MARTIN GRAY last night admitted he had been emotionally torn before calling time on his days with Darlington to become boss at York City.

He resigned as Quakers manager yesterday after five and a half years, during which time he led the club to three promotions and never finished below fifth in his five full seasons.

Gray’s final game in the Darlington dug-out was at Curzon Ashton on Saturday, a 1-0 loss that leaves the team 12th in the National League North table after a poor run of results.

His departure was announced yesterday morning, Gray replacing Gary Mills at York after the Minstermen were knocked out of the FA Cup on Saturday by South Shields.

Joining Gray at York will be ex-Quakers manager Dave Penney, who has been given the title sporting director.

Gray’s former assistant Brian Atkinson and coach Sean Gregan are elevated to the position of Darlington joint-managers until the end of the season, with their first game in charge being this Saturday at Blackwell Meadows against Stockport County.

Gray, who speaks at press conference at 2pm today at Bootham Crescent, goes to a full-time club with greater resources, one that is currently positioned seventh in the table, a point ahead of Quakers. Nonetheless, he revealed that leaving Darlington was a difficult decision, and he took time to reminisce about the good times he and Quakers supporters have experienced since 2012.

“I leave with a heavy heart, no question about it. I leave the club with fond memories after what myself and staff put together,” said Gray, who first joined as a player in 1999, became coach two years later and while he left in 2009, Gray returned in 2012 when the FA had instructed Quakers be demoted to the Northern League.

“My head has been overruling my heart, and then my heart overruling my head.

“I’ve been a lucky person to have been given the opportunity and I like to think I’ve left the club with a strong structure. We have 16 teams in our youth system, then the reserve team and then a first team that has had three promotions and two finishes in the play-offs.

“There’s a heart behind the club, a soul, and that’s what I really loved about it. Everybody was in it for the same reason, there were no egos.

“We were all hardworking and wanted the best and that’s why I was so proud to be manager.

“I’ve been with the club for over 15 years, give or take, but I felt it was the right time to challenge myself and the opportunity that came along with a club of York’s stature really excited me. I spoke in-depth about it to Steve McClaren.

“I got good guidance from him and from Malcolm Crosby, they’re both ex-York lads, they both believed it was a great opportunity to try to take that club forward.”

Gray’s three promotions might have become four had the club not been precluded from taking part in the play-offs last season due to not meeting the required ground criteria, an issue that still grates.

“Nobody will ever know what the outcome would have been because it was taken out of my hands,” said York’s new boss.

“It was very, very hard to accept. It was in our own hands with three or four games to play, so to be then told that news…

“It was very difficult to motivate the players and it was very frustrating.

“In five years I’ve three promotions and two finishes in the play-offs. We’ll never know what would’ve happened in those play-offs.”

Having won their first three matches of this campaign, Quakers then drew 0-0 at York and have now won only once in ten league fixtures.

Gray added: “We started off great. When everyone was fit it was a strong squad to work with, and we even had players sitting in the stand who couldn’t get on the bench.

“But after five games we lost probably 50 per cent of the starting line-up.

“I don’t care which club you are and what level, you can’t afford to run like that because it will affect results and performances.”

Darlington stalwart Gary Brown has been a big miss in recent weeks, the centre-back absent due to concussion.

Gray rang all of the Darlington squad yesterday to inform them of the news, and cited Brown as being among those that deserve the most credit.

He said: “Leon Scott, Gary Brown, Stephen Thompson, Terry Galbraith have come through the whole journey with me and they have played a massive part in what we have done.

“They have bought into everything we have done and the way I work.

“When people have come into the club, those four or five have set the standards, and when Phil Turnbull came in he gave us that extra bit of quality.

“We’ve brought lads in who have been in the Football League and Conference. They’ve come into an environment that is probably better than where they’ve come from and they didn’t expect it. We set up to do things right.”

Brown and Scott are the sole survivors from Gray’s first competitive game as Quakers boss, a 3-1 win over Bishop Auckland at Heritage Park on August 18, 2012, Thompson and Galbraith joining in the months that followed as the manager sought to improve the squad.

It’s an approach he held throughout his time in charge, always looking to become stronger.

He said: “If you go back to the start, we had nothing. We had two players, Phil Gray and John McReady and I sold John to York straightaway.

“We didn’t have a ground, we then got Heritage Park and off we went.

“There’s been a lot of fights along the way. Getting games played at Bishop Auckland, getting tractors across there on the back of trailers, doing all the things that people would never get to see just to get a game on, getting snow cleared off the pitch.

“All that energy that we put in is the reason that the club is where it is today.

“Over the years we’ve improved along the way. Different personnel, different methods.

“We invested in players or in areas like recruitment and things, masseurs, little things that people didn’t always see but they made a difference over the season.

“We used sports psychologists, which players at this level had never come across, but we brought them in and that gave us an advantage.
“It took a lot of hard work to do that, to keep improving.”

Gray leaves after 258 matches during which Darlington scored 607 goals, seven of them coming on a special night at Whitby in April 2016.

A 7-1 win clinched the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League title, Quakers going 5-0 up after 20 minutes, and it was that game Gray cherishes most.

“We’ve had some special memories. I remember driving back from Whitby, I felt like I floated back,” he said.

“I remember driving back across the moors, all the brake lights in front of us, all the Darlo fans going home happy.

“I don’t know how we won the title that season, we’d had all those games in the space of three weeks. It was Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

“Of all the promotions, that was the amazing one, it was surreal to seal it the way we did at Whitby.

“Every time we scored there were Darlington fans on the pitch, I was getting kissed off blokes and I was thinking ‘what’s going on here’!

“That night stays with me, and nights like that are what it’s about and the fans are what the club is all about too. It’s not cheesy or corny to say that, it’s true.

“But I’ve got a new chapter now, and I’ve got to go to York and try my best to give them the same work ethic and give the chairman there the success he deserves.”