Mowden make successful conversion as rugby replaces football at Darlington Arena

The Northern Echo: Mowden's Shaun Mcartney fends off the opposition. Mowden's Shaun Mcartney fends off the opposition.

WITH Darlington Football Club having departed ten months ago, Darlington Mowden Park Rugby Club are the new owners of The Northern Echo Arena. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson was present on Saturday as the club played their first game in their new home.

DARLINGTON Mowden Park have been involved in plenty of conversions during their 67-year existence, but surely none have been anything like as dramatic as this.

No longer a hulking empty shell blighting the edge of town, Darlington's Northern Echo Arena is a functioning sporting venue once more.

Where once there was only abandonment and the scent of failed ambition, now there is hope and, perhaps more importantly, a viable development plan it is hoped will provide a stable and sustainable future.

And whereas Mowden was initially formed as little more than a social club for ex-Darlington Grammar School pupils by a group of ex-servicemen in the wake of the Second World War, the club now finds itself presiding over the second biggest rugby union stadium in the country, behind only Twickenham, the headquarters of the national game. Times, it is fair to say, have changed.

“When we set the club up, we didn't really know if people would be interested enough to keep it going much longer than a season or two,” said 86-year-old Ray Scollay, who was a guest of honour at Saturday's game along with fellow founder member Ted Dixon. “But Ted's dad always said to us, 'If you stick together, you can do anything'. It's taken a while, but I guess this just proves he was right.”

Such pride was only fitting as more than 1,000 spectators packed into the Arena to watch Mowden trounce Bromsgrove 62-7 in their opening game, but beyond the confines of the club, there has been incredulity at the decision to take over George Reynolds' 25,000-seater plaything.

The stadium almost did for Darlington's football club, with the costs related to running it helping drive the Quakers into three spells of administration that culminated in last year's demotion to the Northern League.

Why have Mowden followed them down such a pothole riddled path?

The answer is twofold. First, out of necessity. Having agreed to sell their former home at Yiewsley Drive to a housing developer, their plans for a new stadium at West Park collapsed when another property developer quite literally moved the goalposts.

They needed somewhere to play, the Arena was up for sale, and the council was willing to sell the patch of land that backs on to the stadium.

Just as importantly, though, the club has plans for the future that require scope for development. They run 19 different teams, encompassing children as young as four, and need pitches for them to play on. They have already transformed some of the Arena space into offices and leisure facilities. And they have had expressions of interest from a range of sporting bodies keen to use their facility, including the RFU who could eventually opt to base the England Women's team in Darlington.

They are also hoping to grow themselves, and Saturday's victory enhances their push for a promotion that would leave them just two leagues away from the top-flight.

Reynolds always insisted he would watch a Premiership team playing in his stadium, and to be fair to the self-styled visionary, he was never asked to stipulate which sport.

“I'm not going to say we're going to be playing in the Premiership in five years because that would be ridiculous,” said first-team coach Danny Brown. “But we're ambitious and we want to get as far as we can. If we could get promotion to National One, hopefully this season, that would be a fantastic start.”

On the pitch, Mowden are making a decent fist of things, but given the Arena's chequered past, it will surely be off the field where the club's future path is charted, and to that end, Saturday's debut was a roaring success.

Around 800-or-so 'new fans' were present, and judging by the way they cheered Mowden to victory and remained in the bars to watch England's Six Nations win over Scotland, it is safe to assume they enjoyed themselves.

“I wouldn't really say I'm a rugby fan,” said Jack Harris, who watched with his son, Paul. “But the football team play in Bishop now so if we drive to watch them, we can't have a couple of beers. This gives us that option and we'll definitely come back.”

Another successful conversion on a day that contained more than its fair share.

Comments (13)

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1:37pm Sun 3 Feb 13

Dummy Half says...

Well done with the move, shows great ambition. Just out of interest what is the entry fee to a home game?
Well done with the move, shows great ambition. Just out of interest what is the entry fee to a home game? Dummy Half
  • Score: 0

2:30pm Sun 3 Feb 13

loan_star says...

