Played 29, Won one

EVEN the worst runs come to an end eventually. So congratulations to Durham City. After 28 consecutive defeats, they picked up their first UniBond League win of the season on Saturday – a 2-1 victory over FC United at Gigg Lane.

The front page of Durham’s official website sums things up beautifully.

This has been a horrible season for a club who were full of ambition and optimism after winning the UniBond First Division North last season. With a strong squad in place, they hoped to go for a second successive promotion and get into the Blue Square North. And then it all started to go wrong.

At the start of the season, the FA ruled that Durham wouldn’t be allowed to go any higher than the UniBond Premier because they have a synthetic pitch. With the club’s hopes of promotion removed, their main sponsor – local construction company The Esh Group – pulled out.

With next to no money, the club couldn’t afford to keep their best players. As a result, the club have had to get through the season by relying largely on unpaid kids from the local sixth-form college. League defeat followed league defeat.

And City have suffered some almighty thrashings this season. There was the 8-0 thrashing at Burscough in August. There have been 7-0 beating against North Ferriby United and Kendal Town. And then there was a 10-0 battering at Boston United in January.

By the time Durham travelled to Bury’s Gigg Lane to face FC United on Saturday, their league record read as follows: Played 28, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 28, Goals for 16, Goals against 137, Points -6.

Yes, that’s right. Minus six. As if Durham’s run of 28 consecutive defeats wasn’t bad enough, they also incurred a points deduction – and saw their manager Lee Collings suspended – for fielding an ineligible player.

Collings played the suspended Josh Home-Jackson under a different name against Bradford Park Avenue on October 31 and King’s Lynn on November 7. Home-Jackson, under the guise of Kieron Gohery, scored against Park Avenue – but City still lost 7-1. He reportedly played as Elliot Cutts against King’s Lynn – and City lost 11-0.

And that 11-0 defeat was expunged from the record books anyway when King’s Lynn went bust two-and-a-half weeks later. As rule-breaking goes, it was spectacularly pointless.

Collings took full responsibility for the rule breach, telling the Durham Times that the decision to play Home-Jackson was “an absolute sign of desperation”. Both men paid a heavy price.

Home-Jackson was handed a 15-match ban, as was Collings. The manager’s suspension not only barred him from the touchline; it also prevented him from carrying out any administrative duties or having any contact with the club. His assistant Richard Ord, the former Sunderland defender, had to step in.

When a team has suffered that much misfortune, and has a record that bad, their story is bound to attract attention far beyond the local paper. Sky Sports News turned up to film a 3-2 defeat at Frickley in December. In March, the Independent sent along a reporter to cover the return fixture against Boston, which ended in a 4-1 defeat.

In both cases, a picture emerged of a team determined to keep going when it might have been easier – maybe even less painful – to fold. The Independent’s piece may well have compared Durham to Barnstoneworth United, the hapless heroes of Michael Palin’s seminal Ripping Yarns series, but it also allowed chairman Ian Walker to point out that Durham were at least surviving, which was more than King’s Lynn managed.

Maybe that determination to keep going saw them to victory over FC United on Saturday. City had to come from behind to win after Carlos Roca gave United a ninth-minute lead.

And come from behind they did. Captain Andrew Stephenson equalised five minutes later by lobbing in a remarkable goal from 45 yards. And two minutes after the interval, Elliot Cutts – the real one – put Durham in front with a penalty.

Even then, there was drama. City’s Gareth Ayres conceded a penalty by fouling Roca – but keeper Kevin Jobling saved the spot-kick. And Durham held on for the win. To their great credit, FC United’s fans applauded the delirious winners off the pitch.

The win has lifted Durham on to minus three points. They are already mathematically relegated, but they have improved their chances of reaching zero before the end of the season. I don’t think too many football fans would wish against them doing it.

With thanks to John Turner


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