GRAEME ARMSTRONG believes leaving Darlington on a high is the best time to call it a day after making a shock decision to quit Quakers.

The striker was a fans’ favourite, scoring 39 goals during two seasons in which the club twice won promotion, but he has turned down the offer of a new deal.

He has not agreed a move to another club yet, but Armstrong says not being a regular in Martin Gray’s team during the middle of the season influenced his decision.

He finished the campaign in Gray’s first-choice XI, contributing 13 goals to the team’s Northern Premier League title-win, including a ten-minute hat-trick during an unforgettable 7-1 win at Whitby Town in the penultimate match.

“It was my greatest night in football,” said Armstrong, yet for six months he barely started a game and with increased work commitments also a factor he feels now is the right time to go.

Armstrong said: “It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly. I’d been speaking to my partner and a few of the lads about the decision, because it was a big one.

“I get on so well with the lads, and with the fan base Darlington have got it is such a massive club. Martin tried to persuade me to stay, but we have a good understanding and I think he respects my decision.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a few months with me not playing through the middle of the season, you don’t feel part of it.

“Martin offered me a new contract, but I didn’t want the emotion of the Whitby game and getting promoted change what I thought was the right decision for me.

“The last month has been unbelievable, but I’d made my mind up. Although I loved playing for the club, I didn’t enjoy sitting watching games. That’s natural, I want to be playing all the time.

“With the players Martin could bring to the club I could potentially be a bit-part player again next year.”

Newcastle-based Armstrong is a school teacher in Hexham, and he added: “The other thing is the commitment to travelling and my job. I’d be happy to stay and fight for my place, but I probably wouldn’t be able to give the commitment to the club and what Darlington expect. It probably wouldn’t be fair on them and not fair on me either.

“It’s called the National League North but it’s not an entirely northern division. You’ve got Gloucester and Worcester teams in there. I think that would be too much for me to commit all my time and effort to at this stage of my career.”

Armstrong will be 33 by the time next season kicks-off, though he will not be short of admirers.

Two North-East clubs made their interest known less than 24 hours after it was revealed he would be leaving Darlington on Sunday, though he says: “I’m keeping my options open.

“It would have been disrespectful to speak to anybody before I’d told Martin I was leaving. I’ll have a couple of options.”

Rumours were rife that he was on the verge of a mid-season move, but despite the February arrival of Liam Hardy from Buxton Armstrong worked his way back into the reckoning and started most of the final games.

While Lee Gaskell, who scored some spectacular goals and finished on 14 for the season, he netted only once in the 19 matches that followed February’s momentous 4-3 win at Salford while Armstrong scored seven times in a 12-game run.

“Getting back into the team made me think ‘am I making the right decision?’” added Armstrong, who has also played for Gateshead and Blyth.

“If I hadn’t played at the level before I might have been motivated to step up, but I had five or six years at National North and Conference level.

“On the back of winning promotion and the hat-trick at Whitby there would be no better time to leave, after two promotions in two years.

“I’m leaving as someone who contributed to that, rather than maybe next year when I might not be playing as much.”

Armstrong’s ten-minute treble at Whitby came 12 months after a play-off final win over Bamber Bridge, but in the dying seconds sustained a serious abdominal injury which kept him in hospital for a month and required an eight-hour operation to repair his damaged pancreas.

“I’m a big believer in saying some things are meant to be,” he said. “After the injury I don’t think anybody will have worked harder than me to try and get fit this year, and for it to culminate with the hat-trick at Whitby I think that made it my greatest night in football.

“I’ve had a good few promotions now, six or seven I think, but there’s nothing that ranks anywhere close being able to walk off the pitch at Whitby with that ovation and being a champion. There’s no better feeling.”