Non League Club

Folkestone unconquered

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 3, 2013

Another Pre-season Saturday, another scorching hot summer’s day. It would be rude not to take in a game on such a fine day.  And that is why I find myself watching the Garden of England rush by my window, travelling at speeds that would normally make South Eastern trains have a nosebleed.  There’s been many a column inch written in recent times about new train lines in this country since the HS2 train line route was announced last year that will cut through the English countryside to deliver travel time savings to us all, at a ridiculous expense. Whilst we can marvel at currently being able to travel from London to Manchester in just 2 hours, the cost of travel still far outweighs the advantages (and it is still cheaper and quicker to fly).

9428056129_f417c8d947_bBut few actually know where or what HS1 is? It has actually been around for well over a year and runs from London St Pancras, via Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International, Ashford International and Folkestone (no International status has been bestowed on the station yet due to a work permit issue). Travel times are, quite frankly ridiculous. 19 minutes from Ebbsfleet to Ashford – less than half of the time it would take to drive there, but the cost is significant. £25 for a single ticket, to be precise, making it more expensive than the very expensive Arlanda Express in Stockholm.  And that is where I am currently sitting, in air conditioned luxury.

I had packed my bag to head to Folkestone for the day to experience some Kentish hospitality and of course game number six in my pre-season preparations.Travelling by train to football seems so foreign to me but on a day when the sun was shining and the Shepherd Neame was calling, it seemed the most logical choice. If you are going to travel, then travel in style.

You can’t go far around the edge of the Kent coast before you bump into a football club, meaning that local derbies are ten a penny in these parts. Stretching from Whitstable Town in the north, through Herne Bay, passed Margate and Ramsgate, waving hello to Deal Town before you reach Dover Athletic, Folkestone Invicta and finally Hythe Town.

Whilst passions never run too high in these parts, some games do generate significant local interest. In fact the Folkestone v Hythe local derbies have generated some of the biggest crowds in the Isthmian League in the past two seasons and is testament to the fanbase in these parts. But arguably the biggest game is the Folkestone v Dover tie. Due to Dover’s recent climb up the leagues, the two clubs rarely meet at a competitive level, and so it is left to the occasional pre-season clash to settle old scores.

9429947774_fca55161c2_bTwo years ago only one division separated the two clubs, as Folkestone Invicta finished runners up to Croydon in the Ryman South, but their ascendency lasted just one season, finding themselves back within twelve months. Last season they reached the playoffs but narrowly lost to the new giants of Kent Football, Maidstone United.  So it is with renewed hope that they were preparing for the new season.  As one other Ryman South fan mentioned this week, there are no “money bags” teams in the league this season, meaning nobody will be going into next Saturday’s opener as clear favourites.  Well, apart from Guernsey.

This was my first ever visit to the Fullicks Stadium, previously called the Buzzlines Stadium and properly, Cheriton Road.  Every summer during my early teen years I would spend a week down the road with my Grandparents, co-inciding with cricket week in these parts, in a time when county cricket meant more than just money.  In those days Kent used to play every year at Dartford and Gravesend as well as Folkestone, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.  The crowds used to flock to the games such as here at Folkestone, next door to the football ground.  So near, yet so far.

This was a special game for Folkestone, with all proceeds being donated to a charity close to the club’s heart, in relation to a brain tumour still blighting the life of  assistant manager, Mick Dix’s wife.  Admission was just £5 (half of the admission being charged by Whitehawk for their derby against Lewes), so the fans hardly needed any more reasons to come along to watch, surely?

Folkestone Invicta 0 Dover Athletic 1 – The Fullicks Stadium – Saturday 3rd August 2013
It wasn’t a classic, to be truthful, but for the 473 fans who saw this evenly matched game, it was an enjoyable afternoon in the sunshine. An early goal from ex-Brentford and Charlton Athletic striker Moses Ademola, finishing off an excellent move, was enough to seal victory for the visitors although they should have scored at least a couple more.  For both teams the real action starts in seven days time, where optimism is running high in both camps for a successful season ahead.

9428053303_15418f7f5b_bDover lined up with ex-Lewes man Tom Murphy on the wing as well as ex-West Ham youngster Terrell Forbes at the back.  In the starting side for Invicta was “Kingy”, a man who had left for Maidstone last season for £6,000 and returned a few weeks ago for free.  Good business if you can get it.  It seemed that Folkestone’s only strategy for long periods was simply to “give it to Kingy”.  Not that it made much difference in the first half when Dover should have been out of sight by the time most of the crowd were back in the bar watching the cricket.

