Darlington RFC looks forward to sustainable future as it celebrates 150th anniversary (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Darlington RFC looks forward to sustainable future as it celebrates 150th anniversary
AS it celebrates its 150th anniversary, Darlington FC is looking forward to an exciting and sustainable future. Joe Willis reports.
MORE than 100 Quakers supporters turned up to a fans’ forum this week to hear an update from the fan-owned club’s leaders.
The progress report made uncomfortable listening at times. The club lost £150,000 last year when one-off costs of building a football club from scratch were factored in.
Commercial revenue was below expectations and attendances were falling. Even the match day food and drink was making a profit of just £61 a game, fans were told.
Without a return to Darlington the club was simply not sustainable, the forum heard. It was at that point that fans were told the club was near to agreeing a deal with Darlington RFC to share their facilities at Blackwell Meadows.
The news went down well, especially when Darlington RFC chairman Mike Wilkinson and secretary Tony Stowe enthusiastically explained some of the details of the proposed arrangement.
Two days on and Mr Stowe remains excited about the plans. Like the town’s football club, Darlington RFC is no stranger to financial crises. Four years ago it faced a winding up order due to a £7,000 tax bill.
The club survived but its secretary said the event helped to focus members’ minds on the club’s long-term future.
After taking up the role as secretary around the same time and later being joined by Mr Wilkinson as chairman, Mr Stowe says it was decided the club needed to “go back to basics”.
“We thought 'we have tremendous facilities here but they are really under used'.
“For the last three or four years we’ve been working hard to increase their use.”
As well as four men’s senior teams, a women’s team and an active junior section, the club put together a successful rugby league team this summer. The sports facilities at Blackwell Meadows are also used by Darlington College pupils, while for the first time last month the ground hosted an American football game when the Woodham Warriors, from Woodham Academy, in Newton Aycliffe, took on American pupils from RAF Lakenheath.
Throw in two Sunday league football teams, hopes of attracting a junior football club, and Darlington’s oldest sporting club – the Gentleman & Lady Archers of Darlington – and the facilities are slowly realising their potential.
Adding the town’s football club to the mix makes sense, says Mr Stowe.
“The word that resonates through our plans is sustainability.
“There is a realisation among the club that a facility of this size cannot survive as just an amateur rugby club.
“Sharing the facilities with the football club would protect the playing of rugby here for another 150 years, rather than take it away - we welcome the football club with open arms.”
TO prepare for the expected arrival of the football club next season, costs are already being drawn up for two turnstiles which could include a ticket office and shop for the Quakers, the erection of two stands either side of the existing dug-outs, a 1.8m fence to enclose the ground and more hard-standing.
A new entrance for the clubhouse and dedicated changing rooms for the football teams are also planned, as well as a 500-vehicle car park.
Mr Stowe says the aim is to improve the the ground and facilities a step at a time.
“The football club have got to keep their feet on the ground but hopefully we can enjoy a long and prosperous relationship,” he adds.
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