Darlington FC were founded in 1883 after a meeting was called in Darlington Grammar School to address concerns that so few Darlington-based football clubs were entering the Durham Challenge Cup which was the major competition in the region, writes Malcolm Johnson.
The meeting agreed that there was “no club, urban or rural, sufficiently powerful to worthily represent Darlington”, and it was decided to form a new one. The ground the new club played on from the start was known as Feethams and had been used by Darlington Cricket Club since 1866 with football also being played there. It was originally rented from a prominent member of the local Quaker community called John Beaumont Pease, hence Darlington FC’s nickname of The Quakers.
The club originally played in regionally organised leagues before becoming one of the founder members of the Northern League in 1889 which they won in 1896 and again in 1900. With growing crowd figures, the ground was expanded with the construction of the Polam Lane End terracing in 1905. This was followed by the building of more terracing at the Town End backing onto the cricket pitch which from 1895 had begun to see occasional use by Durham County Cricket Club.
Feethams hosted an Amateur international game in 1907 in which England defeated the Netherlands 12-2, and a year later Darlington turned professional and joined the North Eastern League, winning it in 1913.
Starting with a small pair of towers being built at the entrance to the ground (which lay beyond the cricket pitch) ground improvements then saw work start on an East Stand. However, this led to financial difficulties until the chairman of local league side Darlington Forge Albion took over the club and cleared the debts. As a result of the financial situation it took from 1914 to 1919 to complete the new stand which extended along two-thirds of the length of the pitch with terracing either side. In 1920 offices and changing rooms were built underneath it.
When competitive football resumed after the First World War with the 1919/20 season Darlington finished as runners-up in the North Eastern League and were champions the following year. This record doubtless led to the Quakers being one of the clubs invited in 1921 to be members of the newly-formed Football League Division Three (North), and the first league game at the ground took place on 27 August 1921 when Halifax Town were beaten 2-0.
Due to having just spent one of their customary single seasons out of the league Lincoln City were also founder members of the new Division Three (North) and paid their first visit to Feethams in November 1921. The Quakers, having carried over their good form in the North Eastern League into the new level had made a good start to the season and beat the fifteenth-placed Imps to move to the top of the table. The distinction of being the first City player to score on the ground fell to inside forward ‘Pip’ Rippon, with the Imps’ other goal in a 4-2 defeat coming from right winger John Boylen.
Although seldom out of the top two places in their first Football League season Darlington eventually had to yield the championship and solitary promotion place to Stockport County so City were back at Feethams again in January 1923 for a goalless draw between the two mid-table sides. The following season saw a second defeat for City, this time by 1-0 to a third-placed Darlington as the Imps spent the whole of the season struggling in the lower reaches of the league table.
A minor claim to fame came in December 1923 with a match due to take place against Chesterfield. The Feethams pitch was frozen solid, but the referee suggested it could be played on the cricket pitch where there was just an inch of snow. Approval was sought from officials of the cricket club and 50 men were recruited from the labour exchange to move sufficient snow to enable the pitch to be marked out by the referee himself. Goalposts were moved from the football pitch and the referee then got both clubs to sign an agreement to play on the cricket pitch and not to protest irrespective of the result as technically it was on a neutral ground. 6,000 people somehow crowded around the pitch to see Darlington win 2-1 and it is said to be probably the only game ever played on a ground not sanctioned by the FA.
Under new manager Horace Henshall Lincoln had a better season in 1924/25 finishing eighth, but Darlington did even better, winning the championship by five points. They suffered only one home defeat all season – and that was inflicted by City as they reversed the previous season’s score-line, the goal from centre forward Lester Marshall producing their first win on the ground.
Darlington’s only venture into the second tier of league football lasted just two seasons but led to an improvement to the ground with the building of the West Stand which was a more basic version of the existing stand opposite and was just 40 yards long.
Back in Division Three (North) for 1927/28, Lincoln City’s visit in early January saw Darlington’s highest-ever league victory as Tom Ruddy and Harry Lees finished with three goals each in a 9-2 win for the home side. Inside left Harold Andrews and legendary striker Billy Dinsdale could only manage consolation goals for City in a game which saw reserve centre half Edward Gillott’s last appearance for the club. Placed third in the table at the time, against Darlington’s thirteenth, the result did turn out to be only a blip in City’s season as they went on to finish as runners-up to Bradford.
