Darlington could return to Arena

The Northern Echo Arena

Darlington have asked The National League for permission to return to The Northern Echo Arena, chief executive David Johnston has revealed.

With reduced capacities the current plan for when the National League resumes on October 3, Johnston believes moving from Blackwell Meadows back to the 25,000 venue would be a method of maximising gate receipts.

If games at Blackwell Meadows were restricted to 17 per cent capacity that would represent an attendance of around 550, yet Quakers have over 650 season ticket holders.

He said: “I’d rather have everybody that can get in getting in in a very safe, controlled manner than 17 per cent and arguments, headaches, refunds and damaging financial stability.

“I really wonder whether every club at the lower level should look to ground-share with an EFL club – to say, ‘Can we ground-share until the rules on crowd control are back to where they need to be?’ – because any club will suffer at 17 to 33 per cent.

“Why don’t we have clubs pairing up with local Football League sides and saying, ‘Can we ground-share with you?’ And pay the licence fee for the period of ground restriction, and then everybody can get to watch the football, everybody can go to see their team in a safe, controlled manner.

“It’s not about finance – obviously the finances around sustainability have to be questioned – but I’m talking about how do you get the right number of fans who want to congregate into a facility safely and there’s no risk of infection or a spike?

“I really wonder whether every club at the lower level should look to ground-share with an EFL club – to say, ‘Can we ground-share until the rules on crowd control are back to where they need to be?’

“There are solutions, but the league is going to (have to) be a little bit agile, think innovatively and look at what is best for the future of our game.”

After leaving Feethams in 2003, Darlington played at the Arena for nine seasons, from 2003-04 until 2011-12.

They ran into major financial problems and suffered a four-division demotion, moving to Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park in the summer of 2012 before returning to Darlington midway through the 2016-17 season when they began playing at Blackwell, home to Darlington Rugby Club.

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