Good luck to Mowden but I had to laugh at the line "1000 people packed into the arena"!! It was bad enough with around three times as many in!
Good luck to Mowden but I had to laugh at the line "1000 people packed into the arena"!! It was bad enough with around three times as many in! loan_star
  • Score: 0

5:02pm Sun 3 Feb 13

Haji el Maveric says...

It'll soon be down to 200 once the initial novelty wears off.
It'll soon be down to 200 once the initial novelty wears off. Haji el Maveric
  • Score: 0

6:39pm Sun 3 Feb 13

gramps427 says...

Well done Mowden; use the stadium to its full potential and it will pay you back the steal price of purchase. Bad management destroyed DFC not the stadium, much success to your plans.
Well done Mowden; use the stadium to its full potential and it will pay you back the steal price of purchase. Bad management destroyed DFC not the stadium, much success to your plans. gramps427
  • Score: 0

1:28pm Mon 4 Feb 13

No06 says...

As far as I am aware Mowden are averaging 400+ (paying) fans at Yiewsly Drive – so I very much doubt it will drop to 200! Let’s hope it works- looks like a great day with great Rugby!
As far as I am aware Mowden are averaging 400+ (paying) fans at Yiewsly Drive – so I very much doubt it will drop to 200! Let’s hope it works- looks like a great day with great Rugby! No06
  • Score: 0

3:42pm Mon 4 Feb 13

swissball says...

An amazing facility and an amazing set of players, proper gentlemen!
An amazing facility and an amazing set of players, proper gentlemen! swissball
  • Score: 0

9:00am Tue 5 Feb 13

laughingboy51 says...

will be a lot better with Darlington Council not creaming off car parking charges and car boot costs
will be a lot better with Darlington Council not creaming off car parking charges and car boot costs laughingboy51
  • Score: 0

9:56am Tue 5 Feb 13

No06 says...

It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day.
It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day. No06
  • Score: 0

11:21am Tue 5 Feb 13

laughingboy51 says...

No06 wrote:
It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day.
looks good to me, I wish them every success.............
....................
...
[quote][p][bold]No06[/bold] wrote: It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day.[/p][/quote]looks good to me, I wish them every success............. .................... ... laughingboy51
  • Score: 0

11:54am Tue 5 Feb 13

Dummy Half says...

Sounds good, think I will have a look down at the next home game. Are the rest of the Mowden teams still playing their home games at Yeivsley Drive?
Sounds good, think I will have a look down at the next home game. Are the rest of the Mowden teams still playing their home games at Yeivsley Drive? Dummy Half
  • Score: 0

12:08pm Tue 5 Feb 13

swissball says...

big game, massive game this Saturday 9 February against Hull Ionians - get yourselves there for what will be a cracking game :)

Only £6 entry can't be bad.
big game, massive game this Saturday 9 February against Hull Ionians - get yourselves there for what will be a cracking game :) Only £6 entry can't be bad. swissball
  • Score: 0

6:33pm Tue 5 Feb 13

spragger says...

Well done to them

Not the first time sensible Rugby folk have made a go of things, while the football ejits fall flat on their face
Well done to them Not the first time sensible Rugby folk have made a go of things, while the football ejits fall flat on their face spragger
  • Score: 0

12:41pm Wed 6 Feb 13

loan_star says...

No06 wrote:
It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day.
It was private land when DFC had it too. That didnt stop the council insisting on parking charges and the club to implement and cover the costs of a residents only parking scheme.
As for the car boots, the only way the club was allowed to hold them was to let the council take all the sellers fees. The only money DFC got was the entrance money from the buyers.
Different rules for two different clubs.
[quote][p][bold]No06[/bold] wrote: It is private land owned by Mowden Rugby Club. There are no parking charges and the club should get all the car boot sale profits—it is, after all, private land!! It is £6 entry, free for kids, beers (including real ale) are much cheaper than under DFC, the food is cheap (pie’s from North Yorkshire only £1.50!), no crowd segregation, family atmosphere and the bars are open long after the match has finished -- As I said great day.[/p][/quote]It was private land when DFC had it too. That didnt stop the council insisting on parking charges and the club to implement and cover the costs of a residents only parking scheme. As for the car boots, the only way the club was allowed to hold them was to let the council take all the sellers fees. The only money DFC got was the entrance money from the buyers. Different rules for two different clubs. loan_star
  • Score: 0

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