It will be a moment that money cannot buy for players who earn less in a year than Faustino Asprilla earns in a week. No wonder Jim Platt, their manager, who has sampled the experience with Northern Ireland as a player, has no regrets that the club missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the season.
"If you are going to get promotion, this is the way to do it," said the man who appreciated that rare occasion when he was able to step out of the shadow cast by another giant - Pat Jennings - to keep goal for Northern Ireland. "Many of my players will never get the chance to play here again and, besides, it is financially beneficial to the club. No one has been talking about promotion in Darlington, it's all about Wembley.
Thanks largely to the 34,000-plus fans that Plymouth Argyle will bring to the occasion, a record Third Division crowd in excess of 50,000 is anticipated for this coming together of the Quakers and the Pilgrims, comfortably beating the 40,109 for Wycombe v Preston two years ago. Darlington stand to make about pounds 200,000 in all from the play-offs, which could just about pay the annual wage bill of the Feethams Ground playing staff. Their entire first team was assembled for a total of pounds 75,000 compared to about pounds 800,000 in the case of big-spenders Plymouth, although Neil Warnock, their manager, is only about pounds 12,000 down on his transfer dealings.
A footballing side, with the best away record in any of the four divisions, Platt fancies Darlington's chances in Wembley's wide open spaces against a side they have beaten home and away. In fact, the only blemish on their last 22 matches was a home defeat to bottom club Torquay, hitherto the only Devon club side other than Tiverton to play at the old stadium.
While it is also Plymouth's first appearance at Wembley, eight of their players have been there before and with the likes of striker Adrian Littlejohn, who played in the Premiership with Sheffield United, they also have pedigree. Warnock himself has steered three teams through to victory in the play- offs, twice with Notts County and then with Huddersfield, whom he left after last season's Second Division final to join relegated Plymouth.
County, now under the stewardship of Colin Murphy, are in tomorrow's Second Division final against Bradford City, who pulled off the outstanding performance of these play-offs in coming from two goals behind to beat Blackpool away in the semi-finals. Murphy has been to Wembley just once before, as a coach with Derby County in the 1975 FA Charity Shield. An unforgettable occasion? "Not really, I can't even remember who we played."Reuse content