new frontiers (issue 6, December 1993)

Darlington. York City Reserves

When I started supporting York City, in the late 1960s, we were bad. 3 consecutive re-election campaigns just about summed it up.

It was some consolation that we weren't the worst. Hartlepool, Rochdale, Halifax, Barrow, Bradford Park Avenue and Darlington were down there with us. Usually just below City although we were bad.

At least we had somewhere to exile our worst players. Most found their way to Darlington, sooner or later. Around 30 in the last 20 years.

Talking with a Darlington fan the other day, he told me how he had bought Dave Batters' excellent "Complete Record" book so that he could look up the careers of the vast number of City players who found their way to Feethams. It got me thinking too, of all the players who have graced (even disgraced) the shirts of City and Darlington over the years that I have been watching City. I counted almost 30 names, some names I had completely forgotten about. Most players (and I use that word loosely) went from City to Darlington. Worryingly, the trend appears to have been reversed in recent years.

I suppose the mid 1970s saw the peak of the exodus. City in Division 2 had a big squad. Relegation back to Division 3 in 1976 saw a massive clear out. City freed 8 players, 3 went straight to Feethams. Barry Lyons, a record signing back in 1973 led the way. 2 other players who had never re-established themselves in City's side after long term injuries, John Stone and Dennis Wann went with him. All 3 had played prominent parts in City's 1974 promotion side. Barry Lyons oozed class on the right, his ball skills making up for his advancing years, setting Ian Holmes and Brian Pollard away on many mazy runs. Full back Stone, a former prolific scorer for Middlesbrough Intermediates never recovered his City form after receiving a bad knee injury in a tackle with Barry Swallow and a Sunderland forward. At Darlington he recovered his form and later made a 30,000 transfer back to Division 2 with Grimsby. Likewise, Dennis Wann, who never regained his exceptional pace after breaking a leg, was a regular in his 3 seasons at Feethams.

At the end of 1976, they were joined at Feethams by Jimmy Seal. He spent 4 seasons at York. He did very little in his first season. He only managed 3 goals. He came good in his next, the promotion season when he was joined by Chris Jones, they were joint top scorers with 17 goals each. Chris Jones also managed a brief long spell at Darlington at the start of 1978. By this time, another former City forward, Eddie Rowles, had also spent a couple of seasons at Feethams. John Peachey, a hero with his goals in City's 1973/4 League Cup campaign had 2 spells at Feethams. First on loan and then a full season. Although near the bottom of the division, the ex City contingent were regular scorers for Darlington, at times their side fielded 5 ex City stars.

Around this era, Darlington's result would be the first I would look for when I got back from City's game. Almost without fail, an ex City player would have scored for Darlington.

Today, the Seal - Jones partnership is still going strong in York veterans league soccer. In their heyday they rivalled Bristol Rovers Warboys - Bannister for goals.

At that time, football's Bermuda Triangle for experienced players involved York, Darlington and Rochdale. Seal, Jones and Wann each also had a spell at Rochdale before being lost to The Football League. A similar triangle for young players involved Middlesbrough, York and Darlington. Graeme Hedley and Don Burluraux both took this course out of the Football League.

Barry Lyons fared better. He returned to Bootham Crescent, first as a popular youth coach before being appointed to the manager's chair in 1980. He reverted to youth coach when losing his job as manager and finally left football in June 1982 to become a hotelier. Undoubtedly, his best move as manager of York City was to sign Keith Walwyn for an absolute giveaway of 4,000.

As one crop of ex City players left Darlington, another was arriving. Alan Kamara and Peter Bainbridge. 2 young players whose chances had been limited at York. Kamara, at right back never seemed to fit in on the right hand side of City's defence, he should have done, he had Peter Lorimer playing (and shouting at him) in front of him. At Darlington, he was a regular, making 134 appearances. Spells at Burton and Scarborough followed. Last season, he was appointed assistant manager at Halifax. 13 years after his league debut, he was still playing league soccer, evidence of at least some talent. Bainbridge made only a handful of appearances for Darlington.

