DARLINGTON have been thrown into disarray after Brian Atkinson and Sean Gregan stepped down as joint-managers yesterday – four days after being appointed.

They had replaced Martin Gray following his decision to accept the post at York City, but a conflict of interest has scuppered Quakers’ plans.

Atkinson is a director of the Martin Gray Football Academy (MGFA), which conducts coaching in schools throughout the North-East as well as at Darlington College, but Football Association rules dictate that he is unable to hold the position as Quakers boss due to the academy’s owner being in charge at another football club.

The same issue applied to York and Gray too, but the situation has been resolved by Atkinson stepping down, which enables him to remain as a coach with the MGFA.

Quakers director John Tempest and chief executive yesterday offered Gregan the chance to be the club’s sole manager, but he turned down the offer of a six-month contract as he would have had to relinquish his role with the MGFA.

The Northern Echo understands that Gregan was reluctant to leave a position he has held for five years in favour of a job in football management, while Quakers did not feel able to offer a longer contract due to due his lack of managerial experience.

As a consequence, Darlington have advertised the position and say they had received lots of interest by last night, with interviews to take place at the end of next week.

In the meantime, Quakers players Gary Brown and Phil Turnbull take charge of the team for Saturday’s game with Stockport County at Blackwell Meadows.

A statement released by Quakers read: “Darlington Football Club regrettably have to announce the departures of joint managers Brian Atkinson and Sean Gregan.

“Following consultation with the National League and the boards of Darlington Football Club and Darlington FCSG, Brian has been told that he must stand down from his role at Darlington FC because of a conflict of interest with his role as a director at the Martin Gray Football Academy.

“Sean has decided to leave because he was looking for greater security than the club could offer through a contract until the end of the season.

“We would like to thank Brian and Sean, who like the club are understandably very disappointed, for their service over the last five years. Both of them have played a key role in the club’s success, and we wish them all the best for the future.

“In the interim, senior players Phil Turnbull and Gary Brown will take charge of the team whilst we search for a new manager.”

While Darlington’s board were aware of potential issue relating to Gregan and Atkinson’s employment since Gray switched to York, it was not until discussions with the National League and FA this week that the position was made clear.

Darlington FC Supporters Group released a statement, saying: “The DFCSG board have been fully consulted over the last few days and are satisfied that the DFC board has taken decisions that are in the best interests of Darlington Football Club, our members, and supporters.

“We’d like to place on record our thanks to both Brian and Sean. The significant role they have played in the amazingly successful last five seasons will not be forgotten and they will be welcomed back to Darlington at any time.

“It’s highly unfortunate that the opportunity for them to be joint managers of Darlington FC has been taken away from them by circumstances outside of their control.

“We understand this is a period of significant change at the football club but firmly believe under a new football management team, that fully buys into the ethos of a supporters owned club, Darlington FC will continue to progress both on and off the pitch.”

Brown and Turnbull took training last night at Eastbourne Sports Complex in Darlington, while Atkinson and Gregan visited to say farewell to the players.

At the end what’s been a tumultuous week for the club, the squad are believed to be extremely disappointed by the latest turn of events having previously been excited about the prospect of playing for Atkinson and Gregan, who had assisted Gray since 2012.

Their appointment had been warmly received by players and supporters, but instead in charge tomorrow will be Turnbull and Brown, two players who have both captained the team before.

Brown has trained only a couple of times since recovering from a concussion related issue, so he is likely to be on the bench tomorrow, but he is not phased by the challenge of what will be a temporary role.

“The changing room runs itself, we’ve got such a tightknit group in there.

“We won’t have to tell anyone how to do their job, everyone has got their personal pride and when you put that together you’ve seen what we can do.

“There’s no worries at all for me.

“We were looking forward to Greegs and Atky running it. We’ve been dealt this blow, but my blood’s pumping again and I’m determined to do what we can in this situation.

“Me and Phil will embrace it. We’ll get through it together.

“The lads are gutted Greegs and Atky can’t take over, but we’ll get on with it, that’s what we do.”