Horsham kitman Darren Etheridge has been honoured for his loyalty and long service by the Ryman South Hornets.
The Sussex club’s kitman for nearly two decades – and emergency keeper on more than one occasion – he was hailed as one of Non-League’s unsung heroes on his 1000th appearance by fans sporting Darren Etheridge masks in tribute.
The proud Hornets say the club’s DNA runs through their kitman whose father Keith wore their goalkeeping gloves with distinction during the 1960s.
After previously playing for Cowfold and Steyning Town, the Hornets called up their new kitman less than a year after his arrival for a trip to Witham Town.
With regular keepers Lee Preston and Phil Lewis both unavailable, the Etheridges became the first father and son combination since the war to wear the HFC goalkeeping jersey when he made his playing debut.
Despite being beaten twice in a 2-2 draw, some impressive saves by the emergency stopper earned him further call-ups during the ensuing weeks. The continued absence of ‘Essex-shy’ Lewis saw him turn out at Wivenhoe twice in five days, even saving a penalty there in a League Cup tie! Tooting again featured on his CV when thrust into the side following the first half dismissal of Lee Preston in October 1999.
His final appearance came as a late substitute in his one and only outing at Queen Street. After a rare run out on the pitch, he later announced that he’d achieved his proudest moment in partnering Hornets ‘legend’ Gavin Geddes in the attack.
According to witnesses, his failure to even get a touch of the ball in his brief cameo failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the genial and ever-popular clubman!
The Hornets hailed their stalwart after his story featured in the matchday programme for their 3-2 win over Chipstead the following Saturday.
A Hornets spokesman said: “That the achievement should have been marked at Tooting’s Imperial Fields was all the more romantic given that ‘Dazza’s’ ‘debut’ came away to the same opponents, way back in 1998.
“The Hornets’ loyal followers paid their own tribute by sporting Darren Etheridge masks to the game, much to the amusement – and bemusement – of the Tooting faithful. Sadly the afternoon ended in disappointment, but as you can see from the photo, our superb fans helped to lighten the mood.”