As Bainbridge went to Darlington, Derek Craig made the opposite journey. 2 seasons as City's regular centre half did little to endear him to the City supporters.

City's current youth coach, Ricky Sbragia, who led his young charges to the FA Youth Cup quarter finals last season also had a spell at Darlington. At the start of the 1985/6 season, he had a month at Feethams, on loan, while regaining full fitness following a back injury.

More recently, the links between the 2 clubs have continued. Brian Little led Darlington back into the Football League and then to the Division 4 championship before moving onto pastures new at Leicester. His little brother, Alan Little was appointed York manager in March 1993.

In January 1973, City's struggling Division 3 side, who always seemed much fitter than their opponents, lost their coach, Billy Horner, who returned to Darlington. At Feethams, he made several more appearances in Division 4 and was later promoted to manager.

Before that, the links were already in place. City's displaced keepers went to Feethams. Tony Moor, Gordon Morritt and John Mackin. Moor being by far the most popular. A regular at Feethams for 7 seasons. I've grouped John Mackin in with the goalkeepers. Yes, you're right, he was a right back, but as a schoolboy he was selected to play in goal for the English Schoolboys, he had to decline the offer as he was Scottish. He played 2 games on loan to Darlington. At York, he was a regular over 4 seasons forming a strong full back partnership alongside Phil Burrows.

Another keeper to find his way to Feethams was Mike Astbury. Having ousted Roger Jones, he lost his place in City's goal following a serious facial injury, he joined Darlington in 1986 and made 38 league appearances for them. Around this time, Darlington became City's recuperation side. As well as Sbragia, Steve Senior and Chris Evans found their way to Darlington. Senior a loan move, he returned to spend another 2 years as a City regular before a transfer to Northampton and a higher grade football. The popular Chris Evans made a permanent move to Darlington. Around the same time, 2 of Denis Smith's lesser signings also moved to Feethams. David McAughtrie, of whom great things had been expected at Bootham Crescent, having been chased by Smith for over a year, and Hugh Atkinson, who did virtually nothing, had undistinguished spells at Feethams before drifting out of league soccer. They were joined at Darlington by Stewart Ferebee who had made 13 appearances as a City striker at the start of the decade before drifting into non league soccer. A further short spell at Halifax followed. At Bootham Crescent, one of his colleagues had been Phil Taylor who resurfaced at Feethams after a spell in Belgium football.

The late eighties saw the start of a worrying trend. Former Darlington players finding their way to Bootham Crescent. Kevan Smith, a 45,000 signing from Coventry, had a disappointing season at Bootham Crescent before a free transfer back to Feethams. Undoubtedly, he is far more popular at Darlington (at least among the supporters) than he ever was at Bootham Crescent.

Last season saw John Borthwick at York. A free transfer signing he made a bright start to his City career. His heading ability making a big impression. Unfortunately, he couldn't sustain his form and lost his regular place. He was a non playing substitute in City's Wembley triumph and was granted a free transfer the following week. The trend continues. Gary Himsworth, who was given a free transfer by York joined Darlington in the summer when freed by Scarborough. It came as something of a surprise when John Bird freed Himsworth as he had often sung his praises. At York, his slight teenage frame often took a battering out wide on the left wing. At Scarborough, he gave a series of man of the match performances when moved into central midfield.

Behind the scenes, the former City secretary, Tom Hughes had a spell with Middlesbrough before moving to Darlington. New (in 1995 Darlington) manager, Alan Murray is another ex City man, albeit, a loan signing who made 4 appearances in 1972.

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The links between the 2 clubs have continued to grow, Billy McEwan, Dave Penney, Martin Gray and Sean Gregan amongst the managerial / coaching connections. On the playing front, what was once a largely one way journey is now a busy 2 way thoroughfare. Read More.

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