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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
The news came through with startling speed, another rumour that swelled to an almost bewildering succession of public statements in just a few short hours. At the end of yesterday, the battle-wearied supporters of Darlington FC could only step back, blinking, and survey the wreckage. Their club has been pushed into administration for the third time in less than ten years, and the prognosis for its future looks bleak. This time, there may be no way of swerving the icy cold grip of professional football’s equivalent to the grim reaper, the liquidator.
The announcements started with one from the club itself. Whether chairman Raj Singh will be adjudged by those that return to this story in years to come as more sinned against than a sinner is a question for another day. What was unmistakable about the club’s official statement was more than a hint of regret and trepidation about the decision to hand the club’s managerial affairs over to an insolvency specialist. This club has, after all, been here before twice and there can be few associated with the club that are not already aware of the extent to which the club’s two previous encounters with administration were dances with the devil, and that with each spell in administration the chances of being able to survive a future insolvency event become exponentially more and more remote.
Next came an official statement from the Football Conference. This was the word of law, reminding all concerned of the sanctions already brought against the club (the fact that the standard ten point deduction, so often a major talking point for the supporters of a club in this sort of difficulty, seems so trifling in comparison with the other battles that the club has to fight speaks volumes about the gravity of Darlington’s plight of itself), and of the possible future sanctions that could be heading in the direction of The Northern Echo Arena should this club be unable to fulfil the stiff criteria for digging themselves out of the mess in which they have found themselves yet again.
Finally came a short message from the Joint Adminstrator, Harvey Madden of Taylor Rowlands, himself. For those of us that spend more our lives than could ever be considered healthy trapped in the bubble of the football media, with its false gods and its disingenuous interpretations of what constitutes success & failure, the arid legalese of the seasoned insolvency practitioner can act as a slap around the face. Theirs is world in which goal difference, home advantage and historical trophies won count for nothing, and these particular administrators seem to have taken a glance at the accounts and seen something that has set alarm bells ringing. Their initial statement read as follows:
I was appointed as Joint Administrator of Darlington Football Club (2009) Limited, together with my co-Administrator, Peter Gray, earlier today by the directors of the Club. I am currently exploring all options to try and find a way to enable the Football Club to remain in existence but the position of the Club is such that without any financial support from outside the Club or anyone willing to acquire the Club I will, unfortunately, have little alternative but to cease to trade in a very short time. Anyone interested in assisting the Club or acquiring the Club out of administration should therefore contact my office on 01642 790790 as a matter of urgency. Every day is critical if the Club is to survive.
We should, however, perhaps take a moment to consider how this statement compares other opening statements made by administrators (or joint administrators) brought in at football clubs in recent times. Here some samples, from Mark Fry of Begbies Traynor, who was brought in by Southampton in 2009, our old friend Brendan Guilfoyle of P&A Partnership, regarding Crystal Palace in 2010, and Jeremy Bleazard of XL Business Solutions on the subject of Rotherham United in 2008:
Southampton Football Club has a long history in English football and could be an extremely attractive investment for the right buyer. We are working hard to preserve the value of the football club and produce a positive outcome for all stakeholders, and I ask that fans continue to show their support for the team for the remainder of the season as we seek to show the best face possible to potential investors.
This club has been in the spotlight for some months with creditors pressing for payments and players anxious about their wages. Our role now is to find a buyer quickly to provide certainty for the employees, players and fans for the future. We are hoping our appointment will be short-lived as we understand there are many interested buyers.
Administration will give the club breathing space and the opportunity to restructure its finances. We need people to come forward immediately. The survival of the club depends on finding a purchaser. Any interested parties will have to go through a sales process which involves signing a confidentiality agreement and proving funds.
In all three of the above cases, the clubs were successfully rescued. The Darlington Football Club Rescue Group (DFCRG) remain, for now, the front-runners if the club is to be saved, but the matter of funding the club while in administration is an obvious sticking point for them. Others, of varying degrees of credibility, have also made statements to the local press and elsewhere on the subject of saving the club but if the administrator is to be taken at face vale, then time is very much of the essence and the current general financial state of this country surely only makes it less rather than more likely that a buyer will be found quickly.
Still, while the club exists, there is hope, and this hope can come in many forms. If this incarnation of Darlington FC has reached the end of the road – the worst case scenario, as things stand today – then there is even hope to be had there. After all, a new football club for Darlington, freed from the white elephant that is The Arena, run by people that care about the club and fighting its way back to the top of the non-league game afresh would certainly be an adventure and, has been proved at Wimbledon and Chester, if the will is there to succeed, it can be done. For now, though, Darlington Football Club hangs by a thread, and their plight should be uppermost in the minds of all football supporters this evening. All we can do is wish them all the best in their latest battle for survival.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Three times in 10 years looks, from the outside, as though Darlington owners are taking the piss.
I feel for the fans but for no lessons to be learnt shows that sooner the football creditors rule is abolished the less likely it will be that teams get into this position.
Let’s hope for a good outcome and it isn’t the end of the world if you drop down 2 divisions.
My team dropped down 7 …………
The problem Darlo face should they restart IMO is still the problem of the ground. A new club at George Reynolds’ grand folly will face the same problems – it’s simply too big and too expensive for a football league club never mind lower down, especially given it being owned by people with no link to the club who have no reason to offer favourable terms. But where else can they play? It says a lot that the preferred choice for many Darlo fans is Feethams, where they would effectively be having to rebuild the ground from scratch even should the Cricket Club entertain the idea. I don’t think there are many grounds close to Darlington that have sufficient ground grading to even allow entry into the Northern Premier. That is a big difference to many – Chester were able to restart at the Deva, AFCW were able to get in at Kingsmeadow, FCUM have a big enough appeal that Bury was acceptable, Aldershot still had the Recreation Ground. What’s the next nearest analogue – Scarborough? It says a lot for their plight that even a good number of Hartlepool fans (including me, though it’s far from all) feel sorry for them, even if only because their passing will leave us with no natural local rivals…
Someone has suggested sharing with Bishop Auckland. They have a ground fit for Step4; but wouldn’t darlo have to restart much lower?
Whilst the issue of the George Reynolds Arena clearly affects the finances the fans of many Conference clubs have known for years that Darlington had a budget bigger than most without any financial sense at all. Their recent Trophy win was achieved on the back of this overpayment on players, and I did not hear the fans complaining then. When will the Conference insist that clubs keep players wages within sensible limits, as defined by their income from gate receipts and sponsorship, but not from additional loans or “gifts” from their Chairman or whoever. Until this happens clubs will continue to go bust whilst pursuing the goal of “league football”.