Football for the jilted generation


I’m heading towards Braintree on the A120 when I decide to engage my teenage daughters in polite conversation.  Of course, being plugged into the Apple grid they huff and puff as they have to take out their earphones.  “You know what Braintree is famous for?” I ask them.  Within seconds they have Googled the answer and Littlest Fuller tells me to “Smack my bitch up, you Firestarter”.  Yep, I walked into that trap didn’t I? The answer I was looking for was it was the ancestral home of John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States, rather than the town that spawned The Prodigy.

The plan today had originally been to head to Yorkshire for an afternoon as a Brighton fan at The McAlpi..doh…Galpha..sorry John Smiths in Huddersfield.  But eyebrows were raised by CMF, who politely pointed out the fact that  “20 out of the next 30 days out of the country and you still decide to spend a bloody Bank Holiday driving 4 hours each way to watch a game involving two teams you care nowt about”.  Granted, she did have a point and so I agreed to take the family shopping.  “What about a designer outlet place?  There’s one in Essex, only an hour away called Braintree Freeport”.  “Braintree, as in Braintree Town?” She’s quick is CMF.  “Erm, I think so”, “And I bet they are playing today aren’t they?”…Plan rumbled, but accepted.  You shall go to the ball Cinderella, albeit one at the Working Mens Club rather than the Palace.

With just three games left in the Skrill Conference Premier, three of the four Play-off spots are still up for grabs.  With Cambridge United confirmed as runners-up to Luton Town, five teams could realistically say they were still in with a shout at a shot at a place in the Football League.  Four of the five had Football League pedigree, albeit in Gateshead’s case it was over fifty years ago since they failed to gain re-election.  The fifth was Braintree Town.  And next week, on the final day of the season, the five (plus Cambridge United) all play each other.  No pressure at all then on today’s game.

13925498603_70b7a7255d_bWhen we last visited the Amlin Stadium (then Cressing Road) back in 2009 it was relatively basic for the Conference South.  Five years on and a new stand had been added at one end of the ground in order to pass the ‘A’ Ground Grading meaning that they could host Football League games but it still retains that Non-League feel.  There is space behind the south stand for expansion as well as land to the west.   Talk of a new stadium off the A120 has disappeared although should they reach the promised land it would undoubtably return.  Average crowds of less than 1,000 suggest that it may be an investment too far, but when was logic ever applied to football clubs (George Reynolds and Darlington anyone?).

Should the Iron reach the Football League they would join a small band of clubs who play in towns with a population of less than 45,000.  Accrington (35,000), Morecambe (33,000) and Fleetwood (25,000) are all towns that support clubs who have risen through the Non-Leagues although it is still possible that either Accrington Stanley or Morecambe could well return back there this season.  Braintree’s rise hasn’t been fueled by a rich benefactor in the case of Fleetwood Town but by hard graft and a manager who knows a thing or two about the game.

13925910364_93e4bbceda_bAlan Devonshire is a TBIR legend.  We’ve met him on numerous occasions since he dazzled English football as a flying winger for West Ham back in the 1980’s through to his stint as manager at Hampton & Richmond Borough.  Always willing to have a chat about football after the game over a beer, he doesn’t hold a grudge or any bitterness that his International career was curtailed by a serious knee injury, or that manager’s at clubs in the 92 haven’t had to learn their apprenticeship the same way he has, starting Maidenhead United fifteen years ago.  He took over at Braintree Town in the summer of 2011 after the club had won the Conference South and has kept them in the top half of the table for the last two seasons.  But this year could be the year that they move to the next level.

The visitors Dartford had their eyes on Premier League safety.  After a horrendous run of ten consecutive league defeats in late 2013, Dartford have had to fight against the spectre of relegation.  With a week of the season to go they were still in the bottom four, with a gaping goal difference that could be the deciding factor. The indulgence in chocolate over Easter would have to be put on hold for a few days yet.

