Sportspy Reports Extra – Saturday February 7th 2009.

Many of you wont be interested in this but I wanted to get the article online for posterity.  It was a trip down memory lane last weekend as Darwen FC hosted AFC Blackpool in what could have been Darwen FC's final ever game.  The last time I visited Darwen's Anchor Ground was as a teenager in the 1974/75 season.  On that day Darwen FC needed only a point to win the Lancashire Combination and opponents Blackpool Mechanics FC needed to win.  A crowd of over 1,600 turned up to watch and I was one of them.

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Back in the Seventies, I and a group of pals, used to watch Blackpool Mechanics FC regularly in the Lancashire Combination.  They had a really good team back then with players such as the Roach brothers, Derek Armstrong, Dominic Fagioli and John Streetley who up until recently was still refereeing in the Sunday Alliance.  I was still at Highfield School and by a stroke of good fortune Blackpool Mechanics FC played in the same colours as the school, green and black, so the scarf served two purposes.

Towards the end of the 1974/75 season Mechanics were going well and needed to beat Darwen FC away on the last day of the season which was a Sunday in order to be champions.  Home side Darwen FC only required a point to win the league so it was a massive game.  We were invited to go along and watch on the team coach which was quite something at the time for a twelve year old.

Mechanics used to get crowds of about seventy/eighty back in those days so it was quite a shock when we got to the Anchor Ground.  The town had heard that Blackpool were bringing lots of supporters with them so that combined with the importance of the game brought a crowd of over 1,600 on to Darwen's impressive ground which had stands all around it.

Disappointingly for Mechanics the match finished at 2-2 thanks to a heartbreaking late penalty for Darwen.  Back in those days football hooliganisms was becoming trendy at all levels of the game.  What sticks in my mind is that after the match a local thug threatened me with violence if I didn't hand over my black and green Mechanics/Highfield school scarf.  I'd like to say that I struck him to the ground but instead, I meekly handed it over.  After all I was only twelve and he must have been at least seventeen and 14 stone (The culprit gets older and bigger with each telling of that story).

Darwen FC are one of Lancashire's oldest clubs with a rich history.  They were established back in 1875 and once played in the first Division of the football league.  They reached the semi-final of the FA Cup once and the semi-finals on three occasions where they lost to Aston Villa FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.  In 1932 they reached the third round and pulled a glamour tie away at Arsenal.  Four of their past players received caps for England.

These days the club is at a low-point in its history and said to be massively in debt.  Last week in the High Court, London they narrowly avoided a winding up order.  It was a distinct possibility that last Saturday's game against Blackpool Mechanics FC, now unfortunately re-named as AFC Blackpool, could have been the last ever game for the famous club.  Thirty-four years on from the last occasion, a lot older and without a scarf, I took a trip down memory lane to watch the same fixture.

Coming off the M65 I was caught in match traffic but not for the Darwen game.  Blackburn Rovers FC were hosting Aston Villa only a couple of miles away but I wasn't tempted for a second to go and watch that.  No, last Saturday was a day for true grassroots football.  

Below are a few pictures that I took during the game.  It was bitterly cold with the remnants of the recent snow still lying on the fells in the background and on the surrounding terrraces.  The Anchor Ground, which lies in the shadow of the Crown Paints factory, had clearly fallen on hard times over the intervening years with two of the stands having been knocked down.  Walking to the game there seemed to be more people in the Crown Paints Social Club than in the ground.  The crowd was bigger than normal thanks to the current circumstances.  In a game of few chances AFC Blackpool won the match 1-0 thanks to a goal from Wood.  I captured the goal on video.  It's not a great video and it's not very long but it could be important historically as it may have been the last ever competitive goal seen at the famous Lancashire venue. 

Hopefully, the people of Darwen can appreciate the history of this famous club and turn things around.  Besides, it's currently AFC Blackpool's local derby.  The return trip was well worth it after all of those years but if you're reading this and you know who took my scarf I'd like it back with no hard feelings.   

Ground entrance.

Hardy supporters wrapped up against the chill sampling the pie and peas.  The changing rooms are now in an old shipping container.

The West stand with 'Directors' box.

The officials lead the teams out.  Darwen FC are in the red strip.

Paul Carroll (Left)

The AFC Blackpool player on the right is one of the few amateur players you see locally on a Saturday who's played in the Champions League.

AFC Blackpool skipper Mark Ashall.

A wintry scene at the Anchor Ground.

In trouble with the referee.

Ben Waddington (Left), finally back in action after a long lay off with suspension.

“Do us a favour Stuart……….calm down.”

The winning goal for AFC Blackpool by Wood.

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