COMMENT: Darlington’s four-division demotion unfair on the fans

The Football Association yesterday ruled that Darlington will play in the Northern League next season. Deputy Sports Editor Craig Stoddart, a lifelong supporter of the Quakers, gives his verdict on the FA's decision to demote the club four divisions

FROM Wembley to West Auckland - how the hell has it come to this? Sixteen years to the day that Darlington visited the national stadium for the first time, at the same venue yesterday the ruthless Football Association kicked Quakers into the depths of the non-league game.

The decision to place the club into the Northern League hurt more than that 1996 defeat to Plymouth in a play-off final or, in fact, any defeat in the club's 129-year history.

Seeing Darlington play under Twin Towers that sunny day fulfilled an ambition for me and thousands of others. As a lifelong fan, watching Darlington walk out at Wembley represented the fulfilment of a childhood dream, a day that most supporters thought would never see. The win at Wembley last year in the FA Trophy final was, similarly, truly what dreams are made of.

Likewise, yesterday was also a day most of us thought we would never see: Darlington in the Northern League.

Fear the worst and hope for the best, so they say, but seeing the FA put Darlington in the Evo-Stik Premier or First Division appeared a more likely scenario.

Instead, the worst case scenario was realised as the FA, treating Quakers like a new club, effectively relegated Darlington four divisions in one afternoon. Not even Steve Staunton managed that.

He was the out-of-depth boss when the club were relegated from the Football League in 2010, a novice in club management and it showed. Finishing bottom of the pile that year was a major blow. Today, the emotion is stunned amazement and anger.

It's only four years since Darlington were vying to be in League One. Promotion in 2008 would have seen them rub shoulders with Leicester, Leeds and Huddersfield, but next season's opposition will include Marske United, Hebburn Town and Team Northumbria.

Reality will hit once games are underway in August, when fans are making their first visit to grounds such as Penrith's Frenchfield Park. It's not been beyond me to have a snobbish moan down the years about press facilities at Accrington Stanley and York City, but I can't see there being a decent wifi access at Hebburn Sports & Social Ground.

Myself and a couple of Northern Echo colleagues played in a charity game last Sunday at Hebburn Town, newly-promoted to the Northern League first division.

To think that Darlington will be playing there next season, not in a friendly or a cup competition, but in a bona fide senior game on a level playing field brings home the harsh reality.

Supporters will be made welcome, certainly, and they will find the football better value for money than £18 per game in the Conference. But any Darlington supporters who have not previously visited many Northern League grounds will take some getting used to the new surrounds.

Because, for all that the FA have punished the club, in reality it is the supporters that have come off worst. They raised thousands to keep the club alive and reach the end of the season, but for very little reward.

They have been punished for the sins of those in charge of the club in the past. It all appears very unnecessary and draconian.

There shall be some who will say Darlington may as well have gone bust mid season, restarted as a phoenix without any debt and ended up same position. Hindsight's wonderful, isn't it. Because had that happened, we would forever have looked back in anger and wondered 'what if'. What if we'd tried to save the club, what if we'd at least given it a go.

Mind, fans are angry about what has happened to their club and they can be forgiven for looking back and looking for answers.

Emotions are high, just as they were during the match at Barrow in January, when then chairman Raj Singh had just placed Quakers into administration and it appeared it would be the club's last stand.

Singh remains public enemy number one and understandably so.

Months ago he said, live on BBC Tees, that he would walk away without claiming a penny if it meant the club staying alive, yet he went back on his word and as a result the all-important CVA was not agreed.

But there remains confusion and hope - typical of the last six months at Darlington. Singh last night said he had signed over the share to the club's new owners, thus sparking frantic hopes of a reprieve.

No matter, Teesside businessman Singh will not be welcomed back to Darlington and the same goes for fellow former chairman George Reynolds.

His ludicrous decision to build a 25,000-seater stadium for a club that has never averaged anything close to that number still rankles. That Darlington Borough Council allowed Reynolds to build the monument to himself is equally baffling.