Defeat came again in mid-April of the following season, but by the more manageable score-line of 2-1 which put an end to a run of five wins. City’s goal came from Harry Kitching who was in the middle of a run of scoring for nine games in a row after stepping up from the reserves following the sale of Dinsdale. The game the following September saw the mid-table Imps do well to come away with a draw from a fourth-placed Darlington side thanks to a goal from former Hartlepools striker Billy Robinson. City improved during the season to finish fifth, two places behind Darlington.
New Year’s Day in the 1930/31 season saw the Imps’ second win on the ground, and like the first one six years before, it was by 1-0 with the goal being scored by left winger Frank Pegg. City had been top of the table since the autumn but a poor late-season run saw them finish a point behind promoted behind Chesterfield. They went one better the following season, and on the way notched up their highest score at Feethams in January 1932. Second in the table at the time, the 6-0 win over the seventh-placed home side was the first in a run of five victories which put the Imps top of the table where they narrowly finished ahead of Gateshead. Record-breaking goal-scorer Allan Hall’s three goals were to see him become the only City player to register a hat-trick on the ground and took his immediate record to 17 goals in his last 8 games. City’s other goals came from Frank Keetley with a brace and speedy right winger Philip Cartwright.
It was now City’s turn for a two-year stay in the Second Division, so their next visit to Feethams came in the 1934/35 season. Johnny Campbell was the scorer in a 4-1 defeat to a sixth-placed Darlington side in the March, although the Imps were to rise to fourth by the end of the season. Another defeat came towards the end of the following season but this time by only 1-0 as City again finished fourth, well above the mid-table Quakers.
1936/37 produced only the third draw in 12 visits to the ground, and the first 2-2 score-line, City’s goals coming from right winger John Callender and a first goal for the club by usual reserve striker Tom Burdett. Fifth following this game in early October, City, now managed by Joe McClelland went on to finish as runners-up to Stockport County, while Darlington in last place were forced to apply for re-election to the league for the first time, comfortably topping the poll ahead of the likes of Shrewsbury Town.
City slipped to an eighth-place finish in the 1937/38 season but were second at the time of their visit to Darlington in the October and ran out 4-1 winners over a still-struggling Quakers. Callender scored again to become the first City player to score in successive games on the ground, and two goals for Johnny Campbell meant he had also scored in two matches there, although the first time had been three seasons before. The goals also drew him level on three with Allan Hall. City’s other goal came from tricky inside forward Dicky Deacon.
The following season saw both teams struggling in the lower reaches of the division and City were next to bottom when they were beaten 3-1 at Darlington in October 1938, the goal coming from Geoff Marlow.
In 1946/47, the first season after World War Two saw both teams carry on from where they had left off, although the post-war attendance boom produced a New Year’s Day crowd of 8,652, the highest ever for a meeting of the two clubs at Feethams. Now under the direction of Bill Anderson the 14th-placed Imps went down 4-3 to the home side who rose in the table to change places with them as a result. City’s goals came from Jimmy Hutchinson and Dunkirk veteran Tommy Cheetham whose brace contributed to his finishing as the season’s top scorer.
1947/48 saw City gain promotion from the division for a second time, and another goal from Hutchinson, his 21st of the season, plus strikes from Benny Lester and wing half Bobby Owen saw a comfortable 3-1 win for the top of the table Imps. However, immediate relegation back to the third tier for the Imps saw them back at Feethams late in the 1949/50 season for a 2-0 defeat to a Darlington side, as usual in the lower reaches of the league table as City themselves finished fourth.
On their way to a fifth-place finish in 1950/51 City were in that position when they visited a mid-table Darlington in the January, Roy Finch’s goal being enough for a 1-1 draw. Remarkably, it was the same score-line and the same scorer the following season with City on their way to a second Third Division (North) championship in four years. Darlington themselves, finishing in 23rd place, had to make a second re-election plea, again topping the poll.
With City now enjoying a lengthy spell in Second Division football Darlington continued to struggle, not finishing above 15th place in the remaining six seasons of the Third Division (North) and becoming original members of the Fourth Division in 1958 with their best placing in the first seven seasons of the new division being seventh in 1961.
With the Feethams ground having been largely unchanged since the mid-1920s some ground improvements took place in 1961, although these were partly forced by the West Stand burning down the previous September due to a fire caused by an electrical fault. Coincidentally this followed the first use of the newly-installed floodlights paid for by the Supporters Club. Despite the lack of this stand the attendance record for the ground was set just two months later with 21,023 present for the visit of First Division Bolton Wanderers in a League Cup tie.
