DARLINGTON Mowden Park could be playing in the town’s arena as early as next month having finally got the keys for the 25,000-capacity venue.
The National Two North outfit completed paperwork for the stadium last Wednesday, and will tonight give their players a guided tour of their new home.
Co-coach Danny Brown said: “We have set up an office in the arena already, and it is up and running.
“It has been empty for a while now since the football club moved out, but we have finally got in there and got our base established. The pitch has been well looked after, the changing rooms are ready to go and it is an exciting time for us.”
Mowden’s fixture list sees them at home to Huddersfield on January 19 and against Bromsgrove on February 2, Brown stating: “We hope to be playing in the arena sooner rather than later, and will let people know once we have an exact date for the first game.
“There are already rugby posts there as a result of Gateshead Thunder having played a game against Halifax a while ago, so we are hopefully not too far away from getting in and holding our first match.
“Our members and players will get a chance before then to come in and see what the place has to offer, and everyone is buzzing.”
With their Yiewsley Drive ground already sold for houses the urgency around the move is understandable, especially with the club’s junior teams desperate to get onto the plentiful land around the arena following years of fighting for pitch space.
It is certainly a move which has raised eyebrows around the town, and in the wider rugby community.
“On the whole people have been very supportive, and we have had loads of calls asking us about using the arena for various events and all the rest of it,” said Brown.
“It is fair to say there was a lot of surprise when the news first broke about us buying the stadium, but I think a lot of people misunderstood our intentions.
“We had already sold our current ground for housing and had agreed a deal to buy another nearby site. That deal fell through late in the day, but doing nothing was not an option because we had already sold our land. We spoke to the council about what options were open to us, and it just happened to coincide with the arena and the land around it being available. We had very limited options in terms of other sites, but the arena was up for grabs and we have taken the opportunity.”
Keen to maximise the site in its new guise, Brown added: “The club have obviously got to make the venue work, and we are looking at how we can do that.
“We are in discussions with the RFU about staging games here like potentially England Saxons or England Women, which makes sense with their captain Katy McLean playing for the club.
“There are other things which we will look at in terms of how we get the most out of the stadium, and the guys who run that side of the club will have a good look at every option.”
Fully aware that swathes of empty seats will provide the backdrop for their home games, Brown insisted: “We just want to make the best of it, and we are not daft enough to think we will get 25,000 people in.
“We are looking at supporters being able to watch the game from the touchline rather than being up in the stands if they so wish, and we are seeing how we can do that.
“We know we are going to get stick for having empty stands and all the rest of it, but we hope our existing supporters will follow us here and help provide a decent atmosphere. It is a brilliant facility, and we would have been stupid not to take up the chance of coming here.
“The extra land around the arena makes sense for all the other teams we run, and it seems like people in the town are getting behind us.”
Last season’s promotion from National Three North and their grandiose new surroundings have combined to start talk of fanciful plans from those on the outside, with envious chatter around the circuit that Darlington Mowden Park are getting too big for their boots.
Brown batted back such notions, stating: “There are always people around the scene spreading rumours about Mowden paying players a load of money and all the rest of it, but they are absolute rubbish.
“We have a good bunch of talented young lads who are doing a fantastic job for us, and that is the way we are doing it.
“Where the future takes us we will just have to wait and see, but we are not going to be spending millions on wages and thinking we are a Premiership club.
“This season was always about consolidating in National Two North, and if we manage to get up a league into National One during the next five or so years then that would be a great achievement.”