The depressing likelihood is that today a 128-year old football club rich in heritage but impoverished in funding will be wound up forever.
There remains the faintest of hopes for a last-minute reprieve with tentative reports last night of a meeting between Darlington’s administrator Harvey Madden and a mysterious businessman who might be willing to take over the ailing club.
However, with an estimated £2M debt that urgently needs repaying to both the Conference and Darlo’s former owner Raj Singh, not to mention the fifty thousand pounds a week to keep the club afloat and a fixture to be obligated this weekend with no playing staff or manager, the omens this time look very bleak indeed.
This time? Well Darlington are no strangers to administration having endured it twice already in the past decade. Both bankruptcies came about directly from disastrous governance from, shall we say, owners of questionable character – the infamous George Reynolds and George Houghton.
It was Houghton who saddled the club with its current debt by taking out a loan during his fated reign that ultimately defaulted resulting in the club losing ownership of the Northern Echo Arena and paying a peppercorn lease of £10,000 a year.
It was also he who inadvertently postponed the last rites being administered yesterday by having the brass front to enquire about the possibility of returning once more. It seems that even on the club’s death bed there are those who are prepared to check the bedside table for jewellery and trinkets.
After discovering the sheer scale of Darlington’s plight Houghton promptly backed out stating “Instead of putting good money in to bad money, I’d rather buy a hospital for £1m, or £2m for the cancer ward. At least we would get benefit – with this there’s nothing there. I rate football and like Darlington.”
He ‘rates’ football? It was a suitably odd comment from an incompetent buffoon who had disenchanted the fans to such a degree that some would rather see it fold now than witness him back in charge.
He once hung a large banner for every passing motorist to see questioning the sexuality of a local DJ who had dared not to tow his deluded party line.
Before Houghton however came the soap opera/horror flick that was George Reynolds. The convicted safe-breaker was portrayed in the media as a’ character’ where in actual fact it was far more straightforward and boring than that – he was a bully and a crook. He would turn up at supporter’s houses at two in the morning for daring to criticise his running of the club and ban them from the stadium. This puerile behaviour was not limited to adults; there was also a 16 year old who ran a small fanzine who received an unexpected visit in the middle of the night at his parent’s home from an angry, portly man in a suit.
Reynolds would also take advantage of the close proximity of the A66 to the stadium to escalate petty personal scores. He once hung a large banner for every passing motorist to see questioning the sexuality of a local DJ who had dared not to tow his deluded party line.
Though such actions are hardly in keeping with the owner of a football club they pale into insignificance next to his nonsensical decision to erect a 25,000 capacity new stadium for a club residing in the lowest tier of the Football league whose average gate was below a tenth of that. The move bordered on utter lunacy made all the more exasperating by how unnecessary it was; Feethams was a fine old ground that crackled with atmosphere and contained within it over a century of history and identity. The Darlington Arena swiftly became an expensive white elephant that was as empty as Reynold’s promises of reaching the top flight within five years. It was nothing more than an edifice to sate the vanity of a man with a bad comb-over. The upkeep of the arena – to a club languishing in the Conference with barely a pot to piss in – proved to be an impossible task and it is this expensive folly, above all else, that has doomed Darlington to probable extinction.
When asked this week about the fate of the club he so royally screwed he remained as bullish and delusional as ever.
In June 2004 – just six months after finally relinquishing control of the North-East club – Reynolds was arrested on suspicion of money laundering after being found with half a million pounds in cash in the boot of his car. He later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
When asked this week about the fate of the club he so royally screwed he remained as bullish and delusional as ever stating that the large majority of Quakers fans still thought highly of him and that he didn’t care about Darlington’s future.
Two men helped bring down a 128-year old institution, a mainstay of a community. One claims “there is nothing there” while the other doesn’t even care.
As ever it is the community itself who have been left to attempt an impossible salvation and to that end employees and fans – not solely those with Darlo allegiance either but local football folk who appreciate what is soon to be lost forever – have performed wonders. But it seems the club is beyond even such measures.
At midday Darlington FC will be no more. It is high noon and the fans have been cast in the Gary Cooper role. Only – as is often the case in these heartbreaking scenarios – they have no ammunition.