The burned-out stand was removed, but instead of a more modern design being erected it was replaced by practically a replica of the original, which was said to be due to issues involving insurance. At the same time, the remainder of the £20,000 raised by the Supporters’ Club for the cost of the floodlights was used to pay for a roof over the terracing at the Town End of the ground, this becoming nicknamed ‘The Tin Shed’.
Following Lincoln’s successive relegations from the Second to Fourth Divisions the two clubs renewed hostilities in the 1962/63 season. At the end of September City achieved only their second goal-less draw on the ground and were in 8th place at the time, but a disastrous last three months of the season saw them have to apply for re-election for the first time in over forty years. The only FA Cup game between the two clubs on the ground also took place in the 1962/63 season, with two goals from Jimmy Campbell seeing the Imps progress with a 2-1 win in a First Round replay. It was Campbell who scored again the following season as City achieved their third 1-1 draw in their last five visits to the ground.
After the previous three seasons of relegation and re-election City enjoyed a better time of it in 1963/64 with a mid-table finish in what was manager Bill Anderson’s 18th season in charge of the team. However, by the time of the Imps’ next game at the Feethams in November 1964 Anderson was longer in full control as the selection of the team was now being carried out by the club’s board of directors. After meeting some slight initial success with this arrangement City had slipped from mid-table to 17th place and only had midfielder John Milner’s goal as a consolation in a 3-1 defeat. With Bill Anderson finally removed from any responsibility for team affairs a month or so later to be replaced first, and disastrously, by Con Moulson, then by Roy Chapman as player-coach City found themselves having to make another re-election plea.
Lincoln’s next visit to Feethams was the second game of the 1965/66 season and a 2-0 win put them in 15th place which was as good as it got in a season which ended with another re-election application. As well as a goal from midfielder Bunny Larkin it also saw a first for the club by Barry Hutchinson who went on to finish as top scorer with 20 goals despite being sold at the beginning of February 1966 to – Darlington. The game was also notable for the first appearance on the pitch by a City substitute with Roy Chapman replacing Larkin.
Helped by Barry Hutchinson’s goals and under the direction of their cheery-sounding manager Lol Morgan, Darlington won promotion for the first time in over 40 years. However, their stay in the Third Division was the briefest possible and City were back at Feethams in September 1967 for the first in what was to be the longest run of seasons in which the two clubs played each other. After being re-elected for the third time in a row City had improved under manager Ron Gray, and Clive Ford’s goal in a 1-1 draw put them in 10th place as both teams ended the season just below half way. The next game just under a year later came as a shock for City who had started the season like a train with five straight wins. However, a 5-0 defeat was their second worst ever on the ground. Although still briefly holding on to top spot after the game they were never to regain it and a disappointing second half to the season saw an eighth-place finish. The result put the Quakers second and they spent some time in top place before also falling away to finish fifth.
Much better came in the 1969/70 season with a 3-0 win for City thanks to midfielder Dave Helliwell’s only goal for the club plus a couple from leading scorer Rod Fletcher. City once again finished the season in eighth place but Darlington declined from the previous year to have to make their first application for re-election for 16 years, once again topping the poll. The following season it was City’s turn for another bottom-four finish and now managed by former trainer Bert Loxley they were not far above the dreaded zone when losing 3-2 at Feethams at the end of January despite Rod Fletcher’s third goal in two games there and one from Phil Hubbard. The win put Darlington fifth at the time but they could only finish in mid-table.
One of the goals in Darlington’s win in early 1971 had come from later Imps player Alan Harding and it was his fellow Quaker Peter Graham, also to become a City favourite who hit a hat-trick in the 3-3 draw at Feethams in the 1971/72 season. Under David Herd who had succeeded Loxley as manager the Imps had made steady progress and Phil Hubbard’s second goal in successive visits to the ground plus a brace from Percy Freeman put them in 7th place at the end of November. Despite the presence of Harding and Graham in their side Darlington were struggling and were glad to finish two points clear of the bottom four while at the other end of the table City just missed out on promotion.
