Hogans’ Run

Saturday  23 Aug – Darlington 1 – 2 Gills

The last time the Gills were in the basement trips to Darlington were the norm. Played in the delightfully quaint surroundings of Feethams in front of modest but enthusiastic crowds we tended to lose by the odd goal or at best scramble a 1-1 draw – remember Steve Crane? (Our last win there came “way back when” in 73-74 3-1) However the pain was usually dulled by the stupendous intake of alcohol associated with games against “Darlo”.

The combination of such a charming town jam packed full of superb pubs within staggering distance of the turnstiles after an epic trip north was always a bit of a favourite but what entered into legend was one particular pub called “Hogans” adjacent to the train station. Quite possibly the scruffiest, darkest, dirtiest hovel in the whole town back in the 90’s, what made it special were the prices… 55p a pint, 35p during “Happy Hour“, triples and coke for less than a pound, a meat raffle, sticky floors and shabby regular inhabitants that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dickensian novel. We even managed to lose at Darlo on our last visit in 1995 during our promotion season but nevertheless some Gills fans, who must remain nameless, took full advantage of Hogans’ infamous hospitality leaving them somewhat squiffy leading to various comedic high-jinx that culminated with one of them running onto the pitch at the final whistle and managing to dodge the bewildered local stewards with the help of Leo Fortune-West who bundled them down the tunnel with the rest of the Gills players and then out the back of the old main stand before anyone could collar them…

After playing two fellow victims of recent relegation this was our first real test against more typical League Two opponents. The intervening years since our last League meeting thirteen seasons ago could never have been described as being dull at Darlo. The Reynolds era saw them run by an egomaniac ex-safe cracker who having made his millions legitimately then spunked them all on the biggest white elephant in the country. The “Reynolds Arena” holds 25,000, built on the edge of town is nice enough if a bit bland, a neat modern single tier stadium suitable for the likes of Norwich or Palace in the Championship but totally unsuitable for a Darlington side invariably found in the basement pulling in 4,000 at best. Reynolds then got carried away and sent down again. The Arena no longer carries the name of the convicted criminal but his insane decision making has left the club lumbered with a stadium with 15,000 too many seats. This was to be our first ever visit.

On arrival at Darlington (13.17) the train mob swiftly headed for Hogans to see if the place had changed. With the clock ticking and the new stadium a bit of a walk in the opposite direction from the town centre we gingerly entered the old haunt worried that the décor had been completely changed, not just a lick of paint but it was lighter and brighter and airier. Newish furnishings and Sky television set alarm bells ringing but we needn’t have worried, we might have missed “happy hour” (one version lasts until the first goal is scored in televised games) but even “normal” prices were £1 a pint. That’s right a quid. Okay, some of the posher beers, and lagers were as much as £1.50 but the reality was if you stuck to less famous brands you could get seriously shit-faced for the price of a normal round in the Blues Rock…

After sampling the local hospitality we jumped cabs out to the new ground, on arrival it became apparent that the locals had not been captivated by the visit of the Gills. Perhaps it is a hangover from losing in the play-off semi-finals last season or the fact they hadn’t won this season or scored very much. Perhaps it is simply watching football in the renamed “Darlington Arena” is an utterly depressing, plastic and soulless experience. With one side entirely closed, 226 Gills in one end and perhaps 500 in the home end the serried ranks of red seats and the modern scourge of the game, busybody stewards trying to justify their existence, made for quite a shit match day experience. With home fans standing for the entirety of the game some Gills were less than chuffed to be told to sit down despite standing at the back and blocking nobody‘s views, particularly given the criminal lack of legroom in such a new stadium build. People were also lectured for having the temerity of putting their feet on the seats in front or taking photos. Such antagonistic over the top wanky interference is pathetic, in no other nation in the world do impeccably behaved, enthusiastic but peaceful football fans have to put up with such bullshit. Darlington, your stewarding is utterly, utterly over the top and bewilderingly officious. You sad pathetic losers.

As to the game, well it was never going to be a classic, but after the Luton debacle most of us expected something better. To be honest for long stretches the quality was at best mediocre but then this is the old Fourth Division and the quality is unlikely to be top notch. Effort yes, excitement yes, dramatic yes, silky smooth imaginative football played by the Gods, nah, so if that is what you want stick to the Big Four on Sky and leave the real stuff to the mad fuckers that think travelling to Darlington having seen your team fail to win away since January is a good idea.

With Royce back from a virus it was simply a question of whether the out of sorts Bentley and Miller would get to play or whether the newbies like Berry and Weston would get the nod. They did along with Oli on the wing to add a bit more pace if nothing else to proceedings. It wasn’t fantastic but it worked of a fashion with the Gills generally on top in a messy first half – put it this way, we were soon speculating as to whether the all the home fans in the home end could fit into the black and white seats that made up the lettering for “Come on Darlo” rather than sitting in wrapt attention at the actual football…

Twenty one minutes in and suddenly the game had our full and undivided attention. A big lump down field by Royce was flicked on by Weston into the path of the speeding Jackson, he squeezed between two defenders, shrugging one aside and holding the other off before expertly guiding the ball into the bottom corner. Hurrah we cheered, a goal, the first time we’d taken the lead this season. A bit out of the blue but we didn’t care and danced the dance of the lower division away fan…

The Gills then got on top, a combination of the confidence boosting goal and the absence of goby impatient home fans hurling abuse at them for keeping the ball saw them create more chances, the best of which saw Jackson flash one effort across the face of the goal and then the diminutive man of the match escape the Darlo defence again only to fail to find McCammon or Berry in space. Still half time arrived with us still in the lead, not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but at least a few signs of progress.

