2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 22 – Saturday 08 February 2020: AFC Darwen v Daisy Hill

Matchday programme cover

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:

Played Won Drawn Lost Goals For Goals Against Points
Home 2 4 11 16 32 8
Away 0 1 16 6 109 1
TOTAL 2 5 27 22 141 9


Gates at Anchor Road

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.

Darwen artefacts

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.

Game underway

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

Attendance: 139

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


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 5 – Saturday 17 August 2019: Blackburn Rovers v Middlesbrough

Matchday programme cover

Running through the fixture list this particular Saturday there wasn’t much catching the eye but opted for Middlesbrough’s visit to Blackburn Rovers in the end. Both teams had got off to a slow start and neither were known for scoring lots of goals. I suspected that this may turn out to be a goalless draw, so arranged to meet my friends Frank and Michelle after the game for a curry.

Blackburn Rovers have long history in football and are featured in the recent Netflix show, The English Game. The programme centres on the period prior to the formation of the Football League in 1888 with the FA Cup exploits of Darwen and Old Etonians part of the story line. Rovers have won the league on three occasions, the last being the Premier League in 1994/95 and six FA Cups. Along with Wanderers they are the only two teams to have won the FA Cup three years in succession from 1883 through to 1886 and were awarded a commemorative shield to mark the event. They then won the Cup again in 1889/90 and 1890/91.

Jack Walker statue

Blackburn’s more recent success came under their benefactor Sir Jack Walker who invested heavily in the club to earn promotion to the new Premier League for its inaugural season in 1992/93. After finishing fourth and then runners-up, Rovers went on to winning the league in 1994/95 with a dramatic last day of the season defeat to Liverpool with Manchester United also losing that day. Sadly, Sir Jack has since passed away in 2000, but he is fondly remembered by many football fans, not just those at Ewood Park and he is commemorated with a fine bronze statue outside the ground.

Rovers winning penalty

It wasn’t a bad game and not as dull as I had feared. For Blackburn Sam Gallagher ran his heart out up and down the left wing. The old stager, Stewart Downing (all left foot) showed a few touches of class with his control and passing. At the whistle, Blackburn picked up their first Championship win of the season while extending Middlesbrough’s winless start under new boss Jonathan Woodgate. The points were settled by Danny Graham’s first-half penalty for Rovers, who had lost their first two league matches. The 34-year-old won the spot-kick when his shirt was pulled by Anfernee Dijksteel (boyish humour means I must always giggle when mentioning this name) and he stepped up to send goalkeeper Darren Randolph the wrong way. Substitute Marcus Browne struck the woodwork for Boro’ their best effort in the second half, leaving them with one point from their opening three league games. Rovers winger Stewart Downing almost scored against his old club after the break but curled a decent effort narrowly beyond the far post.


Saturday 17 August 2019

Sky Bet Championship

Blackburn Rovers 1 (Graham 25’ [pen]) Middlesbrough 0

Venue: Ewood Park

Attendance: 14,012

Blackburn Rovers: Walton, Bennett, Lenihan, Williams, Cunningham, Travis, B. Johnson, Dack (Buckley 76’), Gallagher, Downing (Rothwell 76’), Graham (Armstrong 71’)

Unused substitutes: Nyambe, Leutwiler, Bell, Evans

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Dijksteel (Tavernier 61’), Ayala, Shotten, Friend (Walker 83’), MacNair, Wing, M Johnson (Browne 70’), Howson, Fletcher, Assombalonga

Unused substitutes: Clayton, Saville, Bola, Pears


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey – In the beginning by Steve Blighton

Saturday 16th August 1969, my Dad, Uncle Jim, and me walking down the Kings Road – the 6 year old me staring agog at the huge amounts of men and boys around me all moving in one direction.

The smell of fried onions and a hint of burgers fills the air as I rush to keep up with my Dad and Uncle that Saturday afternoon around 2.30pm, after walking from my Nan’s house along Lots Road, stopping off for a coke en-route in a smoke filled pub.

Chelsea versus Ipswich Town, the first home game of the 1969/70 First Division campaign, started my football journey that season beginning at Stamford Bridge and culminated nine months later, being allowed to stay up late to watch what has since become billed as ‘the most brutal game of football’. Wednesday night 29th April 1970, Chelsea versus Leeds United in the FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford – they don’t make them like that anymore. And then after the brutality came the beauty of the 1970 World Cup and that amazing Brazil team. I was now hooked on the game!

Like most boys, and pretty much throughout their lives, their Dad is their hero, and my Dad was mine. He had taken me to my first ever game of football and would continue to do so on many occasions. I loved going to football with my Dad which we did throughout my life, and my last memory of him was watching Chelsea demolish Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 on Sunday 8th March 2014 – 4 days later he died in his sleep.

Some of dad’s medals (front view)
Some of dad’s medals (back view)

My Dad was quite a good footballer himself. He had trials at Chelsea, which I only ever found out after he died. He was rejected by the Blues because his heading was weak. However, he got signed by Arsenal but decided to stay part-time and remain in the Air Force. He was stationed in Lincolnshire and spent some time at Scunthorpe United and was good enough to play Representative football for the Air Force. During that time he was dedicated enough to change his preferred foot. He was a right-half and his competition at the time was an amateur international, so he taught himself to kick with his left foot and a new career as a left-half was born.

So in honour of his memory I decided I would attempt to get to 50 games during the 2019/20 season – homage to my first game with my dad fifty years ago. My original criteria was that I would go to games at grounds of teams that had either been a full member of the Football League (or phoenix club) or had won the FA Cup. However, as the season progressed, I revised my criteria as it was obvious, I wouldn’t reach my goal that way, so I lowered the net to include games as far down the football pyramid as Step 10. For those unfamiliar with the pyramid, the Premier League is Step 1, the Championship is Step 2 and so on. Step 10 is the North West Counties League Division One North and is where AFC Darwen ply their trade. I got to see Darwen on my journey, who are the current incarnation of the club that played in the Football League from 1891 to 1899, with the original Darwen FC featured recently in the excellent Netflix series, The English Game.

However, the story of that trip to Lancashire and the wonderfully named, Anchor Ground, is for another time. So let’s go back to where this all started with the match details of that Saturday in August 1969.

First Division

Chelsea 1 (Hutchinson 74’) Ipswich Town 0

Venue: Stamford Bridge

Attendance: 29,613

Chelsea: Bonetti, Dempsey, Houston, McCreadie, Hinton, Cooke, Hollins, Houseman, Hutchinson, Baldwin (Osgood), Tambling

Ipswich Town: Best, Carroll, Mills, Morris, Baxter, Jefferson, Woods, Viljoen, Wigg, O’Rourke, Brogan. Substitute: McNeil

So the journey begins

Love you Dad x