A CHAMPAGNE-SOAKED Darlington manager Martin Gray described winning the Northern League title as the proudest moment of his career last night, after his team finished the season in style.
Quakers captain Gary Brown lifted the silverware after a 3-0 win over Guisborough Town, the team's final game of what has been an incredibly successful season.
Gray's team have led the way from day one and last night's win was their 40th from 46 fixtures.
The attendance of 2,001 was the club's highest gate for a 'home' game at Heritage Park and they created a carnival atmopshere.
And they made a huge roar when Brown and team-mates were given the trophy by Northern League president George Courtney MBE.
"The crowd at the end and those scenes were fantastic," said Gray, who was covered in champagne as the players celebrated. "I'm a proud manager tonight.
"Winning any championship is always tough, but to do it in the style that we have is magnificent. It was a great moment and when those players have retired they will never ever forget tonight.
"Moments like that you cannot buy, they're moments you have to cherish.
"They've got to keep these memories and the photographs because these are the nights you work for."
Promotion to the Evo-Stik First Division North marks the first step in the Quakers' quest to return to the Football League.
They were relegated from League Two in 2010, while a four-division demotion following administration last year saw them drop into the Northern League this season.
Gray took on the challenge of managing the club 12 months ago and has built a squad from scratch, winning promotion at the first attempt.
He added: "If anything, being a former Football League club makes it harder because everyone wants to beat you and they all raise their game. No matter who the opposition was, they all tried harder.
"Certain people wanted to see us fail, they wanted us to fall flat on our face and I've really enjoyed that when people have had their little pops at us on Twitter and other things, because I thrive on it.
"Their comments drove me on to prove people wrong. You are what you are and I'm a winner.
"I want to be successful in everything that I do and if people want to try and trip me up along the way then you've got to be big enough to handle it.
"But what's most important is what we've done and this is the proudest moment of my career."
Having assured themselves of the title with Saturday's 3-1 win over Team Northumbria, Darlington laboured during the first 45 minutes last night.
But they came good after the break with goals from Terry Galbraith, Steven Johnson and Amar Purewal netting.
The strikes meant Quakers finished the season having scored a stunning 145 goals.
"I think in the first 45 minutes you could see that were still a few drinks still in the lads from the weekend," said Gray. "They were celebrating on Saturday, Sunday and into Monday too I think.
"So a few harsh words were said at half-time and they responded as they have done all season with a really strong second half performance.
"I was delighted to get a clean sheet and to put on a good show for the fans.
"It was a must to finish with a win. I'm not really one for records or statistics, but it was nice to reach 40 wins and that's 145 goals for the season.
"It makes me laugh to think about it now because we had no team at the start of the season and we've reached 122 points - it sounds like fairytale stuff. But what the players have achieved this season is absolutely outstanding.
"It's been a really tough, competitive league I'm just so glad we're out of it now."