Brian Little’s hoopy days at Darlington
- Thanks to Craig Stoddart of The Northern Echo for his help on this
The summer of 1989 saw Darlington out of the Football League for the first time since the club entered it in 1921.
Two relegations in three years meant the Quakers were in the Vauxhall Conference and manager Brian Little sought to shake things up.
Little, previously a coach at Middlesbrough, had taken over in February 1989 and was unable to prevent the club from finishing bottom of Division 4. In a bid to revive fortunes, he decided to revive the black-and-white hooped look, as he revealed in a recent interview promoting his new autobiography:
It was a great period for getting stuck in. I even designed the kit! Nowadays the managers don’t get anywhere near doing that.
The team used to wear hoops a long time ago, I looked back and thought it was time to do that again, so that’s where the idea came from, and I added the bits of gold.
Produced by the firm owned by Jack Hatfield – proprietor of a large sporting goods shop in Middlesbrough – the kits (Little had a hand in the away too) featured in the fabric a herringbone pattern like that also seen on Umbro and Hummel strips at the time.
The home kit design also formed the basis for the cover of the Darlo programme that season. When required away to teams with dark shorts, a white set was used – most notably in the 2-0 away win against Barnet. The game went a long way to determining the title – Darlo finished top of the Conference on 87 points with Barnet on 85 while third-placed Runcorn were on 70.
Both kits were retained for 1990-91 and Darlington won a second successive promotion, finishing top of Division 4.
That achievement earned Little the Leicester City job and apparently he played a part in the Foxes’ kit design, too. That’s something we will look at at a later date.