Rifts & Distrust Threaten To Kill Darlington For Good

By on Jan 14, 2012 in Finance, Latest, Non-League | 6 comments

It is very much a sign of the times that £50,000 is not a great deal of money to a football club in trouble playing in the fifth division of the English league system these days. An ongoing debate over the eventual destination of precisely this amount of money, however, seems to be throwing a spanner into the works of an attempt to rescue Darlington Football Club this weekend, and this isn’t the only area into which it could be regarded as having a malign influence. What does or doesn’t happen to this money might yet come to permanently tarnish the future of football in the town.

In some respects, yesterday was a reasonably successful day for the club. In spite of the apocalyptic warnings of the club’s joint administrator, Harvey Madden, earlier in the week, close of business on Friday afternoon came and went without what the club’s supporters had been dreading more than anything else, an announcement that the club could no longer continue to trade and would be wound up, coming to pass. The loss of two players to fellow Blue Square Premier club Gateshead was an unwelcome – but unsurprising – development but, by the end of normal business hours, Darlington Football Club continued to exist and supporters of the club have had to grateful for small mercies of late.

Any hopes that they might have had of a weekend of peace and contemplation, however, would turn out to be short-lived, with signs of cracks having appeared between the Darlington Football Club Rescue Group (DFCRG) and the club’s Supporters Trust before the bid to rebuild Darlington FC as a community football club could even be finalised. It had been assumed that the DFCRG and the Trust were all pulling in the same direction, but over the last twenty-four hours or so it has started to feel as if there are already tensions between the Rescue Group and what had been assumed to be one of its core constituent members.

The club’s Supporters Trust sits on a treasure chest of £50,000, which it raised from previous fund-raising activities. Earlier in the week, the owners of the clubs ground, Philip Scott and Graham Sizer, offered £50,000 investment into the cub if the Supporters Trust matched it, but any prospect of this rescue planning progressing at all hit the rocks after the local council confirmed that it was highly unlikely that covenants held over the use of land surrounding the ground would be lifted. Perhaps, we might rationalise, this was all for the best, considering the schism amongst the club’s support that the announcement of Scott & Sizer’s offer – which was, perhaps notably, made in a public statement rather than after making contact with the Trust – had created.

Last night, however, a statement from the DFCRG blew the debate wide open again. The statement was confirmation that they had secured funding to keep the club in administration until the end of January, along with another request for the Trusts £50,000, to be allocated by 10.30 on Monday morning. There are obvious, practical reasons why this is a completely unachievable aim. For one thing, the Trust’s membership would need to vote on such a massive commitment. Secondly, the Trust’s board itself was hobbled last week by the resignation of two members over abuse that they had recently been receiving. Finally, the logistical issue of how to transfer this money by the middle of the morning on the next working day is not one that is easily resolved.

Even if we set these considerations to one side, this DFCRG statement was wholly unsatisfactory. The statement that funding has been secured, but to say that “For reasons which cannot be disclosed, these funds are inappropriate for this particular purpose” may be understandable in some respects, but it still leaves more questions to be asked than it really answers. The DFCRG hasn’t given any details of, specifically, what its business plan for the club is and, furthermore, whether this rescue plan can actually secure any more than a couple of weeks’ worth of breathing space – the question of “What then?” has not – and, we suspect, at present cannot – be successfully answered. The original point, that this money could end up being effectively thrown into a financial bonfire that results in the club folding anyway, stands. What we can say with certainty is that the Trust’s membership has nowhere near enough information to be able to make an informed decision over what their organisation should do with this money.

This morning, a further statement from the DFCRG sought to clarify their previous statement and offer broader perspective on the events of the last couple of weeks. This statement notes that “before the first Group meeting on 3rd January, the Trust objected to the release of a Statement and the appointment of Doug Embleton as media spokesperson”, and that, “Any answers received have indicated that they did not wish to accept our offer.” The trust should answer these allegations, and should do quickly. As things stand, the perception is starting to build that it is obstructing the only remote chance of saving the club. Whether this is true or not, such a perception will be enormously damaging, no matter what happens next week. Whether they will be able to on a Saturday afternoon is, of course, a different matter altogether.

