Chief executive officer David Johnston is confident Darlington would survive a complete shutdown of football despite fearing some clubs could be plunged into major difficulties.
The Quakers’ Vanarama National League North fixture against Farsley Celtic went ahead as planned at Blackwell Meadows on Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 1,318 – up 135 on their last home outing – despite the Premier League and the English Football League suspending all their games amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
However, Johnston is expecting future matches to be postponed and while the implications – for a fan-owned club working their way back up the league pyramid, following demotion to the Northern League in 2012 after a third spell in administration – could be significant, he remains bullish over their future.
Asked if Darlington could survive a lengthy shutdown as they continue to emerge from one of the most testing periods in their 137-year history, he told the PA news agency: “Absolutely, 100 per cent.
“It’s not a risk. The fans are fantastic here, I can support the club as well if need be.
“A lot of the clubs at our level have rich benefactors who are putting money in. We are a fan-owned club, so the funding that comes in from that comes from fans’ donations every year.
“We boost the budget every year. The fans have done a fantastic job raising a seven-figure sum over the last five years in relation to supporting the club.
“But the key thing for us is matchday revenue and if you’re not playing games, you’re not getting crowds in, your cashflow does get tight.”
If part-timers Darlington, whose typical matchday revenue amounts to between £6,000 and £7,000, are hopeful of negotiating an enforced lay-off, Johnston admits many clubs outside of the Premier League could find their resources stretched.
While acknowledging that public health has to be the overwhelming priority, he said: “If you look outside the Premier League, the Championship clubs and all the way down, look at the accounts of any club, it’s tight. It’s always tight for every club.
“Particularly at our level, cash is king. We set budgets at the start of the year and it’s based on projected revenue. We have got players on contracts so these are very interesting times.
“Fortunately, our FA Cup run this year gave us some insulation against that, but it’s how long does it go on for? Our players are normally contracted for 41 weeks, under contract to the end of April.
“We’ve got cash reserves that can see us through but if it continues for months and months and months up to Christmas, then it’s going to be tight.”
On the pitch, Alun Armstrong’s men may well have been forgiven for wishing the game had been postponed.
They led 1-0 and 2-1 through Omar Holness’ strike and an Adam Campbell penalty ether side of Dave Syers’ equaliser, but ultimately went down 4-2 as James Spencer, Syers and Adam Clayton wrapped up victory for the visitors.
Armstrong was unhappy with both the goals his side conceded and the chances they squandered, but more so that the game had been played in the first place after admitting he “could not believe” it was on.
He said: “The game being on today was probably a little bit of a daft thing to do, but I think the FA hung the National League out to dry, to be honest.
“I just think the FA should have made the decision full-stop. The Scottish FA made the decision, the Welsh FA, all the FAs in other countries have made the decision to stop it at all levels.
“The National League, if you look, it’s been ever so silent, the Twitter feed, everything has gone silent. They said the games would go ahead and then everything went quiet and the clubs were left to make their own decisions.
“Unfortunately, clubs need the finances, so some want to play the games if there aren’t any symptoms. But then integrity of the game comes into it because some have called it off and they’ve got a game on Tuesday.
“It is baffling. I feel for the National League, I think they were hung out to dry a little bit by the FA, but they probably should have just followed suit.
“We’ve got to think of people’s health first and foremost, that’s the most important thing.”