The second period saw the visitors on the attack from the first kick.  Within five minutes Ademola and Murphy had hit the woodwork, the second effort almost resulting in a full pint spillage as I tried to balance my beer on my knee whilst taking a picture.  Schoolboy.

After the full time whistle with an hour to kill I went in search of a pub.  Word of warning for any travelling fans.  There are no pubs in or around the ground, and when I mean around I mean within a 20 minute walk, the international standard us blokes adopt for “can’t be arsed to walk that far”.  So it was back to the station and the plain old “slow” train back to the metropolis.  I came, I saw, I left unconquered or as I remember from my days of Latin “invicta”.

CRABBLE ROCK – Dover Athletic FC

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 2, 2010

We are going on a journey today, a journey back into the Fuller family tree.  A long time ago the current line of Fuller’s were Wells’s.  And a fine stock we were, which included such notable characters as Charles Wells, the man who reportedly “Broke the bank at Monte Carlo” and more impressively Herbert George Wells – aka H G Wells who wrote such classics as The War of the Worlds and the Time Machine.  As with many things in live, what comes around goes around and HG was actually born no more than a stones throw from TBIR towers today.

The Current Mrs Fuller Senior, aka My Mum, has traced our family tree back for decades and found out by such similar co-incidences that her family have on a number of occasions gravitated back to Dover.  It was here that my Great, Great, Great Grandad lived and worked, it was here that my Great, Great Uncle was killed by a doodle bug bomb in World War 2 that fell down his chimney, and it was here that my fantastic Grandad George spent his last few years and his ashes are buried in the church in the town centre.  But in amongst these fine upstanding gentlemen was a miller and he was employed by the Crabble Mill, which used to sit almost on the penalty spot of Dover Athletic’s current ground, unsurprisingly called The Crabble Ground.

So Dover and I have a bit of a history but in terms of my favourite sport, I had never been to a game down here or even had the pleasure of playing football in or around the town.  But this was going to change.  As part of my drive to visit all Blue Square South grounds during the season Dover Athletic was a prime candidate being one of only two teams in the league playing in my home county (sort of) of Kent.  I had been to Welling United hundreds of times, being as it was just a short bus ride away, but Dover was a good hour and fifteen away in the car which did limit the fun of the day if I had to drive after making myself very welcome in the club house.

So what’s been going on down at the Crabble?  Well Dover had been rockin’ and a rollin’ actually.  They came into the season fresh from waltzing to the Isthmian title last year as the bookies/Blue Square’s favourites for the Championship.  With the experienced Andy Hessenthaler in the hot seat (watch out for an exclusive interview with the once-terror of the Gravesend Sunday Leagues coming soon), an ambitious chairman who has invested in the youth set up, and a set of loyal and passionate fans, Dover set an early pace in the league.  They were unbeaten in their first eight games and sat atop the league with Newport County close behind.

Autumn brought a change in fortunes though.  Their form dipped and they lost to challengers Woking and Newport as well as surprise defeats at Worcester City and Weston-Super-Mare.  Added to that was an amazing 5-3 defeat to Eastleigh in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup.  Things all of a sudden looked dark on the horizon, confidence was low and doubts were creeping in.  Boxing Day saw them throw away a 2-0 lead away to Lewes to lose 6-2, and 2 days later a 1-0 home defeat almost pushed them out of the play offs for the first time this season.

Dover had been at the dark before dawn before.  In 1983 the club folded under serious financial pressure.  The town looked like it would be deprived of a team, with many of the players driving down the A20 to local rivals Folkstone Invicta.  However, they reformed as Dover Athletic and just ten years later they were finally admitted into the Conference (they were denied a few season earlier due to ground-related issues).  During their time in the Conference in the 1990’s they were managed by Peter Taylor and Neville Southall, but neither could help the club move forward.   In 2003 they finished bottom of the Conference, and had to enter Administration due to more financial pressures.  They were relegated back to the Southern League and a few seasons later changed leagues to play in the Rymans/Isthmian League.  A further relegation unfortunately followed and Hessenthaler stepped into the management hotseat in 2007.  Less than two years later with two consecutive promotions behind them Dover have once again risen, ironically passing for rivals Margate and Folkstone Invicta on the way who are now in the Isthmian Premier and South respectively.

