Mixed Signals & Bad News From Darlington
There may only be a couple of days left to go. Darlington FC continue to stare into the abyss and the comments of the club’s joint administrator, Harvey Madden, in an interview with BBC Radio Tees this evening will have offered no comfort to those of the opinion that it is now only a matter of time before this football club folds after one hundred and twenty-nine years. In the interview, Madden stated that there have been several parties interested in the club, but that all of those that have approached him have confirmed that they have no further interest in the club. He also stated that the club is likely to fold before the end of the week unless somebody comes in with a guaranteed offer of investment. As so many of the club’s supporters had feared, last weekend’s match at Barrow may well turn out to be Darlington’s last.
The weekend had seen the news that Raj Singh, the club’s former chairman, would not be pursuing the loans that he had put into the club, which may have made it a more attractive preposition to speculators. The big news, however, came on Sunday with an statement from the owners of The Northern Echo Arena, Philip Scott and Graham Sizer, that they would put £50,000 into the club if their investment was matched by the £50,000 that the Darlington Supporters Trust is known to have. It’s not the first time that this has been seen at a smaller club. At Southern League club St Albans City last year, there was an ongoing argument over whether the Supporters Trust’s money should go into propping up a club that was at the time losing money hand over fist. The Trust refused to do so, and the club changed ownership last summer after it had looked as if it could be heading towards bankruptcy.
The question to ask at this point is an obvious one: what would the Trust be buying by emptying the contents of their bank account? The answer to this can only be described as “a little time.” If Darlington FC is losing £20,000 per week, even this money would only keep it afloat for five weeks, and this is without taking the costs of the club’s spell in administration into account. What is in it for Scott and Sizer is similarly obvious. Strict covenants over the use of the land upon which The Northern Echo Arena stands, and Scott and Sizer were understood to be seeking to have these lifted or relaxed. However, the remainder of their statement seemed full of suppositions of what could or might be done to save the club and move it back to a new ground in the centre of the town.
By Monday night, an element of Darlington’s support had disgraced its club. Feelings ran high on the subject of whether the Trust should hand the money over or not. On Sunday, the Trust issued a statement, stating that the “Trust has had no contact – directly or indirectly – with Messrs Scott and Sizer”, but by Monday evening two members of the Trust Board, Tony Taylor (its chair) and David Taylor, had both resigned their positions following the receipt of “disability hate mail and abuse.” As can be seen here, a significant element of the Darlington support seems to have no faith in its clubs Supporters Trust, but the (entirely understandable) resignation of two Board members in the circumstances under which they came about was an embarrassment to all of the club’s supporters.
Today, however, even buying a little time seemed further away than ever. Darlington Borough Council today confirmed that any planned redevelopment of the land surrounding the stadium would be unlikely to get planning permission. The convenant states that the land upon which the stadium is built and adjacent to it can only be used for football purposes and that if the site is sold for any other purposes, seventy-five per cent of any increase in the value of the land would be returned to the council. Since the council has a responsibility to everybody in Darlington – not just the football clubs and certainly not to businessmen that lent the club money and then took ownership of its ground when it failed to repay its debt to them – there is a clear and precise reason why they should have reached this decision.
All of which brings us back to Harvey Madden’s interview this evening. He stated that, “Things are still dire. We have not had any definite interest. We have seen a hell of a lot of people interested in the last week. No one has taken it a step further and quite a few have withdrawn”, and that, “I think some of the squabbles that appear to be long-running with the council, the owners of the ground etc, are not doing any good in terms of finding a buyer long-term.” The headlines, however, will have been drawn to his comment that, “We’ve got some hard decision-making to do by the end of this week. I’ve nothing to report on further income. I still don’t have any real optimism in finding a buyer.” As such, we can only surmise that Darlington’s home match against Fleetwood Town on Saturday is in doubt. Should it go ahead, it may well be its last.
This evening, then, leaves us with the Darlington FC Supporters Trust without two board members, the administrator having confirmed that the club is close to closure and with neither the question of the club’s ongoing liabilities or its immediate running costs having been satisfactorily addressed. As we have noted on this site before, this is a football club that has been systematically let down by the benign dictatorship model of running a football club and, at this stage, it is difficult to see a way out of this predicament, although miracles can and occasionally do happen. We shall have to wait and see whether anything drastically changes by the end of the week. If Darlington Football Club is not to become a historical footnote, something will have to.
Edit: The Northern Echo is this evening reporting that something may have happened at Darlington. More on this, should these developments come to anything.
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