IT has been quite a week for Craig Liddle. Sacked on Monday, he saw the club he loves brought back from the brink on Wednesday.
Unsure thereafter how official his reinstatement as caretaker manager is, he trained eight professionals – Paul Arnison and Graeme Lee being injury doubts – on Thursday and yesterday.
Today, administration-depleted Darlington host Fleetwood Town, second-top of Blue Square Bet Premier and 1-11 on to win it, having first been told by the Football Conference they could, then that they could not, take advantage of the offer of loan players from a number of clubs, including Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
To top it off, his boiler’s bust!
No wonder he’s struggling to sleep, but at least his club is “alive and kicking”.
Liddle has been overwhelmed by the support of volunteers, former club staff, the police and even an old mate, a Newcastle fan he hadn’t seen in years, who knocked on his door this week offering to sweep the Neasham Road changing rooms. And far from being overawed by this afternoon’s daunting challenge, he means to reward all involved with victory.
Two, in fact.
This morning, his youth team take on Lincoln City’s at Houghall College in Durham, before Liddle bolts down the A1 to prepare a side which yesterday met with administrator Harvey Madden to negotiate a three-game match fee.
Whether he will play an on-field part in that team himself depends, by his own admission, on a “worst-case scenario” but, having registered himself and reclaimed his old No 4 shirt, he is prepared, if not fully so.
Either way, here’s hoping he’s had a good night’s sleep.
“I’m shattered, I woke up at about 2am on Friday and had two or three hours when I couldn’t get back to sleep,” said Liddle, who has been allowed to sign 17-year-old Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford on loan. “Then my boiler broke down, I’ve got no heating or hot water in my house. So the wife and kids aren’t happy – they’re freezing!
“But I’m relieved that we’ve still got a club, we’re still alive and kicking.
“Now I’ve got a game to prepare for. It’s my job to put a team out to compete, and I’d like to think we can give Fleetwood a game.
“We haven’t been helped, the Conference initially allowed us to bring players in on loan, then they restricted us to under-19s only, then on Thursday night they told me I wasn’t allowed to bring anybody in, bar an under-19 goalkeeper.
“They’ve obviously had complaints from some other Conference sides, so people aren’t making it easy for us.
“There are two sides to it, obviously Fleetwood will think it unfair if we can bring players in. The sides around them will think it’s unfair that we can’t.
“But we’ve just got to do the best we can, and because of the type of person I am, and out of duty to the supporters and players, we’re going out there now to try and win a game. I won’t accept anything less than 100%, and I won’t get anything less than that. The lads have been magnificent.
“Now, every one of the young lads will be hoping to get a call into the first-team squad.
“It’s a different matter come five to three when they’re lining up to go out, because then the nerves kick in.
“But they’re a confident bunch, they’ve done exceptionally well as a youth team this year and when they do step in, the one thing I can guarantee is that they’ll give everything they’ve got.
“We’ll all do everything we can, the supporters will hopefully come along and enjoy the occasion, because they’ve still got a football club.
“It should be a special occasion but, me being me, I’m now fully focused on trying to get a result.”
THE Non-League Footballers’ Association is offering its support to Darlington’s players and staff, who can contact the NLFA’s player liaison/health consultant, Julie Worsick, at Julie@nlfahealthclinic.com for advice and assistance.