With the female Fullers safely deposited at Braintree Freeport I walked to the ground, passing a police cordon (apparently someone was murdered close to the ground on Thursday night) and joined a long queue of fans at the turnstiles.  Had football fever ignited the locals?  Was Devonshire the true Firestarter?  Which manager would be able to Breathe easily? With both teams desperate for a win for completely different reasons it was bound to be a dull scoreless draw.

Braintree Town 1 Dartford 0 – The Amlin Stadium – Friday 18th April 2014
As the game entered the 94th minute and the home side holding onto their one goal lead, Dartford threw the ball into the box once again.   Suarez (Mikel alas not Luis)  saw his shot deflected away by Iron keeper Hamann diving to his right. The rebound went straight to Jim Stevenson who forced a second outstanding save and potentially three points that would bring ultimate joy to Braintree and despair to Dartford.  A Darts fan behind me turns to his mate “I’d rather we go down than bankrupt ourselves chasing an unsustainable dream”.

13925413343_76fd7b78a7_bIt wasn’t a classic, with some interesting tactics deployed by both teams that lead to frustration both on the bench and on the terraces.  Braintree liked to get the ball wide but virtually every single cross into the penalty area was played over the lone striker to the far post where there was no one attacking the ball.  Dartford on the other hand kept playing the ball through the middle where the two Braintree centre-backs snaffled out any threat.  Either instructions from the respective benches were not getting through or they simply didn’t see the error of their ways.

The Braintree fans weren’t big in number but made themselves heard in the covered terrace that ran along the side of the pitch.  Whilst the early possession gave them something to cheer about it took 25 minutes before the roof was raised when Kenny Davis picked the ball up 25 yards out and struck the ball sweetly, giving Alan Julian in the Dartford goal no chance.

At this time of the season fans are easily distracted by what is happening elsewhere.  Standing between the two sets of fans I was getting the stories from both ends of the table.  One set of fans were bemoaning the events unfolding at Alfreton Town where the Grimsby Town team coach had been delayed in traffic.  “S’not right innit” said one.  “They’ve got a competitive advantage ain’t they?”.  “I reckon they should stop our game until they catch up” (which would have meant a delay of around 40 minutes).  Of course our mastermind had forgotten the fact that Braintree play at 5:15 away at Barnet on Monday night, thirty minutes after all of their rivals games have finished.

Going back to the issue of the ground.  The official attendance was 1,200 – boosted by a fair contingent from Dartford, but it did seem that the club struggled.  Long queues to get in, get food, programmes sold out, a 15 minute wait for a beer at half-time.  Whilst you can never deny a club a place at a higher level, the fans will notice a massive difference in their match-day experience.  The club will have to jump through more hoops and comply to more rules (no changing ends at half-time for instance) than today.  Some of the reasons why people love the Non-League game will be swiftly and sharply curtailed.

13925386195_803c5bbcf0_bThe second half saw both teams try to play with more positivity.  The home side were causing Darts keeper Julian some concern, although not as much as the stick he was getting from the home fans behind the goal.  Julian had made the mistake in the first half to respond to “banter” and that immediately made him a target for all the wit and wisdom of the fans.  Any save was deemed a fluke or lucky.  When he called for a ball and failed to get it, he was derided with donkey chants. The lot of a goalkeeper.

Scores elsewhere meant at one point Braintree had risen into the play-off spots, so the three points became vital.  Despite the last-gasp scare they held on.  Three points kept the dream alive for the Iron and the nightmare a reality for the Darts.  It hadn’t been the best of games but it was a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine.  Oh, and I managed to pick up a couple of bargains at Freeport too.

 

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The Darts hit the bullseye of promotion after 26 years of hurt


I’ve never really hidden my admiration for the progress Dartford have made on and off the pitch in the past few seasons.  Just a year or so ago I waxed lyrical about my upbringing just down the road from Watling Street and my afternoons spent running around the terraces here..  Back in “the day” they were one of the top Non League teams in England, along with the likes of Wealdstone, Altrincham and Weymouth.  In an age when there wasn’t any automatic promotion to the Football League, the top non league clubs had to apply for election to the League each season and hope that the Football League Chairman were satisfied with the contents of the “envelopes”.  Consequently only seven clubs were elected into the league by this method, the last being 1978.

