ON SATURDAY Darlington 1883 will play their first game in The Northern League, marking an end to a tumultuous year which started with Darlington FC going into administration on January 3.
There has been a long journey from administration to becoming Darlington 1883.
Andrew Cawkwell, head of the special situations team at Newcastle law firm Muckle LLP, advised Darlington Football Club Rescue Group and latterly Darlington Football Club 1883 Limited.
He got involved after Darlington MP Jenny Chapman invited him to attend a meeting.
Following that, the Darlington Football Club Rescue Group was born, and Cawkwell got to work with his colleagues looking at ways to help the administrator to carry on running the club and find opportunities to sell it.
The club’s administrator, Harvey Madden, wanted to sell the business within 14 days, which meant the pressure was on as the deadline for finding a buyer was January 18.
With no bidders coming forward, the Rescue Group decided to hand £50,000 to the administrator. Half came from the owners of the club's stadium and half was raised by fans.
The rescue group then formed a new company – Darlington Football Club 1883 Ltd (DFC) – to buy the business and assets and then looked to raise money to secure its future with an online platform.
“It was a novel way of raising business finance,” said Cawkwell . “We put up a pitch online, so people could invest in DFC and we raised £335,000 in 14 days”
When the exchange of contracts occurred on February 15, DFC had exclusivity to complete the transaction on or before April 30, giving it time to complete due diligence, organise the lease of the stadium and complete the application to transfer the rights to play football with the Football League.
One of the most complex aspects of the work was transferring the licence to play football so the new club could continue to play in the league. Football League rules state that the shareholder of the club which holds the membership must give permission to transfer it to another company.
To maintain the club’s standing in the Football League, the ‘old’ club also had to exit the administration into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) and pay all creditors.
“It became impossible to find a way to resolve the issues over the Football League membership and satisfy the CVA before April 30 – which was the deadline for completing the deal. It was a very difficult time. Saving the club became uncertain,” Cawkwell said.
However, a compromise was found and the deal completed three days later on May 3.
Darlington 1883 have moved away from the 25,000-seat stadium in Darlington and will ground-share with Bishop Auckland this season.