At the end of the 2008/2009 season Darwen Football Club ceased to exist after the club was wound up due to bad debts. One of the previous owners had systematically destroyed the club financially but, also discredited its reputation within the town which resulted in lower attendances and a reduction in the number of volunteers that gave up their valuable time to help keep the club running. With debts in excess of £60.000 it was inevitable that the club could not survive; fortunately the team managed to fulfil all of their fixtures in the 2008/09 season before the club was wound up.
It was decided that Darwen still had the desire to field a town team, and although various people had left the club; meetings began to take place to discuss the future of Darwen Football Club. Derek Slater, former club secretary and reserve team manager of Darwen FC, had already set the ball rolling by forming AFC Darwen, a not for profit organisation.
The lease was then secured back from the local council and AFC Darwen rose from the ashes.
THE FORMATION OF AFC DARWEN
The F.A. instructed that AFC Darwen would start life at step 6 in the football pyramid, so their inaugural season began in the West Lancashire Football League. The aim of the club was to gain its place back in the North West Counties League, and go on to compete at a higher level. The club now had a good solid foundation, with 13 youth teams representing the club; which out of those 10 played on a Sunday in the East Lancashire Alliance and 3 teams competed on a Saturday in the Accrington and District Football League. With the age range from 7 to 15 year olds and with new teams to follow the infrastructure of the club was in a sound position to move forward. The club is now in the hands of people that live and breathe football, but more importantly understand what it takes to run a club at this level.
AFC Darwen’s first ever game took place at the Anchor ground on Saturday 11th July 2009 in a pre-season friendly against AFC Liverpool from the North West Counties League with Darwen winning 3-0, and when the team’s first competitive match resulted in a 3-1 home defeat of Coppul United, things looked bright for the future. With high expectations of a good season AFC Darwen soon realised that life in the West Lancashire football league wasn’t going to be easy. Results over the first few games were inconsistent up until October 2009, after which the team went on a disastrous run of 8 straight defeats. With the realisation that the team was not progressing as expected, it was decided that a change in the management team was required. The difficult decision to replace Dennis Hill was made and Kenny Langford took over the reins as the first team manager. Results immediately improved and although the title was out of reach, at least the team could push on and try and finish in a respectable position. AFC Darwen finished 8th, with a record of 13 wins, 3 draws and 14 defeats, goals scored 42, conceded 54.
THE WEST LANCASHIRE FOOTBALL LEAGUE
At the end of the 2009/10 season AFC Darwen gained re-election back into the North West Counties Football League after achieving the required ground grading standards to compete at that level. The main aim of the club back in the NWCFL was to steady the ship and cement their place in the league. AFC Darwen finished 13th,, with a record of 9 wins, 10 draws and 12 defeats, goals scored 37, conceded. 62. A respectable position for their first season.
During the close season before the start of the 2012/13 campaign the structure of the club changed. Due to personal reasons and business commitments Derek Slater decided that he could no longer run both the senior and junior sides. It was decided that Kenny Langford would become the sole director of AFC Darwen; the structural change resulted in Kenny taking over the day to day running of the club, and the responsibility for the first and reserve teams.
This allowed Derek the time to focus on the development of the junior teams within the club. The changes helped the club the move forward more positively “not only on the pitch, but also on the development of the ground. AFC Darwen finished 5th, with a record of 20 wins, 3 draws and 11 defeats, goals scored 79, conceded 57. AFC also reached the semi-final of the 1st division trophy.
The 2013/14 season proved to be disappointing for the first team, finishing 9th, with a record of 15 wins, 7 draws and 14 defeats, goals scored 64, conceded 64. However they had successful cup runs; yet again reaching the semi-final of the first division trophy. They also reached the semi-final of the Lancashire Challenge Trophy narrowly losing to Chorley.
This was a major achievement with AFC Darwen being the first club at North West Counties league level to reach a semi-final in such a prestigious competition. The reserves under the leadership of Mathew Pilkington won the clubs first silverware by winning the reserve division cup; beating Irlam on penalties after the tie finished at 2-2 after extra-time.