Dartford came close to making the step from the Non Leagues to the Football League on a number of occasions, the last one was in 1974 after they won the Southern League, and reached the final of the FA Trophy.  Ten years later, after the formation of the Football Alliance (basically now the Blue Square Bet Premier), they finished third, the highest place they have finished in their history.  Since then it was a tale of woe that saw them penniless and homeless in a space of a few years.  A nomadic existence followed at places like Erith, Thurrock and Gravesend before a local council with a vision stepped in, finding them a home back in the town. Continue reading

On the fourth day of Christmas – The best away fans


On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a set of away fans to make you proud as can be

Few teams these days really take a passionate away following wherever they go. Perhaps it is the cost of the tickets, the fact that fans are treated like criminals as soon as they step foot inside the ground or the simple blandness of most grounds now in England. However, outside of the Premier League there are some teams whose away support is legendary. In the 86 games we have seen in 2010 there have been some memorable away followings for a number of reasons, ranging from the single away fan from IP Bromma at Helsingborgs in March, to the thousands of York City and Oxford United fans that descended on Wembley Stadium in May for the Blue Square Bet Play off finals. But there can only be three winners in our 12 Days of Christmas awards….I give you the best away fans we saw in 2010.

FC Copenhagen – Whilst the team have dominated the SAS Superliga this season, finishing the first half of the season a mere 19 points ahead of 2nd place after just 19 games, FCK’s fans have certainly haven’t been bored in travelling all across Denmark to watch their team. A few weeks ago nearly a thousand fans travelled some four hours by train in appalling conditions to Randers where they stood on an open terrace in temperatures of minus 10 to cheer their team onto a comfortable 3-0 win. Whilst the passionate fans are often lost in the half empty 38,000 capacity Parken, away from home they generate serious noise on the road. The games against Brondby have been a tinderbox in the past few seasons, although the core of fans only want to support the team.

Dartford – Five years ago it was all doom and gloom for Dartford fans, facing another season in the Kent League, wondering where they would be playing their home games. But the one thing that never changed was the passionate core of support the club had. And it was the drive, commitment and enthusiasm of these fans, as with the case with AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and now FC Halifax Town, that the club have risen to where they are today. The first step was a stadium, the second was consistency off the pitch – again is it co-incidence that Dartford, FCUM and Wimbledon have risen up the leagues with the same man in charge? Even in the Kent League Dartford took hundreds of fans to the likes of Herne Bay and Lordswood, almost quadrupling the crowd in many instances. Last season we saw around 500 Dartford fans cram into Tonbridge Angels ground, not letting up their positive support for the team for the whole 90 minutes. Now just one step below where they should rightfully be, the fans can take massive credit for the role they have played in this rise from the ashes.

Ijsselmeervogel – A third tier Dutch game hardly sets the minds racing. It is the equivalent of a Blue Square Premier game in England. But when you have two teams from the same village, hell even sharing the same car park then you are onto a winner. Add in an inferiority complex that means both clubs will do anything to out do each other and you are sure to get a cracking atmosphere when they play each other twice a season.  A few hundred words here cannot do justice to the fans so head over to EFW to read about the whole event.

Daylight robbery


Lewes and Bonfires go together like Milton Keynes and roundabouts.  Bonfire festivities began when the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot was declared a national holiday. Celebrations in Lewes were not planned or carried out annually, but were more random events that were more like riots. They continued until they were banned by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth. However, they were reintroduced when King Charles II returned, but still on a random basis. Interest waned by the end of the 18th century but in the 1820s large groups of Bonfire Boys started celebrating with fireworks and large bonfires. Continue reading

One more step….