Darlington have endured three administrations since the White Elephant opened in 2003 and the concern now is that the club will go the same way as Scarborough, Maidstone and Rushden - all former Football League clubs that sank without trace.

But there are success stories which can offer inspiration. Aldershot, AFC Wimbledon and Newport County all worked though the leagues back to the Conference and beyond. Chester, FC United of Manchester are also on the rise having begun towards the bottom and so Quakers must hope to do the same.

It promises to be a challenging time. They are starting out of town, at Shildon's Dean Street, in a new division with a new manager and a new set of players.

But perhaps the fresh start will give the club the impetus it needs, acting as a springboard.

Begin well and momentum will build, Quakers fans will fill grounds they had not previously visited (or expected to) and they will be welcomed with open arms by Northern League clubs relishing a bumper pay day. With a few victories to enjoy, this could be the beginning of an enjoyable adventure - but it should not have come to this.

Comments (19)

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8:22am Sat 26 May 12

swagger says...

The Echo said.
Singh last night said he had signed over the share to the club's new owners, thus sparking frantic hopes of a reprieve.

Singh remains public enemy number one and understandably so.

Mr Singh you are in a hole, why are you still digging.

If you can put this right do it now.
The Echo said. Singh last night said he had signed over the share to the club's new owners, thus sparking frantic hopes of a reprieve. Singh remains public enemy number one and understandably so. Mr Singh you are in a hole, why are you still digging. If you can put this right do it now. swagger

9:23am Sat 26 May 12

Trippynet says...

I agree. I could understand (to some degree) Singh's unwillingness to write off the debt if the new owner was a businessman trying to make money from the redevelopment of the Arena (as he himself had tried and failed to do - after all, why should he pay for someone else's business development). But when it's a consortium of local fans who's only plan for the Arena is to leave it to rot, and who's only priorities are the survival of the club, I just cannot see what he was thinking.

As a result, he still hasn't got a penny back, the fans have been punished with this draconian penalty, and Raj is now reviled by the fans for the damage that his pointless stubbornness has done to the club.

Utterly baffling!
I agree. I could understand (to some degree) Singh's unwillingness to write off the debt if the new owner was a businessman trying to make money from the redevelopment of the Arena (as he himself had tried and failed to do - after all, why should he pay for someone else's business development). But when it's a consortium of local fans who's only plan for the Arena is to leave it to rot, and who's only priorities are the survival of the club, I just cannot see what he was thinking. As a result, he still hasn't got a penny back, the fans have been punished with this draconian penalty, and Raj is now reviled by the fans for the damage that his pointless stubbornness has done to the club. Utterly baffling! Trippynet

9:32am Sat 26 May 12

jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government. says...

err this isn't a 4 division demotion, its a NEW club coming in at the highest level allowed. The FA have made it clear that someone else owns the old DFC which would have probably played in the unibond. Someone from Darlo 1883 needs to be asking what exactly they bought as they didn't buy DFC. They should ask for their money back
err this isn't a 4 division demotion, its a NEW club coming in at the highest level allowed. The FA have made it clear that someone else owns the old DFC which would have probably played in the unibond. Someone from Darlo 1883 needs to be asking what exactly they bought as they didn't buy DFC. They should ask for their money back jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government.

9:37am Sat 26 May 12

laughingboy51 says...

jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government. wrote:
err this isn't a 4 division demotion, its a NEW club coming in at the highest level allowed. The FA have made it clear that someone else owns the old DFC which would have probably played in the unibond. Someone from Darlo 1883 needs to be asking what exactly they bought as they didn't buy DFC. They should ask for their money back
too true! what did they buy?

More heartache buy the look of it!
[quote][p][bold]jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government.[/bold] wrote: err this isn't a 4 division demotion, its a NEW club coming in at the highest level allowed. The FA have made it clear that someone else owns the old DFC which would have probably played in the unibond. Someone from Darlo 1883 needs to be asking what exactly they bought as they didn't buy DFC. They should ask for their money back[/p][/quote]too true! what did they buy? More heartache buy the look of it! laughingboy51

10:10am Sat 26 May 12

morgan1 says...

