A PROFESSIONAL rugby club which runs one of the largest stadiums in the North-East has reassured its members attendance will not be restricted at a meeting where key decisions over its future look set to be made.

Darlington Mowden Park RFC, which last month stated it was in a “financially secure position for the long-term”, called an extraordinary general meeting, taking place tonight, to discuss its plans days after Darlington Borough Council pulled out of a partnership to create a £20m sports village at the club’s Northern Echo Arena base.

The scheme’s features had included an improved arena as a centrepiece with artificial pitches and a reconfigured concourse for events.

It also included a centre of excellence for sports development and additional sports and leisure uses, accompanied by a hotel, petrol station and food outlets.

The club has insisted a sports village remains deliverable and has confirmed its continued commitment to create “a community-orientated site”, backed by confirmed commercial anchors. However, some members have questioned whether pressing ahead with the plan is overly ambitious.

They have claimed issues that needed addressing urgently included the players’ wage bill, which they said remained at more than £350,000, and repairs to the stadium and other measures to ensure the sustainability of the venue and the club.

Members said speculation was mounting that an anonymous benefactor who had effectively taken over the club’s liabilities from the council could make a move to take control of the club at the meeting.

They said after the club stated numbers able to attend the meeting “may be restricted” due to social distancing limits on internal gatherings, they feared votes over the future shape of the club and stadium would be made in their absence.

A club spokesman declined to state what the meeting’s agenda would include or whether the control of the club would be discussed, but said it would have been called regardless of the situation over the sports village.

He added most rugby clubs would have to adapt in some shape or form following the coronavirus pandemic. He said the meeting was to be held outdoors at the club and so there would not need to be a limit on the number of members attending.

The spokesman said: “We would never turn a member away, but have asked anyone wishing to attend to let the club’s president know they intend to in advance.”