The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - By Matt Bad­cock

MARTIN GRAY ad­mits be­ing told Dar­ling­ton couldn’t com­pete in last season’s National League North play-offs left him ques­tion­ing his longterm fu­ture as man­ager – and meant that when York City of­fered him their job it was the right time to take a new chal­lenge.

York axed Gary Mills last Satur­day just hours af­ter they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Step 4 South Shields, and quickly moved to ap­point Darlo boss Gray as his suc­ces­sor the fol­low­ing day.

It’s been a tu­mul­tuous cou­ple of sea­sons for the Min­ster­men. De­spite lift­ing the FA Tro­phy at Wem­b­ley in May, it came on the back of a sec­ond suc­ces­sive rel­e­ga­tion as they tum­bled out of the Foot­ball League and straight through the National League to Step 2.

Gray, who ar­rives at Bootham Cres­cent with new sport­ing di­rec­tor Dave Pen­ney, feels the time was right for him to move on from Dar­ling­ton af­ter five years.

The for­mer Sun­der­land mid­fielder was the club’s first ever man­ager af­ter they re­formed as Dar­ling­ton 1883 from the ashes of the pre­vi­ous club.

Start­ing in the North­ern League, they won three pro­mo­tions and reached two play-offs. But last season they were barred from com­pet­ing in the National League play-offs be­cause their new Black­well Mead­ows home didn’t have the re­quired num­ber of seats to meet ground-grad­ing re­quire­ments.

Gray, 46, who led calls for the club to ac­cept out­side in­vest­ment to progress, says that hit him hard – but he won’t let it over­shadow a re­mark­able five years in charge.


“I took a club from noth­ing – no team, no play­ers – and I’ve dragged us through the leagues,” he told The NLP. “And I mean dragged us through be­cause it’s been a real, real chal­lenge. A jour­ney – three pro­mo­tions and two play-offs in five sea­sons.

“It’s been great, but a lot of hard work went in and I’m re­ally, re­ally proud of where the club is. It wasn’t just me; the man­age­ment team that came in to help me gave sta­bil­ity. They’ve had to keep rein­vent­ing the wheel ev­ery 12 months on the back of pro­mo­tions. Play­ers in, play­ers out, play­ers in, play­ers out. We’ve done that for the last five years.

“There’s been a mas­sive turnover of play­ers to get us where they are to­day. That takes a lot of en­ergy.

“When we got to the play­offs last year and the club didn’t meet the league rules for the seats, that re­ally kicked me un­der.

“I was very, very dis­ap­pointed. It was at that stage I re­ally con­sid­ered, ‘Which is the right way to go for­ward now?’

“But lis­ten, Dar­ling­ton’s given me un­be­liev­ably fond mem­o­ries and I’m very grate­ful to be given the op­por­tu­nity be­cause it’s very close to my heart. I’ve been there 15 years, on and off since 2000. It’s a re­sult I will be look­ing out for at quar­ter to five Satur­day, ev­ery Satur­day, for as long as I’m a foot­ball per­son.”

Gray re­turned to Dar­ling­ton to sign Eng­land C de­fender David Fer­gu­son and striker Mark Beck could fol­low, al­though an ap­proach for keeper Adam Bartlett was knocked back.

And the boss says pro­mo­tion has to be the aim this season.

“They’ve got a fan­tas­tic chair­man, who ab­so­lutely de­serves bet­ter than what he’s got,” Gray said. “He’s put ev­ery­thing into this club, ev­ery­thing. When I had the chance to speak to him it didn’t take any con­vinc­ing. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the op­por­tu­nity to try and give some­thing back to the city.

“I’ve said to the boys, ‘We are where we are. It’s a fresh start for me, for you. I’ll judge you on the train­ing ground. You’ve got to give me ev­ery­thing, I’ll give you ev­ery­thing and if you don’t, we won’t work’. “I’ve al­ways worked by that rule. We’re not here to play around. We’re pro­fes­sional peo­ple and you’ve got to make sure when you go out to train or play, you’ve got to give ev­ery­thing to me. I won’t ac­cept any­thing but that.” Dar­ling­ton ini­tially ap­pointed Brian Atkin­son and Sean Gre­gan as Gray’s re­place­ment but just four days later they stepped down af­ter a con­flict of in­ter­ests fell foul of FA rules. Atkin­son is also a di­rec­tor of the Martin Gray Foot­ball Academy (MGFA) so he chose to leave Dar­ling­ton in or­der to keep that role. Gre­gan, who ac­cord­ing to the North­ern Echo was of­fered a six-month con­tract to be sole man­ager but turned it down be­cause he too would have to leave his role at MGFA, has also left. First-team play­ers Gary Brown and Phil Turn­bull have been placed in tem­po­rary charge while the club look for a long-term ap­point­ment.

PIC­TURE: Chris Booth

GLORY DAYS: Martin Gray cel­e­brates win­ning the North­ern Premier ti­tle as do his play­ers, inset

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