September 27, 2011. With Manchester City trailing against Bayern Munich, Carlos Tevez is told to warm up. The Argentinian refuses to come onto the pitch and ultimately, his stint at City is over. Five months on and Tevez is still at City, spending most of his time in his native Argentina. But at the same time, he’s getting paid a quarter of a million each week without even setting foot in Manchester.
Meanwhile, for Darlington FC, the future’s looking grim. Very grim. Just before the festive season, the Quakers were put into administration for the third time in a decade. With no signs of any interested investors, it’s looking likely that 128 years after the club was formed, it will fold. Just one week of Carlos Tevez’s wages would help keep the club alive for the rest of the season.
But how have Darlington got to this stage in the first place? In 1999, the club was bought by local businessman George Reynolds, who had huge ambitions for the club. This was shown by their unsuccessful approaches for players such as Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla, along with the brand new Reynolds arena. However, his ambition was the start of the end for Darlington.
Before the move to the Reynolds arena, Darlington played at Feethams, an 8,000 capacity stadium, right in the heart of the town. With Darlington only 30 miles away from Newcastle, many of the 100,000 population supported the Magpie’s, meaning that Feethams’ was rarely sold out. The small, intimidating ground suited Darlington, who became an established Football League club. Then Reynolds, in 2003, moved the club to the Reynolds arena
On the outskirts of town, the Reynolds arena has an impressive capacity of 25,000, more than some Premiership clubs. An attendance of around 11,500 fans saw Darlington open the stadium against Kidderminster but this remains the stadium record to date. Even derbies against Hartlepool failed to attract large numbers, with the ground has averaging around 1,500 to 2.000 fans.
The fact is for Darlington, there just aren’t enough supporters for the club. However, even if there was, the stadium has a 10,000 capacity limit set by the council due to its poor transport links.
Six months after the completion of the stadium, Darlington went into administration. The cost and maintenance of the stadium (rumoured to be around £80,000 per month) was too much for the club to handle and it only survived due to a benefit match featuring ex-players such as Dalglish, which raised around £100,000.
Five years later the club was back in administration with the situation off the pitch affecting the one on it. In 2010, the club were relegated from the football league.
Darlington has remained in the Blue Square Premier ever since, struggling to attract crowds as the future looked bleaker and bleaker. The club won the FA trophy in 2011, but five months later, the club went back into administration. This saw a remarkable effort by fans, who helped raise money to pay for the club’s pre match meal, with the players only making the match due to the efforts of a local Newspaper.
Then on January, 16, the administrator announced that all players and manager Craig Liddle were sacked. With no staff and no players, it doesn’t look good for Darlington, with the folding of the club expected in a few days.
Spare a thought for Liddle. As well as playing for Darlington during his career, he has been caretaker manager four times, helping the club through the rough patches. When administration was announced, Liddle planned to drive the players to games in a mini-van. And after having his contract terminated, he announced that he still plans to coach the youth team free of charge.
The case of Darlington is a sad one, with one man’s ambition proving to be the downfall for the club. Fans plan to bring the club back under a phoenix name in a stadium closer to the town, where the Darlington story can start again.
The recent efforts of the fans and Liddle are truly remarkable, as they try to raise every pound they can in an effort to keep the dying club alive. Meanwhile, Carlos Tevez, still earns £250,000 a week staying away from his club. Perhaps the last two sentences sum up exactly what is wrong with modern football.