Frustrations Of Youth (Darlington Preview)

As the mundanity of a football-free week comes to an end, the FA Cup makes way for the bread and butter of league football – albeit temporarily – as Darlington come down to the Meadow attempting to knock us off our perch. After last weeks disjointed performance at Basingstoke I’m not sure anyone would have minded too much if we had been taken back for a replay at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday in order to blow away a few cobwebs… well, maybe we would have minded if we ended up losing it, which taking the performance in the first game into account was probably quite likely…

Its been a tough week for the football community, what with the death of Paul the Octopus and all. Whats really been keeping me up at night is did he see it coming? If so how frustrating must his final few months have been, desperate to tell his captors of his impending demise by shuffling himself into various boxes… boxes for fuck sake! If ever an animal was trying to give us a message it was this, and we mistook it for some kind of score prediction service…

Meanwhile, back in the real world, some people are having difficulty determining what happened in the past let alone the future, judging by this article. Presumably the definition of the word ‘legal’ differs in Darlington from that used at Companies House, or indeed Soho Square. I’m sure most Dons fans will sigh and move on when faced with such inaccuracies, but I still get angry… stuff like this is going to follow us around for years to come. Ultimately though, you really don’t expect that kind of inflammatory article popping up on the website of a fellow Conference club, mere days before they visit for an important League game… I mean, do they not like warm welcomes or what?!!

Most of the ‘facts’ on offer seem to have come via Darren Holloway, which is annoying, because although sometimes it seems as though footballers are Professional Thick Bastards just doing what their agents tell them and following the money, not all of them are like that… not by a long shot. The behaviour of WFC players at the time and since have gone a long way towards showing us that. But for every Neal Ardley there seems to be a Holloway, for every Kevin Cooper The First there is a Dean Holdsworth… Kudos also needs to go to the ‘journalist’ who went to the trouble of checking the facts before sticking the story online… oh, no wait, he didn’t bother. In that case I won’t bother checking to see if he is indeed a boneheaded lazy sister-fucker before I brand him as such on this esteemed bloggy-type thing…

On to the football, and the Dons will once again look towards the combined talents of Ed Harris and Fraser Franks should Yakubu fail to overcome a niggly shoulder injury. As Yakubu looks like the sort of bloke who walks through barn doors without bothering opening them first you sometimes forget he does occasionally hurt himself, and would be a big miss despite the fantastic form of the younger partnership in key games earlier in the campaign.

One big decision Brown has to make is whether to go for continuity and include Andre Blackman in the lineup or revert to Chris Bush, banished from playing in cup games in case Brentford need to call him up later in the season. Bush will be absent next week which is a huge tick in the Blackman box, but… I’m probably Andre’s biggest fan with the possible exception of his mum, but he didn’t quite do enough last week, did he? To be fair, no-one was good enough at Basingstoke, which was a really bizarre performance in that despite individually being a pile of steaming cattle dung we still came away with a result. Yet Andre would have finished the game had he not picked up an injury, which explains his bench belting routine upon leaving the field – in one moment showing more passion in than the rest of the team combined over the course of the entire day (although I’m fairly sure I saw Sam Hatton clench his fist at one point). Another tick in the Andre box…

Further up the field and it looks as though it will be same again for the front three. The two wide boys are doing well, especially Jackson, but in the last couple of games top scorer and chief goal creator Danny Kedwell has displayed the sort of touch that makes Ivan Klasnic look like a tender lover in comparison. However, if there is one player who you can rely on to come back stronger than ever its the captain, and it’s not as if there are options on the bench. Jon Main just can’t seem to catch a break at the moment after pondering whether he should leave the club on loan earlier in the week, which is probably still a step ahead of Mark Nwokeji, who appears certain to head out on loan whenever we can find another Conference club willing to spend a month or so getting him fit enough to play for us.

Luke Moore has emerged as the leading contender to fill in the forward line where required, but he is being touted to take over Ricky Wellard’s midfield position after the youngsters (hang on… they’re all young…) obvious concentration issues blighted his last few performances. Wellard is the epitome of the frustrations of youth, ghosting past men and playing the sort of killer through ball the average player just isn’t capable of one moment, drifting out of position or gifting possession cheaply the next – very often in the same game, occasionally even in the same passage of play. You get the impression if he can make it past these teething troubles he will be a fixture in the Dons midfield for the best part of the next decade, so long as he isn’t Husseyed away from us in the meantime. Another contender for the midfield position is Rashid Yussuff, the Zidane of the Conference – but only when he is introduced to the action from the substitutes bench… when given a start he may as well come and join us in the stands for all the impact he makes.

Darlington will put up a decent fight, albeit in the same manner as Forest Green or Histon did. Don’t get me wrong, their average supporter is slightly more clued up than the turnip who defecated out that interview with Holloway, these are supporters who have seen the sharp end of footballs stick bear down on their exposed backsides, almost, almost reaching the stage where mismanagement and downright hard luck lead to them exploring the option of creating their own club. Stuck out-of-town in a vast arena (I’m not describing it as soulless just yet as I won’t be visiting until January, although many more have done), it doesn’t exactly encourage the walk-up fan… lets not discount the impact that having many thousands of people living within a twenty-minute walk of Kingsmeadow has had on our attendances. I consider Darlington to be every bit as big a club as the Dons, perhaps more so – we have no idea what effect a consistent period of mundane mid-table action would have on our attendances, and Darlington’s location has effectively turned them into a big club without the big crowds to back them up.

I saw some photographs of Feethams about six months ago which seemed to suggest there is a lot of it still standing, which must rankle with Darlington supporters who I presume miss the place a great deal. I was having a conversation with a fellow Don during the Basingstoke game relating to the toilet facilities serving the West Bank, specifically their ability to turn day into night and pre-match burgers into chunder. No matter how sanitized and clean new stadiums are, they are also increasingly mundane, shiny symbols of footballs lost soul, especially the ones where thousands of empty gleaming seats stare back at you, one final taunt at misplaced ambition.

The Anonymous Don line-up guestimate – Brown; Hatton, Yakubu, Harris, Bush; Gregory, Moore (S), Moore (L); Jackson, Kedwell, Jolley

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