A proud club

The next few weeks could be pivotal moments in the history of Kentish football.  For far too long Gillingham have held the monopoly as Kent’s only league team but that could soon change.  Whilst Ebbsfleet fight with relegation after the glory years of the Myfootballclub.com ownership fade away there could be a challenge both from Dover Athletic who are poised for a play off spot to reach the Blue Square Conference after a long absence, as well as from Dartford who are just one game away from promotion to the Blue Square South.  Of course it is more than possible that Dartford may find themselves next season with local derbies against Ebbsfleet (should they be relegated) and Dover (if they fail to progress in the play offs).  Good times indeed.

The Fuller family have a long tradition of supporting Dartford as a second/third team.  As part of an article I have been researching about “My first game” my brother regaled me of a couple of classic stories from the early 1970’s when Dartford were in their golden period, including the club’s one and only visit to Wembley in 1974 for the FA Trophy final where they lost 2-1 to Morecambe. They also won the Southern League in that season which entitled them to apply for a place in the Football League, but with so many other clubs ambitions under the old “re-election” system they did not get enough votes for promotion.

It's all about the history

The following season they played a strong Wimbledon team in the Southern League which included Dickie Guy in goal (who was later to find fame in saving a penalty in a cup game versus Leeds United) and a certain Dave “Harry” Bassett who was sent off in a 2-0 defeat.  So what was special about this?  Well it was the club’s third game in four days over the Easter period!  The following season the club reached the first round of the FA Cup and lost narrowly at Watling Street to Plymouth Argyle.  However one story that he remembers from the season was a game versus Grantham Town when fed up with the stick he was getting from a particular home fan, the away goalkeeper hurdled the fence around the pitch and chased the fan into the car park, whilst the game carried on for a couple of minutes in his absence.

Princes Park

The decline of the club in the 1990’s has been documented in detail elsewhere and the part played by Maidstone United’s move into Dartford’s Watling Street ground. But after a significant period in the wilderness, sharing grounds with Erith & Belvedere (technically sharing with Welling United), Purfleet (now Thurrock) and Ebbsfleet (or Gravesend & Northfleet as it should be known) they returned to a new purpose built state of the art stadium in the town in 2006.  The ground has won a number of awards for its futuristic design and use of “green” methodologies – in fact fashion designer Wayne Hemmingway once described the stadium as “the best in the country”.

So after a steady rise up the lower non-leagues the club finished 8th last season in the Ryman’s League Premier.  However, this season things could not have been better for the most part.  They climbed to the top of the table after the second game of the season and have stayed their ever since.  Apart from a little wobble post Christmas their form has been imperious and promotion as champions was odds on.  They are without doubt the biggest team in the division, and will also make a serious challenge next year in the Blue Square South both on and off the pitch.

We had been down to Princes Park before, in March 2007 just a few months after the stadium opened when they beat Croydon Athletic 3-0 in front of a few hundred.  But after the annual TBIR garden spring clean (which included breaking a £500 lawn mower) I was given permission to head off to their game with Canvey Island for being such a good boy.

At exactly 10 miles from TBIR and just 17 minutes down the road it was one of the easier grounds to get to, and after leaving home at 2.15pm I was in the bar enjoying a cold pint less than half an hour later.

Dartford 2 Canvey Island 1 – Princes Park – Monday 5th April 2010

A different view of the game

With the sun shining at last the locals had come out in force and took their place behind the Canvey goal but it was the away fans who made the most noise early on, spurred on by some indecision in the Dartford defence.  It is often the case that teams who for so long have dominated the league start to doubt their own ability with the finishing line in sight and this was the case for long periods in this game.

1-0 Canvey

And consequently it did not come as a surprise when Canvey took the lead from such indecision when Greg Cohen smashed the ball home after the Dartford Keeper, Andrew Young had failed to clear the danger.  The away fans (of which there was no more than 20) when wild…”We’re going to win the league”, “You only came to watch the Canvey” and my favourite “Sh1t ground, no fans”.

As the half progressed the referee Mr Harris seemed to want to get involved more and more in the game – but not in a proactive way.  He showed little consistency, seeming to give every decision to the away team in a tetchy first half.  Canvey played a flat back line with an offside trap which whilst effective was crap to watch.  My view is that the offside law should be scrapped at this level to make games more entertaining.

