We Get Knocked Down
by Scott Thornberry - 29th May 2012
As the headline says, we get knocked down, but I tell you what it is getting harder and harder to get back up again. Even Chumbawumba would be struggling now.
Back in January our clubs future was once again thrown into the air when Raj Singh put us into administration. Supposedly 'debt free' we had a chance to carry on. But then the full story started to unfold.
It was disclosed that we were not actually debt free, Raj Singh had 'loaned' money to the club. But fair play, he publicly stated that he would waive his loan repayment if the community was going to step forward and take over the club.
After some failed attempts to buy the club by businessmen it became apparent that the only option left was for us, the fans, to buy the club and rid it of all of the problems we have had in recent times.
In January the club was effecitively liquidated with Harvey Madden informing the players the club had gone. But an extra time intervention by the fans lead to £50k being invested and the promise of further investment with the view to purchase the club. The administrator changed his mind and the club was back in business. Crowds of over 6k turned up for the next two games.
Football fans from around the country chipped in and from a club with a hardcore fanbase of around 1400, we pooled together £14000 in two weeks to help the players out as they were not getting paid.
A further £70k was then injected by Darlington 1883, the fans group formed to take over, this helped the club tick over and also gave the group exclusivity to buy the club. The funds were once again made up of fans groups donations including the DUFF fund which was built up from not only Darlo fans but football fans from across the country and further afield.
The crowdcube pitch then went live and within weeks we hit the first £250k, this gave us the money to pay off the football creditors, further funding then stalled and settled around the £325k mark. We didn not have enought to pay off all of the non footballing creditors but a CVA could have been agreed. This would mean the club would pay off non football creditors over 3 years, but this all hinged on Raj Singh accepting the CVA. In the end it was not accepted, and the communities efforts were in vain.
At this point it became apparent that without a CVA we were going to be punished by the FA, who had already given us a 10 point deduction in the Blue Square Premier and put us under a player embargo which effectively relegated us.
With the club not actually owning the stadium, this due to the previous owner splitting it from the club and then defaulting on a loan, it meant that it was not feasable for us to play in a 25k seater stadium in the Evo Stick. The cost was over £270k a season and on reduced income it was not possible. So now we had to make the drastic decision of moving out of town with a view to returning to the area hopefully within 12 months to a new basic stadium once we have rebuilt. We, as a Community Club, do not want any repeat of going into administration again. It just isn't right and we must fund a way to run the club within it's means. After discussions with the FA for advice, 1883 decided to choose Shildon. It appears 1883 were given assurances by the FA that this would not affect any decision they would make regarding which league we were to play in.
Due to the change in situation of how 1883 planned to take the club forward, Financial Services Authority regulations meant that we had to return all of the money invested through crowdcube and hope people reinvest in a new Community Interest Company. www.1883cic.org
1883 then purchase Darlington Football Club for £100k, this including the £70k previously invested in the club back in February. They also gave a gaurantee to pay the footballing creditors what they were owed over the next three years, this is reported to be worth a further £100k.
Raj Singh then informs 1883 that he will sign over the football share, which the club needed to continue playing football, but according to The Northern Echo, attached certain conditions. These conditions were against the FA rules so 1883 could not accept them. Please don't ask me how a football share can be owned by an individual and not the football club, but thats just another FA rule nobody has explained.
1883 head to FA headquarters to plead our case and after the meeting it was deemed that all had gone well and hopes were high that we would only be relegated two leagues, to the Evo Stick league. Still a shock, but a punishment we felt was fair considering previous precedents that have been set.
Then we hear the news from the FA that because the club does not own a football share we are being treat as a new club and demoted 4 divisions to the Northern League division 1. But the inconsistancies continue. It has been like a scene from Rocky, day by day as we try to clamber up the ropes to regain our feet we get the biggest whack to lay us back on the floor.
Bam! Firstly if we are being treat as a new club then why are we being allowed to play next season, you have to be registered by March 31st to start the next season, but we will cough cough that one I think ;)
Wollap! We are then told Shildons ground would not be acceptable in any higher league, 1883 claim that they were told by the FA that upgrades could be done to make it reach evo stick standards.
Smash! We are then told we have to change our name as Darlington FC no longer exists. So what have we actually purchased from the administrator? Thought it was Darlington Football Club?
Kaboom! We are the told by the FA on Monday 28th May that we cannot appeal as we are not registered with the Durham FA, even though we registered with the Durham FA as Darlington Football Club on Friday 25th May.
And when we are laid on the floor, gasping for air, the FA have kicked us right in the goolies with another beauty. We are now told we cannot play in any FA competitions as the 'new club', which the FA told us we were on Friday 25th May, was not registered by April 1st. The old club applied, but obviously not the 'new club' as it didn't exist back then.
It is now reported that Raj Singh has not attached any conditions to the release of the football share and an appeal is now likely. But listening to the FA comment on our situation it appears that they have very little knowledge of the history of our situation. As it stands it looks like we have paid £200k for well, erm, not sure at the moment.
As a Darlington crisis goes, this has got to be the biggest test of our strength ever. We have had everything taken from us, and I mean everything. We have nothing left for anybody to take. Stadium, gone. Manager, gone, Players, gone. League status, gone. FA competitions, gone. Now they want to take our name, sweet holy jesus!
We have had middle aged ladies lay out hundreds of pounds to purchase scarves to resell for a profit ( http://www.darlofc.co.uk/news.php?NewsID=893 ), we have had pensioners bike ride to Lincoln, ending up in hospital, bucket collections around the country, fundraising matches, sponsored abseils, quiz nights, race nights, and all to be kicked in the teeth from the powers that are supposed to be looking after our beautiful game. But at least the sheiks got the trophies they wanted. I know that sounds bitter but from a fan of the lower leagues it seems that is all that matters these days.
It is time to rebuild, fight back and show these men in suits that we don't need them. We are normal hard working people who just want to support our home town club. All we have done is try and do the right thing by people who are owed money. It appears we would have been better off letting the club go bust back in January and start again as a phoenix club. At the moment we are neither dead or alive, and as this evening's news stated, we are infact a zombie club. This situation is actually encouraging clubs in future to go bust at the first opportunity, fighting to try and pay off your debts and give your club some diginity back does not work in your favour.
I wouldn't wish any of this on any other football fan, it is just so so typical that once again Darlington fans have been smashed in the face. This time we are in intensive care, but the life support machine will never be switched off, even when some are trying to unplug it.
Yes some things have been said against the FA, but it is out of sheer frustration, so many people have put hours of time and thousands of pounds of money into our small club, yet we have seen no reward for it at the end. We have lost everything, and as a football fan it is hard to take. Just please mr Football Association, give us a fair crack of the whip, recognise that we now have the original football share. Listen to our appeal and please allow us to continue the tradition of Darlington Football Club and allow us to start rebuilding in the Evo Stick.