TWO things are noticeable when speaking to former Darlington goalkeeper Mark Prudhoe.

First is the strong accent, something that has never left the Washington-born 46-yearold despite a lengthy career in which he played all over the country and in various divisions for 14 different clubs.

The fact that polar opposites Liverpool and Macclesfield were among those that required Prudhoe as nonplaying back-up says a lot for the varied nature of a charismatic keeper who, in 2003, was voted into an alltime Darlington XI.

The Northern Echo: Darlington FC factfileThat honour came chiefly due to his part in back-to-back title-winning seasons in the early 1990s during four years at Feethams that began in March, 1989, with the club on the brink of relegation to the GM Vauxhall Conference.

Which brings us to Prudhoe’s second striking feature: a startlingly clear recollection of matches he played in two decades ago, specifically of the run-in during Darlington’s relegation.

It is little more than 21 years ago that a Quakers side, featuring Prudhoe between the sticks, played in the final match of the season against Carlisle, having been relegated seven days earlier after a 5-1 defeat at Scunthorpe. And the 46-yearold’s memory of events remains crystal clear.

He said: “I went to Darlington for the last 12 games of the season when we were already in the bottom two.

Colchester always had games in hand over us and no matter what we did they always seemed to match us.

Whenever we won, so did they, we just couldn’t catch them, then there was the infamous game when they beat us 2-1.

That put us under severe pressure.

“Then we went to Cambridge and won 3-1, which got us back into contention.

“But then it was Scunthorpe away. I think we were 5-0 down with about half an hour to go and we were down.”

Some footballers can’t even remember who they played last week, never mind a match 21 years ago, but Prudhoe has never forgotten a period that turned into the most successful of his career.

Under the guidance of Brian Little’s calm and authoritative management, Quakers bounced back, winning the Conference at the first attempt and then the Division Four title 12 months later.

According to Prudhoe, Darlington require the sort of mentality adopted at Feethams then if Simon Davey is going to guide them out of the Blue Square Premier.

“This year they’ve been the whipping boys of the league and the mentality next year has to be totally different.

They’ve got to be winners,”

said Prudhoe, who is now goalkeeping coach at Hull City.

“I know there’s a play-off now, which softens the blow if you don’t finish top, but Brian Little always installed the belief that we were going to be champions and that’s all he wanted us to think about.

“We found it hard at times, going to places like Barrow and Wycombe, at their old ground on the sloping pitch when Martin O’Neill was manager.

“There was a pressure to win every game because you had to finish first to get back up – there were no play-offs in that division then – and that was all Brian ever said to us.

“From the off he was saying ‘You’ve got to finish first, you’ve got to be champions, don’t think about anything else’.

“Barnet were with us all the time and overtook us at one stage, and it went to the last game of the season, at Welling, when Gary Coatsworth scored the winner.”

Continuing his remarkable recollection of events, Prudhoe added: “Brian told us to think of it as the fifth division and we were going to play positive football. Our first game was against Kidderminster and we beat them comfortably, 3-0.

“We started well and went on a good run, winning at places likes Boston. The first defeat was at home to Barnet in November.

“Lads like Les McJannet, Andy Toman and John Borthwick were there, lads that had played before in the North-East with no great success. But we won games and it was one of the best years I had in my career.”

Prudhoe departed in 1993, leaving for Stoke, who were in Division One – then the second tier – and the two clubs remain the highlights of his playing days.

At both Feethams and the Victoria Ground, Stoke’s former home, Prudhoe shared a special bond with the fans and he says Quakers are going to need their supporters in the Blue Square Premier.

“The relegation sticks in my mind because it was such a poignant part of my career,”

he said. “I’d never played outside the Football League before.

“But the two years we had were exceptional, they were good times and never to be repeated. There were characters at the club and a major point was that the crowd and the team came together, there was a bond.

“It was at Feethams, of course, and sadly they aren’t there any more, but if they can do the same again and the crowd and team comes together and stay positive, that will really help.

“The manager will be looking forward to it and I wish him well, because what’s happened this season is a crying shame, it really is.

“I always look at Darlington’s results. I loved it there and it’s a club that’s been close to my heart ever since. It was a happy time, we were all in it together and that’s what’s got to happen this time too.

“The team have to stick together, the fans have to come out in their droves, the manager has to have a good budget and the philosophy has to be to get back up as quickly as possible.”