A REMARKABLE season came to a jubilant end tonight as Darlington FC lifted the Northern League champions trophy.
While the final game of the season understandably lacked some of the vigour of the Quakers earlier, more crucial league games, the 2,001 fans who turned out to watch their team beat visitors Guisborough Town 3-0 would not have wanted to be anywhere else.
The final whistle heralded a good-natured pitch invasion at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland, replete with brightly coloured flares.
Local dignitaries including Darlington Mayor Paul Baldwin and the town's MP Jenny Chapman looked on from the stands as hundreds mobbed the heroic players.
Captain Gary Brown - who has consistently been one of the team's best performers - led his band of battlers in the celebrations as the team got their hands on a trophy well-deserved after a season which saw the Quakers net more than 140 goals.
The celebrations were particularly heartfelt given the past difficulties of the club, and as fan Mark Fawcett explained, the passion and dedication to Darlington FC is uniquely and equally shared by the men on the pitch and those watching from the stands.
“We own this club,” said the 51-year-old season ticket holder.
“I have shares and most of us fans do; this isn't a Chelsea or a Man U, this is our club and they've done themselves and the town proud with what they've achieved this season.
For 67-year-old Ron Bradshaw, who can trace his Darlington-supporting roots back to the mid-1950s, seeing the team lift the trophy was a moment to savour.
“It makes you really proud to be a Darlington fan, I have been here all season and I wouldn't support anyone else,” he said.
“It has been a marvellous, entertaining season by a devoted bunch of players and management.
“They are an absolute credit to the club and the town.”
And as the champagne corks popped and the crowds cheered throughout the trophy presentation at the end of last night's match, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism that this is only the beginning for a passionate Darlington club and their equally passionate fans.