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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