Date: 6th June 2017 at 1:15pm
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It had to start somewhere……..
……..and where better than the sunny Kingdom of Spain? When you look at Darby’s initial baptism into the world of professional football back in October 2008, you can be forgiven into thinking what on Earth went wrong? At barely a fortnight past his 20th birthday, a young Darby came off the bench to replace Xabi Alonso for the last quarter of an hour plus injury time. If that wasn’t enough pressure, Alonso cost Liverpool a whopping £10.5m a few years prior and this was a Champions league match away at the Vicente Calderon. At the time the Reds were winning 1-0 courtesy of a Keane goal on 14 minutes, but only 8 minutes of Darby’s debut, Simao equalised for Atletico. Not the perfect start for young Stephen, a couple of weeks later and another large venue, on 84 minutes in the Carling Cup, Darby replaced the little known Swiss Philip Degen at White Hart Lane, no further goals were scored, but the damage was already done and Spurs ran out 4-2 winners. So heading into the Christmas period in 2008 Darby joined the team in the Netherlands away to PSV, he entered the game on 69 minutes when the 2nd goal was scored by Riera earning them a 2-1 lead. Barely 8 minutes later, the Reds through Ngog scored their 3rd and put the game to bed winning 3-1. That’s Darby’s 2008/2009 season summed up.

From Champions league to the 3rd division.
December 2010 gave Darby his first taste of first team football in one of the most famous and historical grounds anyone football fan has heard of, especially from a certain age, this same hallowed turf was graced by legends of the game such as Ian Rush and John Barnes, now making his first start for Liverpool and sharing that pitch with the likes of Gerrard, Kuyt, Aquilani and Mascherano, this was it, this was his moment to stake a claim. This was the Champions League at Anfield against Fiorentina. Half time 1-0 courtesy of a Benayoun goal, everything was going to plan for the Liverpudlians then it all went wrong. Although Darby lasted the full 90 minutes, Fiorentina went onto win the game 2-1 and the Reds failed to progress past the group stages. January 2010 Darby was given his 2nd start, this time away to Reading in the FA Cup, the game ended 1-1 at the Madejski Stadium thanks to a first half Gerrard equaliser. Liverpool lost the replay at home with Darby not even making the bench. Premier league, at last Darby made his long awaited debut from the bench in the first division, the Premier league, this is really what it is all about. Home to Spurs the game a slender 1-0 lead, Steve came on at 89 minutes, and as soon as he came on, Liverpool won a penalty which Kuyt slotted away. 2-0, job done. Then comes Steve’s biggest change in his early career…..

……..sent out on loan to Swindon, then Notts County, then Rochdale.
Although Darby was involved in some big games, some important games with some of the best Premiership players of the time, 6 games, 4 from the bench, he needed some development. So a journey down south to a small place called Swindon. His first season out on loan proved valuable, 3rd division football playing in 14 games, Darby helped Swindon all the way to the Play off final at Wembley, which he played in, even though a great experience, Swindon lost to Millwall (sound familiar?). The following season Darby made his 7th and final appearance for Liverpool, this time in the Europa League away to Rabotnicki, a game where the Reds were already 2-0 up and remained that way till full time. Now a loan to Notts County and young Darby’s career looked to be falling down the rungs of the football pyramid, it wasn’t a great season, 27 games, 1 yellow which was actually his first which was presented in the away game to Plymouth, but after all the hard work, Notts Co. just avoided relegation by only 3 points finishing in 19th. Could it get worse? Yes! The following season Darby was shipped out again this time to Rochdale, so 40 games, 2 yellows, Rochdale finished smack bottom 12 points adrift off safety and with the worst goal difference, deserved relegation.

