The right move? Darlington FC

In the second edition of 'The Right Move' feature, Tom Hardwick looks at the stadium swap that nearly destroyed Darlington FC.

Tom Hardwick
26th November 2018
Image- Wikimedia Commons

Darlington FC is one of many clubs in the North East that, whilst not being steeped in success, has a rich history and has been embedded in the community for 100’s of years. However, when Darlington made the move from their home of Feethams to the Darlington Arena in 2003, a set of events were set in motion that, but for the dedication and resilience of a section of fans, would have seen the club ripped away from the community.

When George Reynolds assumed control of the club in 1999, he decided that, in order for the club to move forward, Feethams would have to be left behind. The old ground was in need of repair and modernisation, and these mounting costs were unwelcome for what was by no means a wealthy club. Worryingly, Reynolds had no desire to establish a sustainable plan for modernisation, or develop a sensibly sized and financed new ground.

Instead, Reynolds embarked upon the £20 million construction of the Darlington Arena, a project that was financed with absurd high interest loans that a club of Darlington’s stature would struggle to repay. Reynolds envisioned that the new 25,000 seater stadium would help pave the way for progression to the Premier League, but the ground was an open wound that bled continually, nearly costing the club its life.

The ground was rarely filled with more than 2000 fans, and less than a year after Darlington moved into their new ground, the club was in administration. Over the next few years the club battled against these financial woes, but eventually succumbed to administration in 2012 amidst the chaos that Reynolds had caused. This owner had convinced himself that his Premier League pipe dream was a reality, and in pursuing it he doomed Darlington to play out the next 8 years in an outlandish, astronomically oversized ground with the threat of financial ruin looming as tall as the empty stands.

This story isn’t one of complete despair, as the fans formed a Phoenix club and the town set about reclaiming it’s football team. The new Darlington were placed into the ninth tier of English football, and in recent years have risen as far as the sixth tier. What is clear when considering the case of Darlington is that stadium moves not only dampen atmospheres and remove years of history that has seeped into terraces, but it can take a club to the precipice of very extinction.

 

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