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Quakers’ title win is Gray’s proudest day
Delighted Darlington manager Martin Gray described delivering a title in his first season in charge as his proudest day, after Quakers clinched promotion from the Northern League.
A year on from a traumatic period for the club, when it was battling to survive and then handed a four-division demotion by the Football Association, victory over Team Northumbria on Saturday ensured a place in the Evo-Stik League First Division North.
The title represents a fine climax to the season for Gray, who is coming to the end of his first year as a manager, having previously been assistant to Dave Penney at both Quakers and Oldham Athletic.
As Darlington began to rebuild last summer, he took on the challenge of building a squad from scratch and he's succeeded in winning 39 of the club's 45 matches, securing Quakers' first promotion since 1991.
Brian Little was manager, when Darlington were Division Four champions, while David Hodgson came close to promotion in 2000, leading Quakers to the play-off final.
Gray referred to both after Saturday's match. "This is my proudest day, my best achievement," he beamed.
"I played at Wembley for Darlington in 2000 and while nobody likes to lose, it was the highlight of my career to play there. But to be manager of a club that is in my heart, and this club gets to you, I don't know how, but it does, and to win the league is something else.
"I've been here for ten or 12 years on and off, it's my club this, that's how I feel about it. I want to be the person that drives it forward.
"I'm a very proud person to be the manager of this football club. People like Brian Little and David Hodgson have managed and they were, for me, idols in the town and are still talked about.
"You learn a lot from people you've worked under and hopefully this is the start of my managerial career. I'd like to thank everyone I've worked with this season and hopefully we'll have many more of these good days to come."
There were jubilant scenes at full-time, with Gray and his players spraying champagne.
There promises to be more of the same on Wednesday, when Quakers receive the Northern League trophy at the all-ticket last game of the season against Guisborough Town at Heritage Park - a game Hodgson is due to attend.
Gray added: "You have a lot of tough times in football, so you've got to make the most of these days.
"Winning championships is a big ask, they don't come around every year. You set out to do it every year but it's not an easy job."
Gray also paid tribute to his players, who, if they win on Wednesday, will have defeated every team in the division at least once.
He said: "The players are normal, working-class lads. They're off building sites, they're off the shop floor and what they experienced after full-time they've never had before.
"They deserve every accolade going because they're just normal lads that have gone the extra mile to get us over the finishing line.
"There are no big-time Charlies, no ex-pros. It's been about picking the right personnel to build a team and every credit goes to the players because they've been amazing."
Darlington's title win was immediately followed by congratulations from Spennymoor manager Jason Ainsley and his assistant, Gavin Fell.
Having missed out on defending the league title they had won for three years previously, Moors will hope to secure silverware in the three cup finals they have reached, beginning on Saturday with the FA Vase at Wembley.
Gray added: "I go a long way back with Jason Ainsley and their comments are how it should be done.
"A lot of people have wanted to see us fall flat on our faces, but some people have dignity and do things the right way - Spennymoor are a real example of that. I really hope they win the Vase - I'll be a big Spennymoor fan next week.
"They're a top team and a well-managed club. Had they not been in this league we'd probably have had it done with by January. But this is our day and what we've done this season is nothing short of outstanding."
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