DAFTS celebrated its 25th anniversary in the 2019/2020 season, but who are they? What’s the story behind the social media presence? How were they formed and what do they do? Well, stay tuned, all those burning questions are about to be answered thanks to Tony Waters...
DAFTS was founded back in the winter of 1994 by the sadly departed Bob Barnes, a Darlo fan living in the Midlands. He got the idea for the name after hearing of a Rochdale exiles fan-club run by former students in the south west – Bath University Rochdale Keen Supporters (BURKS) and, from an initial pre-FA Cup tie meeting, the Darlington Away Far Travelling Supporters (DAFTS) was formed.
The original aim was to bring together far-flung and exiled fans, provide suggestions for meeting up before games and help with any offer of lifts.
From then and for a number of subsequent years, the hard work of Darlo fan Neil Johnson (London, Aberdeen and, for many years, Norway!) and his trusty notebook, ensured the "membership" grew. During those years you are likely to have been approached by Neil at away matches to identify where you were based and if it became apparent you were an exile, he’s likely to have given you a list of other exiles and taken your own contact details to be included on that ever-growing list.
From those pre-email and pre-internet days it grew into a social group. Friendships have been formed, while the group has contributed too in fund-raising and sponsorships over the years.
Since the Summer of 2001 we’ve also had a website presence, thanks to the ongoing time and dedicated effort of Steve Duffy as webmaster and the huge library of photographs taken and stored by our hirsute photographer Ted Blair. We also had an email group of exiles but the advent of WhatsApp and social media groups that group has now been consigned to fading memories.
Despite a few seasons when Darlo were confined to mainly north of England games in the journey back through the non-league tiers, members of the group have met up regularly at away games – and some at home matches; those meets invariably revolve around football, curry, pork scratchings, beer and some generally wide of the mark suggestions of how the club can move forward.
The group has helped put fans in touch to help share travelling costs, or just help provide a focus for meeting in the pub or on the more scenic trips or weekends away. Finding the right decent pub before matches has been important. There has also been a shared love of real ale/craft beer, so there is some serious research (which ends up in our online away guides) for fans looking for help in maximising their day out.
As well as “weekenders” at some matches, from seaside towns to London, we have been on pre-season tours to the Isle of Man in 2000 and 2002 and Ireland in 2001.
There is no longer an email list of “members”, but we will advertise and share any offers of lifts, transport and meet-ups. In non-pandemic days we try to meet for as many Saturday away games as possible, meeting at researched and recommended pubs and use those days to plan our ever-popular weekenders.
If you see us at a match, feel free to come and say hello; we’re not actually as grumpy as we look. A safer and more distanced option, though, is to follow us on twitter at @DAFTS.