Darlington 1989-90 Conference Champions
KEVAN SMITH has revealed his FA Cup-winning teammates thought he was mad to ditch the glamour of the top-flight for the Conference promotion race – in just 18 months.
Centre-back Smith had already helped Darlington win promotion from the fourth division in his first spell with the Quakers before earning a switch to Coventry City, where he became a Wembley winner in 1987.
He then signed a lucrative twoyear contract at York City before cutting short his time at Bootham Crescent to accept a challenge by Brain Little to return to Darlington and oversee the club’s route back into the Football League at the first attempt.
“It was a massive, massive gamble,” recalls Smith. “I had my old Coventry team-mates like Brian Kilcline, David Speedie and Keith Houchen all ringing me up saying ‘what are you doing you mad idiot’.
“I was never driven by the money, it was the challenge for me and believe you me that was one hell of a challenge.
“John Bird at York had told me that he wanted me to find a club so he could get a couple of other players in for the price of me.
“I was flying off on a family holiday Jersey the next day and only really spoke to Brian out of courtesy because of my previous six years at the club.
“But when I arrived at the ground it all came back to me and on listening to Brian I made a spur of the moment decision and said ‘get a contract and I’ll sign it now’.
“Brian was gobsmacked and thought I was joking but I wanted to know where I was playing the following season before I went off on holiday.
“So, I’d gone from the First Division to Non-League football in 18 months. I wouldn’t normally have touched that with a bargepole unless I’d come out of The Priory or somewhere!”
Little went about building a side of hungry players, all based from the north-east – and it paid dividends as they beat Barnet to the title by two points.
But as Smith points out, the Quakers had one major advantage over most other clubs in the league – they were full-time.
“We came up against a lot of nine-carat thuggery from teams who tried to crash, bang, wallop us,” he added. “We hadn’t heard of a lot of teams and certainly didn’t know where they were on the map.
“We stayed full-time, which was a big factor then. The other guys were earning more than us with a job and football but the fitness side and professionalism was our edge.
“We were always looking at what Barnet were doing and we heard a lot of rumours that Stan Flashman was offering incentives to teams to turn us over.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not, it was never proven, but those were the rumours.
“Every match we went into was a thunderous battle – playing us was like a cup final to other teams.”
1. Mark Hine: An England semiprofessional international, he lives in Edenthorpe, Doncaster and has worked as a utility meter reader.
2. David Corner: Still living in his native north-east and is a policeman with Durham Constabulary. He is a regular guest at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
3. Keith Granger: A former courier, he is now a director of a sports development company and goalkeeping coach at Southampton.
4. Nigel Batch: A goalkeeper who went into the pub trade, running the Royal Oak in Holton-le-Clay, South Humberside. He now works as an interior designer/painter and decorator.
5. Mark Prudhoe: Worked as a goalkeeping coach at Hull City before joining Sunderland in 2011 to help with their academy.
6. Kevan Smith: Ran Darlington FC’s community department and was also Brian Little’s assistant at Hull City. He now runs his own cleaning company and is a floor manager for Premier League productions.
7. Gary Coatsworth: Is still living in his native north-east and is working as a supervisor for Nissan at their Sunderland plant.
Middle row from left to right:
8. Archie Stevens: Worked as a storeman for AMEC during his Non-League days before then becoming a crane driver and an electrician
9. Paul Emson: A keen runner, he lives in Richmond, North Yorkshire where he is working as a postman.
10. Paul Willis: The brother of Jimmy died tragically in July 2011 at the age of 39 following a long battle with cancer in Liverpool.
11. Drew Coverdale: Is now based in Stockton-on-Tees and is a partner in Active PhysioCare Clinics.
12. Jimmy Willis: Managed Bamber Bridge and is now working as a taxi driver in his native city of Liverpool
13. John Borthwick: Lives in Hartlepool and worked on the production line of a factory which made television parts.
14. Gary Hyde: He lives in Hemlington, near Middlesbrough, and was last known to be working as a van driver.
Front row from left to right:
15. Neil Robinson: Now living in Widnes, Cheshire, and is now a snack bar entrepreneur, running the Frank Food company.
16. Andy Toman: Still lives in Darlington and has managed Peterlee, Guisborough and Northallerton Town. Now works for the FA as an academy co-ordinator and coach educator.
17. Frank Gray: Has managed Darlington, Farnborough Town, Grays Athletic, Woking, Basingstoke Town and Bashley since June 2012.
18. Brian Little: Has managed Aston Villa, Stoke, West Brom, Hull, Tranmere, Wrexham and Gainsborough Trinity, while also working for Setanta Ireland and Sky Sports.
19. Tony McAndrew: Has been youth team coach at Leicester City and Stoke City, now enjoying his second stint at Aston Villa having re-joined in 1999.
20. David Cork: He is living in his native Doncaster and working as a machinist for Norking Aluminium manufacturers in Balby.
21. Les McJannett: Is the manager of Carlton Town and coaches at Sherwood Forest’s Centreparcs holiday resort. He was also previously in charge of Matlock Town and Glapwell.
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