I should be writing a lesson plan on Passage to India right now, but I'm somewhat exhausted after a two hour research seminar on 'Data Relations and the Ontology of Wisbech' (!) that I co-organised. The speaker, Robert Clark, pointed out that when one talks of Wisbech, they refer not to a point on a map but to a range of historical, political, cultural and emotional transactions. Fair point: I couldn't help but be reminded of Bill Drummond's 'Hull: Twinned With Your Darkest Thought' signs. For me, 'Wisbech' is a referent which gestures towards something similar, though I've never been there. I've heard the stories.
Today's tenuous link: Wisbech is near Peterborough, and well within the 'fan catchment' for League Two moneybagses Peterborough United. Peterborough United will, in all probability, be one of Darlington's main rivals during the imminent 'business end' of the football season. Darlington themselves are looking scarily like pulling it off this year. A football truism dictates that teams need to be able to 'win ugly' if they are to be successful, and the performance I witnessed at home to Barnet on Saturday certainly suggested that the Quakers have the right credentials in that area. A sweet strike by Julian Joachim, one of those odd forgotten men of football in the Nii Lamptey or Paul Warhurst mould, gave us a lead which was maintained by a sharp penalty save by ever-more-valuable goalkeeper David Stockdale, some atrocious finishing by Barnet's forwards, and the referee's inexplicable decision to allow meat-and-tatties centre-half Alan White to remain on the pitch after a clear professional foul. Other than that, we were rubbish.
My optimism became slightly less tentative when I returned from seven-a-side last night (two goals: one Linekeresque poach and a first time volley) to discover that we'd done a smash-and-grab raid on Notts County. One-nil again. We never win at Meadow Lane, ever. On this occasion, it was 'unreconstructed' midfielder Ricky Ravenhill who got the goal. Our next two games are at home to lowly Mansfield and the currently woeful, terminally in-crisis, Chester City. I refuse to make predictions.
As I'm going to post more about Darlo as the season draws to its squeaky-arsed climax, I thought I'd give a quick, pen-picture, summary of the squad. Being as I'm going to be largely chained to the desk for the next seven months, odds are I won't be getting out much to find other things to write about.
David Stockdale (GK)- Young goalkeeper who I thought was going to be rubbish and isn't. Has six different goalkeeper kits, each more garish than the last. On Saturday, he looked like a packet of Wrigleys. Said to be attracting interest from bigger clubs.
Przemyslaw Kazimierczak (GK)- The most unpronouncable Darlo player since rarely-seen Canadian keeper Lucas Papaconstantinou. Hasn't played yet.
Andy Oakes (GK)- Was supposed to be first-choice at the start of the season, but since being usurped by Stockdale has taken on the countenance of the stoic veteran in a Roy of the Rovers story who is forced to accept that the young guns are taking over.
Neil Austin (RB)- Tall full-back who looks like the pictures used to illustrate the 16th-century yeomanry in GCSE history.
Ryan Valentine (R/LB)- Has just returned from a spell in purgatory (Wrexham). A bit of a hero amongst the Loids, for the usual League 2 reasons: thundering challenges, short back and sides, stern expression.
Tim Ryan (LB)- Dave Penney, our manager, calls him 'Rat'. I call him 'injured'.
John Brackstone (LB)- Came from Hartlepool, our local rivals. Is reputed to be rubbish, but no-one can tell as he never plays.
Scott Wiseman (RB)- Came from Hull, like my girlfriend. Is definitely rubbish. Dave Penney seems to agree with me.
Ian Miller (CB)- Former non-leaguer who was professionalized in a fit of philanthropy by Ipswich Town. Joined us and surprised everyone by being rather good. Tends to be a sub, though.
Stephen Foster (CB)- 1950s throwback captain, as honest as the day is long etc etc. Looks a bit like Droopy Dog. He's really very good, and has marshalled the defence into becoming one of the tightest in the country.
Alan White (CB)- Local boy finally playing for his hometown club. Scores highly on the 'Valentine Scale'. Gets booked nearly every game, unless he goes that extra mile and gets sent off. Weighs in with his share of goals.
Neil Wainwright (L/RW)- Has been around for a very long time, like a much-loved labrador. Fans' favourite, for reasons pertaining to application/ longevity rather than outrageous skill. Hasn't been seen too much this season. Uses his Myspace to promote his love of 1990s guitar bands.
Richie Foran (LW/ST)- Versatile Irishman with a bit of a temper. Is strictly speaking on loan from Southend, but his promising showings have made most of us forget this troubling fact.
Rob Purdie (anywhere on the pitch, it seems)- Ex-Hereford captain with a slightly public-school appearance. Never plays well when I'm there, but does when I'm not.
Julian Joachim (RW/ ST)- Was supposed to be the future of English football at one point, but drifted off the map in the late '90s. Not as quick as he was, but still capable of scoring some lovely goals.
Ricky Ravenhill (M)- Tenacious, enthusiastic, guileless midfielder. Loved by my brother, inspires ambivalence in me.
Clark Keltie (M)- One of our most naturally talented players who, unfortunately, gets slated by the fans when he's not playing too well. Has a tendency to convince himself that he's Michael Carrick at times. Once featured in a sub-Cosmopolitan magazine article, and has had a sequence of amusing haircuts.
Micky Cummins (M)- Good player, but a confidence player. Technically better than this level, but sometimes seems a bit lost.
Guy Ndumbu-Nsungu (ST)- Hasn't played since his return to the club as he's been injured. Another player who is technically proficient but prone to flights of fantasy where he's playing in the World Cup final.
Gregg Blundell (ST)- Scouse journeyman who runs after everything and occasionally gets a break. Seems to enjoy playing for the club, and has a good rapport with the fans.
Pawel Abbott (ST)- Big-money summer signing from Swansea who has represented Poland at U-21 level, despite hailing from the slightly less exotic locale of York. Gets injured all the time so we're yet to see the best of him, but is in a different class to the majority of League 2 players in terms of his footballing brain. Will have a big part to play next season if we go up.
Tommy Wright (ST)- Former Leicester striker and leading scorer. Tommy is a 'classic British centre forward' from the Duncan Ferguson school. Seems to be the victim of a refereeing conspiracy since a flailing arm at Barnet last season saw him expelled from the pitch with less than a minute on the clock. Given all this, it's kind of predictable that he's another terrace favourite.
Martin Smith (Mercurial Forward)- Like most mercurial forwards, Martin Smith is always in the treatment room, which is sad because he's a genius. Was once predicted to become Britain's first £10 million footballer. Out for the rest of the season, sadly.
Kevin Gall (ST)- Our prodigious injury situation has demanded yet another striker, so we've signed Carlisle squadder Kevin Gall. Was once great for me on Championship Manager, but doesn't look so good in real life. Wears blue boots, suggesting his allegiances might still belong on the other (wrong) side of the Pennines.
There. That's my boorish football article out of the way. There'll be something more intellectually stimulating later in the week, I promise. Time for coffee, and Passage to India.