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Northern League preparing to welcome Darlington
THE Northern League are preparing to accommodate Darlington ahead of Friday's Football Association announcement about which league the club will be playing in next season.
The FA are still to confirm Darlington's punishment for failing to exit administration by the proper procedures at the start of the month.
A delegation including DFC 1883 chairman Denis Pinnegar and board member Laura Drew argued for leniency when they met FA officials at Wembley last week.
However, it looks as though their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and The Northern Echo understands there is a strong possibility of Darlington being placed into Division One of the Northern League ahead of the start of next season.
If confirmed, the news will be a major blow to club officials, who had been hoping to secure a place in either the Evo-Stick League Northern Premier or Division One North.
That could still happen, but it is telling that Northern League officials have been instructed to start making preparations for the Quakers' possible inclusion in next season's competition.
Interestingly, Durham City's demotion from the Evo-Stick League means the Northern League's top-flight currently has an odd number of clubs. By installing Darlington, the FA would be preventing the need for a further reshuffle.
The Quakers will discover their fate on Friday, and little more than two years after they were playing against Bradford City, Notts County and Crewe Alexandra in the Football League, they could find themselves lining up against the likes of Newton Aycliffe, Consett and Team Northumbria.
They are also set to be in the same division as Shildon, who will be their landlords at Dean Street.
If they bypass the Evo-Stick League, they will have been relegated four divisions since they end of last season, when they finished in the bottom four of the Blue Square Bet Premier.
The FA's punishment would be one of the most draconian ever dished out, and reflect the governing body's unhappiness with Darlington's failure to adhere to the regulations that govern a club's exit from administration.
FA rules state that in order to leave administration and reclaim a place in the football pyramid, a club must agree a Creditors' Voluntary Agreement (CVA) with its creditors.
Despite the best efforts of DFC 1883 board members, Darlington were unable to agree a CVA as part of the deal that saw administrator Harvey Madden relinquish control of the club earlier this month.
They could not reach an agreement with the club's major creditor, former chairman Raj Singh, and inherited footballing debts relating to outstanding wages owed to the club's former players.
Pinnegar has promised to do all he can to help local businesses who lost out when the club was placed into administration, and has pledged to pay the players' outstanding wages.
However, his assurances are not understood to have placated FA officials, who are concerned that a lenient interpretation of the rules on this occasion could establish a dangerous precedent for other clubs to exploit in the future.
To further complicate matters, Darlington have not been able to transfer their existing footballing share, the notional ratification that enables them to compete in an FA-affiliated competition.
As a result, while DFC 1883 opted not to go down the route of liquidation and reformation as a 'Phoenix club', the FA are effectively treating the latest incarnation of the Quakers as a separate entity to the one that ended last season.
There are also issues over the ground rating of Dean Street which could prevent Darlington from playing Evo-Stick matches at the stadium.
Yesterday, an FA spokesman simply said: "We will be announcing our decision on Friday and will not be commenting before then."
If Darlington are demoted to the Northern League, questions will be raised about the wisdom of keeping the club alive in the second half of last season, rather than investing the money that was raised through bucket collections and personal donations into the creation of a brand new club.
However, DFC 1883 remain hopeful that their approach will enable professional football to return to Darlington at some stage in the future and safeguard the 129-year history of the club.
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