Darlington stare into the abyss

With five losses in a row and a staggering 16 points from safety, it seems like time is well and truly up on Darlington’s Football League status.

The Quakers travel to Bury tonight with little hope of stopping the rot as the fans’ hopes of pulling off the great escape seem to fade more and more every week.

This was certainly not the vision that former chairman George Reynolds had for the club when he moved them into their 25,000 all seater home in the summer of 2003 but it is arguably Reynolds’ over-ambition that has lead the Quakers to the sorry state they now find themselves in.

Crippling high-interest loans and an unrealistic target of filling the new stadium meant the club were driven into administration in early 2004 when Reynolds resigned from his role as director.

The club was slowly brought out of administration and in 2006 the club was sold to controversial property developer George Houghton who presided over four seasons of security with Darlington finishing in the top half of the table. He was also at the centre of funding lucrative moves such as the £100,000 purchase of former Aston Villa striker Julian Joachim and lower league stalwart Pawel Abbott.

However, Houghton’s reign was never far away from controversy. He was forced to deny rumours that he was looking to invest in Leeds United as well as failing in an ambitious attempt to buy Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch. The fans soon turned on Houghton and the club eventually fell into administration in February 2009 and were hit with a mandatory 10 point deduction.

Houghton blamed the fans for the downturn in the club’s financial fortunes and said: “If we had more fans coming to the matches we probably wouldn’t be in this crisis.”

With constant budget cuts, new managers struggled to adapt. Dave Penney saw his wage bill halved after failing to beat Rochdale in the play-offs in 2008 and was forced to sell half of his playing staff.

Penney soon left to manage League One side Oldham Athletic and Houghton transferred the ownership to former vice-chairman Raj Singh and left the club with immediate effect.

Colin Todd took on the unfavourable task of managing the club in the summer and was left with only two of the playing staff for the previous season. After losing 7 of his first 9 games this season, former Republic of Ireland international Steve Staunton was put in charge and unfortunately for the Quakers, the downward spiral has failed to stop.

Staunton brought in a number of players from his native Ireland but he has failed to see an upturn in fortunes. The game at home to Chesterfield in mid-February summed up their fortunes as the side were 2-0 up after 80 minutes only to inexplicably lose the game 3-2 after conceding 3 goals in 7 minutes.

Sure Quakers fans will cling on to all the optimism they can but a defeat at Gigg Lane will surely be another nail in the coffin.

Unfortunately Darlington are a glowing example of how off the field decisions can dictate what happens on it. There is no doubt the 25,000 capacity Darlington Arena will look hideously out of place in the Blue Square Premier but the fans can certainly have every right to point their finger of blame at the boardroom for the potential ruin that this one time ambitious club find themselves in.

 


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