It was also decided that for the club to progress the youth teams would have to be fully amalgamated to the club and play under the same L.F.A. Registration as the first and reserve teams
At the start of the 2014/15 campaign, not many could have predicted just how incredible the season would turn out to be. AFC Darwen got off to a good start and looked to be one of the favourites to gain promotion, however with the team competing well in the cup competitions and the weather starting to play havoc with the fixtures, Darwen soon found themselves with a mountain to climb. The club was dealt another blow when Kenny stepped down as manager due to personal reasons. “At least the majority of players remained at the club”
Nick Lloyd took over as caretaker manager for the remainder of the season. Although one or two players left Nick managed to strengthen the squad, and he also promoted players from the reserves. The club policy of fielding a reserve team proved pivotal towards the success of the first team at the latter stages of the season due to injuries and suspensions. After beating Ashton Town in the First Division Cup Semi-Final at the end of March, Darwen embarked on a mammoth 9 league games in just 20 days, winning 8 and drawing 1. This herculean achievement pushed the team into third place and into the enviable position of a home tie in the play off semi-final and final. With a 2-1 win against Chadderton, Darwen set-up an home tie against 4th place Hanley Town in the first ever NWCFL play off final.
What made the effort even more outstanding is that during the 20 day period Darwen played the league champions Atherton Collieries in the Reusch First Division Cup Final. It was to be a memorable night winning the cup with a fantastic 3 – 1 win against a very good side.
In front of over 840 spectators; the NWCFL biggest crowd of the season for a league game Darwen produced a stunning performance to defeat Hanley Town 5 – 3 and win promotion to the Premier league.
Not only did AFC Darwen do the double by wining promotion and division cup, other significant milestones where also achieved. No Darwen/AFC Darwen team had scored over 100 goals in a season since the NWCFL was formed in 1982, and two players scored 30 plus goals.
The total record for the 2014/15 season is as follows: 22 wins, 8 draws and 8 defeats, goals scored 110, conceded 64. Ryan Steele scoring 41 and Paul Coote getting 30.
The reserves also had success finishing 2nd in their first ever season in the East Lancashire Football League 2nd Division.
Everyone involved with the AFC Darwen new that the 2015/16 Season would be a big test for the club “no one could have envisaged the hardships to follow”
Peter Devine, ex-professional player took over as first team manager; however after just one pre-season friendly Peter resigned “Possibly the shortest appointment in the history of football” The season started with Nick Lloyd and Matt Pilkington at the helm as the caretaker management team.
Pre-season didn’t go well with some heavy defeats and it was clear that it would be a long and difficult campaign. The season started off with only 3 points from the first six games, during that period AFC Darwen went out of the Emirates FA Cup, losing 2-1 at home to Washington “On paper this was a game that the team was expected to win” this was major blow to the club financially. Part way through the season the reserves reigned from the league due to lack of players which left the first team short of resources.
AFC Darwen then appointed a new management team, bringing in Neil Prince and Neil Black. Neil Prince an ex-professional had previous managerial experience with Bootle and Prescott Cables and brought a wealth of experience and knowledge. AFC Darwen picked up 16 points from a possible 36, during this period. AFC lost against West Auckland Town in the FA Vase at home 4-2 another game they were expected to win.
Towards the end of Neil Prince’s reign the team suffered some heavy defeats losing 5 games in row including the West Auckland game, AFC Darwen conceded 24 goals, which pulled them right into the relegation fight. During this period it was evident that there was significant unrest in the camp and people felt like the team was starting to lose its identity, so the difficult decision was taken to replace the management team.
In came Paul Marriot along with assistant Scott Campbell. Paul had previous experience at local side Eagley. During his time at Eagley, Marriott built up the club throughout a successful five years before he returned in 2013 as director of football. Throughout the five years he culminated the winning of the League Cup, the Bolton Hospital Cup and the Lancashire Shield which is seen as being one of the most prestigious cups in the county for amateur football teams, he also took them to second in the West Lancashire Premier Division.
Paul didn’t get off to a good start, going out of the MEN United cup to AFC Blackpool 3-1 at home. Out of the 13 games in charge AFC only recorded 2 victories. during this period AFC Darwen conceded 49 goals and continued to struggle near the bottom end of the table, on their current form they were destined for relegation back to the first division. After the 3-1 home defeat to Congleton Paul resigned as first team manager.
Scott Campbell “the fifth manager in a turbulent season” took over, however the club recognised that he required some support; in came Adam Douglas who for some reason had been overlooked by the previous manager after suffering from injury earlier in the season. The impact on moral was immediately evident and the team had regained the will and desire to fight for survival. Although they lost their first two games in charge performances significantly improved and you could feel the sense of desperation lift from around the ground. The relegation fight went right to the end; going into the last game of the season AFC Darwen required a draw or win to secure premiership football. AFC Darwen produced a fine performance, beating Cammell Laird 1907 4-1 to maintain their status.
With 13 games left it looked unlikely that they would survive, but the whole management team along with the players played a significant role in changing the fortunes of the club ” a massive achievement” AFC Darwen finished 18th, winning 12 (5 of which were down to Scott Campbell and Adam Douglas) 7 draws and 23 defeats, scoring 82 league goals and conceding 111.