Darlington 2 Rochdale 0 May 11, 1991 Division Four.

ON a tense last day of the season, Darlington were crowned champions of the Fourth Division. It was a year after they had won the Vauxhall Conference and just two since they had slid out of the Football League.

The Quakers started the game just one point ahead of the chasing pack, and fielded practically the same side that had won the Conference at Welling 12 months earlier. Winger Paul Emson had left for non-League Kettering and the unlucky David Corner had, at 24, been forced to retire. But manager Brian Little recruited 34-year-old Mick Tait and was fortunate to welcome back Jimmy Willis - "the best central defender in the lower divisions" - from a broken leg.

Darlington opened against Rochdale with David Cork crashing a shot against the underside of the bar, and the 9,160 Quakers supporters wondered whether it would be their day.

"Mercifully, four minutes later, as incisive a piece of finishing as the ground has seen this season steadied home nerves," wrote The Northern Echo's then sports editor Nick Helliwell.

"Mark Prudhoe's prodigious goal kick was flicked on by John Borthwick and Cork chested down, took a couple of strides and tucked the ball into the far corner of the net."

Kevan Smith tried to add to the scoreline by charging both keeper and ball into the net - "I knew it wasn't a goal really," he said afterwards. "But you've got to try. It was only a gentle shove".

So it was left to Frank Gray to seal the victory - and the title - with a 46th minute penalty. "Two up and cruising - it was all over bar the shouting," said the Echo.

A few minutes from time, the PA announcer said: "The fans may come on to the pitch at the end of the game in an orderly manner." Naturally, following such an invitation, both Darlington and Rochdale supporters began their orderly invasions.

"The lads from Spotland knew how their Darlington counterparts felt," said the Echo. "Both clubs have been perennial also-rans over too many seasons of might-have-beens. Success when it comes is all the sweeter for that."

Darlington were on the defensive when referee Keren Barratt noticed that the home side would have immense difficulty should they try to mount an attack.

"The Coventry official turned and saw half the playing surface covered by celebrating fans and put his whistle to his mouth," said the Echo.

Days like that don't come along very often - as this series has shown. In all their 120 years, Darlington have only won three championships. Days like that have to be savoured.

Especially as the following season, Darlington finished bottom of Division Three and were relegated - into Division Three because of the re-organisation of the League caused by the start of the Premiership.


Darlington: Prudhoe 7, Coatsworth 7, Gray 7 (Mardenborough 53, 7), Willis 7, Smith 7, Gill 7, Cook 8, Toman 9, Borthwick 7, Cork 8, Tait 8. Substitute not used: Evans.

Dont Forget!