Whilst fans of many clubs were looking forward to the new year with anticipation and excitement, Darlington fans went into their first match of 2012, away at Barrow, believing it could be their last. Ever.
Having been placed in administration for a third time, it seemed as if the Grim Reaper was finally catching up on the Quakers. At the time of writing they have gained yet another, miraculous, short stay of execution but the future looks bleaker than ever.
Many clubs have been in trouble before but I admit it hasn’t always struck the chord that Darlington’s situation has. Maybe Plymouth’s near-miss woke me up to the fact that clubs I’ve watched City play at were going out of business. Clubs we’ve had rivalries with and classic matches against.
But the reason this one has hit me is this stunningly emotional piece from Darlington fan, Richard Heslop (@MKDarlo) who wrote this passionate piece on the prospect of watching his club’s potential last game.
For me, this is what forums and blogs are all about. Newspaper letters pages can be selective and have space restrictions. A radio phone-in such as the BBC’s 6-0-6 might have taken the call but it’s unlikely that the call would have been long enough to get over the true message or encapsulated the heart-felt feeling. For those of us not fortunate enough to work in the media; social media offers a chance for the fan to share their view, as they wish and when a particular item catches the eye, as this one did, it can sweep across a large number of football fans very quickly. Mark Chapman of 5Live and Henry Winter of the Telegraph were amongst those to ‘retweet’ this and promote the cause to hundreds of thousands of additional sports fans.
And if you are still only twenty-five or so years into your fledgling City-supporting life, ask your parents or grandparents what this feels like. Ask the bloke who sits next to you. For as supporters of a club who have had their moment in the dark this should resonate with you all. If it doesn’t, just imagine how you’d feel if this was City.
"Let’s make Barrow on Saturday a celebration of the life of Darlington Football Club, not a wake or a funeral or an attack of those who have dropped us into this position.
Go to Barrow and show people around the world how proud we are of our team and our lads. Let’s show people that we still care, that we are still proud of the club and our town. Let’s show people that Darlington Football Club stands as an ambassador for our town and our area and we will not just give it up and slope off home. We will fight on.
Let’s show the players that that shirt still means something, that that shirt still needs to be worn with pride and that it is worth putting on that shirt and running out on that pitch and representing all of us one last time. One last go lads, everything you have got, one last time, 90 minutes of life as a Darlo player left. Sh*t or bust, hero or zero. Go out with a bang and not a whimper.
Use this game to thank them and the legend that is Craig Liddle for everything they have done recently, against so much strife, unpleasantness and uncertainty and tell them that we are so proud that they are carrying on, let’s get behind whoever takes a place on that pitch, regardless of opinion, past reputation or performance on the day. Because this might be the last time!
Let’s show people what it means to be a fan of Darlo, celebrate those 128 years of existence. Celebrate everything that has gone before, the good, the bad, and the ugly, show people that we although we have been here through thin and thinner, that we have suffered blow after blow we are still not beaten,,we are still not broken, we are still here and we still stand proudly behind Darlington Football Club.
Show them that although we have been on knocked down and might be on the canvas right now we will get back on our feet and come out punching. It will be us who land the knock-out blow. Use this day to shame all of those plastics and couldn’t give a damns in the town into thinking about what they could have been a part of, make them see what have been about, what we are about and what we will be about again.
Let’s celebrate the good times, the 85 promotion, ‘Boro, the Conference win in 89/90, Welling away, 90/91 champions, Rochdale at home, Wembley in 96 and 2000 and that sweet moment in May when a little fella headed home from half a yard to win us the cup.
Make everyone who has knocked us or laughed at us over the years understand that today we embrace all of the crap players, the terrible teams, the rubbish managers and the crazy chairman who have afflicted us. Why? Because all of that makes the few good times even better. Because all of those things are what Darlington Football Club is about. Let’s show them what it means to call yourself a Darlo fan one last time.
Let’s also think of all those people in the Tin Shed in the sky who aren’t able to stand with us on Saturday, think about what the club meant to them and how they passed on that love for the club to you, think about how one day you want to pass that love on to the next generation so that they know what being a Darlo fan is all about. I am sure they will be stood leaning on that crash barrier under the Sunday Sun board with their scarves and flasks of Bovril thinking "typical bloody Darlo" - but they would still make the journey if they could! In fact I am sure they will be there with us. Sing that bit louder for them.
If anyone is unsure about going and is able to go they should make the trip, it could be your only chance to say goodbye to the team you love. It could be your last chance to wear the black and white and get behind the lads. Do whatever it takes to get to Barrow, wear your shirts with pride and wave your scarves one last time. Tell anyone you meet where you are going and why. Tell them you are proud to support the lads!
And should this turn out to be the last time then let’s celebrate all of that, let’s support the lads and the manager, let’s keep singing up to the final whistle and beyond because this club means something to each and every one of us, it has been part of our lives for so long, it is what makes us who were are, it is what makes us better than everyone else and it might not be there for much longer. Let’s make this day one of the greatest moments for this football club.
If it is to be the end lets go out on a high, all guns blazing giving it everything we have got and not for one minute forgetting that we are Darlington Football Club and we will bounce back!”UPDATE: Darlington’s financial situation is so perilous that every penny counts. If you’d like to donate, whether it’s just £1 or more, I’m sure they’d all be very grateful. Click here to help. Thank you.