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Durham City AFC: The start of a revival or too late to save?

Former Newcastle United midfielder and current owner of Durham City AFC Olivier Bernard has received pleas from fans of the club to sell up, following a turbulent week for the Wearside League outfit.

‘The Citizens’ had announced their resignation to the Wearside League and Durham FA on last Monday night after years of turmoil on and off the pitch, but a hectic week resulted in them being reinstated following a meeting between Durham FA and Bernard himself.

Frenchman Bernard, who made nearly 150 appearances for Newcastle, has been the owner of Durham’s oldest club since 2013, but years of steep decline has left the club – who were just three divisions away from the Football League in 2008 and receiving gates of around 1,000 – now homeless and bottom of the Wearside League, having lost all 13 of their league games this season and conceding 128 goals in the process.

The club have been playing their home games at Leyburn Grove in Houghton-Le-Spring this season – eight miles from Durham, but have also previously been ground-sharing with Consett AFC and more recently Northern League Division Two side Willington AFC, who say they are owed upwards of £2,000.

In 2021 the general running of the club was handed over to Australian Sports Management Firm Zenith Sports, with Chris Tanner becoming the figurehead of the club. The club’s official Twitter account has been very active in recent months, and has often replied to fans or people who have criticised the running of the club.

But in a revelation last Monday evening, Durham’s resignation from the Wearside League was followed by Bernard seemingly suggesting he had parted ways with Tanner and Zenith Sports and that they would have no part to play in the future of the club:

Since that tweet some week ago, a statement from the Wearside League confirmed that they had met with Bernard and announced that The Citizens previous resignation from the Wearside League had been withdrawn, however the resumption of fixtures hinged on the full amount of money owed to Willington being paid along with a bond of £250 to the league which would be repaid once the season had been completed.

So after a hectic few days and an extremely miserable few years for fans of the club, is the future finally looking brighter for Durham City AFC? It certainly does appear that the first small steps are being made to revive this proud community team. A new social media page for the club has been made, which has allowed chairman Gary Hutchinson – a local councillor by day – to announce the arrival of a new manager, assistant manager and goalkeeping coach, as well as key figures to support the running of the club behind the scenes.

Following these recent developments, a spokesperson for Save Durham City AFC explained that they feel they are by no means out of the woods: “For me, 50% of the problem remains as Olivier Bernard has said he will not invest and will not sell the club. Bernard has overseen two relegations, he made the club homeless and allowed Zenith Sports to run the club when it was obvious they were unsuitable and damaging to the club.

“The call to arms that has gone out has been done numerous times over previous years and sadly they are rearranging deckchairs on the titanic. Still no money, still no home, and the goodwill of those people – who I respect for helping, is a shield for Bernard.”