In the third part of this week’s series celebrating the tenth anniversary of Darlington’s FA Trophy win at Wembley, Craig Stoddart talks to Aaron Brown, who was a member of the team that triumphed against Mansfield Town

IT was ten years ago this week and the 119th minute of the FA Trophy final when Aaron Brown was at the heart of one of the most dramatic moments in Darlington’s history.

In Mansfield Town territory adjacent to their penalty area, the advertising hoardings behind him, Brown clutched the ball while preparing to take a throw-in, the thousands of Quakers fans who had converged on the capital held their breath. It was now or never.

He shuffled towards the touchline and hurled the ball as far as he could into the 18-yard box.

“It wasn’t anything special,” he says, playing down his integral role in Darlington’s Wembley winner. “It was just a case of getting it into the box. It wasn’t the longest throw in the world, but it was long enough.

“Ian Miller flicked it on, then Tommy Wright headed it and I remember looking at their keeper thinking ‘what is he doing?’ The ball bounced into the air off the top of the crossbar and Chrissy Senior was there to head it in.

“That feeling was unbelievable. I can’t describe the feeling. It was amazing and to do it in the last couple of minutes, it was the best feeling ever.

“There were all these black and white flags everywhere, and the noise was incredible. I haven’t talked about this for years, obviously living in Bristol people don’t ask about it, but the memories are coming back now that I’m talking about it.

“I wish I could do it all over again. Time flies, ten years already.”

In the decade since Darlington have enjoyed various great matches, but does it get any better than a last-minute Wembley winner?

The goal made for a thrilling moment and a magnificent day, one of the highlights of Brown’s career. He’d played across the country for nine clubs but never in non-league and nor as far north, until heading to Darlington in 2010.

“I signed in the August and made my debut away to Kettering and I was terrible,” he says, with a fair amount of honesty. “I didn’t have a pre-season because I didn’t have a club. I’d left Wrexham at the end of the previous season.

The Northern Echo:

“So I joined, had three days training and I remember playing and not being good at all, well off the pace. A few fans weren’t happy with my performance that day. But I grew on people because I got fitter and played week in, week out, Things did improve.”

They certainly did, with Brown becoming one of Cooper’s automatic selections, hardly missing a game.

“I really enjoyed that season. It wasn’t the highest level I played at, but when people ask which were my favourite clubs I always say Darlington were second after Bristol City, who are my hometown team. It was a culture shock for me playing that far north, I’m a southern boy!

“I have to give a mention to Gary Smith and his sidekick the goalkeeper Sam Russell, there was banter all the time from them. But I was made to feel welcome straight away and it was a good time in my life, so I have lots of fond memories.

“At Darlington we had the achievement of winning the Trophy, but there was also the team spirit which I didn’t experience at all of my other clubs. There was a good bond with loads of characters like Paul Terry, Liam Hatch, Ian Miller the captain, Chrissy Senior, and I felt the atmosphere was really good.

“Mark Cooper was really good with the players and he brought the Trophy to the club.”

Brown and Miller were the only outfield players to start all seven ties of the Trophy run, including a 4-1 win over Bath, who featured a former team-mate.

“Scott Murray scored against us. He’s a pal of mine from Bristol City, but even though they lost he wouldn’t let me hear the end of it about his goal.”

Tamworth, Telford and Salisbury were all seen off before a two-legged semi-final with Gateshead, Darlington winning the first meeting 3-2 to set up a tense second meeting at the International Stadium.

“I was nervous as hell. You just don’t to make a mistake and I think most of the lads were like that.

“When you’re in defence you don’t want to cost your team a goal and that’s all I really remember from that game, and when the final whistle went it was an amazing feeling because we knew we were going to Wembley.”

May 7, 2011. A date never to be forgotten, and Brown well remembers how the day unfolded.

“There was tension on the coach on the way to Wembley. We’d done our match prep at the hotel, we were on our way to the game and you’re thinking ‘we cannot lose this’. There’s no point playing in a final if you don’t win.

“But every single one of the lads on the day were brilliant. Mansfield were good, they had an attacking threat and I think they hit the crossbar a couple of times. But I remember we were saying we had to stay in it because we believed we’d get a chance.”

That chance came after Brown’s throw and a spot of penalty box pinball, Darlington ending as victors after what had been a nip and tuck battle, little between sides that had finished seventh and 12th and drawn each their league meetings 1-1 and 0-0.

“It’s all about winning. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you play as long as you win – if we’d been excellent but still lost we wouldn’t be talking about the game ten years later.

“When you’re in the Conference, the Trophy is the biggest cup competition to win. Obviously the aim was to get promoted, but the Trophy was the next best thing.

“If we had just missed out on going up that season, what would there be to look back on? I can show my kids my medal, my shirt that says Trophy final on it and the fans have the memories too.”