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Oldest Matchday Mascot?

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Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division leaders Darlington 1883 have laid claim to the country’s oldest matchday mascot – 86-year-old Joyce Rumney.

Joyce was the mascot for Quakers’ home game with Stamford AFC on Sunday, the latest event in her seventy-plus years of supporting the Quakers.

In 1944 `Operation Overlord` organised the D-Day landings, Anne Frank was betrayed and sent to Auschwitz, Glenn Miller was reported missing, kidney dialysis and sunscreen were invented and Meet Me in St Louis was released in the cinema.

Closer to home, 1944 also saw a 15-year-old local girl begin a life-long love affair with Darlington Football Club. Now, more than seven decades later and in her 87th year, Joyce remains one of the club’s oldest and most loyal fans and was as proud as punch (and more than a little unnerved by the attention!) to be Sunday’s club mascot.

Then a clerk at the Borough Treasurer’s office, Joyce Rumney was persuaded by a work colleague to keep her company at Feethams one Saturday afternoon and 90 short minutes was enough to hook her. She was so keen that it was not long before she even spent some of her precious 12/6 a week wages (62p in today’s money) to buy some fashionable new zip up sheepskin boots purely to keep her cold feet warm while standing, cheering on the terraces.

In 1945 and through mutual friends, Joyce met a handsome young man who was intent on becoming a journalist – and later her husband – Ken Rumney.

Ken went on to become a fixture at Feethams, reporting on every home game for the Evening Gazette, the Sunday nationals and later Radio Tees.

The highlight of Joyce’s seventy-two years of unswerving support was on Wednesday, 29th January 1958: the day that Darlington beat Chelsea 4-1 in extra-time of the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.

By then she was working in the tax office and, having one of the two office phones on her desk, she hatched an ingenious plan to be able to listen to the match while still at work. Having arranged for a friend to ring her while she went home for lunch, she moved the radio into the hall to be near the phone and then laid the receiver next to the set and left the line open. That way, back at her desk, she could sit and listen to her home radio broadcasting the match.

Even when Ken and Joyce took over the ownership of Springfield Post Office in the 1970s, Joyce would race to Feethams after the post office closed at 4pm on a Saturday to catch the end of the match and phone over Ken’s copy to the news desks. They continued their week in, week out coverage of the Quakers’ changing fortunes through the decades, despite Ken’s increasing ill health – and with the club giving them wonderful support by building him a touchline press box when he could no longer climb the stairs to the existing one.

Now aged 86 and no longer able to grace the terraces, Joyce uses the internet to catch every result – never has that Quaker’s facial expression been more avidly watched – and noisily cheers the highlights and goals.

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