In my day this used to be a rubbish tip

Half time came and Dartford trudged off with a need of an injection of confidence.  Manager (and Director) Tony Burman made some changes bringing on Rob Haworth who was soon booked for “persistent fouling” which was impressive considering it was his first challenge!  Dartford continued to struggle until the 68th minute when Danny Dafter (name of the day, closely followed by Canvey’s Gabriel Fanibuyan) was allowed to run unchallenged through the Canvey defence before his pass found Danny Harris and is miss hit shot fooled the keeper and the ball rolled into the net.  Game on!

With news filtering through that Kingstonians and Sutton United losing, Dartford sensed blood and went for the kill, finally starting to put the Canvey defence under pressure, and with 12 minutes to go Ryan Hayes crossed to the back post and Elliot Bradbrook stormed in to head home.

Politics at football - the new battleground

The home fans, of which the 1,319 was bigger than every game bar one in the Blue Square South and North, and bigger than three games in the Blue Square Premier including local rivals Ebbsfleet United. They left licking their lips at the prospect of promotion with a win away to second placed Kingstonians in a few days time.  Welcome back Dartford!

For more photos from the game click here.

About Princes Park
Construction work began on 14 November, 2005 of the new stadium. Designed by Alexander Sedgley architects, the stadium has a capacity of 4,100 (642 seated), and has been described as one of the most ecologically sound ever built. The pitch level is sunk two meters below the external ground level to reduce noise and light pollution. It is estimated to have cost around £7 million. The stadium was opened on 11 November 2006 when Dartford FC, who had been without a home ground in the borough since 1992, beat Horsham YMCA 4-2 in an Isthmian League Division One South league fixture, in front of a capacity 4,097 crowd.

The environmental aspects of the stadium include – The stadium roof has a sedum roof blanket, a living roof that provides a natural air filtration system. solar panels on the roof serve the community changing areas and public toilets hot water storage cylinders. The roof is supported by treated Glulam timber beams. Water recycling system which serves the toilets within the clubhouse. Rain water is collected in the two large ponds at the north end of the stadium grounds. Underfloor heating on both levels of the clubhouse. Low energy lighting. Increased fabric insulation to give the clubhouse better thermal retention and efficiency. Condensing boilers to provide a more energy efficient system. Also excavated earth was reused for landscaping the external courtyard areas around the stadium.

The club has an excellent sized bar which overlooks the pitch and has a couple of huge TV’s that show live football.  On the opposite side is the unique five and a half metre Wooden Man, aka Dartford’s biggest fan.

How to get to Princes Park
The stadium is located close to Dartford town centre and the M25 motorway junction 2.  At the roundabout with the A2 take the Dartford town centre exit.  At the next roundabout take first left and straight over next roundabout.  The ground is on your left hand side as you go down the hill.

Princes Park is also served by a dedicated “Fastrack” bus stop which runs from the railway station to Bluewater shopping centre. The use of public transport for travel to the stadium is encouraged, although there is a dedicated car park with spaces for up to 300 vehicles. Vehicle access is via Grassbanks, a new road named by the winner of a local newspaper competition. On non-matchdays, this is available for use as a “park and ride” station for users of the Fastrack bus service. Alternatively the stadium is a 15 minute walk from the station via Central Park or Darenth Road which is the first road on your right as you climb the hill out of the town centre (next to the Malt Shovel pub).

Getting a ticket for Princes Park
£10 for Adults, £5 for concessions and £1 for children is all that it costs to enter the ground.  The stadium holds over 4,000 and it is only the pre-season games against the likes of Millwall that have sold out, although expect potential bumper grounds against the likes of Ebbsfleet United if they end up meeting next season in Blue Square South.

“Spend all of your life waiting….


…for the second chance, for the break that makes things okay.”

Sometimes even the best laid plans go wrong for no reason at all.  Today was a football free day.  I had agreed that one weekend each month I would turn my back on the beautiful game and be a Husband, Dad and a general Family Guy.  CMF planned a day of events, ranging from a picnic in Greenwich Park to popcorn and a family movie.  I was even given permission to sit and watch the rugby on TV – a perfect tonic after a week of hard work in the Capital of Cool (Copenhagen to those who don’t know).

