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Mystery Investors Poised to Help Darlington

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Two mystery investors are poised to pour cash into beleaguered Darlington 1883, the Vanarama National League North club`s manager Martin Gray told supporters at a highly-charged fans’ forum on Friday night.

The club is resigned to losing its place in this year’s play-offs, after the National League decreed that the Blackwell Meadows ground didn’t meet the criteria for promotion.

Two directors, Richard Cook and Jonathan Jowett, resigned this week following the error and apologised to fans for misinterpreting the rules at the forum.

Gray was only told that his team’s hopes of their fourth promotion in five years were dashed two weeks ago, he told supporters at the fans’ forum.

Since then he has been meeting with investors – and spent three hours discussing the matter with former manager David Hodgson on Thursday – in a bid to move the club forward next season.

The club and ground need hundreds of thousands of pounds investing if it is to survive and Gray has already been told he could have his players’ budget slashed by £85,000 next season.

Instead he said his ambition was to get back into the Football League – something which will cost the club millions.

“We have come as far as we can as a fan-owned club,” he said. “We need a different direction for this football club to go forward. We are an embarrassment, a laughing stock in the football world.

“We have a great fundraising initiative that the supporters group is putting in place, and that should carry on. But we need stability.

“Unless I see something coming through the front door, like an investor, I can’t see us being here in the future.

“If we don’t have a playing budget similar to the professional clubs already in the club’s current league, we will not be able to compete. We need to have £400,000 playing costs to get promoted and could cost as much as £1m to continue pushing for promotion.”

Gray said he has spent the last two weeks speaking to investors who were prepared to “put their money where their mouths are”.

He added: “You have trusted me for five years, trust me and I will fulfil your ambitions. “We need to get the balance right, we need an investor to put 51 per cent and 49 per cent of fan ownership. We need sensible investors and a sensible board.”

He said with a 70 per cent win record the club was going forward, but if he had to cut player budgets it would only go backwards.

Earlier, DFC Supporters’ Group chair Wayne Raper called for unity among fans to help drive the club, and not “rip the throats out of each other”. He walked out of the meeting at one point as a fan criticised the board, but returned minutes later.

The club’s directors appealed for calm as fans’ emotions ran high over the ground error.

The forum was also told that the club is facing an operational loss of £80,000 this season. Promotion would bring in an extra £50,000, but would cost £500,000, it was said.

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