SMACK! Bob Dale’s right boot gave the ball such an almighty belt it nearly broke the net. And 40,000 fans cheered and roared.

No matter that the mighty Arsenal were already10 goals in front – Darwen had stuck it to the Gunners!

January 9, 1932 was a never-to-be-forgotten day for Darwen and the town team of labourers, cotton workers, and factory hands.


The day has been recalled in town this week as another non-league side, Sutton United prepare to face Arsenal in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

“I hope they do better than our lads did,” says Darwen president Bob Eccles. “But they won’t have a more enjoyable day out!”

It was a real David v Goliath encounter and Arsenal fans and Londoners took the little Lancashire club to their hearts.

Dale’s goal, in the 75th minute, got the biggest cheer of the afternoon and home team star Joe Hulme was almost apologetic when he tapped in to make it 11-1 a few minutes later.

None of the Darwen team were full-timers. Two or three were unemployed, including goalkeeper Rowl-ands who was Darwen’s star.

The Arsenal fans cheered every valiant save. They hadn’t a clue what his first name was but over 30,000 of them cheered on “Bill”!

They had taken to the Lancashire lads from the moment, reported the London Times: “a little nipper came out with the Darwen team, in the club colours of red and black stripes, and kicked the ball through the goal.”

The ‘little nipper’ was Bert Proos, son of the club trainer, who went on to make a successful career in construction and own some top racehorses, among them Rinus, favourite for the 1990 Grand National.

Bert recalled, in Paul Breeze’s Memories of Darwen FC, that after the kick-about he went down to the dressing room and his dad joined him a few minutes later.

“Two-nowt,” said the trainer. “Who for?” asked Bert, just a little naively.

Darwen took several thousand fans with them to Highbury including blind Jack Kelly of Frances Street. Darwen’s MP Sir Herbert Samuel, the Home Secretary, showed the team and officials round Parliament.

And in the evening they went to see Gracie Fields in her London show Look This Way. They all went back stage and Gracie plonked Bert on her knee and gave him a kiss.

So Darwen got licked 11-1. So what!