BELEAGUERED Dave Penney is so short on numbers he admits to exploring the possibility of signing players who will play for free.

And such are the problems at Darlington, 44-year-old Penney has even admitted to considering making a playing comeback of his own. His last appearance was in the Conference for Doncaster Rovers in 2002.

Being in administration means the club are operating under a transfer embargo, but Penney’s threadbare squad is struggling to cope with the number of games in Darlington’s schedule.

Because of the postponements which had been Quakers’ main headache prior to being placed into administration a fortnight ago, they are to play two games a week for most of the next month.

Only ten senior outfield players were available for Tuesday’s match at Gillingham, when three had to play out of position, and several are carrying minor injuries.

Ricky Ravenhill will return tomorrow at Port Vale after serving a suspension, but seven remain on the sick list and none are likely to be fit before Tuesday’s trip to Lincoln.

The situation means Penney will contact the Football League to ascertain their position on clubs signing players during a transfer embargo.

“I’ve spoken to the administrators about the chances of signing players that won’t cost a penny,” said Penney who revealed his son Mark, who plays for Glasshoughton Welfare in the Northern Counties League, the same level as the Wearside League, was keen to help out.

“As a manager it’s been the hardest time of my career.

There’s certain things happening that you can’t do anything about.

“Other than get registered yourself there’s not much you can do. I came close to be honest.

“Martin Gray couldn’t because he retired through injury, but I did enquire to find out whether I could or not.

“My lad’s desperate to play.

He’s still playing in nonleague but he’s not fit enough to play pro football, he likes his Friday nights too much!”

Dave Hinchcliffe, a legal adviser to the administrators working to save Quakers, added: “The idea behind the transfer embargo for clubs in administration is that you do not increase the wages of the team which would be a ludicrous thing to do in administration.

“However, if someone comes along for free and says they are going to play without expenses – what would be the down side? That’s for the Football League to determine.”

While Penney is contemplating bringing in new players to play for free, his squad today could agree a wage deferral.

They have gone without pay since former chairman George Houghton placed the club into administration.

Club staff have agreed a deferral, and the Professional Footballers’ Association will today meet the playing squad to discuss the administrators’ deferral offer. An agreement would last until at least the end of the season.

But then any player, including those under contract, would be legally entitled to join a new club should Darlington be unable to pay their wages in full.

Quakers’ other concern is that they are currently unable to secure the futures of their promising youth team players, several of whom have made the step-up to the first-team in recent weeks.

With Penney unable to bring players in on loan, as he had wanted, the likes of Curtis Main, Corey Barnes and Josh Gray have all seen first - team action earlier than planned.

But the manager is not one for feeling sorry for himself, and he said: “We should be using the youngsters now and again, not every game.

“We do feel a little hard done by, but what can you do about it?


“I don’t blame this on injuries, because if we’d had a big enough squad we’d have been able to cope.

“If we had the numbers in the squad that we had last season we’d have managed, but this season we haven’t got the same number.

“I don’t think eight being unavailable at one time is extraordinary.

If we had a squad of 28, on Tuesday we would still have had 20 to choose from.

“A lot of the players are carrying minor injuries and they’re jaded. They could do with a rest but we’re not in a position to do that.

“Before administration I had been hoping to add two players to the number we had because I knew we had a lot of games coming up.

“They could have helped us for a month or two during a tricky period, but we ended up losing two players in Dean Gerken and Carl Tremarco.

“If we had everybody available then we could beat anybody, that’s for sure.”