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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Snapshots - Dartford FC

Dartford vs Dover Athetic. Isthmian (Ryman) League Division One South, 9 December 2006, Princes Park Stadium. Score 1-1. Attendance 1,652
Only the fourth game at Dartford’s much-heralded Princes Park Stadium (opened on 11 November 2006) saw them host Kent rivals Dover Athletic and, with both clubs in the top four, a tight game was always on the cards. PP was well represented, with regular contributor Nick Mattlock joining me for my visit.

The official attendance of 1,652 was arguably a little optimistic and certainly, some 20 minutes before kick-off there was nowhere near this many in the ground. However, this may have been due to an unforeseen shortage of turnstile operators that apparently led to some long queues outside (why do supporters insist on arriving at the last minute for big games?) and the crowd did swell appreciably by kick off time. I am not aware of any ‘serious history’ between the two sets of fans but segregation had been recommended by the local authorities, largely based on rumour rather than any factual evidence of likely bother. Segregation was duly achieved by way of a couple of symbolic pieces of tape policed by a couple of stewards (Dover brought their own) and, if any undesirables had been intent on causing trouble, this certainly wouldn’t have deterred them.

In the end, all this achieved was to prevent Dover supporters from using the main bar (there was a function being prepared in the other one which precluded it). Although there were a few varieties of the local pond life who attempted to wind up the visiting fans by getting as near as they could (or dared) before hurling abuse; a trio of young ‘Chavettes’ who spent most of the first half shouting “Dover are s*!t” (see pink tracksuit pic below); and a larger group of spotty baseball-capped herberts who stoned the visiting supporters’ coach before running away very quickly, the afternoon passed off without serious incident as far as I am aware. It was rather slow getting out of the car park afterwards with no stewards to assist initially (some were chasing the mini-Chavs); however, one assumes that with experience this will be more effectively managed.

Predictably, there were a few less than complimentary comments about the new ground from Dover fans but in Dartford’s defence, Princes Park is a new stadium attracting large attendances, and to some extent teething problems are to be expected along the learning curve. The Public Address system is undeniably poor in some areas whilst the catering and toilet facilties appeared inadequate and left a little to be desired (the former was even worse at the home end incidentally if any disgruntled Dover fans happen to be reading). However, no doubt these, not to mention the floodlight alignment (the corners are rather dim) will be improved before the end of the season.

On a more positive note, the ground is well-designed generally and I appreciated it more the more I walked around it (the perimeter walkways behind the seats / terracing make this very easy), watching from different vantage points. Too many new Non League grounds are bland, on-the-cheap ‘flat-pack’ builds and Princes Park certainly doesn’t fall into this category.

As for the match: well, although they started the game three points behind their hosts, Dover (blue) also had three games in hand and were by far the better team in the first half. They began very strongly and took a deserved lead through Craig Wilkins on 14 mins (see pic below). In a game that was certainly ‘competitive’ at times, Dartford came out strongly after the interval but again Dover’s midfield took control and the visitors really should have sealed the victory instead of wasting a couple of good opportunities. All credit to Dartford however, who kept plugging away and got their reward deep into stoppage time when Brendan Cass, who had scored the very first goal at the new ground, netted the equaliser. DB