Dreams of rich man nightmare of a club
LONDON - The Associated Press
Darlington has left its old stadium after George Reynolds took over the club and built a ground that went on to become the biggest in English non-league football.A businessman’s dreams of glory for a small-town English football club has left the 129-year-old outfit on the brink of collapse.
With lofty ambitions of leading Darlington into the Premier League, owner George Reynolds built a ground a decade ago that is now the biggest in non-league football.
“He was advised not to,” said Craig Liddle, who was Darlington captain at the time. “It was never going to be a possibility that a club our size could fill a 25,000-seat stadium.” Having mostly been a tenth full on match days at best, the stadium which opened in 2003 has served as a constant reminder of a vision that never matched the reality of the northeast club’s situation.
Despite being 16th in the fifth-tier, one below the last professional league, the Darlington Arena is the same size or larger than that of four Premier League clubs.
It is seven years since Reynolds was forced out of the club after being declared bankrupt, with the official website recalling how unpopular he had become “thanks to poor PR and several confrontations with fans.” While his name was quickly ripped down from “The Reynolds Arena,” his unwanted legacy remains. And the stadium that cost around $30 million might now never host a Darlington match again.
After the club entered a form of bankruptcy protection for the third time in nine years earlier this month, the court-appointed administrators decided on Jan. 16 to make all the staff - including players and coaches - redundant due to the lack of cash.
“We would have been fine without the stadium,” Liddle told Talk Sport radio after losing his job as manager. “The problem is that the stadium is so big for a club of our size and the running cost astronomical ... they have been throwing money into a bottomless pit.”
While investors have expressed an interest in saving Darlington, any deal would need to be completed quickly.
“Every effort is being made to progress this to try to save the club,” joint-administrator Harvey Madden said. “However, at this stage I have still not received any formal offers and unless a deal is concluded as a matter of urgency, time will have run out for Darlington.”
Darlington has been playing non-league football since dropping out of League Two in 2010 and its last home match attracted just 2,581 fans as it lost 1-0 to Gateshead on New Year’s Day.
That’s little surprise when second-tier club Middlesbrough is just 20 minutes away and Premier League sides Newcastle and Sunderland would take just 20 more minutes to reach.
Despite years of financial struggles, Darlington gave itself a glimmer of hope on the pitch by winning the FA Trophy for semiprofessional clubs in May at Wembley Stadium.
“It’s incredible we can go from such a high to possibly losing our existence,” Liddle said.