Football: Bennett takes a place in history

Steve Tongue shares in the joy of the luckiest of football's losers

AFTER DARLINGTON had gone out of the FA Cup second round to Manchester City by a single extra-time goal last season, the club's much travelled player-coach Gary Bennett was prepared to accept that his footballing family's romance with the competition would be confined to drooling over video-tapes.

There he is, on his 37th birthday, putting "Darlo" ahead in the first match - still the only occasion on which they have featured live on television - and against his first club as well. Spool back and here's a younger looking Gary walking out at Wembley in Sunderland colours for the 1992 final against Liverpool, emulating his brother Dave's (more successful) appearance for Coventry against Tottenham five years earlier.

The family video will need to be set again for Match of the Day on Saturday night, even if this time the Bennett contribution to an historic occasion is confined to touchline shots. Gary, 38 yesterday, has appeared in the back-four once or twice this season, but reluctantly accepts that only a flu epidemic or injury crisis will get him into the side for the tie at Aston Villa - after all, why change a lucky losing team? "It's time for our younger players to sample the special magic of the Cup," he said, after Tottenham's secretary and FA Cup committee member Peter Barnes had put in his thumb and pulled out a plum worth some pounds 200,000 to the Quakers.

Youngsters and old sweats alike will love it all if their reaction to the news last Wednesday was anything to go by. A serious training session collapsed into chaos after the club physio raced on to the pitch bellowing: "We've got the wild card." A car driven by the defender Adam Reed was then stopped by police because his team-mates in the back were celebrating so enthusiastically.

The manager David Hodgson, having set his heart on promotion from the Third Division after finishing 11th last season, has distinctly mixed feelings, but Bennett is clearly in love with that old Cup magic. "It really drove it home to me playing in the 1992 final how big the competition is," he said. "You couldn't help but be aware it was being shown all over the world. Ask any youngster kicking a ball about what they'd love to achieve and they'd say 'playing in the FA Cup final'. I've got a losers' medal, but nobody can take away the fact that I played in the final. In the same way, our young lads can now collect some memories of playing at Villa Park, a ground that hosts the semi-finals."

There is no hint of embarrassment, either, at making this peculiar little piece of Cup history after being so well beaten in the previous round by Gillingham, who now have a much less glamorous tie at Walsall. Bennett insists: "The FA Cup has always been about the luck of the draw, if not quite in this way. Some teams are lucky to get through, others are unlucky to go out. Darlington have never had much luck down the years, so we'll gladly take this."

Indeed, having played for only two of their 116 years outside the lower divisions and been relegated to the Conference for one season a decade ago, the club went into 1999 convinced that they were due a better hand. It was finally dealt last May, when George Reynolds, Sunderland supporter, former felon (four years for safe-breaking) and now one of the country's wealthiest men, bought control. On his first day, he shooed away the bailiffs and paid off pounds 5m worth of debts. For once the Feethams loyalists had got a lucky break.

But as Gary Bennett says: "Football's not always about what you deserve. It's grabbing the opportunities that arise." Having already defied odds of 20-1 in a lucky losers' draw, Darlington will go to Villa Park determined to seize the day.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms