Darlington FC face being banned from the play-offs due to a technicality on the number of seats in their ground.
The club are currently fifth and in a play-off spot in National League North.
However, they have been told by the National League that they will not be able to compete for promotion if they finish the season in a play-off spot.
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Officials say there is now a rule requiring clubs to have 500 covered seats at their new ground at Blackwell Meadows.
The requirement for playing in the National League comes into force from May.
The club is appealing the ruling.
Here is the club’s statement in full:
The Board has now received confirmation from the National League that the club will not be allowed to participate in the National League North play-offs. The requirement to have 500 covered seats across two stands as at 31 March 2017 came about as a result of a change to the Ground Grading rules in May 2016 which was not picked up at the time of the development of Blackwell Meadows. The Board will be appealing against this decision and is liaising with Poole Town FC who are in a similar situation.
The rules prior to May 2016 allowed temporary seating to be used for the play-offs as long as the club could show that it had obtained planning permission and had detailed plans to construct a permanent seated stand – which we of course do. To this end the Board obtained quotes for the relocation of the seating currently residing at Heritage Park which belongs to the Club in order to satisfy the requirement.
This change in the requirement for permanent covered seating was only brought to the Board’s attention in the past couple of months. By the time the Board was fully aware of the requirement, it was not able to act because of the timescales involved and the lack of funds available. In order to be able to meet the seated stand requirements, an additional round of fundraising through the Community Share route has a lead time of at least 6 weeks to prepare the offer and then an unknown amount of time to raise the estimated requirement of £150k, plus the actual construction time for the additional seats. We understand that an absolute minimum of 12 weeks would be needed – time that just wasn’t available once the Club had finally moved into Blackwell Meadows.
Unfortunately, and in any event, the budget for the development of Blackwell Meadows would not have extended to a further covered seated stand. As was revealed in the narrative to last year’s accounts, the actual cost of moving back to the town was significantly greater than had been budgeted. Additionally, there have been running costs associated with the operation of Blackwell Meadows, for example increased security and stewarding, which have been insisted upon by Safety Advisory Group, which costs have not been met by an increase in crowd numbers attending, save for the first game against FC Halifax Town.
At the time of deciding on the move to Blackwell Meadows, every alternative option was considered and progressed, but ultimately Blackwell Meadows was the only viable solution.
The Board has not tried to avoid its responsibilities, nor keep information from fans. We hope that there will be an understanding that every difficult issue the Board has to deal with cannot be debated in public, and the Board is committed to sharing information with fans as soon it is considered to be in the best interests of the club. The Board of the Supporters Group, the club’s majority shareholder, is regularly updated on developments.
Understandably, our manager, Martin Gray, is very frustrated at this situation, as the incredible efforts of the players and coaching staff will not give us the chance of promotion this year unless the appeal is successful and we are allowed to participate in the play offs.
We are as disappointed as everyone else that our success on the field is not reflected in our ability to move to a higher level at this time. But we would remind everyone that had we thought that we would be playing back in our home town, in the second tier of the non-league pyramid, under our original name, and all within five years of that fateful day in 2012, not many would have had faith in that dream.
The Board is now working with the Supporters Group to set a five year plan to develop the ground at Blackwell Meadows, in conjunction with DRFC, which we hope will meet the ambitions of the manager and players and playing staff, all of our volunteers, the Board, and most importantly of our fans and the people of Darlington and the surrounding area.
The Board and the Supporters Group thank everyone who has helped to get our club to where it is and we hope that, in overcoming inevitable but hopefully occasional disappointments, we can continue on our journey to rebuild and re-establish our club where it belongs, back in the Football League.