The second half saw the home side come back into things, they didn’t create much and the defence coped well, the uncomplicated Richards resorting to kicking the ball a very long way whichever direction he was facing, echoes of Brendan Place with a touch of Paul Hague, but it kinda worked… Clarke went close twice, Royce was forced to tip Austin’s chip over the bar after some defensive hesitancy and save a low Main strike but despite losing momentum the Gills weren’t exactly on the ropes, just a bit subdued, the only significant chance being a splendid snap shot by Jackson that was touched over the bar.
The Gills were punished on 78 minutes for taking their foot off the gas when Darlo won a penalty, Weston the culprit. Having gone to ground to make a first tackle he clashed rather clumsily with Darlo’s one and only Liechtenstein international Burgmeier whilst still prone, it looked an obvious foul although subsequent television pictures suggested he’d made the most of it. Royce went the right way for the kick but Purdie’s penalty was struck too hard and we slumped into our seats all to aware of another missed opportunity to end our away day jinx.

The last five minutes though saw the Gills go for it, they upped a gear and had Darlo suddenly wobbling. Jackson saw one chance saved when he latched onto a through-ball only to see the keeper parry it round the post. He then departed for Mulligan who was involved at the corner but Oli hit the opportunity in the direction of Yorkshire. A rather frustrating draw looked on the cards as the match ticked into the last minute of added on time. From a dubious corner – a appealed more in hope than expectation, Southall strode over and took it to the back post. Mulligan headed it down, hard, he wheeled away in triumph only to see Brown miraculously parry the ball onto the inside of the post and away, it reached Richards six yards out to the left of the goal as we looked, he backheeled it into the melee in the vain hope someone might get a touch but remarkably it was on target, the keeper floundered and the ball bobbled deliciously over the line before the flailing McCammon could get his final touch. We went utterly fucking mental. Glory runs from the back row to the pitch side and the players threatened to join us in one glorious writhing heap of Gills humanity at the front, the home fans stunned as we realised with seconds remaining we’d stolen all three points.

The final moments saw no further scares and we were able to salute a crucial win. It had been a poor game but we didn’t care, that is always likely in the fourth division, more importantly we’d finished strongly, shown decent levels of commitment, fitness and mental strength. Aesthetically a mess by psychologically priceless. We then skipped out of the stadium and back to Hogans – I’d rather rashly promised to buy everyone a pint if we won and was frogmarched to the bar via the cash point to honour the round which for 15 drinks came to £19… Happy days at last. The trip home was fairly quiet, we were just happy to luxuriate in the warm fluffy glow of happiness that comes with a couple of hours in Hogans and an away win thanks to a 93rd minute back-heel by your most lumbering of centre backs!

Champagne Moment:- I’d say the winning goal, my own manic celebration being caught on camera for Meridian News to show in all it’s gory glory, but everyone else was keen that I mention a certain incident before kick-off. The aforementioned fucktard stewards had told me to put the Gills flag (Kent’s Finest) on the seats directly behind the goal but then changed their minds and waved me over to move it to the adjoining block with two more flags. So there I was routinely attaching the flag to some more rarely-used red seats when one of the Gillingham substitutes, lashed the ball in the vague direction of the goal in a last defiant attempt to “warm up” – I was oblivious to the incoming missile given I had my back to proceedings, but with exquisite timing turned just as the spherical object arrived, eight inches higher it might have broken my nose or my glasses, as it was it caught me a stinging blow on the chest causing those who witnessed it to cheer wildly and fall about in unsympathetic hysterics. Mesmerised by the parabolic path they failed to shout a warning but rather watched with mute fascination as the ball twated me. To add insult to (minor) injury I then had to go and retrieve the offending ball and throw it back to the players as the attempted to kill off as many of the way support as they could manage…

The nursing his damaged pride Binman.

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4 Responses to Hogans’ Run

  1. The Morty Vicker says:

    Far be it from me to dispute the Binman’s recollection of Gills history, but I’m sure we won at Feethams on a Friday night at the end of the 85/86 season. Shearer scored after about 20 seconds, we were three up at half time and tried our best to throw it away in the second half….

  2. Sy says:

    Although I don’t agree with the heavy handed stewarding that you obviously encountered how many fans actually know that it is against league regulations to stand at football games if a seat is provided (in fact clubs can have their safety certificates revoked if they fail to get people to sit) and the taking of photographs is prohibited!

    Good report though and a great 3 points, now let’s win a home game or two!

  3. Sy says:

    Also for MV

    Friday 20th December 1985

    Darlington 3 Gillingham 2 Half Time 2-2

    Gills scorers : Shearer, Cascarino

    Looks like statto Binman was right!

  4. Binman says:

    I think what annoys fans is inconsistencies with stewarding, the Darlington fans in the home end were allowed to stand throughout the game unmolested, whilst the Gills were repeatedly asked to sit down in an aggresive and confrontational manner. The taking of photos might nominally be “against rules” but to prevent people taking press ones and making money, not to stop fans keeping their own personal record. 95% of clubs turn a blind eye, even at the World Cup and Euros you can take photos for private consumption. What harm does taking photos at Darlo do – and even more bizzarely they encourage people to use their phone cameras instead…? Makes them look like idiots, still I took them anyway along with the other 200 grounds I’ve been to. At Arsenal on Wednesday many people took photos and all 3000 away fans stood for the entire game and one corner of the home fans unmolested. Why some clubs get so anal about it is a mystery. The match controller or whatever at Darlo is clearly on a power trip…

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