Cambridge United defender Harry Darling marks his 50th appearance with a goal
After spending the previous couple of campaigns either on the fringes of the Cambridge United first team or out on loan, Harry Darling was eager to make his breakthrough this season.
And while the young defender is acutely aware of the hard work that lies ahead, he is well on his way to achieving that particular target after making his 50th appearance for the EFL League Two U’s during Saturday’s 2-1 home win over Bradford City.
Darling, who after being released by Cambridge spent time within the youth set-up at Newmarket Town before returning to the Abbey Stadium aged 16, was featuring for the 27th time this term and he marked the occasion by scoring the equalising goal.
“I had been around the squad for a couple of years and made a few appearances, but this always felt like it had to be a big year for me,” said the 20-year-old.
“I felt ready to cement a place in the team – I actually felt ready to do that last season.
“I know I have to keep my head down and make sure I am regularly playing well. If I do that then the rest will look after itself, but getting to 50 appearances is a really proud moment for me and my family.
“It had actually passed me by. I did not realise I was close to that number until my mum text me after the game to congratulate me.”
On his goal – a low strike in the 84th minute that drew Cambridge level – Darling added: “The ball dropped kindly to me in the box. I just swung a leg at it, hit it hard and thankfully it has gone through a crowd of bodies.
“It is great to score on my 50th appearance but the main thing is it set us up to go on and win the game.”
There was a time, however, when the former Bottisham Village College pupil doubted if he would make the grade as a professional footballer, let alone be celebrating scoring in front of the Newmarket Road End.
But after spending a couple of years at Newmarket alongside his close friend Tom Knowles, who also joined Cambridge from the Jockeys, a chance meeting with a former coach got Darling back on track.
“I joined Newmarket when I was in the under-14s and have been with Tom all the way through,” said the Burwell resident.
“We were both training with the first team at Newmarket but I never actually got to play – Tom did a few times.
“I had left school and did not know what I wanted to do with myself. Then one day I went to watch Cambridge play, got talking to an old coach and he asked me to come along to a shadow scholar’s session.
“That allowed me to do a course at CRC and within a couple of weeks I was offered a full-time scholarship. It has been a weird journey but I would not change it. And it is great to have done it with Tom. We try to help each other out on the pitch and he is a great mate off it.”