THE year 2019 is now in the can for Darlington. Our 2-0 win at Blyth on Saturday saw us finish off what has been a real up and down 12 months for the football club.

Thinking back to the start of 2019, things were starting to look a little better. We had got past the revelation of players not attending training. We had moved on from that home defeat to Nuneaton. All of a sudden, we had perked up, won a couple of games and we were at York City on New Year’s Day, then the bubble was well and truly burst come 4.50pm.

There was the excellent win against Kidderminster a few days later, but our short-term saviour Andrew Nelson moved on and we settled back into the mind-numbing inertia that sadly came to define Tommy Wright’s tenure. There were brief highs. We managed to win three on the trot in April which finally took us away from the dreaded dotted line in the table.

Sadly, the good times were well and truly outnumbered by the norm. Our expensively-assembled team of long-distance footballers never looked like a cohesive unit. Ultimately, that’s what cost Tommy his job. His popularity never hit the heights of his popularity as a player and, when it was announced that he would be leaving after the last game of the season, I don’t think there were many disappointed fans. The club needed to forge a new direction on the pitch. Out went a popular former Darlo striker and we replaced him with….a popular former Darlo striker. Long live the revolution!

I joke of course. Tommy and Alun Armstrong may share a common theme in their playing careers as two-time Quakers, but their managerial approach couldn’t be more different. After a year and a half of Darlo players spending half their lives on the road, we found ourselves once again having a team full of local players. Southern and Midland accents were replaced by Geordie and Mackem. A group of individuals was replaced by a team. A manager whose direction of travel was difficult to see was replaced by a guy whose road map is laid out for all to see. It’s fair to say the second half of 2019 has been the most enjoyable period since ‘Seatgate’.

Under Alun, we have seen a side put together where the individual components work hard for themselves, for the team and, most importantly, the fans. There have been blips. We’ve had some poor games during this opening half of the season but not for the want of trying. Whenever we lose, I compare it to the defeat at Guiseley on Easter Monday. Give it a go, it provides perspective. This team might make bad decisions. They might be on the end of a hiding or two, but they don’t down tools.

We end the year in ninth position, within striking distance of the playoffs. If someone had told me on New Year’s Day that we would be able to turn things around so quickly, I would probably have laughed. A cup run? No chance. The club felt like it was in the doldrums and there wasn’t a clear route out of it.

At the end of the year, my feelings on the direction the club is heading in couldn’t be more different. Thanks to the hard work of Alun and his staff, the club is most definitely heading in the right direction on the pitch. Off the pitch, things are heading in the right direction too. David Johnston, Craig Morley, Chris Stockdale, the supporters’ group board and the many volunteers are working their socks off on our behalf and with all the challenges they have faced this year, I think they are doing a fantastic job. 2019 has been a year of change. This season is one of transition. 2020 will hopefully be a year of progression.