Friday 5th December 2020 would have been Duds 45th birthday.
I have been following Bracknell Town through thick and thin for over thirty years now, and I guess Darrell Freeland – known to everyone in non league football as Dudley or ‘Duds’ came into a psyche gradually as the crowd reduced and his importance within the club increased to the point where he was on the board of directors with my other good friend TC, and as Secretary of the club.
I am lucky enough to have a permanent tangible reminder of Duds in the replica Robins shirt which I received for my 40th (I can hear him saying now ‘that it’s not as good as when they played in quarters though!) with ‘ROVING’ on the back ….. who was that guy anyway?!
I travelled to various venues to find him there from a cold windy hilltop in Truro; watching a hard fought draw in Taunton on the last day of the season which saw us beat the drop; in a packed stand at Sincil Bank where Bracknell saw their FA Cup exploits come to an end, having knocked out Aylesbury United (‘The Ducks’) in the previous round.. I mean who can forget the adapted chant ‘Who knocked The Ducks out ? Huh ! Huh !’ by the Baha Men (you have to be a certain age), and more recently to taking him to an away match at the Herds Renault Stadium to see watch Bracknell beat Molesey in a hard fought 2-1 victory. Despite the fact that he didn’t want to do it.. his voice booming out over the tannoy at Larges Lane with the team announcements.
However the match which always stand out for me is when Duds, TC and I went to AFC Hayes on a Tuesday night when Bracknell were once again trying fight off relegation, every point counted!
We arrived at the ground, and as always Duds knew the committee and got into deep discussion about all things non league whilst I took in what the ground had to offer.. probably a cheeseburger!
Essentially in a first half where our goal was being constantly pummelled we somehow managed to only concede one goal, and then out of absolutely nowhere an equaliser came our way.
As the match entered the closing minutes we were still clinging on just thankful that this midweek away trip was going to bring us some reward. Incredibly better was still to come, because as we moved into injury time a break away saw us through on goal and somehow Nathan Jack lobbed the ball over the keeper ending up in the back of the net! Cue wild celebrations in the crowd (obviously when I say ‘crowd’ I mean the three of us!)
It was only in subsequent years that I became aware of the how Duds earlier life had panned out, as he allowed me to know more about himself, and in some ways I saw a few parallels in my own.
To the man who we always went to if we ever had a question about non league football because he had such a passion for it, and Bracknell Town. Larges Lane will somehow never be the same without him there !
The fighter for whom this battle was just one too many.
We’ll miss you Duds!
If you have any stories of Darrell you would like to share we would love to hear them. You can either write them in the comments below or if you would prefer to do it privately you can email [email protected] – this was his website as much as any of the rest of us who write here. We all loved Darrell and the more stories his family get to hear the better – we will show every single one to him.