8:00am Thursday 12th December 2013
By Craig Stoddart
His team-mates are happy to be playing for Darlington and his manager would rather not be anywhere else. When Alan White reflects on his three different spells with Quakers, he admits the differences to now and the most recent previous occasion could not be more stark.
And the experienced defender is well placed to judge what makes for successful dressing room dynamic having been in the game for close to two decades.
He came through the ranks at Middlesbrough and, now 37, he's back with Darlington having been lured back to his hometown team for a third time by Martin Gray and is enjoying being part of a promotion push.
They are fifth in the Evo-Stik First Division and on Saturday could leapfrog second-placed Bamber Bridge, who travel to Heritage Park for a crunch clash that comes just as Quakers run into some good form.
Last Saturday's success - a 4-1 win at table-topping Warrington Town, which ended the hosts' 17-game undefeated run - means Darlington are putting together a set of results that suggests they are not out of the title race just yet.
It all feels so very different to the turmoil White encountered under Steve Staunton's leadership in 2009-10, when Darlington dropped out of the Football League.
"It was terrible. Horrible," said White, who first joined the club under Dave Penney's management in 2007. "People ask what it was like. We had lads like Stevie Foster, Ricky Ravenhill, Tim Ryan, Gregg Blundell and Tommy Wright. We had such a good bunch of lads, a good team and we were so close and I'm still mates with them now. Those two years were fantastic.
"When I came to the club a second time in 2009-10 on loan the atmosphere around the training ground was crap. There were cliques here, there were some lads that didn't get on with other lads, some of them didn't like the manager.
"I didn't want to take sides so I was in the middle of it, but it was a horrible atmosphere and I didn't enjoy it at all.
"The difference this time is that you've got lads here who want to play for the club and a manager who wants to be the manager of Darlington Football Club - it's not just a stepping stone, he wants to be here.
"He's committed, his coaching staff are committed and there's people behind the scenes who are doing things properly - there isn't one bloke who can give the thumbs up or down to say whether he wants the club to survive or not.
"There's a future here and it's a nice place. There's a big difference in camaraderie in the changing room now compared to when I was here with Steve Staunton."
After the trauma of 2009-10, White did the rounds with time at Stalybridge, Gateshead and Blyth before spending last season with Harrogate Town and, now that he's in amateur football, is working as an instructor in the gym at Headlam Hall.
And having spent the bulk of his playing career in the Football Legaue with clubs including Luton Town, Colchester and Notts County, among his roles at Darlington is to help instruct the defence.
"I think Martin brought me in to organise things and to try and toughen up the team a bit," he said.
"I'm there to try and make sure we don't lose shape and discipline, but they all know what they're doing.
"Sometimes they might lose their shape or start complicating matters. We could be 2-0 up and they might start to mess around and stop doing the right things, which is what Martin is trying to tell them."
The Evo-Stik First Division is the lowest level of the game White has dropped to - Harrogate are two levels above in the Conference North - and the defender admits there is a drop in standard.
"It's different," he said. "You're playing against lads who aren't as fit and teams that are a bit more direct. The technical side is not as good, it's not as quick and the referees are terrible, but you get used to that.
"You can tell the difference. The tempo of the game isn't the same and strength in depth of the league is weaker than Harrogate's league.
"We should beat most teams we play every week and there's two or three that we're going to have a proper match with. But in the leagues above every game is tough."
At 37, though, won't it soon be time to call it a day?
"Sometimes you think about knocking it on the head because your legs ache the next day, but I'm alright, I'm in decent nick. I'm fit, I'm injury-free and the moment I pack in I know for a fact I'll wish I'd played an extra year. So why not keep playing and keep going.
"Some lads get injured, some lads fall out of love with the game. But I still love it. I enjoy training and the matches.
"Being the older one, lads listen to you. These lads want to listen and want to learn and I get a buzz out of that.
"I've got experience of playing at a higher level and there's lads here who want to go higher. Amar Purewal has asked me before what he needs to do to take that step, what does he need to bring into his game. With him he's got the technical ability, he just needs to be a bit tougher. That Tim Ryan attitude, you've got to be horrible, but it's great that the lad wants to learn."
However, the tough defender does have one gripe about his return to the club - their pink away shirts.
"It's not my thing," he said. "Whenever I play against a team in pink I love it - it makes me think that I've already won because they can't be happy wearing pink.
"I hope next year we don't have it because it doesn't suit me at all!"
* Darlington are to play a Sunderland XI at Heritage Park on Wednesday December 18. The game will be Steven Johnson's farewell match as he is to leave Quakers due to work commitments.
* Ray Simpson will be signing copies of his Book, In The Dying Seconds ,on Saturday 9.30-11am at Quaker Retail in Darlington's covered market.
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