In the words of Victor Meldrew “I don’t believe it”
The passion and enthusiasm in July 2012 by Phil Parkinson encouraged Darby to drop to the 4th division and sign for Bradford City, a club who only the season before were dragged into the relegation fight from the league and have had a torrid decade and half which bred a culture of doom and gloom and negativity. His first game, away to 3rd division opponents Notts Co. in the League Cup, now when we talk about CMs and MMs let alone inches, it took a 95th minute Jimmy Hanson goal to break the deadlock. Darby’s 2nd home game for City was in the League Cup and proved to be the hardest of all the games leading up to the final, home to Burton, going 2-0 down, Darby scored his only professional goal to this day on the 115th minute to get the winner which would take the Bantams all the way to Wembley. So from Champions League and Premiership football with one of the most famous clubs in the world, Darby ended up at a club that has struggled in the bottom tier and was a last chance saloon step in his career, but what transpired that season will never be forgotten, and barely believed at the time. Darby helped dispose of higher division teams in cups, this started a tradition in cup competitions under Parkinson, the scalps included in 2012/13 were Notts Co, Watford, Hartlepool, Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Even though a loss at Wembley, it was a case of who cares, this is one of those 1 in 1000 games that will be talked about in a hundred years time when we are all long gone and buried. A runners up medal and a 2nd appearance at Wembley winning promotion. Could leaving Liverpool and going to a struggling bottom team have been the best thing to happen to Darby?

Stephen Darby has found a new home
2012/13 – 51 games – 1 goal – 2 yellows
Of note, League Cup runner up, 3 Premiership teams knocked out. Gained promotion via play offs by finishing 7th. Steve’s only first team goal in any competition was scored this season in the League Cup, it was his goal that kept City in the cup and must never be forgotten.
2013/14 – 49 games – 4 yellows
Of note, helped City to cement our place in the 3rd division by helping the Bantams finish 11th at our first foray at this level. Awarded the Bradford City player of the year.
2014/15 – 56 games – 7 yellows – 1 red
Of Note, received a red card (2nd yellow) home to Sheff U, this is the only time Darby has been sent off in his career. He helped knock Leeds United out of the League Cup and also Millwall, Sunderland and Chelsea out of the FA Cup. Just missed out on the play offs finishing 7th.
2015/16 – 54 games – 4 yellows
Of note, every year Darby has played for City, the team has finished higher each season, following on from the previous season just missing out of the play offs, City finished 5th, but failed in the play off semis.
2016/17 – 29 games – 1 yellow
Of note, game time has almost halved due to a new manager and new signings. Loses team captaincy, rumours of being shipped out to Bolton in a swap deal for Proctor, allegations a deal was in place but for a last minute pull out on City’s side, yet he stayed the season and as is Darby tradition, the club did better than the previous season, City finished 5th, but managed to get to the play off final, Darby was named on the bench and was purely a spectator. Not fitting for such a servant, but that’s football. Unbeaten at home in the league and play offs.

What now for Darby?
McCall has his own visions and it is too early to say if this is a mistake letting Darby go, we can all get sentimental and say it’s a massive error on McCall’s part as Darby is more than good enough for any 3rd division club and at only 28, I genuinely feel he is good enough for a few 2nd division clubs. I expect Darby to be snapped up by a team such as Rochdale, Blackburn, Rotherham, Wigan or Doncaster, but one eye has to be drawn towards Bolton, would Parkinson want Darby as a back up in the Championship, and would Darby want to be a bit player in a higher division? Remember, apart from a bit part with Liverpool, Darby has spent most of his career in the 3rd and 4th divisions, 2nd division football I am sure in any amount could prove tempting. Also ex City manager Phil Parkinson tried to pry Darby from us only 4 months ago. I will bid you good luck Mr Darby, and if our paths cross again, I will cheer you even if you score against us. A true professional in the amber and claret and his lesser known goal against Burton that set up the tie against Wigan was one of the most important single goals in the history of Bradford City. Thank you for the memories and the good times, and good luck on your new path.

Steve Darby, top professional, top bloke.

Thank God we didn’t do that pathetic guard of honour for Darby. Then again, Darby is too good for that, a man that has pride and honour in abundance. He represents his supporters in a good positive light and has always been a fantastic role model whilst never doing the dirty on opponents or more importantly, team mates. No immature guard of honour necessary for Darby, a real man doesn’t need or want that, but what I will suggest is that a glass or 2 to be raised in his name. To Stephen Darby’s health, family and career. Good luck pal, you’ll always be welcome at Valley Parade and the City of Bradford.

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