IN the distant days when a schoolboy’s pocket money covered the price of a ticket to a football match, my Saturday afternoons were fully booked.

One weekend it was the Boro and the next would see me and my pals head for Darlington and Feethams.

In 1966, the loyalty definitely shifted to the Quakers and I became a regular as they chased promotion. And yes, I was there at the last match of the season when a draw with Torquay took them to the heights of the Third Division.

That was the season Middlesbrough were relegated too and I seem to recall they did the double over their rivals. Since then, both clubs have experienced their fair share of football’s highs and lows. So, like so many others, I desperately want the Quakers to survive.

Darlington’s predicament is a reminder of the precarious nature of the football business.

Scratch the gilded surface of the Premiership and you’ll find a story of mounting debt and unsustainable expenditure. Sixteen of the 20 top-flight clubs recorded losses in 2009-10 and some estimates put their collective debt at £3.1bn. But in football, as in life, if it’s tough at the top, it’s a whole lot harder at the bottom. Ask any Darlington fan.

As I write this, the fight to save the Quakers has taken a new turn with the news that the club could soon be out of administration, thanks to the generosity and energy of fans and the input of a businessman benefactor.

Under the new proposals, supporters could own 40 per cent of the club, which most people would see as a fitting reward for the years, sometimes decades, of devotion to the team.

It will also be a reminder that football clubs have an obligation to the wider community that sustains them year in, year out.

Sustainability is the word that has cropped up in just about every report on the crisis and it is right that it should. There were 6,000 people in the crowd when Darlington played at the weekend, testimony to the goodwill the club can still attract.

The tricky part will be generating similar attendances week in, week out, on wet Wednesday nights when the Champions League is being beamed into our nice warm sitting rooms or on pre-Christmas Saturdays when the shopping centres beckon.

Football clubs may be places where for 90 minutes a week people can hope and dream.

But they have to be based on sound finances and realistic expectations. They have to walk a tightrope between underachievement and overstretch. It would be great to see Darlington emerge from its trauma a stronger, more successful club. It will certainly be a wiser one.

If those fans who are working so hard to save the club have a spare moment, they might like to seek inspiration from an exhibition currently running at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum.

Back from the Brink charts the history of Middlesbrough football club from its origins to the present day. Its title comes from the dark days of 1986 when extinction stared Middlesbrough in the face.

Many factors and many people contributed to its survival, the main player of course being chairman, Steve Gibson. But ultimately, the club was rescued by the community, people who simply refused to allow an integral part of the fabric of Teesside to be torn apart.

I am sure their message to Darlington fans is: “we did it, so can you, so go for it.” So let’s hope Darlington football club never becomes just a memory.