Pic: Stuart Boulton
THIN LIZZY’S ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ played them onto the pitch – and then Darlington made sure it was the perfect homecoming by getting a Boxing Day win.
The National League North Quakers have returned to their home town after nearly five years away.
Since they last played at the infamous Darlington Arena, supporters have seen their club, reborn as Darlington 1883, start again at Step 5 before winning three promotions to climb the ladder while groundsharing at Bishop Auckland.
The missing piece was playing on home turf but the doors to Blackwell Meadows have finally been flung open.
Striker Mark Beck wrote his name into the history books by bagging the first goal for Martin Gray’s side after just seven minutes, and he got his second after the break in a 3-2 win over FC?Halifax Town – just like his Uncle Tom predicted.
“A few hours before kick-off my uncle said, ‘If you get the first goal you’ll go down in history’,” Beck, who also scored their final two goals at Heritage Park, told The NLP.
“We were just joking about it so although I was just thinking about winning the game, it was in my head a bit and it was nice to get it.
“It was strange to finally be playing there after all the build-up. We were meant to train there to get used to it before we played there, but that got cancelled.
“So it was our first time as well. It almost felt like an away ground because we’d never been there before. We settled into it fairly early and obviously got the win, so that’s good that we did it justice – it wouldn’t have been much of a homecoming if we’d got beat!
“We’d been on quite a bad run and hadn’t won for seven games so it was good timing to get the win.
“Our next game there is on January 7 so hopefully we can get back-to-back wins there and that will get us rolling.”
Fans helped fundraise the work needed to bring the ground – that they will share with Darlington Rugby Club – up to scratch, and 3,000 crammed in for the big opening.
Beck, 22, says the backing from the terraces – and the new Tin Shed – can help their promotion push.
“We’re pleased for the fans,” Beck said. “It was 20 miles for them to get to Bishop Auckland’s ground where we were playing so it was nice to get a bumper crowd there. It was a good day for them and a good day for everyone.
“There was 3,000 there. It will be great if we can get around that every week. It’s massive help for us on the pitch – especially in the second-half when we were attacking the Tin Shed. It’s on a bit of a slope as well so that helped us. We got two early goals in the second-half. They were more or less sucking the ball in the net!”
A draw on their return to the Shaymen on New Year’s Day means Darlo sit fourth in the National League North, 11 points off leaders AFC Fylde.
“It was a shame we had the little blip,” Beck said. “We were second before that so hopefully that’s our little slip up for the season and now we can kick on.
“But we’re still in the mix, still in the play-offs. It’s very tight at the minute and we just need to stick a few wins together to see where it takes us.
“We did very well against Halifax. They’re a good side and we did well to nullify their threats. That’s a nice ground to play at too, so hopefully we can take Boxing Day into the New Year.”