Turnbull hails Quakers special night
A comprehensive win, an outstanding performance, a title win and most importantly another step up the non-league pyramid.
Thursday was a historic night for Darlington as their 7-1 win over Whitby Town sealed a remarkable Evo-Stik Northern Premier League title, meaning they will return to their hometown next season with National League North football on the agenda.
Quakers midfielder Phil Turnbull missed the game against the Seasiders with an injury suffered during the club’s heavy backlog of fixtures.
However he was at the Turnbull Ground, as he paid tribute to his Quakers team mates for the effort they have put in over the past eight months.
“It was a massive occasion for the club, it was a big win and a big night.
“There has been a lot stacked against us this season with cancelled fixtures and a big backlog of games so to come through it all and win the league was something special.
“We are lucky in the sense that we have a good squad and the two weeks when we played four games, it took its toll.
“I got injured in those games but it has worked out where we had players to come in and do a job. It’s been a squad effort to get us to what we have achieved”
It has been a remarkable few weeks for the club.
They have overhauled leaders Blyth Spartans in the title race and confirmed that they will return to Darlington for the 2016/17 season.
A groundshare agreement with Darlington RFC has been put in place, meaning supporters no longer face travelling to Bishop Auckland for “home” fixtures.
With promotion and a return to their hometown now in place, Turnbull feels the club are well-placed to follow the example set by the likes of Chester as they make their way back up the league pyramid.
“Everything is coming together and we are moving back to Darlington.
“We are rising through the leagues and I have seen the likes of Chester do it. They have had to come back after making a new start and when you have that momentum it is hard for teams to beat you.
“That is what we are doing, it’s now three promotions in four years and it’s full credit to the lads that have been there for the whole time.
“It is a very special to be taking this club back to where it belongs”
And what of the man behind that rise up the leagues?
Darlington manager Martin Gray(pictured) took over the reformed club in 2012 and has led them to three promotions in just four seasons.
He will now be tasked with the job of planning their assault on the Vanarama National League North next season and Turnbull hailed the job done by the former Sunderland midfielder.
He said “He’s done an incredible job at the club. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
“On a personal level he was great with me when I broke my jaw, he helped me and supported me through that.
“On a team level he is just a winner, he installs that in his players.
“You look at the Whitby game when we were four up at the time and Graeme Armstrong is running forty yards to close a defender down.
“That is an example of a Martin Gray team and the mentality of the lads. He puts that into us and we just forget to lose”
The title win caps off a year of change for Turnbull.
This time last year he was rounding off a season as a key player at National League club Gateshead.
He took the decision to step away from the professional game to take up a career in teaching and took up an offer to go semi-professional with the Quakers.
And Turnbull admitted that after having such a successful season it has made him realise that the tough decision he took last summer was the correct one to make.
“We were saying in the changing rooms after the game that you have to enjoy these occasions because they don’t come around very often.
“It has been the cherry on the top because even if we hadn’t won the league, I know I made the right decision because I am loving teaching, I have loved the season with Darlington and it is exciting times.
Winning the league, getting in the Evo-Stik League team of the season was the cherry on the top of the cake”
There was a sense of disappointment in the Turnbull family after the Quakers title win.
Phil’s twin brother Stephen (pictured ) played in the first half of this season for Blyth Spartans.
He left the club in January to work as an engineer on an ocean liner but still remained hopeful that the Northumberland club could get promoted.
That stance is shared by Phil, a former Spartans loanee, as he revealed that he would be at Croft Park on Tuesday night as Tom Wade’s side play their Evo-Stik NPL play-off semi final.
“I spoke to Stephen last night.
“He is in Oman at the moment with work and I did ring him last night to let him know the score.
“It wasn’t to rub it in his face or anything like that, I will be Blyth’s biggest fan in the play-offs and I’ll be there on Tuesday night, as will some of the other Darlo lads.
“Stephen is disappointed, he was gutted after they lost against Skelmersdale and to be honest in any other season Blyth would have walked the league but I think they would agree that we were worthy winners in the end”
It has been doom and gloom in the North East when it comes to the professional game, apart from Middlesbrough’s SkyBet Championship title bid.
Newcastle United and Sunderland are embroiled in a relegation battle that will surely see one of the two clubs relegated from the Premier League, while Hartlepool United had to rely on a late season surge to move away from the League Two relegation zone.
In the non-league scene things seem much brigher.
As well as the Quakers and Spartans title battle, Morpeth Town will look to continue the EBAC Northern League’s fine run in the FA Vase when they face Hereford on Non-League Finals Day on 22nd May.
Spennymoor Town will hope to emulate Darlington’s play-off final win twelve months ago as they prepare for the Evo-Stik NPL First Division North play-offs.
And in the Northern League Shildon look set to take the Division One title, while ambitious South Shields – Turnbull’s hometown club – are hitting the headlines and regularly attracting crowds of over 1,000.
Success bringing some relief to an all-too-gloomy region, and “long may it continue” says Turnbull.
“Other than Middlesbrough the professional ranks are really struggling in the North East but in non-league there is so much going on.
“There is ourselves, Spennymoor, Blyth, Morpeth in the FA Vase Final, South Shields and all that, they are giving the region a lift.
“The supporters have a connection with the players, they stand by them post-match and I think there will be a big rise in attendances in non-league in the region.
“Long may that continue”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)