I’d been trying to get to a game down here for a few weeks but the weather and then a bizarre set of road problems which saw every main route into the town closed, blocked or unpassable due to a power failure hampering my last effort (the subsequent crowd for that game was over 50% down on average).  That left one stand out game.  Dover v Lewes.  On paper a complete home banker….but this was the reverse of the game from Boxing Day when 2nd from top played 2nd from bottom.  And with twelve minutes gone it was 2-0 to Dover…Game over surely and 3 vital points for Dover in their push to catch Newport.  Oh no, the new Lewes are a different kettle of fish, and by half time they had taken the lead 3-2 and then unbelievably went on to score three more in the second half to record an outstanding 6-2.  Danny, who was in Spain and also missed the 3-1 cup win versus Hampton & Richmond suggested a Fiesta in the village they were staying in to celebrate Saint Ibbo.

New Year’s Day is not known to set the pulse racing in the UK.  Apart from the start of another DFS sale not alot else is open.  Our original plan of a day of culture at Dover Castle followed by the football was scuppered by English Heritage refusing to open the castle despite us showing our annual membership – I ask you!  It wasn’t just the castle – Dover was shut.  Quite literally.  The town recently voted the 32nd “Crappest” in the UK is really showing signs of wear and tear.  Shops boarded up, a plethoria of fast food outlets (Deaks counted 24 on the walk between the ground and Dover Priory station) and poor signage sent CMF and Littlest Fuller 20 minutes up the road to Ashford after dropping us at the Crabble.

Dover Athletic 2 Lewes 0 – The Crabble Ground – Friday 1st January 2010
Freezing it was as we walked up the slope to the ground.  The club provided “Executive transportation” in the form of a golf cart with tinsel on for those fans who couldn’t walk but demand was low so the stewards were using it to do handbrake turns.  We wandered into the clubhouse which is large to say the least and met up with Deaks and Dave.  We worked out that you could play the whole World Championship of Darts in this room simultaneously – it was huge and quite barren.  However, it was warm and if you stood on tip toes you could watch the game outside.  But that would be cheating so we headed outside and waited for the toss so we could chose our end.

The ground is set on the side of a valley, and from three sides you get a great view of the rest of the valley.  The stands have lots of pillars meaning that views aren’t the best and you had to feel sorry for the “Executive” guests who are perched on top of the “main” stand higher than everyone else but exposed to the biting cold 2010 wind.

The game, in all truth, was poor.  In the first half Lewes tried to get the ball wide at all opportunities but often the passes were over hit to Wheeler or underhit to the left hand side.  Dover had a big shout for a penalty on 10 minutes when Birchall appeared to be pulled back and if he would have shown some Premier League class and fallen dramatically to the floor I am sure it would have been given.  Lewes fans had travelled in their dozens and made quite a noise under the roofed terrace.  Rikki Barnes (according to the announcer) was the busier of the two keepers in the first half but still didn’t need to do much in the first half apart from handling a 30 yarder from Fish well.

Back in the bar it was tempting to stay for the darts with the temperature falling below zero.  Lolly was even regreting not going with CMF to the shops it got that cold.  With twenty minutes to go Lewes at last produced their first chance of the game when Keehan’s shot is well saved by Dover keeper Hook.  At this point I had wandered into the corner to take some pictures.  Four young Dover fans decided to abuse me at the highest level – “Oh mate…Lewes are shit…how did you score 6 against us last week.”  I stood up, thought about it and then explained what the net was, what a goal was and repeated it six times.  They thought about it in their tiny heads before one of them said, “Yeah but you wont score six today”..brilliant wit.

The shot from Keehan was the highpoint of the day for Lewes.  Two minutes later Dover took the lead.  A corner from the left wasn’t cleared and Banks did seem to be impeded but Schultz was on hand to bundle the ball into the net.  This goal seemed to take all fight out of Lewes and they tried to wind down the clock.  With a minute to go we decided to go but we couldn’t leave.  The “extended” tunnel blocks the exit from one end of the ground (surely against all ground regulations?) and we had to wait for the game to finish.  But not before Dover scored a second with a harsh penalty awarded for a handball that few (including the Dover fans behind the goal) actually saw.  Adam Birchall stepped up and scored to finish off the game, and give Dover some much needed confidence.  And with that the referee brought to an end our suffering.  Lolly was cold beyond belief and I had a 210 mile drive to look forward to as we headed up to wintery weather up north.  Hopefully next time we visit a few more things will be open.