Uninformed viewers of Sky Sports News on Saturday evening might have expressed a degree of surprise at their decision over the weekly “Result Of The Day”, but it was hastily explained. Durham City’s 2-1 win away against FC United of Manchester wasn’t just an upset. It was a massive, massive surprise, of course but, considerably more importantly than this, it was a vindication for a season that has seen them trying to play out their fixtures with a degree of dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds – odds that haven’t often been given by those pointing and laughing at the club’s record this season.
Durham’s problems began at the start of the season, when it was confirmed that they would not be considered for promotion from the Unibond League Premier Division – or for a place in the play-offs – on account of a 3G artificial surface that they had installed at New Ferens Park a couple of years ago. This decision irked the club’s backers to th extent that they withdrew all funding and left Durham City to go it alone this season. Unable to pay any of their players, they might have taken the decision to fold the club, but instead Durham City decided to fight on with a group of youth team players in the hope that, if nothing else, it would be an education.
There must have been times throughout the season at which hasn’t felt like much of an education. Competitive wins have been limited to a solitary win against Washington in the Durham County Challenge Cup and, until last Saturday, their league record read twenty-eight consecutive defeats with a further six point deduction for fielding a player under a false name. An 11-0 defeat at the hands of Kings Lynn was wiped from the record book when the Linnets folded last autumn, leaving a 10-0 defeat against promotion-chasing Boston United as their worst result of the season in purely numerical terms.
For Durham’s young players, a trip to Gigg Lane and a crowd of over 2,000 may have led to conflicting feelings of excitement and dread. Even taking into account their various travails over the course of this season, a trip to a long established Football League standard ground would be pushing back the boundaries of their experience this season again. On the other hand, however, FC United had only managed a 2-1 win at New Ferens Park in the teams’ previous league meeting earlier this season. This season, their hosts have blown hot and cold (occasionally, as we witnessed just a couple of weekends ago, in the space of one match). If Durham played to their strengths and the home side had an off day, could the surprise be on?
Normal service seemed to be the order of the day when Carlos Roca gave FC United a first half lead, but any relief that they may have felt turned out to be short lived as Durham’s Andrew Stephenson spotted the home goalkeeper Sam Ashton off his line and lobbed him from fifty yards to level things up. Durham kept giving as good as they got, though, and went in level half-time having contrived to hit their own crossbar from three yards out and having created a couple of half-chances of their own. The second half turned out to be a two penalties. When Ludovic Quistin quite clearly handled in his own penalty area, Elliott Cutts scored to give the Durham. Midway through the second half, though, Carlos Roca was tripped but Ben Deegan’s penalty was pushed over by the Durham goalkeeper Rhys Jobling.
The closing stages saw Durham occasionally forced to apply the Alamo Book of Defending, but a little good fortune and a slightly blunt opposition were enough to see them home – indeed, they could even have increased their lead with a couple of breaks that left Tubbs bearing down upon Ashton. As things turned out, however, they didn’t need the third goal. At the full time whistle, the celebrations were loud and deserved, and were accompanied by a warm and generous round of applause from the FC United supporters. Saturday’s result must have stung them as much as it elated those that had travelled over from Durham, and their generosity in defeat is an enormous credit to their club.
Relegation has long been inevitable for Durham City this season, but the boost to the confidence that their players will have gained from Saturday’s win may just prove to be invaluable to their development as players, and it must feel this evening as if the whole season has been vindicated as a result of it. After everything they have gone through this season it is the absolute least that they deserve and their entire team, their management and supporters deserve our most heartfelt congratulations. They now go on to entertain Whitby Town at New Ferens Park tomorrow night with a second successive win in their sights and, if they need any encouragement for the long term, they could do worse than to take a look at Lancaster City, who struggled their way to one point in the same league three years ago and were liquidated, but now sit top of the league directly below them. For everything that has happened this season, the supporters and community of Durham City still has a football club, and last weekend they earned the right to be thoroughly proud of their players and themselves.
Highlights of Saturday’s match between FC United of Manchester and Durham City are available here: