Fiery cup semi-final could herald the dawn of a new Northeast rivalry

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?'s man in the Northeast Kristan Heneage visits the frontline over a ferocious non-league derby

It’s 12:30 and I’m in the car park of a Durham sixth form College, a Geographical mid-point between today’s teams Gateshead and Darlington. I’m waiting for my lift to the weekend’s biggest game with Gateshead winger James Marwood, son of former Arsenal star Brian.

“Big day today, Wembley beckons.” are my first words as I get in the car, he acknowledges it as we pull away and get on the motorway. It’s good weather for a cup game - bright blue skies and a light breeze is in the air. I use our car journey to quiz James on what I missed in the first leg of this FA Trophy semifinal at the Reynolds Arena in a game that saw Darlington emerge 3-2 winners.

“The fans are great, it’s a huge game for us and the club.” he tells me. The nerves are clear to see, he even admits it. He starts the playlist entitled ‘Footie’ on his iPhone and an eclectic mix of Adele and Kanye West echoes round the car.

As we get closer to the stadium I can see clusters of fans from both teams. James remarks on the police presence and jokes about an appearance from Danny Dyer. This doesn’t feel like a normal match day for the team known as ‘The Heed’.

It’s around 2 o’clock and I’m at the back of the stand adjacent to the away end. A running track separates me from the pitch which is in surprisingly good condition this far into the season. The stadium is nice but you can tell it’s not tailor-made for football. I note my observations regarding the running track to Gateshead’s press officer who tells me “We’ve just got used to it”. After all the club are just enjoying being in the conference.

As I scribble down notes on Heed defender James Tavernier - on loan from Newcastle United - an audible cheer emanates from across the track as the Darlington players emerge. The Gateshead fans, not to be outdone, chant ‘Heed Army’ in a bid to silence the away side. These two may be conference sides but there’s nothing lower league about the warm up. Two lines of players re-enacting the pre match routine of any top European side with Darlington eerily mirroring them the other side of the halfway line.

A crowded media room means I’m forced to sit in the stands among the fans. It’s a wide-ranging mix, some wearing the new home shirt others choosing earlier incarnations of the kit, almost as if it were a badge of honour denoting they were here from the start. After all the club have been around since 1930.

Like something from a game in Eastern Europe one man looks to lead the chants of the singing section to my right. You’ll see no flares here though - much of the crowd look like youngsters after a Saturday jaunt. As they take a short break from singing a song about defender Jamie Curtis (not the True Lies actress) I hear the monotone drone of a vuvuzela.

As the stadium hits near capacity on both sides, over 5,000 cheer out the teams in anticipation of kick off. With Gateshead a goal down from the first leg they look to attack from the off. The first quarter of the game sees a lot Gateshead pressure but an inability to find that killer pass keeps the score at 0-0.

The rivalry is clear to see - and hear. Some rather ugly chants that marred the first leg resurface as the game unfolds.

The first major scare comes when Darlington almost deliver a sucker-punch after crashing a header onto the bar from a free kick. Gateshead race down the other end and, after some fantastic dribbling from former Darlington midfielder Adam Rundle, a cross-come-shot whizzes across the face of goal, a whisker away from being turned in to the net. The home crowd is starting to get impatient, they want that precious goal.

Chance after chance goes begging for Gateshead and it starts to feel like it might be one of those days for the home side. Half time comes and with it a rest for my hand. It’s been exciting but the game needs a goal, preferably a home one.

Ten minutes into the second half Darlington manager Mark Cooper looks to inject pace into his attack with Nathan Modest. Cooper’s men begin to take control of the game and Jamie Curtis is soon booked for scything down Modest. Just as it looks like Gateshead are losing their heads, the best chance of the game falls to striker and No.9 Jon Shaw. Through on goal, he hesitates for a split second allowing Darlington’s Ian Miller to put a saving tackle in that takes all of the sting from Shaw’s shot.

Despite the best efforts of the home fans the game begins to fizzle out. Long ball after long ball is swept up by the Darlington’s centre backs, with what they miss collected by sure handed Sam Russell. The goalkeeper’s handling has been fantastic all day as he gathers cross after cross.

In a bid to waste time, veteran Marc Bridge-Wilkinson - formerly of Port Vale and Bradford City - takes the ball into the corner, at which point he is tackled and falls to the ground like he’s had a disagreement with David Haye. The referee isn’t impressed and he makes a miraculous recovery shortly after.

Four minutes injury time and Darlington’s end is bouncing, they know it’s moments away and all the impetuous from Gateshead’s attack is gone. As the whistle goes the cup classic “Que Sera, Sera” is bellowed from the few thousand Quakers fans and the inevitable lower league pitch invasion begins. The Police, fully expecting it, form a hi-visibility wall and move up the pitch.

With the away fans making offensive gestures towards the locals, a bottle is flung from the home end. Gateshead's fans kindly remind the victors of their poor financial state, taunting them with chants of "You’re going bust in the summer."

As if in a bid to calm things down, Sigur Ros begins to play on the loudspeakers as the few remaining pitch invaders are ushered off. The frustration among the Gateshead fans is evident, with some arguing over tactics and team selection, while one steward's attempt to console a fan with a trite "It could be worse" are met with an angry response.

You get the feeling a bitter rivalry has been forged today.