MARTIN GRAY has quashed speculation he is to leave Darlington by reassuring fans he is staying at the club to ‘finish the job I started’.

After five years at the helm, during which time three promotions have been achieved, Gray had given serious consideration to leaving.

At a fans’ forum last month Gray suggested he would give his future serious thought unless external investment could be made in Darlington, and off-the-pitch stability achieved at a club with a track record for upheaval.

In a lengthy interview, Gray had his say on a number of issues that have arisen during a period of uncertainty, including Raj Singh’s proposed investment in the club and missing out on a place in the play-offs due to not having enough covered seating at Blackwell Meadows.

“Some things were maybe handled badly,” he admitted. “A lot of it came through frustration.

“Apologies have been made, and now we’re moving on. I did what I did for what I thought was the best interests of the club, because I care.

“To miss out on promotion and even participation in the play-offs for reasons beyond our control was heartbreaking.”

This season’s play-off final was contested by Halifax and Chorley, two teams Darlington took four points from over the course of a campaign they ended in fifth place, maintaining Gray’s record for finishing in the top five in each of his five seasons.

He added: “I hope people can see what work we have done over five years, and not just what happened recently. I hope people can see the bigger picture. We’ve worked hard on the infrastructure: the youth section, the under-18s, the reserves leading up to the first-team.

“I was only considering my future if the right structure was not put in place. There wasn’t one – people have come and gone for five years. I said at the fans’ forum ‘unless I get the stability off the pitch I’ll never be able to get the club where I want to it be on the pitch’.

“I now believe we can progress the club.

“I’ve had various meetings of late with the Supporters Group (Darlington FC SG) and the reassurances I’ve had from Wayne Raper (DFCSG chairman), as well as the board of the club and the potential new structure of the football club mean I want to stay to finish the journey we started.

“The fundraising that I’ve seen the fans do has given me confidence that we can go ahead.”

Fans have in recent weeks contributed £35,000 to a fundraising initiative to bolster the playing budget, which has enthused Gray, giving him belief that his team can again compete for promotion, allaying fears of an exodus.

Last week four players – Phil Turnbull, Nathan Cartman, Harvey Saunders and Mark Beck – signed new contracts, and on Thursday two more of the squad will have talks about a deal with Gray, who also says that he has turned down chances to work elsewhere recently.

“It would be impossible to have talks with players without promising my own commitment to the club,” said Gray, who says he rejected two job opportunities in the National League.

“I have told the players and board that I am still very much here for the long-term and determined to continue to do my bit to restore the club to its rightful place in the Football League.

“The encouragement from the players and directors has been extremely heartening and I am certain we can continue to build on our successes of the last few years and challenge again for promotion next season.”

Darlington director John Tempest said: “After a difficult two months it’s superb news Martin has committed to the club and is here for the long term.

“Off the pitch we are talking to a number of people to support the board moving forward. With the news of Martin’s commitment we also encourage all supporters to support the various pitches the DFCSG are running. As a fan-funded club we are in this all together.”

Raper added: “It was crucial for the stability of the club that we retained the services of Martin and his management team along with the core of the first team who performed so well last season.

“I’m delighted we’ve managed to do that and can all now look forwards and pull together to achieve the aim of progressing to the next level. It’s crucial we now focus on embedding a stable off-field structure and deliver a clear progression plan.”

In the wake of Singh’s proposed involvement, the club are understood to be in talks with potential new investors.

The manager’s reputation was damaged in some quarters by his willingness to welcome Singh to the club, a situation that Gray is at pains to point out began with the care home boss initiating contact earlier this year.

It was an issue which divided opinion among the fanbase, with some strongly in favour of remaining as a self-sustained, fan-owned club, while Singh’s reputation among supporters is tarnished having been chairman at a traumatic period in the club’s history.

Gray said: “My job when I came to the club in 2012 was always to have aspirations of getting back to the Football League and I still believe, with the right support and with stability off the pitch, that remains the target. We want to finish the job.

“But my job was never to run the club off the pitch. I found myself in a situation as the manager to try and co-ordinate something, and it took a lot of time, but we didn’t want to see five years’ work fall apart.

“I’ve spent the past few months running around having coffees with people. It’s taken a lot of time and become a bit of a nightmare.

“When it’s come to recruiting players or retaining players, until I knew what was happening I couldn’t do either. Every few hours the scenario has been changing.

“It’s been the toughest time I’ve had in five years. We lost our place in the play-offs, and then we didn’t know which way the future of the club was going.

“I’ve been out all hours, speaking to people. That isn’t what I was brought to the club for, what I’m judged on is what happens on the grass.”

Although Singh does not approve of the comparison, his status among supporters ranks alongside previous chairmen such as George Reynolds and George Houghton for his role in Darlington’s downfall.

He was chairman when they were relegated from the Football League in 2010, and put the club into administration in 2012, resulting in Quakers starting again in the Northern League.

Two weeks ago online outrage forced Singh into a u-turn on what would have been a £40,000 investment into Gray’s playing budget, though other fans had been prepared to listen to his point of view.

“I know some fans have their perspective on things,” added Gray. “I respect their opinion. I’m not saying Raj Singh was the right man, but I am saying he was the only man.

“He came to me, I didn’t go to him. He asked if he could have a meeting.

“That was me trying to progress the football club. If I knew what the reaction would’ve been, would I have done it? No.

“In hindsight, maybe Raj should’ve made a statement sooner to explain his investment. We’re being honest here, cards on the table. The hope was to do something to take the club forward.

“All I tried to do was bring in support to try and help us.

“The ambition here is still to take the club back into the Football League, and that takes money.

“We’ve worked on putting this team together over five years, this is now the strongest we’ve ever been. I didn’t want to walk away, the job isn’t finished yet. But to finish the job we need support.”

Supporters are still able to make donations to two fundraising schemes, set up by the DFCSG, who hold a controlling stake in Quakers.

An appeal to raise £50,000 to upgrade facilities at Blackwell Meadows currently stands at £25,200, while the playing budget amounts to almost £35,000 of an £80,000 target.

“How much is enough? You’ve never got enough to spend, every manager says that,” Gray admitted.

“It’s realistic. It’s not as much as we had, but not as bad as we thought it was going to be. We’ll still be competitive and we want to keep the momentum going.”

“In the absence of external investment it is important that the fans continue to support the club as they have done since 2012. The Boost the Budget initiative is a great way to help me build a competitive squad.”

Supporters have already paid £44,000 for a new pitch, and Gray added: “In total just over £100,000 has come in. 35 for the playing budget, 44 for the pitch, 25 for the stand, but we’re still 100 short.

“Various amounts have been raised, but to fulfil various commitments we need more.”

Gray expressed gratitude for Darlington’s band of valued volunteers, and also paid tribute to supporters for paying for a new pitch at Blackwell Meadows.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of this club,” he said. “It’s the people like Dr Steve Charlton, Glenn and Mary Bowes, the ladies that work in Quaker Retail - they are the reason we have a club today. When I leave this club the volunteers will still be there, those ladies will still be working in the club shop, rattling tins and doing the 50-50 draw.

“We’re getting a brand new pitch and work is starting on it next week.

“The fans have done that. In no time they raised the money, and I’ve been blown away by it.”