I still think it makes no difference their is no CVA and Darlington 2009 technically still exist.
The share issue just reiterates what a shambles the whole process has been.
I still think it makes no difference their is no CVA and Darlington 2009 technically still exist. The share issue just reiterates what a shambles the whole process has been. morgan1

10:44am Sat 26 May 12

asupporter says...

There are important questions to be answered here. Why did the FA treat Darlington more harshly than Chester? The successor club to Chester City were allowed to enter the pyramid in the NPL division one north after City were expelled from the conference mid season. Is it just a matter of geography (Chester were close to the NPL heartland, Darlington are not, does the NPL want NE teams? The FA seems to think Oxford is in the north) or is it as some people are saying that Shildon's ground isn't up to standard? What exactly did 1883 buy from the liquidator? His job was to get as much money as he could and it seems like he did a good job getting them to pay £100,000 for nothing. All supporters want to see the club survive and prosper but sound financial management will be the key. Community companies are subject to the laws of economics same as any other business and life will be hard for the club in the Northern League both on and off the field. 1883 has not made a good start and needs to up its game dramatically if the club is to survive.
There are important questions to be answered here. Why did the FA treat Darlington more harshly than Chester? The successor club to Chester City were allowed to enter the pyramid in the NPL division one north after City were expelled from the conference mid season. Is it just a matter of geography (Chester were close to the NPL heartland, Darlington are not, does the NPL want NE teams? The FA seems to think Oxford is in the north) or is it as some people are saying that Shildon's ground isn't up to standard? What exactly did 1883 buy from the liquidator? His job was to get as much money as he could and it seems like he did a good job getting them to pay £100,000 for nothing. All supporters want to see the club survive and prosper but sound financial management will be the key. Community companies are subject to the laws of economics same as any other business and life will be hard for the club in the Northern League both on and off the field. 1883 has not made a good start and needs to up its game dramatically if the club is to survive. asupporter

12:08pm Sat 26 May 12

morgan1 says...

The FA have not treated the club more harshly it is not Darlo. It is a new club 1883 ltd.
Darlo 2009 will remain in existance for 5 years until disolved unless someone pays the debts and exits with a CVA, I am a sure the 1883 Ltd board must know this otherwise they are incompetent or badly advised.
The FA have not treated the club more harshly it is not Darlo. It is a new club 1883 ltd. Darlo 2009 will remain in existance for 5 years until disolved unless someone pays the debts and exits with a CVA, I am a sure the 1883 Ltd board must know this otherwise they are incompetent or badly advised. morgan1

12:29pm Sat 26 May 12

laughingboy51 says...

'I am a sure the 1883 Ltd board must know this otherwise they are incompetent or badly advised'

quote, how true!
'I am a sure the 1883 Ltd board must know this otherwise they are incompetent or badly advised' quote, how true! laughingboy51

3:26pm Sat 26 May 12

quakersam says...

It's not down to the CVA at all. And for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill.
Morgan, Chester were a brand new club too so your point doesn't stand on this one. We were treat harsher than them because newco's were previously allowed to start 2 divisions below the previous club. The rules were changed to make them start at step 5.
The reason the FA have treated us as a new club is the fact we didn't have the football share. If we had this we'd of ended up in the EvoStik, it had nothing to do with the CVA or Shildon's ground.

The FA have treat us as a new club, but by their rules phoenix clubs can't play football next season unless they were registered by the 31st March, so how can we be recognised as a new club yet play football next season?

Again, the FA are only treating us as a new club because we don't have the share.
However, if we can now get this signed over this may change. It might not change the league however.

