Many people envisage the great North east derby of Newcastle and Sunderland being the the only match that matters in that part of the country, but Hartlepool versus Darlington was a rivalry that teetered on the verge of tribal madness too. Acceptably violent and cockahoop with incident, going to either ground on match day was an exercise in anti social mayhem. Grown men reduced to seething,emotional wrecks, charging behind their clubs colours like energetic loonies.
I was one of them. At least in spirit. As a Hartlepool fan losing to Darlo just wasn't an option on derby day. Even in our successful 2006/2007 promotion season and on the back of a 21 game unbeaten run, the nagging suspicion of our back wheels falling off in the home of our enemy haunted me. The pessimist was always incurred in me on such an occasion. This was Darlo's cup final too. In front of over ten thousand fans, their huge arena was for once part full and highly charged. It had been kicking off in the town centre prior to match. Drunken men flailing like fat pigeons on Wetherspoon's steps. Temperance wasn't really this fixtures thing.
After an early scare, and a brilliant Konstantopolous save, a quick fire goal for us calmed our nerves. Darlo harassed and harried like demented ferret's but they were just chasing shadows. We were just too good for them. This was probably our greatest ever team, a mixture of guile and steel which had gained results all season with the efficiency of a touring pop act. We were pretty much unbeatable in the trenches of league two, which was hardly overflowing with mind blowing skill. More often than not you needed a neck brace to follow it.
That was about to change. A long punt from defence was followed through the air by our centre forward Eifion Williams. He was your classic archetypal goal poacher, he put them in with his dentures, his clavicals - that sort of player. Only this time the gods of the Maracena's were shining down on him. Taking the ball down from the North East heavens between two defenders he instinctively flicked the ball up and volleyed it from outside the box all in one beautiful movement. It went like a rocket past a despairing keeper and nearly burst the net. There was a stunned silence all around the ground. Even the away end couldn't quite believe it. A world class goal in the most important fixture of our season. I virtually exploded. I flung myself around like a man getting changed in a phone box. It was fucking perfect.
We went on to win the game 3-0 and eventually promotion but I don't think I've ever left an opposing ground so elated. It was if my humble little team had been touched by the hand of greatness at least for a few seconds. It was to be the last time we would play our bitter rivals. A few years later they were demoted five leagues by those arseholes at the FA and now play teams that sound like a villain from a Charles Dicken novel ( Cammel Laird anyone? ). As for Eifion Williams, he's retired now. A nice guy who's willing to talk to you anytime about the wonder goal he once scored at the George Reynolds arena. For me the greatest goal I've ever seen.