Darlington this week appointed David Johnston as chief executive, the 52-year-old bringing a new perspective to the club having previously been managing director at Stansted Airport and held numerous other senior positions at companies around the country. He says he has a two-year-plan for Quakers, and aims to make it a sustainable club. In his first day in the role he spoke to Deputy Sports Editor Craig Stoddart about his vision for the club.

What have been your first impressions of Darlington?

What has impressed me is that there are some very good people at Darlington Football Club. What we’ve got to let Martin do is focus on the football, and we have to focus on off-the-field matters and give him a budget to operate within.

Because of the recent issues he had stepped into both worlds, but he needs to focus on his playing staff.

I was at the player of the year awards last week and saw the passion of the fans and the volunteers.

What is the appeal for you?

I get calls all the time offering me to work down south again, but it’s lovely to be back home. I worked away from my family for 16 years, the family stayed at home, the kids have been schooled in Durham. I could have moved them, but I was moving around – Edinburgh for a year, Heathrow two years, Stansted for two years – they would have been bouncing around. So the family stayed in the North-East, I commuted, I’d worked away, Monday to Friday, for 16 years. It would have to be a phenomenal offer to take me away from the family again, but I don’t need it, so why would I do it?

I’ve got businesses running that require two or three hours a week, but most of my time will be spent with Darlington Football Club.

What is your remit?

I’ve got a number of remits. One is to provide stability in the boardroom – we’ve got to be as stable off the field as we are on it – we’ve got to have a corporate diligence that the fans trust and respect. And we’ve got to use our business networks to attract sponsorship and investment.

Will you receive a salary?

There is talk of a retainer, a very small retainer. I’m not here for money. John has done this completely unpaid. If you’re talking about getting to the right level in the boardroom, then at some point then yes, but right now I’m talking a very small retainer for a couple of days a week. It’s not been agreed yet.

So you’ll only be working two days a week for Darlington?

If it takes five days a week I’ll be there five days a week. You ask any business I’ve worked in, I will work the hours necessary. If that’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day, then that’ll be it. I’ve been on the phone today to the construction company about what we need to do with the stand, I want to meet all of our suppliers, I want to meet all of our creditors and I want to talk to fans about our vision.

Will the club welcome investment?

There is a complex structure around the club – 78 per cent is owned by the fans and that can only be changed by altering the articles of association. We need to engage with the Supporters Group to find out what kind of club they want.

To go into the Conference the playing budget would need to increase by about half a million pounds – that cannot be found by the fans on a yearly basis. What kind of club do we want to have? It’s going to have to be a mixture of sponsorship, investment, in addition to the fundraising by supporters.

What the supporters have done is absolutely superb. In the last month or so they’ve raised £44,000 for the pitch, £21,000 for the stand, £38,000 for the playing budget. Superb.

But I’ve also seen a question on social media – what’s our creditor position? Do we need to raise £500,000 or £300,000? That’s because we’ve not had a two-year plan that has clear milestones. That’s my responsibility, to share it with the Supporters Group. We have to deliver a sustainable club on its crowds and its revenue. Once we get that you can start planning for the future.

Will you invest in the club?

At this point in time I will not be investing. I need to understand the club, to get under its skin and find out where we are, and there’s also the complicated equity position that we need to talk to the fans about. That doesn’t mean that I will not be investing in the future if the opportunity comes around. I would like to think that at some point I would.

How confident are you of bringing in investment?

I’m going to use my network of contacts. We know how popular Darlington is in town, but there are companies out there, big companies in the North-East. I’ve got some meetings already lined up.

Will you be communicating with the fans regularly?

When there’s bad news to be told I will stand and give it, and the same if it’s good news. It doesn’t bother me. People will always get an honest response from me. I’m quite happy to go and speak to the fans regularly.

People might not always like what I’ve got to say, but they’ll get the truth from me.

Transparency is a fine line. But I will always tell the truth and always be honest.

It can be a real dichotomy. You want to tell them so that they understand where we’re going, but you don’t want to give out so much information that your opposition can use it.

Communicating is the easiest thing in the world to do, but you don’t see many businesses do it properly. If your workforce say your communication is acceptable then you’re not doing badly, because they’ll always want more.

This club needs to communicate more with its stakeholders – that’s not just the fans, that’s everybody.

In the absence of communication rumours start.

What changes will you make to Darlington?

What the club needs now is stability. The churn needs to stop. I’m coming in as chief exec and I will chair the board as well.

It’s going to be up to me to bring in skills that complement the skills that are already there, and where we have gaps to bring in people to take the business forward.

I’m certainly going to be here for a minimum of two years, that’s my plan.

If I can’t find investment and I can’t find sponsorship in those two years and the club is sitting in the Conference at that time but is unable to compete at the upper end of the table then it would be my responsibility to step aside and let someone else have a go.

But what the club will have by then is corporate diligence, we will be doing things right from day one.

There will be formal board meetings, we will view the accounts on a monthly basis, I’ll expect financial reports, operation reports, and health and safety reports – the way a board should be run.

I’ve operated at board level for the past 20 years and this club is no different. I hope to bring in some of that experience.

Are you expecting other people to join the board?

Yes, I am. We need to bring the right people in with the right skillsets to complement what we already have. That’s the role of a chief executive, to look at a club and say ‘what haven’t we got, what do we need?’ The club needs stability, it needs commercial diligence so that people can trust the board.

Where do you see the club being in two years?

In those two years we’ve got to get into the Conference and have a sustainable club. I’d like to think we could get out of the Conference, but it all depends on budget.

I’ve seen stuff around, people saying things like ‘it’s okay if Martin Gray leaves, we’ll just stay at this level, or whatever’, but I don’t see it that way and I’m prepared to discuss that with the fans.

Football is a competitive game and you’ve got to think about your squad. They want to play at the highest level they can, the staff have played at a higher level and they want to get back there. If you’re saying that you’re content to stay at this level then you’re not going to attract the best players, and at that point you’re on a downward slope and the club begins to go backwards, gets into financial difficulty and goes out of operation, and we can’t allow that to happen.”

What will John Tempest’s role be?

John has done a fantastic job and he is going to be my right-hand man. He understands all parts of this business. We’re talking about John taking on an operations director role, as he understands all the politics.

Is Blackwell Meadows a long-term option?

My view is that Darlington needs to own its own ground. How, where and what are questions for the future. Ultimately, if the club was to be successful in the EFL it would need its own ground.

We have a good relationship with Darlington Rugby Club. They are a very good landlord.

You can’t look too far, that’s why I’m talking about a two-year rolling plan because things can change annually.

Is moving to The Northern Echo Arena an option?

If you look at the operational costs of running the Arena, they’re £270,000 a year. Compared with the rent where we are now, you’re looking at something like £200,000 more. If I said to Martin Gray – do you want to play at the Arena or have £200,000 more in your playing budget, what do you think he would say?

It would produce a level of cost that the club could not sustain.

Who do you support?

I’ve had a season ticket at Newcastle for 41 years. I still went to every game when I was working down south as I came back up at weekends. Even when I was playing football on Saturdays I still had my season ticket because you couldn’t give it up.

This year I’m praying the fixtures are kind, but when they clash I’ll be at Darlington.