Darlington: National League North side ask for permission to return to Darlington Arena

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
Darlington Arena
Rugby Union side Darlington Mowden Park bought the Darlington Arena in 2012 after the town's football club moved out

National League North side Darlington have asked for permission to return to the 25,000-seater stadium that was a major factor in the club going bust.

Opened in 2003, the £18m Darlington Arena was viewed as an example of overspending as it was far too big for the crowds of around 2,000 Darlington used to get in the Football League.

The club moved out in May 2012 and, after failing to agree a deal with their creditors, had to reform, starting life in the ninth tier of the English game, playing in Bishop Auckland, before returning to Darlington in December 2016 at the 3,100-capacity Blackwell Meadows stadium.

However, faced with the prospect of crowds being limited to what they believe is likely to be 17% of capacity - 527 at Blackwell Meadows - Darlington feel the Arena - which is now used by local rugby union club Darlington Mowden Park - may be a way of getting their fans back in bigger numbers.

"If we go down to 17% we can't even provide access for our season ticket holders, let alone any away fans," Quakers chief executive David Johnston told 5 Live Sport.

"I have already asked the league to consider whether we could relocate to the Arena, which has a 25,000 capacity that would allow safe access and observe social distancing with the walkways, car-parking, everything."

The government has announced that a programme of pilots allowing spectators into sporting events - that was paused in July - can restart, with the hope remaining this can be expanded for all clubs by the beginning of October.

That would mean Darlington starting the 2020-21 season on 3 October with an FA Cup second qualifying round tie, although Johnston still sees issues ahead.

"The league needs to think carefully and innovatively about how fans are going to be able to return in a safe manner," he said.

"The 2m distancing is just not going to happen. How do you stop crowds on a terrace from interacting? If we score a goal, they are going to celebrate."

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