DARLINGTON FOOTBALL CLUB lost their Football League status for the first time in 1989, but they were soon back in the big time under manager Brian Little after winning the Conference League in 1989-90. The following season, Little set about guiding the club out of the Fourth Division and into the Third Division.

Seventeen-year-old Lee Ellison, from Bishop Auckland, found himself in the middle of all the excitement. He recalled: "From the age of 10, I had played football at school and also for Bishop Auckland Juniors, a Sunday team, run by my dad and Mel Hodgson. In the 1989-90 season, I left the Bishop team and moved to West Auckland Juniors. I was only at West half the season when I was approached by Darlington Football Club who offered me a place on their Youth Training Scheme. It was a great opportunity, so I signed up, and played for their Under 18 and Reserve teams.

"In November 1990, we played Hartlepool Under 18s in a midweek game, and the following day Darlington asked me to sign a professional contract. I signed, and was then named as a substitute for the Fourth Division home game with Hartlepool on November 10, a game we lost 1-0.

"I made my first team debut at Lincoln City on November 24 and scored our third goal in a 3-0 win. I had no problem with the pace of the game because I was young and fit from all the training. Some of the old pros in the opposition gave me a rough time physically, but it didn't bother me.

"Manager Brian Little was from the old school of football management, nice bloke, but he didn't take any rubbish. He had been a striker so there was always a lot of shooting practices in our training sessions, which I enjoyed."

Darlington were now fourth in the Fourth Division after 16 games, and Lee, who was attracting the attention of clubs higher up the football ladder, was again in the team for the home game with Torquay on December 15. He had a hand in the first two Darlington goals, scored by John Borthwick and Andy Toman, in a 3-0 win. The Sunday Sun reported: "Lee Ellison terrorised the Torquay defence."

Lee's next goal for the Quakers came at Aldershot on February 19, and was scored after a cross by John Borthwick, who then headed a second from a Drew Coverdale cross for a 2-0 win. It was Darlington's sixth away win of the season. Martin Gray, later to manage Darlington, played that day for Aldershot, on loan from Sunderland.

Manager Little said: "I was delighted that young Lee scored. He's making good progress."

At Torquay on March 9, a 3,078 crowd, which included a healthy number of Darlington supporters, many of whom had travelled the 800 mile journey overnight, watched Tommy Tynan give Torquay an early lead. Lee equalised, but the home side won the match with a last minute header by Micky Holmes.