As with Lincoln in the 1960s, Darlington were now going through a rocky few years and 1972/73 saw them finish bottom of the league. City continued what was to be their best run of results at Feethams with a 1-1 draw in the second game of the season, Dixie McNeil the scorer in a game which saw a first team debut for Irish striker Brendan Bradley. But the Imps could only finish in mid-table following the replacement of David Herd as manager by Graham Taylor. This time Darlington were rather fortunate to be re-elected to the league at the end of the season, as if the votes split between non-league clubs Yeovil, Kettering and Wigan had been combined for just one of the three the Quakers would have been out. The following season they missed having to run the risk of applying again by a single point, City’s 3-0 win at Feethams in mid-March 1974 putting Darlington into 19th place. Dixie McNeil scored on the ground for the second season in a row and there were also goals from John Ward and Terry Cooper in what was the last in a series of games played on Sundays due to that winter’s national energy crisis. By now both Alan Harding and Peter Graham had been signed for City from Darlington, but both missed the visit to their old ground as Harding was injured and Graham left out of the side after a record of just one goal in 21 appearances.
The mid-season promotion challenge faded out to leave another disappointing mid-table finish to 1973/74, but a good home record at the start of the following season had put City in touching distance of the top four by the time of their next game at Feethams at the end of October 1974. This was my first visit to the ground, and located not too far from the town centre, I found it rather quirky that after going through the turnstiles in the gated entrance off the street you then had to walk around the cricket pitch in order to get to the ground itself. In the 1970s a hockey club played their home games on the outfield of the cricket ground and there would usually be a game going on which often attracted a few people to watch prior to the kick-off in the football match or during half time.
Standing spectators had the option of terraces at each end of the ground with nominally the home end being the Tin Shed with the open Polam Lane End opposite, plus either side of the World War One-vintage East Stand or the wooden steps at the front of it. More seating was available in the smaller West Stand to give a total of 1,200 seats in a ground capacity of around 15,000.
City made it two wins in a row on the ground for the first and only time with a 4-1 win which Graham Taylor rated as the best performance since he became manager. After going behind early on the Imps equalised through Peter Graham scoring against his old club before Dick Krzywicki, full back Ian Branfoot, and Dave Smith sealed the win to set City on the way to a real promotion challenge. This went right to the last game of the season and a defeat which meant Chester took the last promotion spot on goal average. Darlington on the other hand, had to make their second application for re-election in three seasons. They did better this time, possibly due to the presence in the ballot of Workington for the second year in a row who polled even fewer votes than the Quakers but enough to beat off another challenge from Kettering.
After the disappointment of 1975 City romped to the Fourth Division title in 1976 with a record number of points and a century of goals. Their late September visit to Darlington however, saw the Quakers become the first side to prevent them scoring that season, the goal-less draw in conditions of torrential rain keeping the Imps in second place. Darlington themselves were glad to finish the season outside the re-election zone on goal average.
After two improved seasons Darlington survived another re-election plea in 1979, more comfortably this time as perhaps due to Workington and Southport having been voted out in the last two seasons the clubs possibly decided enough new blood was enough for the time being.
With Lincoln having been relegated back to the Fourth Division after three seasons in the Third their next visit to Feethams came in March 1980. Now managed by Colin Murphy in his first full season, a headed equaliser by midfielder Nolan Keeley secured a 1-1 draw in a game which saw the manager threaten to complain to the Football League about the quality of Darlington’s floodlights. The point kept City in seventh place where they were to finish the season, but the Quakers, third from bottom had to apply yet again for re-election, this time however, topping the poll.
1980/81 was another promotion season for Lincoln, but as in the previous one they could only manage a 0-0 draw on a mud bath of a pitch at Darlington. The game, again taking place in March was their fifth draw in a row and the third to be goalless as a tight defensive record saw the Imps finish the season as runners-up to Southend United. Darlington themselves had their best season for years finishing eighth as they began to put some dark days behind them.
City were to enjoy a longer stay in the higher division this time and were still there at the time of their next visit to Feethams which came in March 1985 in the second round of what was then known as the Freight Rover Trophy. The Imps were placed just below mid-table in the Third Division at the time while Darlington, were second in the Fourth. The Imps proved too strong however, with goals from Gordon Hobson, John McGinley and centre half Alan Walker producing a 3-1 win. Darlington went on to win promotion in third place, so with City having avoided relegation by five points the next meeting at Feethams at the end of March 1986 was the first between the two clubs in the Third Division since 1952. Since the departure of Colin Murphy at the end of the previous season City had replaced his successor John Pickering in December by George Kerr, giving him his second spell in charge of the club. However, results had only marginally improved although a recent run of three wins in a row had seen a move out of the bottom four. A 1-0 defeat at Darlington which would have been heavier but for the efforts of goalkeeper Trevor Swinburne put them back in it again and brought to an end the Imps’ eight-match unbeaten run at the ground.
