Rough guide to... Darlington

Cod Almighty | Article

by Michael Shelton

6 August 2007

What you need to remember
The first thing to say about Darlington is that they have the nicest ground in the fourth division. The 96.6 TFM Darlington Arena, formerly the Reynolds Arena, has a capacity of 25,000, a big screen, huge modern bars and corporate facilities; and every seat has an exceptional pole-free view of the pitch. More impressive than any of this, though, it has the club logo on the soap dispensers in the toilets.

The second is that they are the smallest professional club in the north-east. This, like any good Australian cricket team, has both pros and cons. With Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough all existing in the uppermost echelon of English football, and all being within about half an hour's drive, Darlington can often get a promising player on loan from nearby. Similarly, they regularly pick up a Premiership cast-off on a free transfer who turns into a good lower-league player. And Darlington are almost guaranteed one big pre-season friendly per year to boost the coffers a bit.

The down side to having all these big clubs nearby is that hardly anyone wanting to spend money watching a game of football in the north-east chooses to go to Darlington. The usual attendance for the Quakers is around three or four thousand, leaving the vast majority of the ground empty.

The gaffer
David Hodgson's second reign as Darlington boss ended at the end of September last year with the team in a not-too-disappointing ninth, after letting slip a two-nil half-time lead to little-fancied Cleethorpes side Grimsby Town. After Neil Maddison's one-month caretaker spell former Doncaster manager Dave Penney was appointed, and remains boss to this day. Hodgson's first spell as manager started in 1995 when he took over from the Mariners legend, and father of a Mariners leg end, Paul Futcher.

The players
Darlington have a new team for this season: seven of the players given squad numbers 1 to 11 were at other clubs in May. The new number one is former Premiership and Hull (not simultaneously, obviously) goalkeeper Andy Oakes who, despite having been around for ever, is only 30 and should therefore be entering his goalkeeping prime. Darlington-born Alan White managed twice to win 2-0 in the league at Blundell Park last season. Thefirst occasion was with Notts County, the second with loan clubPeterborough: a game in which he scored one of his eight league goals for the season, much more impressive than the 0 managed by fellow new defender Stephen Foster, who signed from lowly North Lincolnshire team Scunthorpe United.

Ian Miller impressed in a month-long loan spell from Ipswich last season, and has been re-loaned like a popular library book. Midfielder Robert Purdie was named supporters' player of the year at Hereford last season before upping roots for Darlington. Twenty-five-year-old striker Pawel Abbott managed a whopping 27 goals in the third division for Huddersfield in 2004–05, so £100,000 from Swansea looks a good piece of business for Darlo – at least until you wonder why Swansea were so keen to sell less than six months after paying £150,000 for him.

Watch out for
Julian Joachim has proven pedigree, and given the numerous rumours of him signing for Town during pre-season he's almost certain to score against us this season. Pawel Abbott could be a real handful in this division, especially if he rediscovers his goalscoring touch. My biggest concern, however, is that Ricky Ravenhill scored in the Darlington-Grimsby fixture last season. Using the scientifically proven law of the ex he is bound to do so again this season, leaving us all miserable and annoyed.

Don't quote me
Darlington finished a distinctly mediocre 11th last season, and eighth the season before that. If they ever get to play in the third division you fancy they have the stadium and the facilities to remain there, but I don't see them making significant progress toward that this season. The players they have easily look capable of pushing for promotion, but given Darlington's history of underachievement I envisage play-offs at best. My guess is they'll be floating around ninth come the end of the season.