If we were to jack it all in and start again we'd have no football until July next year and be in the northern league where we are now but minus the debt.
Do you honestly think as many people would stick around for a whole season with no football? I don't
It's not down to the CVA at all. And for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill. Morgan, Chester were a brand new club too so your point doesn't stand on this one. We were treat harsher than them because newco's were previously allowed to start 2 divisions below the previous club. The rules were changed to make them start at step 5. The reason the FA have treated us as a new club is the fact we didn't have the football share. If we had this we'd of ended up in the EvoStik, it had nothing to do with the CVA or Shildon's ground. The FA have treat us as a new club, but by their rules phoenix clubs can't play football next season unless they were registered by the 31st March, so how can we be recognised as a new club yet play football next season? Again, the FA are only treating us as a new club because we don't have the share. However, if we can now get this signed over this may change. It might not change the league however. If we were to jack it all in and start again we'd have no football until July next year and be in the northern league where we are now but minus the debt. Do you honestly think as many people would stick around for a whole season with no football? I don't quakersam

5:49pm Sat 26 May 12

asupporter says...

Quakersam

Thank you for your clarification. It looks like we got no credit for meeting our obligations to the Conference and fulfilling our fixtures unlike other clubs which simply pulled out (or were expelled) mid-season. The FA is sending a strong message to clubs in our position: don't try to struggle on, just go into liquidation and start again with no debt. Is that what they really want? I see your point that any football is better than no football but playing at Shildon in the Northern League really is a desperate gamble. Chester were originally placed in the Northwest Counties League and upgraded on appeal. We shouldn't accept this decision without a fight.
Quakersam Thank you for your clarification. It looks like we got no credit for meeting our obligations to the Conference and fulfilling our fixtures unlike other clubs which simply pulled out (or were expelled) mid-season. The FA is sending a strong message to clubs in our position: don't try to struggle on, just go into liquidation and start again with no debt. Is that what they really want? I see your point that any football is better than no football but playing at Shildon in the Northern League really is a desperate gamble. Chester were originally placed in the Northwest Counties League and upgraded on appeal. We shouldn't accept this decision without a fight. asupporter

6:02pm Sat 26 May 12

morgan1 says...

Quakersam I answered you about the club on another thread, it was the club incorporated in 1921 which was disloved in 2009.
Since then it is simply pass me down the memorabelia.
It is not the same legal vehicle as it was back in 1921 you simple have the copyrights to use the name, coat of arms and the logo assuming the copyrights are all still valid.
Quakersam I answered you about the club on another thread, it was the club incorporated in 1921 which was disloved in 2009. Since then it is simply pass me down the memorabelia. It is not the same legal vehicle as it was back in 1921 you simple have the copyrights to use the name, coat of arms and the logo assuming the copyrights are all still valid. morgan1

6:11pm Sat 26 May 12

morgan1 says...

Actually not sure you can use the name as it is a disolved company, would need legal clarification on the that one.
Actually not sure you can use the name as it is a disolved company, would need legal clarification on the that one. morgan1

6:53pm Sat 26 May 12

jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government. says...

quakersam wrote:
It's not down to the CVA at all. And for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill.
Morgan, Chester were a brand new club too so your point doesn't stand on this one. We were treat harsher than them because newco's were previously allowed to start 2 divisions below the previous club. The rules were changed to make them start at step 5.
The reason the FA have treated us as a new club is the fact we didn't have the football share. If we had this we'd of ended up in the EvoStik, it had nothing to do with the CVA or Shildon's ground.

The FA have treat us as a new club, but by their rules phoenix clubs can't play football next season unless they were registered by the 31st March, so how can we be recognised as a new club yet play football next season?

Again, the FA are only treating us as a new club because we don't have the share.
However, if we can now get this signed over this may change. It might not change the league however.