Eighteenth at the time of their win over City Darlington finished in mid table as the Imps’ 21st-place finish started the slide that ended with relegation out of the league at the end of the following season. Darlington were relegated back to Division Four themselves at the end of the following season, so following City’s bounce back to the league after winning the GM Vauxhall Conference after the return of Colin Murphy as manager the two sides met again in the fourth tier in the 1988/89 season. At the beginning of March City were in 7th place as they tried for a second successive promotion, taking on a next-to-bottom Darlington side which included former Imps goalkeeper Nigel Batch. However, a combination of missed chances, particularly by Phil Brown, poor defending from corners and a man-of-the-match performance by Batch meant tall striker Malcolm Dunkley’s 88-minute goal was too little too late in a 2-1 defeat which was the first of four in a row and contributed to a final placing of tenth. Darlington, however, were unable to escape the bottom two places and ended the season as the first club to emulate City and be relegated to the Conference.
The Quakers, however, also emulated City in bouncing straight back to the league again, so after a gap of one season the Imps were at Feethams again in April 1991. By now City had changed managers twice, with former defender Steve Thompson in charge having replaced Allan Clarke at the end of November. He had lifted City out any relegation trouble into a comfortable mid-table position, but popular striker Tony Lormor’s goal in a 1-1 draw came in the middle of a run of only one win in nine games which meant they stayed there. The game was notable for the first team debut of goalkeeper Matt Dickins, and City looked set for victory against a top of the table Darlington side including former and later Imps players Andy Toman and Steve Mardenborough until the Quakers forced a last-minute equaliser.
Darlington outdid City following their own season in the Conference, with a second straight promotion at the end of the 1990/91 season. Their stay in the third tier was the briefest, however, so there was once again a gap of only one season before the Imps were back at Feethams again in October 1992 in a division which following the creation of the Premier League was now numbered Division Three.
After a rocky start to the season the Imps had improved, and a 3-1 win put them into sixth place, the goals coming from Jason Lee, scoring for the third game in a row, and fellow striker Peter Costello whose brace made it five in three games for him. However, goals from the pair then rather dried up and City could only manage an eighth place by the end of the season. Darlington, in the lower half of the table at the time of the match, remained there. The Quakers’ side again included both Mardenborough and Toman, plus another ex-Imp in Paul Dobson who scored their goal.
As a result of regulations brought in after the Bradford fire the capacity of the Feethams ground had been reduced to just 8,400, but some improvements were considered in 1992. However, the cost of over £100,000 quoted for roofing the Polam Lane End terracing meant nothing was done.
Steve Thompson paid the price for twice failing to achieve even a play-off place and had been replaced by former youth team coach Keith Alexander by the time of City’s December 1993 visit to Feethams.
After a slow start to the season City had risen to mid-table, while Darlington, who had not achieved their first win of the season until the beginning of November were 21st, and in a 22-club division were concerned about making a fairly rapid return to the Conference they had left four seasons before. Steve Mardenborough had now changed clubs, joining City from Darlington in the summer, and he came off the subs’ bench with 30 minutes gone, replacing youngster Matt Carbon as Keith Alexander switched to playing with a back four after the Imps had gone two goals down. David Johnson pulled a goal back for City and fellow striker Neil Matthews equalised early in the second half, but Stoke City loanee Robbie Painter was unmarked to score his second goal of the match for Darlington to end any hopes of a point for City
Darlington escaped relegation in 21st place at the end of the 1993/94 season but were having another struggling season by the time of the next meeting at Feethams in April 1995. As for the Imps, a disappointing second half of the season had seen Keith Alexander replaced during the summer by Sam Ellis, a fans’ favourite as a player during the Graham Taylor years. However, as a manager he had produced a dour side which had spent the whole season in mid-table and achieved a goalless draw with a Darlington side which had lost nine out of their last eleven games. No doubt because of this, the attendance was just 1,664 which was the lowest ever to see a league match at the ground between the two sides. The game was notable only for a second substitute appearance for the club by up-and-coming youngster Darren Huckerby which drew praise from Ellis.
