Darlington 1883: The Long Road Back

After relegation to the ninth tier in England, Darlington are on their way back as a fan-owned club. Darlo fan Rob Parrish explains how they've demolished all before them...

Last Updated: 03/05/13 at 13:55 Post Comment

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Fans were asked to dig deep

Fans were asked to dig deep

With no players, no manager, no ground and a Football Association punishment of relegation to the ninth tier of English football, Darlington were pushed to the very brink of oblivion last summer.

But the club's supporters refused to let their team die, with the Quakers taking the first step on the long road back to the Football League on Wednesday night as they were crowned Northern League champions.

Now fan-owned and operating as a Community Interest Company (CIC), Darlington have demonstrated that with the commitment and unity of a determined group of supporters, football clubs do not necessarily need to rely on the largesse of individual owners who may be more interested in figures than fixtures.

Portsmouth, in particular, are one club to have suffered a spectacular fall from grace, with the former Premier League outfit and 2008 FA Cup winners tumbling into League Two, but with new hope for the future after Pompey Supporters Trust took the club out of administration.

Darlington's exit from their third administration in nine years last summer was less straightforward, as they were unable to agree terms with all of their creditors, which was regarded as a significant breach of operational rules by the FA, leading to the hefty demotion and the requirement to start a new club, with the 130-year old side reborn as Darlington 1883.

A move away from the cavernous Darlington Arena, built under the misguided and foolhardy ambition of former chairman and owner George Reynolds in 2003, became a necessity with Darlington becoming tenants of Bishop Auckland at Heritage Park, some 13 miles away from the town.

Former Sunderland midfielder Martin Gray, who played for the Quakers in the latter stages of his career, was appointed manager, and he set about bringing in an entirely new playing staff, with the previous squad forced to look for careers elsewhere amid their financial woes.

It was Gray's first full-time job in management, after previous caretaker spells with Oldham and Darlington, and having started the season with an entirely blank canvas he deserves nothing but praise for his astonishing achievements at the helm.

Having risen from the ashes, Darlington proceeded to take the Northern League by storm, winning 40 of their 46 games, scoring 145 goals in the process and amassing 122 points, with over 2,000 supporters in attendance for their final game of the season at 'home' to Guisborough to celebrate promotion and see the trophy presented.

Paul Colman, a director of the CIC and one of the supporters who refused to allow their team to slide into extinction last summer, told Sky Tyne and Wear that it had been a roller-coaster time for everyone involved.

He said: "This is just the culmination of an unbelievable year for the football club.

"From where we were 12 months ago, not knowing if we were going to survive, to where we are today, with over 2000 fans and winning the title.

"We really are on our way back now. The comeback to the Football League has started tonight."

It was a sentiment echoed by Gray, who feels that a giant leap has been made with their first small step back towards the Football League, which they exited in 2010.

He added: "It has been an amazing journey. Hopefully, this is the hardest one, getting out of the Northern League at the first attempt.

"It is a fantastic achievement for everyone involved with the football club."

With long-term plans to find a permanent home back in Darlington and ambitions of achieving three further promotions over the next five years, the supporters who worked so hard to keep their club alive can now look to the future with renewed hope and optimism.

Rob Parrish - follow him on Twitter

This article first appeared on Sky Sports.com.

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terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

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he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

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o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

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