They’ve sat in Division Four for almost 18 unbroken years, they’ve been bailed out more times than Robert Downey Jr., and look set to start the 09/10 season with the world’s oldest strike partnership (combined age; 73). Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the weird and wacky world of Darlington FC.
Darlington Football Club were invented in July 1883, which makes them 126 years old this month. A conglomeration of small amateur and school teams, Darlo won the Durham Cup in their inaugural season and joined the Northern League in 1889, transferring to the professional North-Eastern in 1908. There they fared well, and won the competition in 1913 (Dean Windass top-scored) before the outbreak of the Great War, and the first of Darlington’s many financial crises. A local factory side called Darlington Forge Albion (who have a much better name, incidentally) bailed the Quakers out and allowed them to complete work on their home ground, Feethams, which was located near to Darlington town centre. From there they went on to apply succesfully to enter the Football League’s Third Division North in 1921.
Darlington were quite succesful for a small-town team with modest home support, entering the Second Division for a couple of years in the mid-20’s before suffering two decades of obscurity back in the Third (North) before the formation of a Fourth Division. They have never been as high as though two years in the second tier. As Darlington FC’s history page on Loidland.com points out, “Darlington did not do very much until 1966.” And even then all they did was spend a single season in the Third tier before being relegated straight back down to the Fourth. But, you know, all success is relative.
After some intervening years of Rochdale-esque boredom, in 1982, the problem of Darlington’s frankly awful finances reared its ugly head again, and the club had to raise £100,000 to keep going on the field. They did this with the help of the Darlington Evening Despatch, who raffled off Darlington town centre and raised the required sum. The Evening Despatch itself went bankrupt three years later. It seems Darlington is something of a Bermuda Triangle of money, people pour cash there and it just disappears…
With the new investment came a decade of tumult (some would call it excitement). In ’85 they went up, in ’87 down, in ’89 down again (to the Conference), in ’90 back up (twice) before in ’92 returning home to Division Four, which by this point had become the ‘new’ Division Three. That’s six league changes in seven years. In the following 17 they’ve not moved once, at least not in divisional terms. They have, however, moved significantly in other aspects of modern-day footy.
In 1999, a businessman called George Reynolds, with more money than sense (or morals), bought the club and soon granted it a move from Feethams (which was a little dishevelled) to the brand spanking new dock-off 24-carat Reynolds Arena, with its 25,000 all-seater capacity making it 21,000 seats too big. A little obviously, the club entered administration just six months later in December 2003. Broke and humiliated, Reynolds was forced to hand the reigns of the clubs over to Sterling Finance, who bankrolled the construction of the Reynolds Arena, and Darlo finally exited administration on in September 2004, only for incoming chairman Stewart Davis to fund the acquisition of Craig Hignett and Clyde Wijnhard, leaving Darlo as financially perilous as before.
In 2006, another George, this time one named Houghton, bought the club from Davis and funded continued playing squad improvements before their non-promotion brought (you guessed it), another spell in administration in 2009. At the time of writing, new chairman-elect Raj Singh has yet to formally bring Darlo out of this newest spell of insolvency, and they remain officially owned by administrators Brackenbury Clark & Co. Singh maintains the club is to resolve the issues surrounding the club’s finances by the start of the season, but for now the future of the club and stadium still remains perilous.
They did pretty well until it turned out they didn’t have enough money to pay for things like wages. They would have finished above us if it weren’t for their ten-point penalty for entering admin in February, but they had to make do with finishing 12th come May, just seven points behind 7th placed Shrewsbury. Darlington did not possess a regular 20-a-season scorer, but shared their goal tally throughout the team (Abbott, Clark and Hatch all scored under 10), and were miserly in defence, skippered by the fantastic Steve Foster, who was one of the best centre-backs we’ve faced in the League (again). Against the Dale they lost at home and won away, beaten 2-1 with a fantastic Adam Rundle goal at the Arena before dazzling Spotland late in April with a spectacular goal from Jason Kennedy on their way to a 2-0 victory. Oh yes, they were pretty good.
Literally nobody knows. All but three of Darlo’s squad left on frees when the transfer window opened, including midfield maestro Kennedy (who’s now a Dale player), striker Paw Abbott, midfielder Rob Purdie (both Oldham) and defender Neil Austin (Hartlepool), all of which were solid first-teamers. In their place, new manager Colin Todd has cobbled together a side from the scrapheap of Division Four, including the signing of Dale cast-off Lee Thorpe and released Paul Arnison from Bratfud. They still have captain Foster however, and have signed the irrepressable Dean Windass to act as Assistant Manager/occasional-scorer-of-hattricks. Mid-table would be exceeding expectations.
Darlington the place?
Darlington is a modestly-sized town (serial builders of outsized football stadiums take note) located in County Durham, not far from Stockton-on-Tees. Etymologically believed to come from the Old English ‘Dearthington’, (the settlement of Deornoth’s people), Darlington was a quaint, historic market town until the advent of steam locomotives, and the local Quaker family Pease’s funding of the world’s first passenger train line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway. And thus the finest thing to come out of Darlington in history is the locomotive line to Stockton.
These days, Darlington exists to offer pedestrianised shopping to the general Durham area and to house a railway museum of some repute. Famous residents include one of my own personal favourite comedians Vic Reeves (born in Leeds, but moved to Darlington aged 5) and Wendy Craig, who used to be on telly but isn’t so much these days.
Darlington in a word?
Written by Matt Boothman on 28th July 2009.