Darlington the latest non-league side to head to Europe for pre-season
Once upon a time, European trips with club football teams were only for those who qualified for the elite competitions.
Now every major Premier League side tours abroad most summers, as much for commercial value rather than concentrating on actually preparing their players for the coming season.
However, now even teams in non-league are making journeys abroad, so it further brings into question the point of these pre-season adventures
The latest non-league team to travel; Darlington. Since being demoted to the depths of English football, the Quakers have been a fan-owned club that have quickly risen back through the divisions, now sitting in the National North, two levels below League Two. Manager Tommy Wright took over in late 2017 but quickly used his contacts to arrange a friendly this weekend against PSV’s second string.
It was the first time Darlington had played outside the UK in over 40 years. In the Netherlands, similar to Spain, their biggest sides have B teams in the second tier who can’t get promoted to the top level. Jong PSV are one of these teams.
While the actual gains of the trip on the pitch can be questioned for a non-league club, off it the results have been fantastic. Firstly, for the players, they had a weekend away which was as much about bonding together as playing football; especially with a host of new players that have joined the club over the summer. However, they were also given a challenge on the field against a very good, young, technical side; the type which they would not come up against in England.
For the fans, it has been something they will never forget. Around 300 made the trip over from the North East of England; an incredible achievement for a side who averaged 1456 last season. After the game, on the Saturday night, the players and management teams joined the fans in bars around Eindhoven. It really showed the club together as one which is the most important thing for Darlington. A fan-owned club when the financial input means everything, this can only boost the team to new heights.
They are far from the first non-league side to do something similar; with other sides from the National leagues having done it before.
The very elite clubs now travel to all parts of the globe to take part in high profiles tournament against the world’s best with commercial revenue being the number one priority. Why wouldn’t they when to compete at the top level these days? Increasing the money coming into a club is key, in the long run, they can gain fans from all over the world, even if it isn't the best preparation on the pitch.
This was the best argument against a winter break being brought in, with fears that some clubs would use the time as another pre-season and see it as a money-making opportunity to play high profiles friendlies.
Non-league is a different world to those at the top level of the game. Part-time sides would never have previously dreamt of going to Europe for a friendly game, but in 2018 it is possible. As long as it for the right reasons and helps the club overall it has to be a good thing.
Ultimately, Darlington lost the game 3-1 but that didn’t matter. It will be interesting to see if the club does a similar trip abroad next pre-season.