Will Hatfield has rocked Darlington by choosing to join National League North rivals AFC Fylde.

Quakers’ captain has moved to Fylde for an undisclosed fee after they triggered a clause in his contract that enabled the Coasters to talk to him.

Darlington responded by making Hatfield an offer that would have made him their highest paid player since 2012.

But the ambitious Lancashire club have offered a package the 30-year-old feels he cannot turn down.

His employers at a recruitment firm in Leeds are understood to have come to an arrangement that enables Hatfield to play full-time while keeping him on their staff.

While Quakers play tonight at Blackwell Meadows against Southport, Hatfield is due to be in Fylde’s squad to face Spennymoor Town at the Brewery Field.

The midfielder’s deal with Darlington was due to expire at the end of the season, when they would have lost the player for free had he chosen to join Fylde then.

With Thursday’s transfer deadline day looming and Fylde heading for the play-offs, they have acted now but Darlington and their supporters are stunned by the development.

Quakers manager Alun Armstrong admitted: “I think we’re all in shock, Will’s in shock too, it’s come out of the blue. We didn’t want him to go.

“We offered him a good deal, but we couldn’t offer him anywhere near what he’s getting there, nowhere near.

“The offer was way beyond anything I’ve ever offered a player – that’s how much we rated him.

“We knew that once he spoke to Fylde that he would be gone then. And specially with his employers being so good to him. They’re letting him work on a commission basis and then go back to them if he ever needs to.

“It’s an opportunity that he cannot turn down but I am gutted about it, we all are.”

Losing their captain is a major blow for Quakers, who have already this season seen leading scorer Luke Charman move to Rochdale, while last summer key players Adam Campbell and Erico Sousa left on free transfers to Gateshead and Grimsby respectively.

After being brought to the club by Armstrong from Guiseley in the summer of 2019, Hatfield made 88 appearances for Darlington and was player of the year in his first season.

Hatfield was a regular in the team throughout his time at Blackwell Meadows, his penetrating runs, energy and leadership making him a fans’ favourite.

“I’ve never seen a player like it in his first year with us,” added Armstrong. “We’ve just been starting to get him back there now as we’ve been adding quality players to the squad and I’ve been able to rest him instead of flogging him.

“He’s in his 30s now, and playing Saturday-Tuesday is a lot for someone who plays with his intensity. It’s a hard slog.

“He felt great and he’s been loving it, and then this happens and it’s knocked me for six.”

His final appearance was on Saturday in a 1-1 draw at Hereford during which he saw a penalty saved, meaning he ends his time with Quakers on 12 goals.

Joe Wheatley was last week allowed to join Marske United on loan, and Darlington are unable to recall him within the first 28 days.