That said, however, the timing and accusatory tone of the second statement seems ill-advised. The DFCRG may well have felt that they needed to respond to the speculation surrounding the issues raised by the last couple of days or so, but in doing so they may have fundamentally weakened the Trust, and this is something that will have ramifications that could stretch well beyond 10.30 on Monday morning. Even if we are to set aside the nagging feeling that such statements could be playing divide and rule with the club’s support, it can easily be argued that this statement, its timing and its tone, especially if the DFCRG is serious about wanting the Trust on board, is unnecessarily divisive.

So, at the very time that the supporters of Darlington Football Club needed to be at their most united, any notion of unity is being tor limb from limb. We do not know whether the Trust is being unnecessarily obstructive or not (and it may already be too late to prevent this perception from having become a truth about them), just as we do not know what the DFCRGs plans beyond keeping the club going until the end of January are. What we do know for certain, however, is that this internecine fighting is going on while the club is dying in front of everybody, and this seems like a crying shame. All concerned have less than forty-eight hours in order to settle their differences and save this club. The blame game can wait for another day.

Ian King wrote on the broader perspective of phoenix clubs last night for The Score’s Footy Blog last night, complete with grammatical mistakes.

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    6 Comments

  1. It sounds cliche now but there’s nobody to blame for this but George Reynolds as he was the creator of this whole debacle. I’m amazed at all the people blaming DFCRG, The Trust, DBC etc. etc. They all want DFC to survive; it’s just that the debt is now too big to be repaid and the fans just need to wake up, smell the coffee and gain some realisation of the matter. Those same fans are turning against each other now, depending on what they believe or who they choose to follow at this awful time. The inevitable is about to happen unfortunately unless a very rich investor comes in and sorts out Reynolds’ mess.

    mick

    January 14, 2012

  2. Such a shame really. I always wanted to go to Feethams when I was a kid. Sadly not possible any more.

    Blame Reynolds.

    RCM

    Rob Marrs

    January 14, 2012

  3. At last, a balanced article without the rhetoric we have seen from some DFCRG supporters’ which doesn’t help the job DFCRG is undertaking. But for me, the most telling opinion of the author is that the tone and timing of DRGFC’s latest statement is “unnecessarily divisive”.

    Shotley Lodger

    January 14, 2012

  4. George Reynolds is ultimately to blame for all this and it was exactly that sort of fear for the future that led to formation of the Trust back in 2001 after a group of concerned fans, including myself, got together because they felt something just didn’t ring true about our new saviour. But he is gone and should not be the focus at this time.

    The so-called “treasure chest” of £50K plus built up in the time of our first administration has been carefully kept safe despite many calls for various spurious uses in the intervening years. This was done as the trust membership declined – as is the case so often at club when there isn’t an obvious crisis and the perceived role of the trust is not so obvious to the fan on the terrace – and it was hard to get people to come forward and help run the Trust. A sadly familiar tale.

    However to say The DFCRG have weakened the Trust is wide of the mark. DFC RG are made up of Trust founder members and dyed-in-the-wool Darlington fans with no agenda other than to preserve the club and their efforts should be applauded and the Trust should be working with them. A no-brainer you would think.

    The Trust should be applauded for protecting the money but their silence over the past few weeks (and arguably months) has been deafening – not just to Darlington fans, but Darlington Trust members – and this silence has seriously weakened their position as a force to be involved in the future direction of the club, in whatever form that may take.

    I, as a Darlington Supporters Trust life member, along with other concerned members and fans simply want to know the stance of the Trust board.

    Is it willing to enter meaningful dialogue with the DFC RG with a serious view to trying to save our club as it stands?

    Or is it only happy to put their efforts – and the £50k – towards a phoenix club?

    Is that too much to ask?

    Ted Blair

    January 15, 2012

  5. Ted Blair has got it spot on. I am also a life trust member and since it’s formation have donated a significant amount of money to the trust and frankly I would like to have a vote in how that money is used, but have not been afforded that opportunity since the start of the latest crisis. Indeed, I cannot honestly remember when I last had a communication from the trust and I certainly have not heard anything recently. Scandalous! The DFCRG are doing a wonderful job and have stepped into the role that should be performed by the Trust. The DFCRG are truly the fans representatives at this moment.

    John Bell

    January 15, 2012

  6. Until this nonsense is fixed at the highest levels of football these sorry tales will continue.

    None of the above stopped Darlington taking 4 points off my club last season however…

    Nathan

    January 15, 2012

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