Groundshare with rugby club agreed
28 July ~ It's been a funny couple of years to be a Darlington fan. After being in administration for a third time two-and-a-half years ago, and leaving the so-called "white elephant" 25,000-capacity Darlington Arena so Darlington Mowden Park rugby team could move in, a fan-owned revival has been taking place 13 miles up the road in Bishop Auckland. Despite taking on assets, two players and all the outstanding debt of the "old" club, the FA viewed us as a "new" club and forced us down into the Northern League.
Darlington 1883 ended their first fan-owned season as runaway Northern League champions, after Spennymoor's attempts to win every trophy they were involved in eventually caught up with them. Promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One was the reward.
We almost cracked that at the first attempt, too. After pushing Curzon Ashton most of the way, eventually we had to concede the 2013-14 title to them and settle for second place, before Ramsbottom then overcame us in a bad tempered play-off semi final. Of perhaps more importance to fans than promotion last season was the news we'd been working towards since day one – Darlington were coming home.
A groundshare agreement with Darlington RFC has been agreed. The Blackwell Meadows site, on the other side of town to the Arena, will be redeveloped and expanded to become a sporting hub hosting rugby and football matches – just as soon as we can raise the money. It turns out running on an even keel while paying off debt and trying to get home is tricky, even at the eighth and ninth level of the English pyramid.
Now back in the FA Cup after being barred from it for two years by our "newness", and looking forward to a second bite at the NPL D1 title, there remains an cautious optimism around the club and a belief that attendances will head upwards – the team averaged 1,097 last season – if we can just get back to our home town. Plans continue to be drawn up and will be submitted soon, but no firm date is in place for our homecoming just yet.
The fundraising continues and will do so after we get home, via football tournaments, community fun days, monthly quizzes, gigs, race nights and many other events. Sunderland dropped in for a friendly with a full-strength team and sold out Heritage Park in mid-July. Home feels close – but there's still a long way to go. Michael Price