JULIAN Darby will never forget fulfilling his boyhood dream, scoring at Wembley and lifting a trophy – just don’t ask him what happened next!
More than 25,000 Bolton fans had swarmed down south in the blazing late May sunshine, returning in party mood to celebrate with the players outside the Town Hall the very next day.
But for boyhood Wanderer Darby, whose crucial strike had dragged Phil Neal’s side level early on in the game, the 24 hours after the final whistle were something of a haze.
Darby hadn’t been at the bubbly, even though there was plenty of the fizzy stuff being passed round the dressing room after the club’s first cup triumph since 1958.
Rather it was a mixture of dehydration and concussion that laid the midfielder low in his hotel room as fans, players and staff partied hard into the night.
“The doctor told me I had to stay in my room and just drink water, I just wasn’t with it,” Darby recalled. “I can’t remember much of it at all – even when we came back to Bolton on Sunday and did the parade, my head just wasn’t there.
“I remember someone from the Bolton Evening News coming to ask me a question and I just stared blankly at them. I just didn’t have anything left.”
The heat – 91 degrees according to the weatherman on the day but much hotter at pitchside – made for a bad day to go a goal down early in the game.
“It was a cauldron,” Darby said. “There was nowhere for the heat to go, so when Torquay scored we needed to get back into the game right away or we’d be done for.”
Wanderers were red-hot favourites, unbeaten in 19 games going into the final and looking to set a new club record at 20.
Torquay had shocked Wolves in the semi-final and seized an early lead through Dean Edwards before Darby played out his dream four minutes later.
“I remember their keeper was an old lad, about 6ft 4ins tall, so when I spun and hit the ball from a corner I just remember telling myself ‘keep it low, keep it low,’ said Darby, who made 346 appearances for the Whites.
“It must be every boy’s dream to score at Wembley. I’d played there for England Schoolboys aged 15 but this was the first time I’d actually started a game there.
“It’s one of those things that will never leave me.”
Victory at Wembley also provided some redemption for manager Neal, who had found himself at odds with the club’s fans when a poor spell over the Christmas period dragged Wanderers temporarily into a relegation battle.
Farnworth-born Darby had some sympathy for the manager, who had given him his big break in professional football in the old Fourth Division, and who had seen how the Hillsborough Disaster six weeks earlier had affected the Liverpool legend.
“I always got on well with Phil,” he said. “He was in charge during a tough time for the club.
“Burnden Park had seen better days, we were training on any old park pitches we could find because Bromwich Street had been sold, and yet he got us going in the right direction.
“Wembley came at a difficult time for him personally because the Hillsborough tragedy happened the week before we beat Blackpool in the Northern Area final and you could tell it had hit him hard.
“Everyone involved with Liverpool knew someone who had suffered and you could see by the way he acted in that game that he wasn’t himself.
“He was subdued. He sat down instead of being up and down the touchline.
“To keep going with all that happening must have been really hard for him.
“But on a personal level, he gave me my chance. I owe him a lot.”