DARLINGTON chief executive David Johnston has called on the club’s fans to get behind next month’s return to the Darlington Arena – and admitted Quakers would have run out of money in “three or four months” had they opted to remain at Blackwell Meadows.

Having been sidelined since coronavirus struck in March, Darlington will return to action at the start of next month, with an FA Cup second preliminary round tie preceding the start of the National League North programme.

However, instead of returning to their former home at Blackwell Meadows, which they shared with Darlington RFC, they will now be playing their home matches at the Arena, which is owned by Darlington Mowden Park and was their own base from 2003 until 2012.

Many supporters regard the move to the George Reynolds-built Arena from Feethams as a key point in Darlington’s demise, and Johnston sympathises with those who are reluctant to return to such a divisive venue.

He is adamant, though, that the economics make sense, with Darlington able to house around 3,500 fans in the Arena instead of having to adhere to a maximum capacity of around 550 at Blackwell.

“I can understand some fans have bad memories of the Arena because this was the start of the demise, but I’d just like to say to those fans, ‘Look, these are different times, this is a different board who are acting in the best interest of the club all the time, and we have different controls in place now’,” said Johnston. “It was a no-brainer – we had to move here because otherwise the club would not be able to survive.

“As soon as we saw the Government guidelines about returning to playing in front of crowds, and then you’ve got the Council and FA rules too, we realised the capacity at Blackwell was going to drop to around 550 fans. We’ve got 650 season-ticket holders, let alone the ten per cent of away fans we’ve got to admit as well.

“It was clear from that point of view it was going to be difficult saying who could come in and who could not. But more importantly, from my perspective, if we have 550 fans coming through the door and they’re all season-ticket holders, I’m losing 1,000 fans who would normally be paying to come through the door.

“So our gate revenue would drop by around 60 to 70 per cent. We’d last two or three months before the cash would run out. It’s just not sustainable financially, so we had to move to an arena where we can get all of our fans in, in a safe manner, and maintain the revenue.”

Despite the pressures caused by coronavirus, Johnston is confident Darlington remain in decent financial shape ahead of the new season. The ability to furlough the playing staff during the summer has helped, along with a payment break authorised by the tax authorities, and Alun Armstrong has been able to reshape his playing squad, bringing in the likes of Tony McMahon, Nicky Hunt, Luke Charman and Dan Maguire.

“We’ve done all the right things,” said Johnston, who revealed Darlington have signed a two-year licence enabling them to play at the Arena, with a break clause at the end of year one. “We’ve taken the payment holidays with certain suppliers, and we’ve taken the payment holidays with HMRC.

“We’ve taken the Government loans that have been available and have furloughed the players – the club is in a strong position. But coming back to playing, the cash reserve we’ve got would be burned within three or four months if we were staying at Blackwell with the limited attendance.”