Durham City FC. The Citizens. Played in the Football League for eight years in the Twenties.

Now in 2021 they are barely playing at all. If Durham’s current incarnation was a boxing match the towel would have been hoyed in a long time ago.

What the hell has happened at New Ferens Park? It also involves a former United hero just for extra sauce in a shit sandwich of a situation. Where do I start?

Carlisle United will always be thankful for Durham City as they were elected at City’s expense all those years ago. Those re election days usually saw a Southern team brought in at the North East’s expense, so Durham must have been bad if the powers that be voted Carlisle in. I bet Portsmouth were over the moon.

That sort of sums that period up and after various name changes and rehashes they settled for an entirely acceptable Northern League career which saw them bobbing around from the fifties until they first won the title in the mid nineties and after being one of the leagues powerhouses for over a decade they moved to a brand new ground on the outskirts of an industrial estate which really set them up. In 2007 they romped to the title again with 107 points and this time took flight to the Northern Premier League.

This was a very, very good side which included the likes of Darlington’s hero Stephen Thompson and  swept before them and they immediately got promoted again up to the Premier Division and this is where the fun started.

New Ferens Park  was one of the first in the area to have a 3G pitch , making it multi use and along with the adjacent soccer dome it was the future. Money making and innovative.

This was twelve years ago though and not like it is  now when loads of clubs have 4g and international matches are played on them. The FA trusted them like you would trust Sweeney Todd if he asked you if you wanted a trim.

Any chance of progression was razored as well as it was made abundantly clear you were not moving up the leagues with fake pitches.

Durham’s then owner  got the message that the funds being pumped in were useless as they couldn’t get Conference football which if you look now is laughable but credible at the time.

He left leaving Durham to fend in that next season at a higher level and it was a disaster as all the highly paid players left leaving them to play a mix of juniors and old hands.

They lost nearly every game . So back to the Northern League with tails between legs.

Ex Mackem Richard Ord was manager as his involvement at the still lucrative Soccer dome meant they could attract at least new involvement.

That investment soon came and for fans of Durham City that day changed everything.

Olivier Bernard had retired in 2013 after a pointless second spell at NUFC. He wanted to coach, or manage but institutional racism being what it was, he got zero offers.

In December 2009 he admitted to the ‘Northern Echo’ that “No club was willing to give me a chance so I thought the best chance to progress was to own someone”

Bernard’s choice of club was Durham City to much fanfare , promising to get them back to where they were before the rug pitch was  pulled away from them.

The problems were waiting though and he didn’t actually own the ground or its surrounding areas, this created a right farce where City were often forced to move games because the pitch had been hired out to kids teams.

Next was Bernard at his stubborn best. “We don’t need the ground”(they did and still do ) and in 2015 they left and ended up at Consett and then Willington’s Hall Road ground. They remain there.

By now Durham were in the second division and Bernard had become a peripheral figure as his dreams of feeding north east youngsters to the ‘big 3’ was outed as unworkable at best or a load of balls at worst.

This went on for a few years with Durham getting worse and in 2019 Bernard said he was leaving Durham. They had no ground, no hope and he was citing work commitments rather than admitting everything he tried was disastrously bad. BUT, rather than cutting all ties and letting someone else have a go, companies house reveals Durham are owned by Bernard’s partner and have been for three years, before he announced he was leaving. Why on earth does he keep involvement? Its incredible, unfathomable and detrimental to anyone who wants to save the club. Another look at companies house reveals liabilities of £147,000 plus.

For a club playing out of town in front of 40 fans isn’t exactly attractive is it?

Durham desperately need to be back in the City.

Is it a case of he’s upset that many people he’s getting back at them by refusing to let go?

Unbelievably petty if it is, or is he trying? He seems a decent man with his involvement in give racism the red card.

Durham fans would give the world for him to give them the red card.

Covid saw Durham survive for two years in succession from relegation to the Wearside league but this season has seen the clubs nadir and no one can save them now.

They currently have one point from 21 games and a goal difference of minus 109. Stokesley’s league worst record is under threat and it would be a massive shock if they won a game.

Last season they experimented with bringing in a bunch of foreign players, students and young players who they thought might struck gold with. The bunch of Dutch, French and African players didn’t.

In fact the wacky idea hit its low when 8 foreign players were left stranded in Crook after a night match, miles from a base in Stockton and the Crook chairman had to get a taxi for them at 11pm.

Peter Mulcaster is a Northern League managerial legend. Big overcoat and he can polish any turd in this league. He lasted three weeks and this season they’ve had 4 managers.

Bernard is painfully absent and Durham’s whole club ethos is wrong. Shoestring doesn’t even cut it. The club is on life support and he doesn’t seem to care, harsh but he isn’t proving otherwise.

A deal to play at our old training ground at Maiden Castle was agreed only for it to mysteriously collapse and in October after rumours of covid mismanagement, the Northern League had enough.

Suspending them and making them pay a £1,000 bond which they get back if they fulfil fixtures in May. Who paid that is unclear but they are still here. I’m guessing one of Durham’s faithful volunteers who deserve medals.

You may have read about the game with Carlisle City when they lost 16-1. They were 4 down after 9 minutes and 8 down at half time. Fair play to who went over on a Tuesday but recent observers have said the players are simply not capable of playing anywhere near this level. At least they didn’t leave them in Carlisle.

Was Bernard or partner there? Nope.

The mental health of these players has to be brought in, surely.

Last time out they only lost 10-0 and in all honesty if Durham are still playing in the Wearside League next year it will be a miracle. Sad after 107 years that’s all they can hope for, but staggeringly bad mismanagement over the last decade has left the club on the brink and all the Durham fans that are left to rue the fact no one gave Bernard a coaching chance all these years ago.

Hope springs eternal though and South Shields were in a bad state playing at Peterlee in front of 40 fans ten years ago and look at them now.

Over to your Olivier!

SCOTT ROBSON