The Darlington Arena

Ground No. 85
Visited - Saturday 28th January 2006
Result - Darlington 4-0 Mansfield Town
Competition - Coca-Cola League 2
Attendance - 4282

Although I haven’t got a plan to do the 92 in any particular order, there are a number of grounds that I was planning to leave until the end, namely Bloomfield and Brisbane Road because of the ongoing work to complete the grounds, and also Boundary Park where I’d actually like to finish it. Another ground that I had intended not to get to in any rush was Darlington, where because of the low attendances in such a big stadium, I was hoping to leave it until they drew a big team in the cup so to see it in its best light, however with the news that their old ground, Feethams, was due to face the bulldozers, it did make a trip to Darlington seem a more attractive prospect, so when the day came round I was left with the unusual situation of the game I was going to see being almost a sideshow to the main event of the day!

It was another early start to the day, with the train up to Manchester leaving Wolverhampton at 6:40am. That part of the journey went well, although from there up to Darlington seemed to take forever, but we finally arrived just after 10:30am. 

From the station, it was a quick walk down to Feethams and a look around there, before carrying on down to the new ground. Despite being on the edge of town, it didn’t take long to get to, so that was a plus, however once there I was greeted by a familiar sight than can be seen at any of Southampton, Leicester or take your pick of the new grounds.

As I often say about them, on an individual basis, they do look superb, and this ground was no different, with three similar sides wrapping round to the glass fronted Main Stand, which did have an individual touch to it, with a very grey colour scheme, that looked particularly impressive after dark.

Unfortunately, whilst walking around taking pictures, the batteries for my camera ran out, not an unusual occurrence, but annoyingly the spare ones wouldn’t work either, so with no shops close by, it was off up to town to find a battery shop and spend a few hours there, before coming back. Although it wasn’t the size of say the bigger local cities like Sunderland or Newcastle, Darlington did seem a surprisingly nice place, so after having looked around, and bought some new batteries, with time catching up, once more I was walking back what now seemed a familiar route to meet a friend who had driven up.

After a trip to the rather bare club shop, we decided to go in the home end, and so after buying tickets from the ticket office outside of the turnstiles, we finally went in and up to our seats.

Despite as expected, the ground being predominately empty, it seemed like the club had tried to sell tickets close together, and as kick off time approached, the area around us did fill up, so that was a fairly good thing, as opposed to being sat miles from anyone! Like with the outside, the ground was a familiar sight, with four sides of single tiered seating going all around the pitch, with executive boxes to the rear of the South Stand. One unusual feature was the huge videowall in the corner, not so unusual in itself, but it had clearly been put there to take up a number of seats, and it did work, giving the ground a point of focus other than in the Main Stand. As expected, the facilities were excellent, although maybe their under usage made them feel better than at the other ‘McStadiums’ that tend to get quite crowded, but they were good nonetheless, and another plus was the legroom, that I had heard a lot of bad things about, but didn’t seem that affected with.

When the game got started, it was clear that both teams wanted to win the match, and the home side had the best of starts when with just 5 minutes gone, Kyle Lafferty fired them in front from a good cross from Simon Johnson. With this, the game then went end to end, with Mansfield having a number of chances to equalise, although with little real quality up front, the goal never came, and it was much the same for Darlington, who were creating enough opportunities to increase their lead, only to fall fowl of poor finishing.

In the second half, Darlington really took the game to the visitors, and the impressive Akpo Sodje scored a beautiful goal on 53 minutes, when after coming in from the left hand side, he dribbled close to the byline, before hitting the ball home from a tight angle past the Mansfield keeper. Five minutes later and it was 3-0, when a corner was swung in and fell to the feet of Matt Clarke, the captain had no problem smashing it home. Darlington finally put the game beyond the visitors in the 64th minute, when after a good cross, Shelton Martis headed home making it 4-0. That wasn’t the end of the action though, and despite having been soundly thrashed, Mansfield did almost go away with a consolation but for Kesper Schmeichel making a superb save to deny the visitors late on. The home side finished the game with 10 men, although not because of any misdemeanours, but following an injury to Carlos Logan and having used all of their substitutions up, but it made no difference with Mansfield not really ever looking likely to get anything from the game.

Despite being virtually empty, the home fans were some of the best I’ve sat amongst, and helped by the use of a drum, made a great atmosphere, especially in the second half, although sadly because of the size of the ground, it never really got going for any extended period. It wasn’t all the home fans though, and despite seeming miles away, the Mansfield fans could be clearly heard in the distance doing their best to encourage their side on.

The person I had met at the ground had offered me a lift back, so with no long walks back to the train station, we were soon away, for the long journey back down south.

Overall, I really hadn’t been that enthusiastic about visiting this ground, but despite the familiar feel to it, the home fans really helped to make it an enjoyable experience, and having picked a good game to see, it turned into a good day out, and well worth the long journey up there.

Rear of the South Stand

Rear of the East Stand

Rear of the North Stand

Rear of the West Stand

The North Stand

The East Stand

The South Stand

The South Stand

The East Stand

The North Stand

The Darlington Arena Panoramic


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