History: Shields and Darlo

South Shields and Darlington are two clubs which have experienced real highs – and lows – over the course of their histories. The pair will go head-to-head on a day of celebration at Mariners Park on Saturday. Ahead of the fixture, Mariners historian Bob Wray takes a trip down memory lane…

Both clubs share a history with periods of major highs and lows, and of much changed fortunes and circumstances for each with 125 years or thereabouts since their original formations.

Both are phoenix clubs, following dramatic events for both in their respective histories.

South Shields, on two landmark occasions – 1930 and 1974 – went out of existence, while Darlington very recently were demoted to the Northern League First Division.

Both share a similar rise in their formative years, from comparative local obscurity to regional prominence. Competition against each other began in 1908, with their first seasons together as new members in the once-celebrated North Eastern League, which was the premier regional league. Prior to that, Darlington can claim that a town football club originated in 1861, but the club dates its official foundation from 1883.

For Shields, some sparse references found that allude to a club in the early 1870s, but with a confirmed 1888 appearance of the original South Shields Association Club.

Competitive football between the clubs began over a century ago, and it is from their first meeting in 1908, when Shields joined from the Northern Alliance and Darlington from the Northern League, that our story begins as a backdrop to the latest game between the two clubs.

Both remained members of the North Eastern League until the First World War, which led to the league being suspended in 1915 for the duration of hostilities.

During the years of their membership, Shields were champions on two occasions: 1913-14 and 1914-15, while Darlington were triumphant in 1912-13.

The clubs went their different ways thereafter, and Shields joined the wartime Tyneside Combination and Darlington into a local league, before both later became members of the Northern Victory League in 1918.

South Shields were elected members of the Football League Second Division the following year, and Darlington rejoined the North Eastern League, and in 1921 also became members of the new Football League Third Division North.

From season 1920-21, both clubs fielded reserve sides in the North Eastern League, and which continued until 1930.

Games between the two clubs at senior level recommenced in 1925-26 with Darlington’s promotion to the Second Division, with the Quakers winning both games, 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.

In 1926-27, Shields won at home 1-0 on December 4, but on April 23, they suffered their heaviest-ever league defeat at Feethams, 8-2.

Darlington were relegated the following season, as were Shields in 1928-29, and joined Darlo in the Third Division North. A 2-2 draw was the result of the season’s opener on August 25, followed by a home 1-3 defeat on December 21.

In Shields’ final year in the Football League the following season, the club suffered another heavy defeat at Darlington on January 1, 1930, 8-3, and the return fixture on April 18 resulted in a 3-3 draw.

At the end of what proved to be the final season in the Football League for South Shields, the club moved lock, stock and barrel to Gateshead, and meetings with Darlington were not thereafter resumed until the 1936-37 season.

Shields reformed and joined the North Eastern League in 1936, and its second X1 joined the Wearside League. Games once again resumed against Darlington in the NEL, but now against their reserve X1, and this continued until season 1958-59.

Shields recorded a 9-0 victory over Darlington Reserves in their North Eastern League championship-winning season of 1957-58.

A new league – the North Regional League, which was for league reserve sides only – was then formed, in which Darlington, Middlesborough, Sunderland, Workington, Gateshead, Carlisle and Hartlepool all joined, and the North Eastern League as a direct consequence folded through inability to find suitable replacements. Shields, with others, joined the Midland League for two seasons.

Shields played in the Northern Counties League between 1960 and 1962, and then the reformed North Eastern League between 1962 and 1964. 1964 saw the formation of the North Regional League, of which Darlington Reserves became a member the following season, as also Gateshead.

Darlington Reserves left to join the Wearside League at the end of the 1966-67 season, and remained there until 1971-72.

South Shields became a member of the new Northern Premier League in 1968 until 1974, when the club moved to Gateshead for the second occasion in its history.

So it will be seen that over the years, there have been only a few seasons prior to WW1 and during the 1920s in the Football League that Shields and Darlington have met at senior team level, and the Darlington reserve side played Shields seconds also in the 1920s and from 1936 for most of the years up to 1971-72 for their reserves and Shields first X1.

From that latter season, and Shields subsequently being reformed in 1974, the 2-1 encounter at Heritage Park at Darlington’s shared ground with Bishop Auckland on October 10, 2012, was the first game between the club’s senior sides since 1930.

In the reverse fixture, Darlington triumphed 3-0 at Mariners Park on their way to promotion from the Northern League Division, and they have since followed that up with a second promotion in three years.

South Shields and Darlington will go head-to-head again on Saturday, though, and games that began between the two clubs in 1908 have resumed after a long absence.