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Grounds for optimism as sell-out crowd heralds rebirth of club
After a turbulent few months, Darlington kicked off their new season in the Northern League. Alexa Copeland joined the sell-out crowd at Bishop Auckland to sample the atmosphere
CHANTS of “Darlo ‘til I die” echoed around Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park stadium as up to 1,500 Darlington fans heralded the rebirth of their football club.
Before a ball was even kicked, the atmosphere at the modest ground was buzzing, with hundreds of fans turning out to see a resurrected side play their first Northern League Division One game of the season at Bishop Auckland on Saturday.
After everything the club has been through in the past year – relegation, bankruptcy and staff losses to name a few – fans could be forgiven for feeling downbeat at their side’s demise, but the mood at Bishop was overwhelmingly positive.
Among those who made the journey was Sheila Thompson, from Heighington , who has been following Darlington football club for more than 40 years.
She said: “I think this is a very exciting new start for Darlington.
“It is great that we have got the team and I’m sure we are going to make progress.”
Season ticket holder George Cree, 73, of Mowden Park, has been following the team for a decade and his grandson was a ball boy at the club’s former home, the 25,000-capacity Northern Echo Arena.
Bishop Auckland’s ground has space for 2,000 fans and the ball has a habit of disappearing over the fence into Sainsbury’s car park next door, but the “grassroots” feel of the ground seemed only to add to the atmosphere.
As Mr Cree said: “It is a good stadium and I’m glad I got a season ticket.
“Of course, I am very disappointed at the way things turned out, but we are here now so we have got to make the best of it and get ourselves back up as quickly as possible.
“The support is still here – you can see that.”
Denis Godfrey, 72, who lives in the Eastbourne area of Darlington, has been following the team for 50 years and attended the Bishop game with his son and grandson.
He said: “I think it is a wonder we still have a club after all that has happened. It will be interesting to see how much of a fan base they manage to keep, depending on the results this season.
“Time will tell.”
On the day, Darlington 1883 did not disappoint, winning 3-1 in a match that started a little shakily but ended up with a Bishop sending off and a missed penalty, plus an 89th minute goal for Darlington.
Fan Steven Carr, 37, had travelled from York to watch the game and he summed up the afternoon well.
“The feeling is definitely positive,” he said. “It is great that we still have a club, no matter what.”