TWENTY years ago, Darlington were in Division 3, which was then the fourth tier of English football. George Reynolds was in his second season as club chairman, and Gary Bennett was in his first as manager.

Bennett had been appointed in August 2000 after David Hodgson resigned, despite having taken the club to the Division 3 play offs the previous season. Darlo had beaten Hartlepools over two legs in the play off semi-finals, but went down 1-0 to Peterborough at Wembley in the play-off final.

Hodgson had also taken the Quakers to the Division 3 play-off final at the end of the 1995-96 season, but again had lost by 1-0, this time to Plymouth Argyle. He tired of interference from the board and so resigned just before the start of the 2000-01 campaign, allowing Bennett, who had been in charge of the reserves, to be promoted to first team manager.

Darlington were not playing as well in 2000-01 as they had in the previous campaign and when they met Lincoln City at home on Saturday, December 23, they had won only one of their previous nine league games and had just been dumped out of the FA Cup by Luton.

Bennett made five changes for the Lincoln City game in the following line-up, with defender Mark Kilty only discovering he was playing an hour before kick-off. However, The Northern Echo's correspondent Ray Simpson named Kilty as his Man of the Match, as, with the power of John Williams up front, the Quakers won 3-0.

Bennett said of Kilty: "I thought Mark was magnificent. I've always said that he was a good player. People say that he is a bit on the small side, but one thing's for sure, if the ball's there to be won, then he'll win it."

Sadly, Kilty had an awful time with Darlington and in five seasons only made 23 appearances. His career was cut short because of two ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligaments in his right knee, plus a tear to his left patella tendon.

However with the help of the Professional Footballers Association, he gained a degree in physiotherapy at the University of Salford, became a health care consultant, and an author, with appearances on BBC, ITV and Sky Sports as well as writing for the Newcastle papers the Journal and the Chronicle plus, of course, The Northern Echo.

The first Darlington goal that day against Lincoln came after only seven minutes when Martin Gray picked out David McMahon with a cross from the right and the striker headed it past Chris Day for his first league goal.

There was a touch of good fortune about the second, as the Lincoln defence appeared to step up en masse when Jesper Hjorth swung over a free kick from the left. Despite five white shirts looking offside, the linesman's flag stayed down and Paul Heckingbottom chested the ball down before rolling it home for his first goal since April.

The killer third goal came from a long ball by Craig Liddle which found Williams racing clear, and just as he was about to shoot, he was brought down by defender James Dudgeon, who was shown a red card after his second yellow. Atkinson coolly slotted the ball home from the the spot - it was his first goal in the league for two years.

Darlington finished in 20th position at the end of the 2000-01 season and Bennett was eventually sacked after just 16 months in charge.

Perhaps his main claim to fame is his 369 appearances for Sunderland which puts him fifth on Sunderland's all-time appearance list. He released an autobiography in 2011 called The Black Cat, and is also actively involved in the campaign to eliminate racism from football. He was one of the first players to participate in the Show Racism the Red Card campaign, and joined the organisation in 2003 before he was inducted into the organisation's Hall of Fame in 2004.

His daughter Janee Bennett is a musician who was nominated for a Brit award in 2016 for her role in co-writing Jess Glynne's huge hit, Hold My Hand.

Darlington team against Lincoln: Collett: Liddle, Kilty, Heckingbottom; Atkinson, Brumwell, Gray (Walklate 70 mins); Naylor, Hjorth (Elliott 64 mins), Williams (Hodgson 58 mins), McMahon. Subs not used: Reed, Van Der Geest.