Darlington finished the 1994/95 season two places clear of relegation but by the time of the next league meeting between the two sides at Feethams in late March 1996 were having a much better time of it. First, though, what turned out to be City’s last ever win on the ground came in a First Round game in the Auto Windscreens Shield at the beginning of November. This also featured the lowest ever crowd for a meeting between the two sides as just 984 saw defender Grant Brown score the only goal of the match. City had changed managers twice since the start of the season, with Sam Ellis dismissed after a poor start, and his replacement Steve Wicks doing no better after less than two months in charge. New manager John Beck had lost no time in bringing in several new players and four of them were in evidence in this match, including winger Gareth Ainsworth who was to score in the visit to Feethams in the league at the end of March. By then, Beck had almost completely rebuilt the squad and City had gradually climbed clear of relegation trouble. Darlington were on a run of only one defeat in eleven games at the time but there were only just over 2,000 present to see the 3-2 win which moved them into fourth place, City’s other goal coming from tall Dutch striker Gijsbert Bos
Darlington went on to finish fifth but were beaten in the 1996 play-off final by Plymouth so City were back at Feethams the following February. A run of three wins and a draw had put them to within a point of the play-off places, but one of the characteristics of John Beck’s time in charge was that now and again the side would suffer an unexpectedly heavy defeat and that was what happened on this occasion. Gareth Ainsworth’s two late goals saw him score on the ground for the second time in a row, but City were 4-0 down at the time and the Quakers made the final score 5-2 a minute from the end. The game saw tall defender Mark Foran, on loan from Peterborough, come off the subs’ bench for the first of his two appearances for City, and what turned out to be the last game for the club by the equally tall Gijsbert Bos.
City finished the season three points adrift of a play-off place while Darlington who had had a poor season after their play-off appearance the previous year eventually pulled away from the 22nd place they had been in prior to the win over City and finished clear of trouble in 18th.
Despite having been unable to afford £100,000 for ground improvements five years before, and a season in which their usual attendance was under three thousand, Darlington now embarked on the building of a replacement for the World War One-vintage East Stand. This reduced the ground capacity slightly to 8,100 although this included 4,509 seats, but the cost of £3 million was to have a major negative effect on the club’s finances.
The Quakers had another season of struggle on the field in 1997/98, but were clear of trouble by the time of City’s next visit which was the penultimate game of the season. Defender Shane Westley had now succeeded the controversial John Beck as manager at the beginning of March. Despite taking the lead with a Steve Holmes penalty City then fell behind and it needed a 90th minute goal from Terry Fleming (credited at the time to sub’ Dennis Bailey), to rescue a point and give them the chance – duly taken – to secure the third automatic promotion place in the last game of the season.
City were back in the fourth tier again after one season while Darlington after an improved mid-table finish had spent most of the 1999/2000 season challenging for promotion, and a 2-0 win on the last day of the season over an Imps side now managed by chairman John Reames saw them finish fourth but miss out on promotion for a second time by losing in the play-off final. The game saw the last appearances for the Imps of long-serving midfielder Terry Fleming and winger Lee Philpott as City finished fifteenth.
Meanwhile, Darlington had been taken over by Sunderland-born millionaire and self-made man George Reynolds who paid off the club’s mounting debts, and despite the existence of a main stand no more than two years old, promised the construction of a brand-new stadium on the edge of the town.
City were back at Feethams in December 2000, now with former striker Phil Stant in charge of the team but still drifting in the lower half of the league table with the 3-0 defeat putting them down to 19th. Darlington, again having had a season of struggle following a play-off final defeat finished 20th while City, following the appointment of Alan Buckley as manager at the beginning of March finished two places above them thanks to a run of one defeat in the last seven games of the season.
In the 2001/02 season City suffered a third successive defeat on the ground for the first time, losing 2-1 in the January, the goal, scored by defender Paul Morgan being the last ever Imps goal on the ground, and although it gave City the lead just after half time Darlington won the game in the last minute. It was another mediocre lower half of the division season for Darlington, while City with an eleven-game winless run to the end of the season were glad to finish 22nd although well clear of relegation thanks to a poor season from Halifax Town.
In the summer of 2002, Lincoln City like the Quakers were also in financial trouble and were forced to go into administration leading to economies in the playing staff including the departure of manager Alan Buckley. His replacement, for a second spell, in charge was Keith Alexander and he assembled a cut-price group of players which had got the club into a play-off position by the beginning of November and City’s last ever game at Feethams. The game, against an 18th-placed Darlington side, ended goalless.
