Darlington 1883, happily on the way back to their home town after a spell in exile at Bishop Auckland, are hoping that Blackwell Meadows will become a ground fit for National League football.
Currently home to Darlington RFC, the town’s oldest surviving sports club, it is more used to staging lower league rugby than the upper echelons of non-league football. A million-pound redevelopment, designed by local architect Malcolm Cundick, is set to change all that. New terracing, more covered spectator accommodation and a refit that will leave the ground resembling a compact lower-league football stadium is all planned by the time the club returns to the town for the first time since the days of the Darlington Arena.
However, if that’s all going to be in place for the start of the 2016-17 season, as per the club’s initial time scale, things will have to move fast. Today the Meadows are a typical rugby club ground. One large clubhouse – offering a palatable real ale or two – a small seating area and a bit of hard standing … and that’s about it. Perfectly adequate but not quite up to ground grading ‘B’. Preliminary work was already underway as last season drew to a close: on the far side, next to the dug-outs, ground has been fenced off and holes dug. Eventually this will be a covered seated area opposite an upgraded clubhouse.
However, much needs to be done over the summer. Darlo’s original plan of starting the season there has been revised; the new intention is to move during the current campaign. Talks are also reportedly in place to hold a couple of pre-season friendlies at the old arena, a move aimed at giving the club’s profile a lift as it prepares to return home.
Meanwhile, the two future co-owners are looking at contrasting on-field fortunes. Darlington 1883 powered to promotion from the Evostik league, topping the Premier Division with 104 points. After almost total collapse in 2012, the Quakers are just one league below the level they were at when the finances gave way and the old club went bust.
As for Darlington RFC, this was the last game of a truly miserable season. Winless and with just two bouns points, they propped up Durham / Northumberland Div. 1 after enduring week after week of hammerings against all-comers. Novocastrians duly wrapped things up with another comprehensive away win at Blackwell Meadows. On top from the start, Novos capitalized on a red card in the second half to run in 57 points after the interval and claim a 74-12 victory.
Darlo, the footballing version, promise bigger gates – at times four-figure crowds watched the team in Bishop Auckland and there are hopes that coming home will boost those numbers still further. There’s a steady buzz building around the Quakers, with a strong sense that the community spirit underlying the club can steer them further up the pyramid in the coming years. In partnership with another of the town’s teams, it’s possible that the turmoil of the past decade or so may finally be coming to an end.
Darlington are currently involved in a fund-raising push to bring in cash for the upgraded stadium. For more information on how to support the club’s efforts, see the official website
Blackwell Meadows, Darlington, England
Durham / Northumberland Div. 1, April 23 2016
Darlington RFC 12 Novocastrians 74