We set off on our day of adventure at 12.02pm….At 12.07pm Littlest Fuller threw up in the car.  She actually threw up in the same spot that I had meticulously cleaned less than an hour before, trying to clean the remnants of mud from last week’s Lake District trip. She wanted no further part of the day and wanted out, so we returned home, picnicked in the front room and sat around twiddling our thumbs.  Except my thumbs were busy looking at what options I had to go to a game.  I wasn’t going to ask or simply say I was off to a match, but instead bid my time and waited for CMF to suggest that I could go….Of course I said “don’t be silly” but she was insistent, perhaps thinking that at 2.12pm it would be too late to get to a game….Oh how wrong she was!  At 2.17pm Lolly and I were in the car, SatNav programmed to take us south to the High Weald – Tonbridge.

23 minutes later we drew up outside a busy Longmead stadium a few miles north of Tonbridge town centre ready for some Ryman’s League Premier action, and the visit of league leaders Dartford.

So why the strange lyrics at the start of this post?  For those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of Canadian music then you would not have recognised that it is the opening line from the Sarah McLachlan song Angels.  And we were here to see the Angels – Tonbridge Angels.  CMF actually believed for a few seconds that any team with such a name had to be a female only team.  But I knew the history behind the name, and gave her a brief run down that went something like this….

Frantic bench activity

Tonbridge Angels were actually formed back in 1947 and were invited to join the Southern League just two years later.  At that time they took on the lease of the Angel ground, a cricket ground used by Kent and thus adopted the name Tonbridge Angels.  They scratched around the Southern for the next few decades with a few highs, such as an FA Cup game versus Charlton Athletic in 1973 that drew a crowd of 7,770.  A long drawn out battle with the local council over redevelopment plans for the Angel eventually saw them leave in 1980 (ironically the last goal scored at the old ground was by Mickey Angel!) and move to Longmead.

When the non-leagues were re-organised in 2003, Tonbridge found themselves in the Isthmian (Rymans) Premier League although they were relegated to the southern division in 2005.  After a play off victory against Dover the following season they returned, where they have stayed since.  In season 2006-07, current AFC Wimbledon John Main scored 44 goals for the club, including a remarkable eight hatricks in the season.

The club can lay claim to a few notable ex-players.  Fulham managers Malcolm McDonald and Roy Hodgson both played for Tonbridge in their early years and more recently the Emblem brothers both played here.  Neil went on to play for Wolverhampton Wanderers, whilst Paul started and finished his career here.  Let me just go on a brief de-tour at this point back to 1994.  During that summer I was taking my FA Coaching badge, and on my course was young Paul.  Our “tutor” was a guy called John Ryan, ex-Norwich City, who at the time was looking for a job back in football.  And at the time, young Emblen’s dad was in charge of Tonbridge.  So whilst the rest of the course were made to replay our set moves time and time again, young Paul passed with flying colours by doing no more than a few more shots at goal.

Anyway back to the story….The Angels had not had the best of seasons so far, struggling near the bottom of the table before todays game.  The visitors, on the other hand had seemed to have had the league sewn up a few weeks ago.  New stadium, new squad, all the trappings of a Conference standard club.  Blue Square South destined, with a lead of double digits over Kingstonians.  But then they started to wobble.  Defeats against Billericay Town and Sutton United hadn’t helped matters and so a victory here was essential.  I am not going to go into the background of Dartford here as to do it justice I need to visit them for myself.  For a view of life at Princes Park, have a look at Danny Last’s visit 180 Not Out.

Tonbridge Angels 1 Dartford 4 – Longmead Stadium – 13th February 2010

If ever the saying in football of “a game of two halves” can be applied to a game it would be this one.  Tonbridge went in at the break on top with a one goal lead and having hit the post.  Dartford were on the ropes, ready for a third consecutive knock out blow.  But somehow they re-grouped and came out with all guns blazing and deservedly won the game.

