Darlington Football Club finds hope amid the gloom

When Darlington Football Club walk out at Wembley on Saturday, 7 May to face Mansfield in the FA Trophy final, the moment will mark an incredible turnaround in the club's recent fortunes.

For the past three seasons, the Quakers have been on a downward spiral.

The Teesside club have sunk from being on the brink of promotion to League One, through administration, a change of ownership and the loss of precious Football League status, and finally into the Blue Square Bet Premier.

But the management of Mark Cooper, and a squad honed through shrewd dealing, has the club set for silverware and placed on the cusp of the play-offs.

"The club is going forward, [chairman] Raj Singh is trying to resolve issues off the pitch, and the manager and players are doing the business on it," operations manager Gary Pallister told BBC Late Kick Off.

"We're trying to get away from the negativity that has been around the club for a number of years.

"We're trying to say to everybody the club is rebuilding and trying to regain our league status."

However the outlook this season has not always been so rosy, off the field in particular.

The club's holding company DFC Investments Ltd went into receivership in February, with fears that land and the stadium belonging to the company would be passed to creditors.

In response Singh admitted he could walk away from the club with the future in doubt. Instead, he put a challenge to supporters to purchase 2,000 adult season tickets for 2011-12 in order for him to guarantee the future of the club.

"This season the club only sold 400-500 season tickets, so 2,000 for next year is very optimistic," said Craig Stoddart, Darlington reporter for the Northern Echo newspaper.

"I don't know if he thinks he can really sell that many, I think he was testing the water.

"He wanted to see what the reaction would be."

However, the response to the season ticket ultimatum, increasing overall attendances, and support for the club amid the FA Trophy campaign has helped force Singh's hand.

"I said I wanted to see commitment up to 2,000 season tickets holders, now we're not there yet," Singh said.

"But the fact we had 4,500 here for the first-leg and then 2,500 at Gateshead shows that people are interested and people are getting behind the club.

"With a bit of luck we'll be there or thereabouts - we might not get 2,000 but as long as we're somewhere close we'll carry on."

Success at the Arena has helped quell fears that boss Cooper could be prised away from the club, with an approach for his services from another club confirmed by Singh earlier in the season.

But Cooper himself believes the uncertainty around the club has been a key factor in his side's form - the side lie 10th in the Blue Square Bet Premier after just two defeats in 19 games following Tuesday's 1-0 home loss against Altrincham.

"It's galvanised the players a little bit, because it's maybe made them realise that there might not be anything for them next year," the former Peterborough and Kettering boss said.

"They're thinking, 'I might have to pull my socks up and ensure I'm playing that well that a club comes along and offers me something next season'."

BBC Late Kick Off in the North East and Cumbria is broadcast on Monday nights, times may vary.

BBC Late Kick Off: North East and Cumbria