As a city of 65,000 with established transport infrastructure, a fine sporting tradition and dozens of towns and villages within twenty minutes’ drive, it’s fairly surprising that Durham does not currently have a professional men’s football club.
Although much larger cities like Wakefield and Salford are also not home to a club playing in the Football League (maybe next year, Scholesy), other smaller towns and even villages have clubs currently playing in the Football League.
The likes of Forest Green Rovers of League Two (Nailsworth, Derbyshire – 8,000), Fleetwood Town of League One (Fleetwood, Lancashire – 25,000) and Burnley of the Premier League (Burnley, Lancashire – 73,000) are all based in fiercely competitive footballing regions like County Durham, yet are successful and well-supported.
In fact, Durham isn’t really even home to a men’s football club anymore. Whilst Durham Women’s Football Club are riding high in the second tier of English women’s football, the city’s other footballing namesake, Durham City AFC, have been groundsharing this season with Willington A.F.C. in Crook after being evicted from their ground at New Ferens Park in October 2015.
Despite concerns they might fold, they have committed to next season
In the season just gone, the club finished bottom of the Northern League Division Two, England’s tenth tier, nine points from safety after having to rebuild their squad halfway through the season.
Despite concerns they might fold, they have committed to next season and look set to remain in the Northern League despite being its worst performing club of 2018/19.
However, this has not always been the case.
Founded in 1918 after the culmination of the First World War, The Citizens initially played in the Victory League and the North Eastern League before being elected to join the newly formed Third Division North of the Football League in 1921 despite a mid-table finish in the previous season.
Durham could unfortunately only claim to be home to a Football League club for seven years as, after finishing second-from-bottom in 1927/28, were voted out of the league by fellow member clubs in favour of Carlisle United.
The club subsequently returned to the North Eastern League, a league where their fortunes didn’t fare much better than in the Third Division North. Having been renamed as City of Durham in 1933, three successive bottom three finishes between 1934/35 and 1936/37 were followed by a bottom-placed finish in 1937/38 which saw the club drop into the Wearside League.
There they would only last until November 1938, however, as the club were forced to fold following financial difficulties and the introduction of greyhound racing at the Holiday Park Ground, located where the Radisson Blu Hotel is today.
The club was re-established as Durham City AFC in 1949 and re-joined the Wearside League, a league they would leave for the Northern League after two seasons. The Citizens flirted with relegation from the League’s Division One until 1984, a point after which the club alternated between Division One and Division Two until 2007/08.
That season saw the club win a league and cup double and earn promotion to Division One North of the Northern Premier League, a league which they would be crowned champions of in their first ever season. However, after only two games in the Northern Premier League, City’s main sponsor withdrew financial support.
With no funds for player expenses, academy players aged between sixteen and eighteen stepped in to ensure the club fulfilled its remaining fixtures. A bottom-placed finish was the inevitable, relegation-securing outcome.
Despite two successive mid-table finishes in Division One North, Durham resigned from the league at the end of the 2011/12 season and re-joined Division One of the Northern League. Four seasons later, a finish in the bottom three resulted in relegation to Division Two, the league in which the club have remained ever since.
Their slump to a bottom-placed finish this season has been a disappointing one but, with the club’s committee looking to rebuild the squad and acquire playing facilities in the City of Durham, here’s to hoping competitive and successful men’s football will return to the city before too long.
Image: JamesBoyes via Flickr