The following summer Darlington moved into their brand new, 25,000-seat ground initially named the Reynolds Arena after the chairman, with the last game played at Feethams being a 2–2 draw with Leyton Orient on 3rd May 2003. The Quakers finished the season once again in the lower half of the league table, as it was the Imps this time who were beaten in the final of the play-offs.
Following the closure of Feethams in 2003 the floodlights were sold to Workington FC and the six-year-old East Stand was offered for sale with the possibility of it going to Farnborough Town, then in Conference South but the deal fell through. It was then rumoured that clubs from all over the British Isles were interested in acquiring the stand, ranging from Sligo Rovers to Worksop Town, and Falkirk to Crawley. Possibly the most credible of the possible buyers was Oxford United, but again nothing came of it. The ground then stood unused for nearly three years until after an arson attack on the wooden West Stand in early 2003 the remaining structures were demolished and the ground levelled except for the Tin Shed, which with the back of it painted light blue was retained to act as a sight screen for the cricket pitch. Ever since 1895 this had seen occasional use by Durham CCC for Minor Counties matches and this continued following their elevation to the County Championship in 1992. Ten matches in that competition were played there by Durham up to 2002 and the Tin Shed gave them the distinction of having the largest sight screen in first class cricket. Since Durham ceased to play there the cricket ground has continued to be used by Darlington Cricket club.
After Darlington’s move to the Reynolds Arena the £18 million cost of the new ground quickly drove the club into administration and George Reynolds resigned as a director in January 2004 with the club under threat of imminent closure. At the end of the season he was obliged to hand over control of the club to a consortium to bring it out of administration, but by 2009 they were back in it again, and despite rumours that the club could move back to Feethams again with the Arena being sold, the old ground was sold to a property development company.
Darlington and Lincoln had continued to meet in the fourth tier at the new ground, which following the bankruptcy of George Reynolds was later known first as the Williamson Motors Stadium then the Darlington Arena, until 2010 when Darlington were relegated out of the league for a second time. Lincoln suffered the same fate a year later and the two clubs met for one further season in the Conference National division before the Quakers suffered a further relegation after the end of the 2011/12 season and were shortly afterwards wound up.
Darlington Arena had been put up for sale in 2011, and after the club went out of business it was sold later that year to Darlington Mowden Park RFC
A new football club was formed, initially named Darlington 1883, and placed in the Northern League, the ninth tier of English football, playing at the ground of Bishop Auckland from the start of the 2012/13 season. In December 2016 they were able to return to Darlington, sharing Darlington RFC’s Blackwell Meadows ground. A link with Feethams was the erection of the old Tin Shed shelter, the framework of which had spent several years in the back yard of a local businessman.
In 2014 Persimmon Homes lodged a planning application to construct 82 homes on the site of Feethams and by a year later it had become a housing estate, with the road leading to it named Greener Drive after Darlington’s appearance record holder Ron Greener.
Lincoln City played a total of 50 games at Feethams with a not too bad record of 13 wins, 17 draws and 20 defeats. Goals scored totalled 72, which included a few big wins, with two by 4-1 and one by 6-0. The ground saw a slightly higher number of heavy defeats for the Imps, including Darlington’s record score of 9-2, with five goals being conceded on two occasions, contributing to a total of 83.
City’s goals on the ground were scored by 53 different players with none scoring in more than two games there. Top-scoring with three each were Allan Hall, who was the only player to register a hat-trick, Jimmy Campbell, Rod Fletcher and Gareth Ainsworth who scored theirs in successive matches, and Johnny Campbell who scored his in two matches which were three seasons apart.
Of the players with two goals, those who got theirs in one game were Frank Keetley, Tommy Cheetham, Percy Freeman and Peter Costello, while those who scored them in two games were John Callender, Jimmy Hutchinson, Roy Finch, Phil Hubbard and Dixie McNeil.
‘Derelict in 2005’ – Wikipedia
‘Cricket Ground 2005’ and ‘Tin Shed End 2005’ – www.footballgroundz.co.uk
‘Ground entrance’ and ‘Feethams aerial view’ – www.thenorthernecho.co.uk
‘Remains of the ground 2009’ – www.dafts.co.uk
‘Ground entrance today’ – from Google Earth
‘Polam Lane end’ and ‘West Stand’ – www.flickriver.com
‘East Stand 1993’ – from the book ‘Lost Football League Grounds’