“We are Dartford, super Dartford, from Dartford” – Trying to make anything else rhyme was impossible, but somehow Dartford managed to insert Rymans in there.

Might as well be written in Danish to the crowd

The crowd 0f 842 was a season best.  Tonbridge had under-estimated the demand for this game, and even programmes had sold out at least thirty minutes before kick off.  We wandered in just as the game kicked off with the noise of both sets of fans drifting across the pitch.  It made a refreshing change to hear this sort of noise.  As I spend one week in every two in the sterile environment of Upton Park (supposedly one of the most intimidating grounds in the Premier League) I am not used to such noise as fans singing songs.  Giant bubble making machines and ear splitting classical music sure, but actual fans, singing?  You are having a laugh.  Not that any of the songs could be repeated by Lolly.  Every one contained enough swear words for her to earn a detention, suspension and expulsion from school I would imagine.  What made this so ironic is that Tonbridge are the first club I have visited in ages that actually had a sign up saying that such language was not welcome at the ground!

Fat Stephen Pienaar, you’re just a fat Stephen Pienaar” – Dartford fans to Tonbridge number 8, Steve Ferguson, despite the fact he seemed a good foot taller than Everton’s South African international.

1-0 Tonbridge

Tonbridge started the better of the two sides coming close with the ball frequently being played out to the Karl Pilkington lookalike Kirk Watts on the flank.  They should have taken the lead on the 15th minute when a corner was badly dealt with by the Dartford keeper and a goal bound header was diverted onto the post by the Tonbridge’s Booth.  Four minutes later they had the lead as an impressive passing move saw Cade feed Paul Booth and this time the post was his friend as his shot creeped in.  The Dartford fans at the far end picked up the pace, inspired by the drums.

We all follow the Tonbridge/Dartford, over land and sea – and Dover” – Another silly football song sung by a number of teams who never actually play overseas anymore.  And why Dover?  The likelihood of Tonbridge playing them again in the league some time soon is as likely as David Sullivan keeping his mouth shut for more than an hour.  Perhaps it could be Wealdstone, or Mertsham?

Tonbridge could have doubled the lead if it wasn’t for Dartford’s keeper Young who made another fine save from Booth, who was proving to be a thorn in their side.

Half time saw a few hundred people squeeze in the bar overlooking the ground.  With Scotland completing the kind of self destruction that is normally reserved for an English cricket team against Wales in the Six Nations on TV, most of the fans contemplated a famous Tonbridge victory, one which would lift them away from relegation danger.  The Dartford fans didn’t know what to make of their team’s dreadful run of form.  Nothing had changed in terms of team personnel, yet since the cold snap started in mid January the team had picked up just one point from a possible nine.  One pint of Theakston’s later and we were back outside, positioned in the heart of the Tonbridge faithful.  As luck would have it all the goals came at the opposite end of the pitch to us, and all were very well taken.

Where were you when you were shit?” – Surely the Tonbridge fans will remember that Dartford were a big team in Non League circles in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  1974 FA Trophy final at Wembley ring any bells?  Or the fact that during the mid 1980’s they averaged over 1,000 at Watling Street?

a rare 2nd half Tonbridge attack

Whatever Dartford boss Tony Burman said at half time it only took six minutes to sink as that is when the visitors drew level.  An almost identical goal to Tonbridge’s opener in fact with Hayes feeding Harris before finding the impressive Ryan Johnson who slotted the ball in the corner of the net.  Tonbridge came back at Dartford immediately and were unlucky not to take the lead as Cade’s shot passed Young’s post by inches.  But Dartford broke the home fans hearts just two minutes later as a long punt upfield was poorly dealt with by the Tonbridge defence and Danny Harris slotted home.

“Tony, give us a wave, Tony, Tony give us a wave” – Burman was having none of this playing to the crowd so they changed it to “Wave when we are winning, He only waves when we’re winning” He still didn’t wave when it was 4-1.