If we were to jack it all in and start again we'd have no football until July next year and be in the northern league where we are now but minus the debt.
Do you honestly think as many people would stick around for a whole season with no football? I don't
quakersam wrote:
for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill.

well Sam you were well and truly robbed big time
[quote][p][bold]quakersam[/bold] wrote: It's not down to the CVA at all. And for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill. Morgan, Chester were a brand new club too so your point doesn't stand on this one. We were treat harsher than them because newco's were previously allowed to start 2 divisions below the previous club. The rules were changed to make them start at step 5. The reason the FA have treated us as a new club is the fact we didn't have the football share. If we had this we'd of ended up in the EvoStik, it had nothing to do with the CVA or Shildon's ground. The FA have treat us as a new club, but by their rules phoenix clubs can't play football next season unless they were registered by the 31st March, so how can we be recognised as a new club yet play football next season? Again, the FA are only treating us as a new club because we don't have the share. However, if we can now get this signed over this may change. It might not change the league however. If we were to jack it all in and start again we'd have no football until July next year and be in the northern league where we are now but minus the debt. Do you honestly think as many people would stick around for a whole season with no football? I don't[/p][/quote]quakersam wrote: for the millionth time it is the same club. We bought the history, the name, the badge, the goodwill. well Sam you were well and truly robbed big time jabdc5, the land that's still trying to recover from the last tory government.

12:35am Sun 27 May 12

Friendoffeetham says...

Darlington probably could restarted as a phoenix without any debt, and ended up at the same level as where the FA now has placed them! All the efforts of fans, the money put in to save the club, a lot of people working night and day for free to help - all this in vain, because of the arrogant nutshells in the FA!
Darlington probably could restarted as a phoenix without any debt, and ended up at the same level as where the FA now has placed them! All the efforts of fans, the money put in to save the club, a lot of people working night and day for free to help - all this in vain, because of the arrogant nutshells in the FA! Friendoffeetham

1:37am Sun 27 May 12

dfcdfcdfc says...

Morgan1 you don't seem to have understood. 2009 are not the football club - they were the company put together by Singh to buy the football club. They are a holding company which has putthe football club into administration and that was bought by Darlo 1883. The sale did not include the football share as that was still held by 2009 and they offered it up on certain conditions which the FA refused to allow 1883 to comply with even if they were so minded. Without this share the club had to ask for a new one from the FA and they said "yes no problem have this one". Then they said "oh by the way as we had to give you the new share that is the same as being a new club so we'll start you in step 5 of the pyramid.

I hope I have explained this satisfactorily and that you now grasp the truth of what has happened.
Morgan1 you don't seem to have understood. 2009 are not the football club - they were the company put together by Singh to buy the football club. They are a holding company which has putthe football club into administration and that was bought by Darlo 1883. The sale did not include the football share as that was still held by 2009 and they offered it up on certain conditions which the FA refused to allow 1883 to comply with even if they were so minded. Without this share the club had to ask for a new one from the FA and they said "yes no problem have this one". Then they said "oh by the way as we had to give you the new share that is the same as being a new club so we'll start you in step 5 of the pyramid. I hope I have explained this satisfactorily and that you now grasp the truth of what has happened. dfcdfcdfc

9:52am Sun 27 May 12

morgan1 says...

1921 club was disolved, its like, if the Crown jewels were for sale and I bought them, would that make me Royalty, no of course not.
Its no different, Darlo 2009 and Darlo 1883 are legal entities which have just bought the original clubs Jewels, it does not make them the original club.
The original club I supported is not the same now and it never will be, but there is a chance to create a new club which is what is happening but it will never be the same, does not matter how it is dressed up.
In truth it is worse because we have two clubs in existence that have done the same trick and they will exist alongside each until Darlo 2009 is also disolved.
What on earth happens if someone pays the debts of Darlo 2009 to bring it out of adminstration, technically I think this can still be done.
1921 club was disolved, its like, if the Crown jewels were for sale and I bought them, would that make me Royalty, no of course not. Its no different, Darlo 2009 and Darlo 1883 are legal entities which have just bought the original clubs Jewels, it does not make them the original club. The original club I supported is not the same now and it never will be, but there is a chance to create a new club which is what is happening but it will never be the same, does not matter how it is dressed up. In truth it is worse because we have two clubs in existence that have done the same trick and they will exist alongside each until Darlo 2009 is also disolved. What on earth happens if someone pays the debts of Darlo 2009 to bring it out of adminstration, technically I think this can still be done. morgan1

11:46am Sun 27 May 12

mrrealist says...

