Friday 5 January 2024

Ground #399 - Blackwell Meadows

Date: 23rd December 2023
Location: Darlington, County Durham
Ground: Blackwell Meadows

My twenty-fourth new ground of 2023 was on Saturday 23rd December at Blackwell Meadows in Darlington, County Durham. The game was Darlington vs. Bishop's Stortford in National League North.

Blackwell Meadows is located on the southern edge of Darlington and is home to the town's rugby club as well as a golf course to the south. The ground is in a mostly green area with some housing a few hundred yards to the east as well as connecting roads running to the south and west of the ground. Blackwell Meadows is 1.5 miles south of Darlington railway station and is about the same distance west of the club's last permanent home at the 25,000 capacity Darlington Arena. The current venue has been home to the club since December 2016 but the club have plans for a new permanent home in the north of the town in the near future.

The main entrance to the ground is in the north-east corner with a small club shop located by the turnstiles. The northern side has the main club building which includes a two-storey clubhouse and bar with a balcony on the top floor overhanging the patio below. This hard standing runs the whole length of the field and is otherwise uncovered. The two dugouts are in front of the clubhouse building and towards the western end the building has an extension with a some seating under cover from the roof extending out over them. There are a couple of hundred seats in total but many of these were cordoned off during my visit. 

The primary seating area is on the southern side of the ground with a covered all-seater stand with room for 588 spectators running from the halfway line to the end of the pitch. With the fencing running a little beyond the end of the pitch the stand then gives way to uncovered hard standing which runs the length behind the western goal. The standing area is rather wide so plenty of space for supporters as well as a grass bank behind. This is where away supporters congregate when segregation is in place. The area to the east of the all-seater is similarly uncovered hard standing running down to the eastern end. This end consists entirely of an eight-level covered concrete terrace known as The Tin Shed and is the main area of atmosphere for home fans.

The game was a bottom of the table clash in National League North. Since Bishop's Stortford defeated Darlington in early September they had gone on a run of 11 defeats from their next 13 games and were bottom. Darlington went into the afternoon directly above them in the table having won last time out at Gloucester. The visitors started brightly and went close in the 8th minute of the game when Zain Walker headed onto the post as the ball was bouncing round the penalty box. A minute later Bishop's Stortford managed to get the ball in the back of the net. A long ball upfield found Ryan Charles and with Darlington's defence off the pace the Stortford attacker was able to lob the keeper from the edge of the box to put his side a goal up. Darlington came back into the game following this and in the 18th minute a cross from the left found Will Hatfield in the centre of the six-yard box but his scuffed shot was blocked by keeper Jack Giddens. The hosts were on top but then gave up a poor goal a couple of minutes before the break when a mad scramble close to goal wasn't cleared and eventually Osman Sow bundled home. Darlington got a break in the 61st minute when Stortford went down to ten men after Zain Walker's straight red card for a late tackle inside the centre circle. However, they did little with the advantage remaining pretty toothless in attack. A couple of efforts fell their way in the final 15 mintue with Toby Lees' 25-yard shot tipped over on the stretch by Giddens and then substitute Jarrett Rivers hitting the bar from 12 yards out. Darlington never looked like scoring in truth and the defeat left them looking at the very real possibility of 7th tier football for the first time since 2016.

Result: Darlington 0-2 Bishop's Stortford
Division: National League North
Attendance: 1,305

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