Darlington granted return to Arena

Social distancing reduced capacity to 600 at Blackwell Meadows

The Northern Echo Arena

Darlington are to return to the 25,000-capacity Arena after an eight-year absence.

The club had made a request to the National League to switch from Blackwell Meadows on a ‘temporary’ basis on safety grounds.

With capacity at Blackwell restricted to around 600 to accommodate the Government’s social distancing guidelines, the club faced the prospect of turning away some of their 650 season ticket holders.

Plus, their average gate last season was around 1,500, so the there was a prospect of many Darlington fans missing out on seeing their team in action, but that prospect has now been averted.

The Arena, now owned by Mowden Park Rugby Club, has a safety certificate limiting capacity to around 9,000, so with current social distancing guidelines enforced The Quakers will be able to welcome up to 3,000 spectators at their National League North matches.

The move is subject to a satisfactory ground inspection and a safety certificate from Darlington Borough Council, though The Quakers’ hierarchy do not expect either of these issues to be problematic.

Darlington chief executive David Johnston said: “We are grateful to the league for swiftly granting us permission, and we will now prepare for the ground inspection on Wednesday.

“I would like to thank all those who have worked extremely hard together to bring this about. There has been a huge team effort over the last three weeks ever since we calculated that Blackwell Meadows would be unsafe and inadequate for our needs.

“We are now focusing on the forthcoming visit by the league’s ground inspector, and hopefully there won’t be any major issues.

“We have been in talks with Darlington Mowden Park Rugby Club regarding the arrangements, and we hope to announce more details in due course.”

Darlington Mowden Park chairman Mick Birch added: “We’re delighted to be able to assist our neighbours Darlington Football Club at such a difficult time for so many sports clubs.

“The current restrictions placed on sporting attendances have placed added pressure on a lot of clubs, and we’re pleased to be able to invite DFC and their supporters to the Arena.”

The Quakers moved out of the Arena after the end of the 2011-12 season, first heading to Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park ground around 12 miles out of town, before returning to Darlington at Blackwell midway through the 2016-17 season.

Blackwell is owned by Darlington Rugby Club, though the relationship between the two parties has not been plain sailing with frequent complaints from fans about how they felt the club mistreated by the landlords.

Johnston has been in dialogue with Mowden for a couple of years regarding moving to the venue as part of an ambitious sporting village scheme, a plan which collapsed earlier this year.

The Quakers’ The National League North season starts week commencing Saturday, October 5, while they will have an FA Cup second qualifying round tie on Saturday, October 3. The draw has not yet been made.

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