Darlington FC - the club that refused to die
PUBLISHED: 22:34 22 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:39 20 February 2013
Roger Tames has been watching Darlington starting the long climb back up the football ladder
Hope always seems to spring eternal among football fans but few have had their optimism as severely tested as Darlington supporters. With a history usually littered with disasters, hardcore Quakers are showing astonishing resilience and a loyalty at odds with the success-driven ethos of the Premier League era.
North East football followers may have got out of the habit of glancing down the scores to see how Darlington are doing. Because this season youd be looking for the results down among the small print.
Darlington or Darlington 1883 as they are now officially called currently play in the EBAC Northern League, the ninth tier of English football, after a decade of near-fatal trauma. The good news though is the reformed club has got up off the canvas and is fighting for its future with a philosophy in encouraging contrast to the previous regime that began such a sorry fall from grace.
The new club leadership, understandably, dont enjoy talking about when George Reynolds was chairman, so lets recap as briefly as possible.
Reynolds was the outrageous former safecracker who bought the club, defied all common sense and built a 25,000 seat stadium that proved the biggest millstone imaginable. After going into administration three times, the FA relegated Darlington FC four divisions last summer.
It will take the reborn club five promotions to return to the Football League status they first enjoyed as founder members of the Third Division North in 1921. Meantime, its off the pitch that the new set-up are also looking to make their mark.
The new club is a community interest company which means its articles of association are to promote the sporting, educational and other interests of the community rather than to just run a football club, explains finance director Martin Jesper. It means the clubs constitution would prevent it from being controlled by any one individual, he added pointedly.
At present Darlington 1883 are playing outside the town at Bishop Aucklands modest but impressively pin-new stadium. The fact that an average 1,200 fans have been prepared to make the extra 28-mile round-trip is a decent foundation on which to build a dream.
The ultimate aim is, of course, to get back into the Football League or at least operate at a reasonable level for a club of our size and to move back into Darlington at the right time, Jesper added.
Moreover, we want to build a football club that wont ever have to go through what this club has suffered in the last ten years. Weve also got to get our reputation right again. The massive hit weve taken may turn out to be a good thing for the club because weve had to start right from scratch and try to build a lasting legacy.
Jesper is a recent convert to the Quaker cause but hes quick to pay tribute to the diehard group of fans who somehow raised the money to prevent the club from liquidation. Under the team management of former Sunderland midfielder Martin Gray, assisted by old Roker team-mates Brian Atkinson and Tony Norman, the new Darlo have been leading their league. AFC Wimbledons amazing achievement of five similar promotions in nine seasons is a tough benchmark.
Darlington are still nicknamed The Quakers, still play in black and white and still have that rather quaint club crest with a train and a big hat. But not much else is the same. Thankfully.