Friday marks the tenth anniversary of Darlington's FA Trophy success at Wembley, one of the proudest moments in the club's history.

In the first part of a four-day series leading up to Friday's anniversary, Craig Stoddart talks to Ian Miller, who skippered Quakers in the final

AS the first Darlington captain to lift silverware at Wembley, Ian Miller’s place is assured forever in both the record books and the hearts of the club’s fans.

Quakers lost play-off finals at the stadium to Plymouth (1996) and Peterborough (2000) without scoring on either occasion, two tough defeats to take.

But after beating Mansfield Town 1-0 in 2011, they watched a historic moment as the skipper led his victorious team-mates up the steps and into the Royal Box to collect the FA Trophy, thrusting it proudly into the air. A proud moment for the club, the fans, and for Miller.

Miller was 27 at the time of Quakers’ win on May 7, 2011, and after leaving the North-East after the club’s financial meltdown of 2012, he went on to win twice more at the national stadium with Cambridge United, with whom he also enjoyed a remarkable FA Cup adventure.

He has no hesitation in stating which meant more.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in front of 75,000 people, but I would put the Trophy final with Darlo way above that. It meant a lot for the club and it was my first time, so it will live long in my memory," he said.

“With Cambridge I had a promotion in a play-off final and an FA Trophy win, but with Darlington it was the first time and was the day I lived out my boyhood dream.

“Going up the steps to lift the Trophy in front of all those people was special.”

A tall and slim defender, Miller joined Darlington in 2007, initially on loan from Ipswich Town, and over the course of over 150 appearances became a fans’ favourite.

“Darlington was my first big club to play for and I loved everything about living up there,” he said. “Playing for Cambridge meant being back home and my family could come and watch me every week, so that was special. But the Darlo fans were a special group of people, they really were.”

The Northern Echo:

With the club now supporter-owned and owing its very existence to the tireless dedication of volunteers, how special those fans are has been repeatedly evidenced since 2012 when the club was demoted four divisions and essentially had to start again in the Northern League.

Such a bleak prospect was the last thing anyone could have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Wembley glory.

The final was the conclusion of the club’s first season after relegation from the Football League in 2010, with Mark Cooper taking charge for what was intended be a fresh start following Steve Staunton’s reign of terror.

Some stability was restored with a seventh-place finish, while as the campaign progressed the alluring prospect of Wembley came increasingly into view.

Miller said: “As the rounds ticked by and we got closer you start to think, ‘Wow, we’re in the last 16 now, then it became last eight and thinking we had a real good chance of getting to Wembley.”

Tamworth, Bath City, AFC Telford and Salisbury were all seen off before a tumultuous two-legged semi-final with Gateshead.

Striker Liam Hatch was the first leg’s two-goal hero to help Darlington thrillingly turnaround a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2, before a tight and tense 0-0 second leg at the International Stadium during which Miller made his mark.

“Jon Shaw was about to pull the trigger – I can still remember the tackle now – and I blocked it from point-blank range," he said. “It was a dogged performance. I watched the highlights of that game not long ago, and it was a real tin-hat game. Dan Burn, who knew he wouldn’t be able to play in the final, wanted to go out there and perform.”

Blyth-born Burn, now a fixture in Brighton’s defence as a marauding left-back, came through the ranks at Darlington, making his senior debut as a 17-year-old under Staunton.

Left-footed and 6ft 7in, Burn shone in the Trophy run alongside Miller and had the scouts flocking to the Arena, Fulham winning the race for his signature, but a £350,000 transfer meant he was unable to play at Wembley.

Cooper had a conundrum.

“All the talk was who would play centre-half with me,” remembers Miller. “Aaron Brown was mentioned as well as Hatchy. In training sessions Hatchy was always attacking the ball, so it was decided he’d be centre-half, but he didn’t have any positional sense so I said ‘just listen to what I have to say’. He was a bit of a nomad, a bit clumsy and had conceding a penalty written all over him.

“Paul Arnison was always vocal and Sam Russell was too. Browny never said much, he was focused on what he was doing, so it was a case of holding Hatchy’s hand and telling him not to be too eager - every ball from their keeper he would want to attack it. Fair play to him.”

The Northern Echo:

The final league game, a 2-0 win at home to Rushden, was a dress rehearsal for the Miller-Hatch partnership before the big day at Wembley, a match played in hot and humid conditions and of few clear chances but Mansfield had their moments as did Darlington.

“As soon as the first whistle went I remember feeling absolutely shattered and zapped of energy because of the occasion,” says Miller. “It was really hot and I was thinking oh my god I’m not going to get through 20 minutes here’.

“But we played ourselves into the game and we both had chances. Gary Smith made a rash tackle and it probably should’ve been a penalty. Tommy Wright had a header, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson went close with a free-kick, I should’ve scored a header.

“I remember getting to full-time and thinking ‘we have to go through all this again’. But when I went to the centre-circle to toss the coin their captain Adam Murray said ‘can we call it a draw’. They were spent. Steve Foster, who I played with at Darlington, was on his knees. So I felt confident we would pip them, but I didn’t think it would take until the 119th minute.”

That was the moment Chris Senior etched his name into Quakers folklore, and Miller played a role in it.

He flicked on Brown’s throw-in, then Wright’s header bounced off the top of the bar and Senior was in the right place at the right time to become a match-winner.

“You couldn’t script it,” adds Miller. “Comes on as a sub, the smallest player on the pitch, and he scores a winning header at Wembley. Whenever I watch that goal back I think ‘is the keeper going to save it?’ Because the ball takes forever to drop, but it goes in and it was oh my God! I sprinted to celebrate, Mark Cooper the manager was on the pitch, the fans went mad, it was a rush of emotions.”