A FOOTBALL club has described plans to build a £20m sports village at its former home as an "exciting opportunity", but warned there were several "technical challenges" to overcome before any decision over a return is made.

On Monday, The Northern Echo revealed the plans, which could create hundreds of jobs, have taken a major step forward after the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) pledged to plunge almost half a million pounds into developing proposals for the area around Darlington's Northern Echo Arena.

Darlington Sports Village would feature a leisure complex, sporting centre of excellence, retail area and village green, with housing also suggested as a way of boosting funding for the venture.

Last year, David Johnston, chief executive of Darlington Football Club, said the idea of moving the Quakers to the sports village "didn't appear to be right".

And last night, Mr Johnston admitted there was much to consider before any final decision was made.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, he said: “We have been engaged in lengthy discussions with the various stakeholders as we seek the optimum long term stadium solution for Darlington FC.

"We think that the proposed sporting village on the current arena site is a very exciting opportunity, however, there are several technical challenges that we need to overcome if it is to be a viable option for Darlington FC in sharing with other teams.

"We must consider the FA and League rules, which require that in the event of unresolved schedule clashes, Darlington FC’s fixtures must prevail, and the proposed artificial playing surface would not currently allow us to compete in the English Football League.

"Any possible participation in the development must also be attractive to our supporters, their decision will ultimately decide where Darlington FC will play."

If eventually approved, the development would be built on the 23 acres of land belonging to Darlington Mowden Park RFC and up to 42 acres of council-owned land on Neasham Road.

The development would also form part of a wider plan that aims to attract high profile sport and music stars to the region.

The funding from the TVCA will be added to £50,000 pledged by the council and is earmarked for detailed feasibility plans.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “This sports village could be transformational for Darlington and the wider area, creating state-of-the-art sports facilities and jobs for local people.”

The managing director of Darlington Mowden Park, Lee Rust, said fantastic progress was being made as he thanked club director Paul Mackings for playing an instrumental role.