Dear Craig, to understand our current crisis, one of any we have to go back a few years. When a group of Darlington fans approached George Reynolds, with tearful eyes and sad faces, he could have ignored them. Instead he built a stadium to be proud of. ''But we have left Feethams'', was the cry. I remember Feethams. Freezing cold Tuesday nights with 1000 so called fans. Half time; a cup of brown liquid, God only knows what it was. Best not to lean against the stand, a cut from rusty metal can give you blood poisoning. Along came George Reynolds, and a super stadium. It needn't have been a '' white elephant'', not with loyal support. Now DFC are where they truly belong, Northern League. No stadium, no team or manager, casting blame everywhere, except where it belongs, apathetic Darlingtonians. In a democracy, every opinion is of value. Ireserve the right to profoundly disagree with your's, Craig. Finally can anyone post the address of the British Heart Foundation charity shop in Darlington, I wish to donate my red away top and scarf, worn only once at Wembley. 50 years of support, Northern League, NO THANKS.
Dear Craig, to understand our current crisis, one of any we have to go back a few years. When a group of Darlington fans approached George Reynolds, with tearful eyes and sad faces, he could have ignored them. Instead he built a stadium to be proud of. ''But we have left Feethams'', was the cry. I remember Feethams. Freezing cold Tuesday nights with 1000 so called fans. Half time; a cup of brown liquid, God only knows what it was. Best not to lean against the stand, a cut from rusty metal can give you blood poisoning. Along came George Reynolds, and a super stadium. It needn't have been a '' white elephant'', not with loyal support. Now DFC are where they truly belong, Northern League. No stadium, no team or manager, casting blame everywhere, except where it belongs, apathetic Darlingtonians. In a democracy, every opinion is of value. Ireserve the right to profoundly disagree with your's, Craig. Finally can anyone post the address of the British Heart Foundation charity shop in Darlington, I wish to donate my red away top and scarf, worn only once at Wembley. 50 years of support, Northern League, NO THANKS. mrrealist

9:44pm Sun 27 May 12

mrrealist says...

Ahh, all the social graces of a rutting warthog. Pity about your user name. You seem obsessed with sex, not football. English not your strong point at school, the club should be trying to get everyone on board. With your attitude, oblivion awaits.
Ahh, all the social graces of a rutting warthog. Pity about your user name. You seem obsessed with sex, not football. English not your strong point at school, the club should be trying to get everyone on board. With your attitude, oblivion awaits. mrrealist

6:18pm Mon 28 May 12

ace38 says...

The present situation is unfair to Darlington fans, but fair to the stay away Darlington public.
If people had supported the club in reasonable numbers at the Arena, then The Quakers would be in a much better position. The move from Feethams was not the reason for the club`s demise. Other clubs have moved to new stadiums and been successful. The club has been badly managed. On and off the pitch ( Steve Staunton has not been the only bad manager the club has had in the last ten years ). What has happened to the money from the F A Trophy run? The Dan Burn, Michael Smith money?
I have little sympathy with Craig Stoddart sitting in a small stand with his laptop. His reporting has sometimes been way off the mark like this article.
My sympathies are with loyal old and some who are disabled having to put up with basic facilites in the cold and rain through no fault of their own.
The present situation is unfair to Darlington fans, but fair to the stay away Darlington public. If people had supported the club in reasonable numbers at the Arena, then The Quakers would be in a much better position. The move from Feethams was not the reason for the club`s demise. Other clubs have moved to new stadiums and been successful. The club has been badly managed. On and off the pitch ( Steve Staunton has not been the only bad manager the club has had in the last ten years ). What has happened to the money from the F A Trophy run? The Dan Burn, Michael Smith money? I have little sympathy with Craig Stoddart sitting in a small stand with his laptop. His reporting has sometimes been way off the mark like this article. My sympathies are with loyal old and some who are disabled having to put up with basic facilites in the cold and rain through no fault of their own. ace38

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