Saturday 14th February

Darwen 3 Chadderton 1
Vodkat League Division 1
At: Anchor Ground
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 50
Weather: cold, overcast, dry
Duration: first half: 46:14; second-half 49:18

I first became aware of Darwen’s plight a couple of weeks ago when Mike Roe sent a message for The Football Traveller Website. It read: “Darwen FC face a winding up order on Wednesday 11th February which will not be contested by the Club. This weekend's game against AFC Blackpool at the Anchor ground may well be their last. The Club has appealed for as many followers of football and residents of Darwen to turn up for the game, from Lancashire and beyond. An article to show support for one of the early members of the Football League and further info is available on the NWCL website.”

So my thought was to go and see that game against AFC Blackpool but the poor weather forecast made me head for Manchester City instead. My chance to visit the famous Anchor Ground has gone?

However, Darwen successfully argued for a delay to the winding-up order so there was only one destination today – the Anchor Ground! The club’s answerphone message didn’t suggest a problem and, with the knowledge of a nearby Vodkat League game was definitely on, I set off up the M6.

I had coach loads and car loads of Coventry City fans heading for an FA Cup tie at Blackburn for company on the way up but I did have to briefly detour off the motorway. Queues at junction 26 meant a quick trip through Orrell and Shevington to rejoin at the next junction.

Darwen’s turned out to be straightforward to find from M65 junction 4. Down the A666 to the ‘T’ junction, then left. After 1/4 mile turn left into Anchor Road and take the left-hand folk to the ground. I parked up outside the ground, located next to the Crown Paints works, just before Trevor Pike and travelling companion pulled up having journeyed up from Devon. ‘Red Hopper’ was also at the game as well.

The entrance, at the south-west corner, was off the car park and, once inside, the pitch (orientated north-south) ran lengthways. The most prominent feature was a large stand on the near touchline that contained plenty of red individual bucket seats and areas of covered standing as well. Between the stand and entrance was the large clubhouse which included a tea bar. Behind the remaining three sides were a terrace steps.

Programmes (£1-50) were picked up at the entrance. I borrowed the teamsheets from the referee and took a seat on the third row near to the dugouts which were incorporated into the stand.

While Chadderton occupied a mid-table position, Darwen went into the game in 16th position in the 18-team division with 16 points from 18 games. It was 4-3 to Chadderton in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Last Saturday, Darwen lost 1-0 at home to AFC Blackpool and player-manager Dennis Hill felt that off-field events had an impact on the performance of his players. He wrote: “It has been difficult but I still have a good set of lads around me who have shown loyalty to the club during this difficult time.”

Visitors Chadderton (orange shirts, black shorts and orange socks) got the game underway attacking the south (car park) end in the first half. And they created the first decent chance with less than four minutes on the clock. Paul Ashton cut in and ran along the edge of the area before unleashing a left-foot shot which the diving Chris Thompson turned round the right-hand post. Thompson was needed again from the corner to keep out a header from Ian Knapman.

Darwen (wearing all red) survived the early scares and took the lead in the 8th minute. Jason Jones delivered a free-kick diagonally forward from the left into the area which was headed on for defender Andrew Charlesworth to head home at the far post.

Midway through the first half, Paul Posteraro had the ball in the back of the visitors net, only to be flagged offside. Up to this point and beyond, the game was littered with free-kicks and I felt the referee had to work hard to stop things boiling over. Eventually, the first of seven yellow cards was brandished in the 34th minute. ‘Love’ between the teams was in short supply on St Valentine’s Day!

The day got even better for The Salmoners in the 38th minute when they doubled their lead. Posteraro buried a low shot into the bottom left corner from 15 yards out.

The Salmoners? That’s the Darwen FC nickname which originates from their Football League days when they wore salmon and pink shirts. The programme included a decent history of the club who were League members between 1891 and 1899 – they still hold the record defeat for a top-flight league game when they lost 12-0 to West Brom in the old Division 1. Their final League season was the 1898/99 Division 2 campaign when they again entered the history books – for the most goals conceded during a season (141 goals in 34 games) and losing 18 consecutive league matches.

Back to the action and the Chadderton fan near me feared the worst for his team. “I don’t think we’ll score three goals,” he said to his mate. And the way Darwen finished the first half, I think the visitors were fortunate not to need more than three goals to win the game. As the interval approached, Liam McMillan saw a shot cleared off the line and Lee Turner was denied by a good save from Ben Aspinall who dropped Dominic Mulkerrin’s corner.

Chadderton had a couple of chances in first-half stoppage time. The lively Ashton lifted a shot over the bar and Knapman fired wide.

It was getting a degree or two colder so I opted for a tray of mushy peas (without the meat pie) at the interval.

Back to the stand for the second half and once more the views of Lancashire countryside and industry. Six minutes after the restart, Darwen almost scored again and only the boot of Aspinall getting in the way of a shot Posteraro prevented a third goal. Midway through the half, Ben Greenidge set up Ashton who forced the diving Thompson into a save and within a minute, at the other end, Anthony Hodges hit the Chadderton bar with a deflected shot.

Darwen put the outcome beyond doubt with a third goal scored in the 70th minute. Posteraro took full advantage of a slip by a visiting defender to latch onto a throughball and hammered a low 15-yard shot past the helpless Aspinall.

The home side appreciated their three-goal later as Chadderton pulled a goal back when Ashton was rewarded five minutes later for his efforts during the game. He burst down the middle and confidently sent a low shot into the bottom-left corner.

Darwen (red/red/red): Chris Thompson, Oliver Telford (capt), Ben Walker, Dominic Mulkerrin, Andrew Charlesworth, Martin Parker, Liam McMillan, Jason Jones, Lee Turner, Paul Posteraro, Anthony Hodges. Subs: Dennis Hill (for Mulkerrin, 79), Alex Rossi (for McMillan, 85), Richard Fogarty (for Turner, 68).

Chadderton (orange/black/orange): Ben Aspinall, Martin Booth, Christopher Pauley, Ben Greenidge, Keith Melvin, Gareth Morris (capt), Daniel Shaw, Donovan Greenidge, Andrew Fulham, Ian Knapman, Paul Ashton. Subs: Gary Hartley (for Melvin, 79), Lee Swanson, Paul Socha (for Shaw, 69), Steve Pattison.

Referee: A. Worthington.
Attendance: 50.