The massed Dartford ranks

Dartford were by this stage dominating the midfield.  The combination of Johnson, Harris, Lee Noble and Ryan Hayes literally killed any Tonbridge threat and it was no surprise that two became three.  With ten minutes to go the ball fell to Elliot Bradbrook some 30 yards out and he slammed the ball into the net for the goal of the day.  Number four game four minutes later and Adam Gross’s excellent run and cross was brilliantly met by sub Rob Haworth’s header into the roof of the net.

So with injury time being played we headed back to the car, satisfied in the knowledge that we would be back next season to see Lewes play here.  Tonbridge had enough on show to keep themselves out of the relegation zone, whilst Dartford were back on track for Blue Square South football, and a step closer to their rightful position in the top level of Non-League football.  Both teams should take some credit for an excellent game of football that would put some teams much higher up the leagues to shame, and the fans were excellent.  Over 800 hundred for a game at this level is impressive, considering that Hayes & Yeading, two division above got just 296 for their game, and only Chelmsford City’s top of the table class with Newport County in the Blue Square South attracted more fans.  Thirty minutes later we were back at home, and on track for the evenings entertainment of DVD’s and popcorn…I love football me..

About Longmead Stadium
Tonbridge Angels moved to Longmead Stadium in 1980 after protracted negotiations had dragged on for three years after plans were drawn up by the Council to sell off the club’s Angel Ground to a supermarket chain. The Angel had been home to Tonbridge FC since the club’s formation in 1948, and up until WW2 had been used solely for cricket and was one of Kent Cricket Club’s favoured grounds. Its former use was apparent by the position of the 400-seat main stand, that sat at an angle to the pitch, almost behind the near-side goal.

When the club moved to North Tonbridge, the stand was moved with them and reassembled along the western touchline at Longmead Stadium. Until 2008 only the middle section was seated, with only limited hard standing on either side, but 707 new seats were installed in the summer of 2008.

The first notable thing about Longmead is the large amount of car parking available to home and travelling supporters outside the stadium. The entrance to Longmead Stadium was refurbished before the 2005-06 season and the turnstiles are now decorated with white doors with the Angels crest on.

The clubhouse can be found to the right of the main entrance, adjacent to the P.A hut. For the time being there is no cover on the near side of the ground, except for the Directors’ Stand which seats around 50 home and away directors. Previously there were railway sleepers on this side, however these were removed due to Safety issues when the club moved to the Isthmian league in 2004.

At either end of the pitch are two identical stands, erected during the 2000/01 season. The South Stand is named after the sponsor and company that provided them, ‘Mezzazine’. The North Stand is named after Jack Maddams, the youth player who tragically passed away in March 2008. The stands provide a good, elevated view of the action and can hold between 300 and 400 supporters. Current capacity is 2,500.

How to get to Longmead Stadium
From M25: Take A21 (Sevenoaks/Hastings) turning at Junction 5 and leave at junction with A225/B245 (signposted Hildenborough). After passing Langley Hotel on left take slightly hidden left turning into Dry Hill Park Round. Left again at mini-roundabout into Shipbourne Road (A227) and then left again at next roundabout into Darenth Avenue. The ground is at the bottom of the hill and there is plenty of free parking outside.

From East Kent: leave M20 at Junction 4 and follow signs to Tonbridge. Turn right into The Ridgeway immediately after the 30mph signs and then straight on at the roundabout into Darenth Avenue.

By Train: Regular trains into Tonbridge from London terminals and from Folkestone/Ashford International. Tonbridge Station is highlighted on map by green dot. Turn left out of station into High Street, carry on through High Street and take the right fork at junction with B245 London Road/A227 Shipbourne Road. Carry straight on along this road past first mini-roundabout and turn left at second roundabout into Darenth Avenue. The ground is at the bottom of the road.

How to get a ticket for Longmead Stadium
Unless Tonbridge progress up the leagues where they may meet teams with very sizeable away support it is pay on the door for all. Adults £10, Children under 16 £3 with a £2 charge to transfer to the seated area on the far side of the ground.