How George Houghton's reign unfolded

First published in Sport

WITHIN only weeks of taking over at the helm of Darlington Football Club, George Houghton had already started planning his five-year plan for the "sleeping giant".

Mr Houghton, who had made his millions in property and healthcare, took over as chairman of the club on March 18, 2006, before the club's home derby with Carlisle United.

He said: "I have great plans and ideas, and I am hoping to be able to cater for the fans and what they want.

"My intention is to win."

However, it was a less-than auspicious start with the game delayed by 30 minutes due to crowd congestion, before Darlington fell to a 4-0 defeat.

But Mr Houghton, then 65, targeted automatic promotion the following season and said the club could be "banging on the door of the Championship" within five years.

During the close season, he raised ticket prices to help raise funds and vowed to give manager David Hodgson the money to compete in the transfer market.

His statement of intent, was followed up by an audacious £250,000 to sign Michael Bridges from Carlisle United, before the club broke its transfer record one week into the new season with the signing of Boston United striker Julian Joachim for £100,000.

It was not the only key signing of the summer from Boston, with Jon Sotnick arriving as chief executive. The Quakers were also buoyed by the council's decision to grant permission for the ground to stage music concerts. However, for every piece of good news, there was also turmoil around the corner.

Rumours had surfaced during the summer that Hodgson was on the verge of leaving the club.

Despite back-to-back victories at the start of the season, the club failed to win in the next four, and images of Mr Sotnick jeering Hodgson's decision to substitute Joachim only increased the pressure on the manager.

Hodgson was finally suspended on September 30, 2007 and sacked a week later amid claims he had breached Football Association rules.

Mr Houghton appointed Dave Penney as manager at the end of October, and said: "We have got our man and its a great coup for Darlington. He's a very talented young manager, which is exactly what were after."

By the end of the season the club had revealed its multi-million pound plans for a sports academy and hotel complex to secure the clubs financial future. But the club could only finish in 11th place and Mr Houghton cancelled a series of concerts in order to concentrate on playing matters.

Penney was given an unprecedented transfer budget to win promotion, equalled the club record for striker Pawel Abbott and signed a dozen new players.

The club spent the season fighting for promotion, but off-the-pitch Mr Sotnick left and Mr Houghton was forced into an impassioned plea to supporters urging them to support the team.

He was also forced to deny rumours he was looking to buy in Leeds United and also had a failed attempt to buy Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

The club's promotion fight went to the wire, but following play-off defeat to Rochdale, the wage budget was cut forcing Penney to release half of his squad. During the summer, the club successfully held its first concert when more than 17,000 fans saw pop icon Elton John perform.

But crowds at the start of the new season continued to drop and only two wins from the opening six games, left the club in 10th place.

Performances soon picked up, and, despite the wintry weather leading to a series of cancelled matches after Christmas, Darlington were back in the play-off places.

However at last night's home match against Rochdale, speculation was growing that the club was once again on the brink of bringing in administrators.

Comments (3)

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11:46am Wed 25 Feb 09

hadricka342 says...

in the present financal climate money talks, give the fans a chance to invest some money, as a fan it isnt a hobby watching Darlo its like national service, but for christs sake dont allow us to be deducted 10 bloody points.
in the present financal climate money talks, give the fans a chance to invest some money, as a fan it isnt a hobby watching Darlo its like national service, but for christs sake dont allow us to be deducted 10 bloody points. hadricka342
  • Score: 0

2:45pm Wed 25 Feb 09

monteforte says...

The chairman failed he didn't deliver...its no use blaming fans and people of Darlo...they have been great and have always supported the football club....Its now available for a new owner with local connections to turn it around and get our pride back..It could be a new begining for us all..I feel sorry for the local people and the local business affected by this who have lost alot of money...Lets hope we can keep the team going for promotion....
The chairman failed he didn't deliver...its no use blaming fans and people of Darlo...they have been great and have always supported the football club....Its now available for a new owner with local connections to turn it around and get our pride back..It could be a new begining for us all..I feel sorry for the local people and the local business affected by this who have lost alot of money...Lets hope we can keep the team going for promotion.... monteforte
  • Score: 0

7:23pm Wed 25 Feb 09

bhoy says...

Has the chairman really failed. He walks away from £5million of debt but, if what I heard the receiver say is correct, he still owns the ground. Not bad!!
Has the chairman really failed. He walks away from £5million of debt but, if what I heard the receiver say is correct, he still owns the ground. Not bad!! bhoy
  • Score: 0

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