trouble and I would like to play at Wembley for a big club." (He went on to play 114 times for the Quakers, turned out for Gillingham and Hartlepool and is still extremely well known in Northern League circles. ) Frost filmed the players picking up their weekly brown paper pay packets.

"There are often headlines about the wages of a Pele or a George Best, but at Darlington it is a somewhat different story, " he said, and one of the wags revealed how she supplemented the family income by working as a garage receptionist.

FROST was allowed access to the smoke-filled boardroom, where the directors were old men with thick, horn-rimmed glasses, who sucked on cigarettes and pipes.

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Chairman George Tait was "a self-made millionaire" carpet dealer from Newcastle, had taken over from auctioneer Harry Robinson in 1970, pledging to invest £75,000.

Three years after visiting Darlington, Frost famously badgered disgraced former US president Richard Nixon into admitting that he had let his nation down over the Watergate scandal, but the purple bow-tied Darlington chairman was amuch harder nut to crack. No matter how many times Frost pressed him, Tait wouldn't reveal how much of his personal fortune he had sunk into the club.

"Just say it's costme a bit of money, " said Tait.

Then Frost tackled him on why he'd had fivemanagers in the past year.

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CHAIRMAN GEORGE: Newcastle carpet dealer George Tait was Quakers’ controversial, bow tie wearing chairman

The first two, said Tait, were Len Richley and Ken Hale and both were caretakers. Then came Frank Brennan on trial, "and he left of his own free will" after three months. Tait couldn't remember the name of the fourth (it was Allan Jones), but he'd sacked him after "a very bad start" to the season.

Referring to his fifth, Tait said: "If it is possible for Darlington to be successful, I think Mr Brand will do it."

Ralph Brand, wearing an orange shirt and purple tie, was a grimly determined former Scottish international who played for Rangers, Manchester City and Sunderland.

Although Darlington was his first managerial job, he was already fluent in managerspeak. "There are 15 games left, " he said. "If we win them all, we will be dry."

At the ASE working men's club in Northgate, Frost found 200 Darlingtonians filling ashtrays with smoked-out dog-ends and downing foaming pints of warm ale. Only three of them said they were going to see the Quakers' next match, and one of those was "totally blind" - Frost wasn't cruel enough to labour the point.

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AT THE CLUB: David Frost holding court at the ASE Club in Northgate, Darlington, during his filming in 1973

A man with brylcreamed hair in a fawn dog-tooth jacket told him of the deplorable state of the modern game.

"The trouble is there's too much money involved, " he said. "It's all greed. Everybody's there for a pinch penny.

There's no sport in this world today."

That chap has probably been spinning in his grave all week following Gareth Bale's £85m transfer on Monday to Real Madrid for pinch-penny wages of just £300,000-a-week.

But when Frost asked the ASE audience if, despite all their negativity about the club, they would be sad to see the Quakers go out of business, there was a resounding and warming yes in reply.

Then Saturday came.

"Whether you are chairman, manager or apprentice, it's matchday, " said Frost.

Chairman Tate drove to Feethams in his Jaguar from his Gosforth mansion; manager Brand walked from his rented terraced digs; apprentice Owers stood on the snowy street outside the Surtees Arms waiting for the bright red No 1 United bus.

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ON THE BUS: Apprenticekeeper Phil Owers, right, was filmed catching the No 1 bus to Feethams for the big match

Cambridge United were the visitors. "I thoroughly believe we can win, " said Brand.

The players ran out to a slow version of the Match of the Day theme tune playing over a tinny tannoy from a scratchy vinyl record.

Frost, in his heavy suede jacket, patrolled the windswept terraces, worrying at their emptiness.

Yet, he was soon surprised when Burluraux burst through and opened the scoring. The noise of rasping rattles filled the Tin Shed in optimistic celebration.

Then a superb jinky run from Colin Sinclair - who is still rated as one of Quakers' finest - might have won a penalty before left half Norman Lees fired in a brilliant second.

"But alas, " said Frost, puncturing the moment, "by halftime, they had given away three soft goals and the score had a familiar ring to it, Darlington losing 3-2."

IN the second half, beneath a large hoarding saying "Fly North East, Fly Teesside Airport", the Quakers pressed valiantly, and Ian Hopkinson eventually equalised. Great joy filled the emptiness of the terraces.

"That's how it finished, " said Frost. "Three each."

"Football is a game of mistakes, " said manager Brand profoundly. "Unfortunately our mistakes were in front of goal and the other side cashed in. But the encouraging thing was the lads were not disheartened.

"They pressed all the time in the second half and I thought we had a good chance of getting the two points.

"The lads played well."

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HOT TUB: The Darlington players enjoy a bath at Feethams after their late equaliser against Cambridge United

Frost's jangly closing theme music began.

The club had received a sympathetic hearing from one of the country's greatest broadcasters. He left them on an optimistic high - a late equaliser, a point earned, an enthusiastic crowd, applause ringing in their ears, a corner turned. . .

But when the season finished two months later, the Quakers were still in 92nd place at the foot of the Football League. With both chairman and manager departing, they had to bear the ignominy of applying for re-election - so that, with optimism soaring once more, they could repeat the same mistakes all over again.

David Frost - Hello, Good Evening & Farewell, a tribute programme, is on ITV on September 16 at 10.35pm.