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Darlington Football Club

Ray Simpson / 6th March 2021

Alun: I wish our fans could have watched our games this season

Alun: I wish our fans could have watched our games this season

Manager looks back on one of the most bizarre seasons in the club's history

Now that the dust has settled on the season, Alun has put his thoughts in writing.

I really do wish that our fans could have watched our games this season. It was a strange feeling playing our first game of the season against Prescot Cables in an empty stadium – the game like many games this season felt more like a pre-season friendly rather than a big FA Cup tie.

As we progressed in the Emirates FA Cup, I felt really sorry for our supporters because they couldn’t enjoy those great moments with us in the flesh. That deserved 2-1 away win at Swindon was a day that will always be remembered, but I would have felt even more satisfied being cheered on by a thousand or so Darlington fans, just like we were at Walsall a year previously. The roar when Adam Campbell scored the winner in the second half would have been just as loud for Joe Wheatley’s goal at Walsall, if not louder.

Maybe having a large number of fans behind us at Bristol Rovers might have made a difference against a team that had been struggling at home until we played them.

I could argue the same about the FA Trophy. We went all the way to play Weymouth from the league above us and won, then beat Wealdstone, again from the league above us, quite easily, but we maybe lacked the positive noise of the crowd behind us or even the kick up the backside we needed when we played Hornchurch last Saturday. 

Generally, I think you just need to look at results all around the football world to see how much crowds are missed. Visiting teams don’t appear to be on the back foot as much as they are in front of crowds -- Manchester City might be the only exception. Standing in my technical area during games and looking around an empty ground doesn’t feel right either, because the buzz of a live crowd is missing.

So, thank goodness for Quaker TV which is easily the best streaming service in the National League and Darlo Fans Radio, who provided coverage of our matches!

Looking back at the season, we had an overall win percentage of 57% which isn’t bad but should have been so much better. I was delighted that we got through to the second round of the FA Cup and the quarter finals of the FA Trophy, but on the other hand I was disappointed that we didn’t go any further, especially in the FA Trophy.

After beating Swindon in the first round of the FA Cup, I genuinely thought that we had a chance at Bristol Rovers and after 25 minutes at 0-0 I was even more positive, but then we imploded after one mistake and the game was over at half time.

I was extremely disappointed that we lost to Hornchurch in the Trophy, because we didn’t capitalise on all the chances we created (how many times have I said that). We got into some great shooting positions, but didn’t pull the trigger when we should have done, and we really let Hornchurch off the hook. It was a very disappointing result considering that we had beaten two teams from the division above us in the previous two rounds. We might never have a better chance of going further in the competition.

The decision to null and void the season was very much the correct one as far as I’m concerned, even though we all want to play football and I’m sure we still would be if the grants were there. It would have been irresponsible of us to carry on playing for four months by using a loan instead of a grant, plus the issue of testing the players for Covid has never been resolved by the league as I know teams still aren’t getting tested in the NL. We were going all over the north of England on a bus not knowing whether any of us had Covid or not, and whether we were taking it back to our families or not.

It astonishes me that there is talk of a new league for two months. They seem to forget that we all want to carry on playing but circumstances have shown it is not possible both financially and for safety reasons. There was a vote, and you can’t just spit your dummy out and try to form a new league of teams that can afford to carry on because they’ve got money behind them or some of them got a windfall with the way the grants were distributed. If all clubs including ourselves were given twice or even three times as much as our normal income, then I’m pretty sure the season would still be going. Covid still won’t go away until everyone is vaccinated, and that’s assuming there are no variants. There is no grant funding, so clubs might have to borrow a lot of money. Halifax are borrowing £400,000 just to continue playing in the division above – what a burden that is to carry for a few years.

Squad-wise, I know the areas which I need to strengthen during the close season. I have already earmarked certain players to come in, and some unfortunately will be leaving. Certain players didn’t step up in the Bristol Rovers and Hornchurch matches, when I thought they would. I would like to thank everybody for their generosity for the Boost the Budget campaign – it was amazing watching the total rapidly going up on that last day. It would be great to match that total again this year.

Even though I haven’t seen the vast majority of our fans in the flesh this season, I would like to thank you all for your great support and enthusiasm. It would have been so easy for you to desert the club because we had to play behind closed doors, but instead you kept on supporting us. I vividly remember coming back from the FA Cup second round draw at Harrogate having been drawn away to Bristol Rovers, and by the time I got home, enough money had been raised for an overnight stay!

I would like to thank my management team of Daz, Jim, Danny, Mark and Gaz who have worked wonders this season, and have all played a key role in different ways.

I would like to thank all of those who have given me so much support all the way through the season, especially when there were all sorts of obstacles being thrown in the way because of Covid.

David Johnston, our chief executive officer, has always been there for advice and encouragement, as as Chris Stockdale, particularly on the financial side. John Vickerman, Jonathan Jowett, Jon Saddington, Dave Mills and the DFCSG board have also given me plenty of support.

Dave Watson has worked very hard on the administration of the team along with Allan Wilson on matchdays, while Ray Simpson, Kevin Luff and the Quaker TV lads have done so much on the media side, not forgetting the many volunteers.

Finally, I know how passionate and proud you all are about the club and the way it’s run, so let’s work together to get to that 2000 attendance mark on a regular basis at Blackwell Meadows next season. I know the product on the pitch can decide the attendance at times and some views are restricted but having 2000 in attendance every home game will give us a much better chance both to develop the areas required to improve the matchday experience and hopefully improve the product on the pitch.

Hopefully, we’ll all be together again for the start of the new season, and so in the meantime, stay safe and well.