THE 12 months of 2017 will be looked be looked back on as a tumultuous year in Darlington’s history, certainly the most eventful since the club’s new beginning in 2012, and it will forever be defined by ‘seat-gate’.

The failure to have enough covered seats at Blackwell Meadows cost Quakers dear.

It meant not being eligible to participate in the play-offs at the end of last season, despite a fifth-place finish.

Did it cost Darlington promotion? We will never know, but it was a bitter blow, a season’s efforts effectively wasted and the cock-up ultimately led to Martin Gray leaving the club after five and a half years as manager.

He said the error made the club look like a “laughing stock”, speaking at the infamous fan’s forum in April, when he took the opportunity to reveal he had been speaking with a potential private investor.

Talks had been ongoing for several months, and it eventually transpired the man in question was Teesside businessman Raj Singh, also known as public enemy number one in Darlington following his role in the club’s demise in 2012.

Past experience meant supporters were suspicious of his intentions, so Singh’s unlikely return was over before it began, and from the moment he decided against becoming involved with the club Gray’s days were numbered.

The supporter-backed club could no longer match his ambitions, the finances he believes are required to compete in the National League North and the level above are more readily available at York City, and off he went to Bootham Crescent in October.

He will be booed on his return to Blackwell Meadows with York on January 6, which is a shame given what he achieved. There have been plenty of Darlington managers who failed miserably, who achieved nothing like three promotions in five seasons.

His tenure had run its course, however, and some supporters cite a reluctance to attribute some of his success to the fans’ continued fundraising efforts as a factor in their frustration.

Results were poor too. After a bright start to this season, the effects of peculiar transfer activity over the summer took hold, results worsened – winning one of his last 11 games – and a parting of ways suited all parties.

Blyth’s Alun Armstrong and Hyde’s David McGurk both declined the opportunity to take charge, and four weeks after Gray left Quakers turned to 33-year-old former player Tommy Wright, a surprising appointment but one not without merit.

As a striker he was one of those committed types that supporters take to, and as a manager already has a promotion on his CV – Corby in 2015-16 – and last season turned Nuneaton from relegation battlers into play-off hopefuls. With Darlington struggling at the wrong end of the table, his remit now has to be to do something similar.

It remains early days, though until winning on Boxing Day against promotion-chasing Harrogate Town it had been a worrying start. Played six, drawn one, lost five was Wright’s record.

He’s made his mark in signing six players and allowing several to leave, testing various formations and personnel, trying something new in almost every game, desperately searching for a winning formula, and Reece Styche’s five goals in three appearances have underline how important he will be.

Fans hope Wright has turned the corner and he remains popular, with relaxed and honest post-match assessments a breath of fresh air, striking a different tone from his predecessor.

Supporters would dearly love him to succeed but it is results that count and by the season’s end we will know how successful he has been in saving Darlington’s season.

Phil Turnbull
 – In a year that has generally been disappointing for Darlington, experienced Turnbull has continued to make an impact. He missed only one of the team’s 44 games, and stepped up to become joint-caretaker manager with Gary Brown when Gray left.

James Caton
– Must do better in the second half of the season. Convinced Martin Gray into giving him a contract with impressive performances in pre-season friendlies and in training, but has contributed little so far.

Salford City 0 Darlington 2
– It proved to be a false dawn, Darlington soon falling down the table, but this win on the first day of the season atoned for losing heavily at Salford on the final day of 2016-17.

Nathan Cartman – A terrific team goal that went viral online, earning Darlington a slightly contrived ‘Darcelona’ tag following a flowing move of one-touch passing that ended in Cartman getting the final touch in a 3-2 win over Tamworth in April.

P44 W16 D12 L16 F69 A73
Win percentage: 36.36%