Darlington FC’s biggest home attendance of the season watched in nervous anticipation as their team set about clinching the Northern League title at the first time of asking. Andy Walker joined the crowd.

DARLINGTON fans have met with triumph and disaster as much as any set of football supporters in recent years, if not more.

Little more than a year ago, there was the very real possibility they would no longer have a club to support, after years of financial uncertainty brought a third spell in administration and resulted in the fans’ takeover.

Those agonising days of waiting came 12 months after one of the biggest highs in the club’s history, in May 2011, when a last-gasp injury time goal secured the FA Trophy in a dramatic afternoon at Wembley.

Throw in relegation from the Football League, a crushing four-level demotion imposed by the FA in the aftermath of the takeover, not forgetting the enforced move out of Darlington and it’s easy to conclude that recent years have brought more lows than highs for Quakers fans.

But, almost two years on from those jubilant scenes at Wembley, Darlington FC has another achievement for the history books – promotion from the Northern League at the first attempt.

They have done it in style, with more than 140 goals scored and just four league defeats all season.

The scenes that greeted the final whistle of Saturday’s (April 27) game against Team Northumbria were reminiscent of that great day out at Wembley.

Quakers were faced with a simple equation: beat the university team and they would graduate from the Northern League as champions.

Three points would mean rivals Spennymoor – preparing for their own Wembley date in the upcoming FA Vase final – would be unable to catch Quakers, despite having six games in hand.

Almost 2,000 people made the trip to Bishop Auckland's Heritage Park, the biggest crowd for a Quakers match since the opening day of the season, when Martin Gray’s men began life in the Northern League with a 3-1 win at the expense of landlords Bishop Auckland.

An even bigger crowd is expaected on Wednesday (May 1) evening, when Darlo end their season against Guisborough, in an all-ticket game that will conclude with the trophy presentation.

Saturday’s game was in some doubt for a while, after heavy rain on Friday night saturated the ground, only for the community spirit that has restored pride for Quakers fans in the past year to come to the fore yet again, when a small band of volunteers stepped up to ensure the pitch was playable.

Team Northumbria hadn’t read their script and took the lead, only for Quakers to reply almost immediately, before two second half goals settled matters, sparking enthusiastic celebrations.

Speaking to supporters at Heritage Park, it is clear many have got used to their temporary surroundings, where they will return next season.

They liken the atmosphere to the days of the much-missed Feethams, the club’s home before its ill-fated move to the 25,000-seat arena, which was invariably near-empty and a drain on resources.

Optimism is not in short supply – winning 86 per cent of your games can have that effect – but one fan, who could not have been more than 40, offered a note of caution amid the congratulations, saying he doubted Quakers would return to the Football League in his lifetime.

That’s a debate for another day, with the majority of fans staying in the ground long after the final whistle as the celebrations hit full swing.

It’s fair to assume there will have been some sore heads in Darlington on Sunday morning, but most will say the hangover was a price worth paying for the promotion party.