For her latest feature in series inspired by Middlesbrough Soroptimists’ list of outstanding local women, Jan Hunter spoke to Joanne Cameron about her dedication to Darlington FC

JOANNE CAMERON is one of the leading lights of Darlington Football Club, even though she doesn't play the game. Fifteen years ago she decided to take her football-loving eldest son to see Darlington play. She became a passionate and dedicated supporter. So much so that when the club went into administration, mainly because of the high costs of the new Darlington Arena, she decided to get involved.

With her friend Andrea Reese, she was determined to raise money for the club by abseiling down the Arena.

"I knew things were going wrong," she says, "so I got involved. The abseiling was very, very scary. It didn't help that the man with all the gear who was helping me, teased me that they had cut all the safety cords. I think I screamed all the way down, but it was worth it. We raised thousands for the club. It was a start."

This really was just the beginning, as Joanne joined CIC, the Community Interest Club, where the club board and the Darlington Trust, decided to join forces to work together to bring the club back to what it was.

After Darlington FC went into administration, it was expelled from the Football Association (FA) as it couldn't agree a Creditors Voluntary Agreement. A new club was immediately formed and moved to Blackwell Meadows stadium, but the FA ruled that, as a new club, it must have a different playing name from the expelled club. The name chosen was Darlington 1883, and it was placed in the Northern League Division One, for the 2012–13 season. It won three promotions in four seasons before the FA approved the club's request to change back to the traditional Darlington FC name.

Joanne Cameron and Ossie Ardiles when she was a staff writer for The League Mag

Joanne Cameron and Ossie Ardiles when she was a staff writer for The League Mag

In the meantime, Joanne was bringing her skills to the club as the hospitality manager, eventually becoming the events manager in charge of fund-raising.

Fellow fundraiser, Rob Duncan, who works alongside Joanne, says: "Joanne could easily be called Mrs Darlington as she is a fantastic example of a community and fan-owned club volunteer who has been a mainstay of the club since we restarted in the Northern League. Joanne was the front of house when playing at our temporary home at Bishop Auckland, looking after the players and directors in the board room after games, and she took up the role in the hospitality suite at Blackwell Meadows, being there most of the day ensuring everyone enjoyed their time with us."

"I arranged band nights, race nights and got the players involved," says Joanne. "We had a legends game which was a great success, and an end of season awards event, which I organised. As we are a fan-based community club, I worked with Morrisons on organising period poverty support, supplying products in ladies toilets on the days of the football and rugby matches. I am in the process of organising a Pride event which will happen at one of the games in December where we will wear rainbow colours, we want to send the message that our club is open to everyone."

Joanne Cameron with Julio Arca in 2018 when Darlington won the best football celebration

Joanne Cameron with Julio Arca in 2018 when Darlington won the best football celebration

At the moment she is organising a food bank to start this month October and run through to Christmas in association with King's Church, Darlington, and after the Pride event she is going to work with the grandson of Arthur Wharton, the world's first black professional footballer, who played for Darlington.

When asked what drives her, Joanne explains that when she can see a gap where things could be improved, and feels that both the players and young people could be better looked after, she tries to make that happen.

An example of this is helping to organise the Junior Quakers Club for young fans, aged from five to 11. She arranges for them to go to the Dolphin Centre for football training on the morning of match days, and attend the match in the afternoon. They have junior teams, and one of her sons, Adam has begun coaching an under 13s girls' team. All her children are volunteers.

During Covid lockdowns she did courses on mental health, LGBTQ issues and counselling so she could make sure that the club was on course to do the right thing by everyone, and spent her time phoning all the elderly season ticket holders to see if they needed any support from the club.

Rob continues: "Over the last few years Joanne has been a board member of Darlington Football Club Supporters Group (DFCSG), where her skills have been evident helping organise community events such as the fun days in the market square, Darlo Pride, the community days held in Stanhope Park, and fundraising events for DFCSG.

Sir Geoff Hurst, Joanne and son Jack at the Legends Match she organised

Sir Geoff Hurst, Joanne and son Jack at the Legends Match she organised

"Every Year DFC has an end of season presentation night and Joanne has helped organise this on a regular basis. It always runs very smoothly when she is in charge. On match days this season Joanne helps out pre and post-match with making sure the ground is ready for fans, and is the leader when the bins need emptying after the game ends. I am honoured to know Joanne as a great friend and someone you can turn to for help if needed. She continues to be a director of DFCSG as well as holding down a job and looking after her family."

"Football is for everyone," says Joanne. "It is inclusion for all. Nobody should ever feel excluded. I feel I am the female voice for the club by being on the board, and what is so nice is that the fans elected me."

Friend and fellow supporter Kath Sainsbury adds: "In addition to working and bringing up her family, Jo is a real community activist. I will never forget when she was the volunteer hospitality host at Darlington FC – on match days there would be about 50 people all needing to be served the pre-match lunch at the same time in order not to miss the kick-off and Jo was in the middle of it all – cool, calm and collected, nothing was ever too much trouble. If only she could have given the half-time team talk as well, we’d be in the Premier League by now.”