Note Although home to Darwen FC since 1899, such is the club’s long history that it previously played another ground – Barley Bank – for some 25 years previously. in 1878 Darwen signed Fergus Suter and James Love from Partick Thistle, who became the first “paid professionals” in the English game.
During this same year experiments with floodlights were being carried out. on the 28 October Darwen played a select team from Blackburn made up of players from Blackburn Rovers, Blackburn Olympic and Blackburn Park Road. The game kicked off at approx 7.30pm and the light was provided by two steam driven Magneto-electric engines, borrowed from the nearby Orchard Mill, which gave out 36,000 candle power. Darwen won 3-0 and the local paper reported it as a "brilliant success" although unfortunately the experiment proved too expensive.
In the early days, Darwen played in several combinations of black and white stripes or hoops with dark blue or white shirts, but during their first two seasons in the Football League (1891-99) they played in salmon and pink shirts, which gave them their alternate nickname of “The Salmoners”. In the early 1930s they adopted red and white striped shirts.
The club gained election to the Football League in 1891 but sadly due to falling attendances and dismal results toward the end of the 1890s it was in a financial crisis, and struggling to survive. The decision to move to another ground was made at the end of the 1898/99 season when the Landlord, a Rev. Duckworth, decided not to renew the clubs lease. A new home was found in Anchor Road, and the club’s last ever competitive game at Barley Bank was a Football League fixture on the 22 April 1899, when 1,300 spectators watched them draw 1-1 with Newton Heath (now Manchester United).
Although Darwen FC moved to the Anchor in the summer of 1899 they were still using the Barley Bank ground with the permission of the landlord for trials as late as 1904, but shortly after that the builders moved in and built on the old cricket pitch end. At this time however, the football pitch was left unscathed due to the persistence of a large group of townsfolk who campaigned for some 30 years for the return of the club to Barley Bank. Sadly by the late 1920s the group succumbed to the inevitable and by early 1929 building work started on a new girl’s school called Avondale, which was opened in 1930.
The old Barrel stand was in a poor state of repair by the time of the move to the Anchor, but was dismantled and moved to the new ground at a cost of £100 kindly loaned to the club by the owner of the Anchor farm, a Mr R. Smith without whose help at the time the club would surely have folded. The Stand stood on the west side of the Anchor for some 22 years, when it was demolished to make way for a new stand, which survived until the 1980s, with only a few steps of terracing remaining.
In the 1931/32 season FA Cup, Darwen beat Football League side Chester in front of a 10,000 crowd at the Anchor Ground and were rewarded with an away draw at reigning league champions Arsenal in the 3rd round. Darwen’s part-timers lost the game 11-1 but after the game, and at the invitation of local MP Sir Herbert Samuel, the party dined at the Strand, and made its way later to see Gracie Fields who was appearing at the Winter Gardens Theatre in the show "Walk this Way". She greeted the Darwen party from the stage to rousing applause. The club’s share of the gate receipts from a crowd of over 35,000 helped to pay for a new stand behind near goal which was christened the Gracie Fields Stand, and survived until its demolition in 1993.
The only cover that now remains is the large covered enclosure of steel and corrugated iron construction, along the near touchline which nevertheless provides ample shelter for the club’s current status. The original wooden seats in the central section have been updated with plastic replacements, and there is a separate section for club officials. For the most part however, the enclosure is unseated. In front stands the imposing home dugout, faced by its equally forbidding counterpart on the opposite touchline.
Inside the main entrance there is a comfortable clubhouse, opened in 1990 and recently refurbished.
An extensive history of Darwen FC and the Barley Bank ground can be found on the club website. DB