Darlington ready for 'proud' Boxing Day return to town after four-year absence

Darlington
Darlington's Blackwell Meadows ground, to be shared with Darlington RFC.

Fans of Brighton, Bristol Rovers, Coventry and Charlton will understand the significance of Darlington's home game against Halifax Town on Boxing Day.

Just like those teams, Darlington have known the awkward exile of ground-sharing away from the town they represent.

The Quakers will end a four-and-a-half year absence when they run out at Blackwell Meadows, home of Darlington RFC, for the first time.

It has been a long journey from reformation to the National League North and now, a proper home of their own - a perfect Christmas present for those who have worked so hard to achieve it.

"I can't wait to make some good memories," assistant coach Brian Atkinson told BBC Tees. "We need to get it rocking again as it used to be."

Darlington 1883 in a nutshell

Martin Gray
Current manager Martin Gray ended his playing career with the old Darlington after spells at Sunderland and Oxford

Darlington 1883 were set-up following 2012's dissolution of the old club, which ended 129 years of history.

Relegation from the Football League in 2010 was one catalyst for the problems, but it was the 25,000-capacity stadium built by former owner George Reynolds - once heralded as the start of a bright future - that eventually brought the club down.

  • They moved into the stadium in 2003, but less than 12 months later entered administration with debts of £20m generated by the move.
  • George Houghton placed Darlington in administration again in 2009, a move that eventually cost the club a place in the League Two play-offs.
  • The stadium ownership passed to the old club's major creditors in 2011, the loss of one of their biggest assets.
  • By 2012, the club were put into administration for a third time, having already seen players leave under breach of contract terms.
  • The holding company was wound up in 2012, a new one created in DFC 1883 Limited, with the club relegated four divisions and forced to change their name to Darlington 1883.
  • Groundshare with Bishop Auckland at Heritage Park, 13 miles away, gave the club a place to play.

From rock-bottom to a step away

Supporters have stuck with Darlington Mk II through their Bishop Auckland exile, and their rapid rise through the divisions has brought them to within one promotion from the National League.

"Four-and-a-half years ago we found ourselves with no home, one player, a club crest and a £150,000 of inherited debt," fan Scott Thornberry said.

"Nobody was going to get us out of it other than us the fans, and you get quite emotional given that knowing what is going to happen. It's great."

Hard work away from the pitch

Darlington's old Feethams ground
Not since the days of Feethams, have Darlington had a real "home"

While on-the-field the progress has been tangible, the work towards returning to Darlington itself has been on-going behind the scenes.

With the Arena - now home to Darlington Mowden Park RUFC - not in their plans and the old club's previous ground, Feethams, having been demolished, negotiations with Darlington RFC and Blackwell Meadows provided a pathway home.

"I've been involved on and off over the past four years, and it's been a rocky road," club director John Tempest said.

"We couldn't have done it without Mike Wilkinson from the rugby club. We're working extremely well together.

"There have been people in the past, Dave Mills, Martin Jesper, they've all contributed.

"It's got a really good feel about the club, we're all fans, it's 100% fan-owned."

Pride restored?

Darlington have finally made a dream a reality - and the emotion arising from Monday's game might be a bit too much for some of their supporters.

"We're all volunteers which is why everyone should be so proud," Tempest added.

"It's great, people have been ringing me to get a ticket and these are people who haven't been for a few years.

"I may have a tear on Boxing Day, and I may have a few pints."

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