A trip back in time and over to Lancashire to the Anchor Ground in Darwen.
The original Darwen club featured in the drama The English Game which looked at the rise of professionalism in football as the working class teams challenged the elite of the old boys sides that dominated the FA Cup such as the Old Etonians. The story is partly based on fact but is dramatized and well worth a watch, as is A Captains Tale about West Auckland FC winning what is seen by some people as the first World Cup, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy in 1909 and 1911.
In terms of the inaccuracies of The English Game, a significant one is that the show features only one Blackburn team whereas the reality was that there were two, Blackburn Olympic (FA Cup winners 1882/83) and Blackburn Rovers (who won their first FA Cup in 1883/84). However, one of the central characters is Fergus Suter (who did exist), who went onto win the FA Cup in 1883/84, 1884/85 and 1885/86 with Blackburn Rovers but these victories took place after the timeline of the series. Suter was a Scottish footballer who caught the eye when Partick FC toured Lancashire and played against Darwen and Blackburn Rovers in 1878. He later joined Darwen where his friend Jimmy Love was already playing. Suter gave up his trade as a stone mason as he was paid to play football, unheard of at that time and is therefore regarded as one of the forerunners of the professional game. In 1880 he caused further controversy by moving to close rivals Blackburn Rovers where he would win the FA Cup three years in succession and was also a runner up against Old Etonians in 1881/82.
Darwen were one of the more successful northern working class football teams in the FA Cup which at that time was dominated by teams consisting of the gentry and public school boys. They reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup in 1879 when they had to travel to the Oval to play Old Etonians on three occasions drawing 5 – 5, 2 – 2 and finally losing 6 – 2. In 1881 they went one better and reached the semi-finals where they were beaten by eventual winners Old Carthusians 4 – 1. They joined the Football League in 1891 when it was expanded to 14 teams, but finished bottom of the table and relegated to the newly formed Second Division. They spent a further season in the top-flight in the 1893/94 season only to be relegated once again. In their final league season they suffered a record 18 successive defeats and conceded 141 goals in the campaign, their final statistics for the 1898/99 season were:
Following relegation to the Lancashire League they moved to the Anchor Ground where they play today. The club never hit the heights of its Football League days, plying its trade for the majority of its existence in the Lancashire Combination League and latterly, the Cheshire County League and were founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982/83. They created another FA Cup memory in 1931/32 when in front of 10,000 at Anchor Road, in the Second Round they beat Chester (then a League Club) 2-1. Darwen then travelled to Arsenal in the Third Round and were beaten 11-1, with The Gunners going onto the Final only to lose 2-1 to Newcastle United. Sadly in May 2009, Darwen FC were wound-up due to significant financial debt, only for AFC Darwen to form, the name the club carries today.
Despite that, in the clubhouse there are many pictures from their history at the end of the 19th Century and their most famous years, and the ‘new’ club is seen very much as connecting to the original Salmoners (the nickname due to the fact that during their first two seasons in the Football League (1891 to 99) they played in salmon and pink shirts.
On a typically grey February afternoon, the visitors to the Anchor Ground today were Daisy Hill, a club based in Westhoughton near Bolton. The game got off to a slow start with both teams testing each other out spreading long balls down the wings. In the opening quarter hour the referee whistled for a penalty to Darwen, the crowd were just as flummoxed as the players as to the reason for the decision, it appeared to be a simple cross in from the left and easily cleared by the Daisy Hill defence. No VAR at this level to confer regarding the decision. Up stepped Nyle Ellis to take the spot kick which he put to the keepers right and the Hill keeper, Dean Williams, pulled off a brilliant save. Unfortunately for Williams, Ellis was there to follow up and put the ball into an empty net.
Ten minutes later there was more fun with the referee when he broke down trying to keep up with play. The game was paused for around five minutes and a member of the Darwen coaching staff came on to run the line. Shortly after Daisy Hill got a free kick on the right side of the field. Sam Howell put the ball in, and Tyler Rufus’ half volley was blocked and ran to Jacob Ridings who put the ball in at the far post. Darwen started to pressurise the Daisy Hill defence and were rewarded with two quick goals towards the end of the half. The first came from the right hand side when the Darwen full back Kallum Banks curled in a cross and Ellis nipped in front of Williams to head Darwen into the lead. The second was also a Banks/Ellis double act. This time Banks crossing to the far post where Ellis was unmarked and placed his header inside the near post. 3-1 to Darwin at half-time.
After the break Daisy Hill came out looking to make a mark on the game. Jamie Ramwell hit the post following a corner being flicked on at the near post. Daisy Hill brought on two fresh attackers on the hour mark, Jordan Hussey and Matty Knowles. With quarter of an hour to go Daisy Hill went on the attack through Sam Howell down the right wing, his cross was met on the volley by Jamie Ramwell who gave the Darwen keeper Lewis McPartlan no chance. Shortly afterwards Daisy Hill attacked down the right again and Ridings met the far post cross and headed past the Darwen keeper for his second of the game. Daisy Hill tried hard for the winner in the final ten minutes but the closest they came was a Jordan Hussey volley that was fired high above the bar. So in very much a ‘game of two-halves’ it finished 3-3 – value for money indeed!
Saturday 08 February 2020
North West Counties First Division North
AFC Darwen 3 (Ellis 14’, 32’, 33’) Daisy Hill 3 (Ramwell 24’, Ridings 75’, 81’)
Venue: The Anchor Ground
AFC Darwen (Squad as per programme): McPartlan, Johnson, Lonsdale, Ashburner, Edwards, Langford, Mason, Jones, Bond, Knowles, Banks, Creech, Holt, Gibson, Prince, Bannister, Jarrold, Hamilton, Williams, Ogundaisi, Greenhalgh.
Daisy Hill: Williams, Riddings, Fairhurst, Worrall, Singleton, Critchley, O’Brien, Howell, Ramwell, Rufus, Mills.
Substitutes: Mullarkey, Calaky, Knowles, Kilasa, Hussey