“If you boys go down, what even is the league below this?”

The saying goes that “it’s a funny old game”, but it’s been fuck all fun being a Dorch fan for quite a while now. After staying up last season and a early flurry of transfer activity in pre-season, there was a cautious sense of optimism that this season just might be different. Fast forward a few months and we’re stuck in a relegation battle, are points adrift of those around us with those same teams having games in hand on us, we’re without a manager, have seen 3 of our contracted players leave by mutual consent, home attendances are on the slide and you still can’t have a beer behind the goal. Fantastic. In days prior to this game, Callum Brooks, Dan Strugnell and Charlie Davis had all left the club which will hopefully free up some budget space if nothing more. It was a shame it never worked out for the manager who obviously gave it his all but ultimately struggled and his departure was best for all concerned. It was a shame we never got to see the best of Strugnell or a fit Davis, but there will be more on those two as this ramble goes on. Despite all this, a midweek away trip seemed a good idea as my life really is that sad.

I’ve only seen two games this season, a disappointing 4-1 loss away at Salisbury which I rather naively put down to early season lack of cohesion, and a 1-1 draw at home with Swindon Supermarine which was better but did show signs of what was to come. But it only took a look at the league table and our chipper as ever WhatsApp group chat to make me more than a little fearful of what I may be about to see as Goddard pulled into a very wet and windy Purley Oaks railway station. After a reasonably straight run through despite some pretty awful weather, we received the first good news of the night in that AWH had procured us two free tickets. Every little helps. Gosport isn’t exactly an attractive place by daylight and it looked even more fucking miserable in the rain, and after nearly having the first recorded case of trenchfoot since Luke Winsper contacted it on a wet night at home on The Avenue grass 2 seasons ago, we took up residence in the bar and saw the team sheet hot off the photocopier.

There were a couple of surprises in the sides, including that Callum Brooks was still listed as manager for us but this was in fact the first game of the Riverlution and he’d changed things a bit. Ben Morris was given a start for us and Frankyn taking the captains armband, and also notable were 5 ex-Magpies in the Gosport side, which was always going to see one of them haunt us in one way or another. Soon, General Hill’s motorcade rolled in with Luke and Berry the guests on this occasion. I can only imagine how the cars suspension felt about this. To be truthful, there was fuck all optimism prior to the game, and a look out the bar windows did make us wonder why we were here as the rain lashed down. Still, the need for Bovril took priority and a quick waddle to the food kiosk via a quick chat with the owner of the self professed best half volley in the business, AWH, saw my thirst for beefy drink quenched, and Luke and TG were less than impressed as they tucked into what would appear to be Saturday’s chips which had the consistency of the styrofoam they were served in. Supplies in, we headed behind the goal to see what we could do on the pitch.

We started well and Gosport’s purple clad keeper somewhat set the tone for his night, almost getting caught in possession by Tom Bath after a matter of seconds as he tried to do God knows what. Shortly after that, some nice interplay from Billy Lowes and Neil Martin saw Neil slot a right footed effort in off the post and after 6 minutes to the surprise of us all, we were 1-0 up. “Come on you cunts” bellowed Neil in celebration as the players ran towards us. I would have celebrated with them more but the Bovril wasn’t going to drink itself. 1 up and soon after, we were to be playing against 10 men as George Barker aimed 6 studs at Neil’s bollocks after he’d been fouled. A great position for us to be in, so it’s only true to form that we soon found ourselves 2-1 down conceding two pretty awful goals, both from long balls by the keeper and showing our defensive frailty. To be honest, it could have been worse and getting in at half time at only 2-1 down was a bit of a blessing, with some wayward finishing and an excellent save from Hutch keeping it at 2. We had some chances but you would hope for more from the position we have been in. Even one of Gosport’s stewards felt the need to ask what league we’d drop into if we go relegated…

A halftime sausage and chips and a chat about the ins and outs of the DT1 postcode’s need for chimney sweeps over, and it was back out for a thankfully drier second half. If we thought the first half had been eventful, we were soon to be proved very wrong. 2 minutes in and a though ball from Franklyn released Tom Bath who continued his excellent season finishing a one on one, and it all seemed rather easy as the gap between Gosport’s defenders was only matched by the Channel Tunnel that the keeper left between his legs as he helpfully stood on the edge of his 18 yard box. 2-2 and now we looked how a team should with a man advantage. 2-2 was soon 2-3 a few minutes later as Ben Morris saw his shot go in past Professor Plum in goal via the aid of a deflection. Confidence was up and we were playing some nice stuff with Franklyn and Billy playing exceptionally well and the impressive Purrington and Morris a constant threat. But as is usually the case, it wasn’t to last.

Hutch was unfortunate to pick up a yellow card for time wasting given that Tinky Winky in the Gosport goal had been taking an age over kicks as early as the 25th minute, and Tom Bath slipped with a gaping open goal in front of him from about 3 yards. However, it was after this when things got even stranger. A poor clearance allowed a ball to be played back into our box and Hutch was second to it. Penalty, second yellow, fuck. It was the unfortunate Tom Purrington that made way for Shane, but this took a while as Hutch protested to anyone who was or indeed wasn’t prepared to listen. We had hoped the delay might put the penalty taker off but that didn’t work either, 3-3 and we feared the worst. Events took a stranger turn as we played well in the 10 vs 10 and after missing another couple of excellent chances, Tom Bath would capitalise on a horrific error from Barney The Dinosaur as he left his area and kicked thin air, allowing Tom the freedom of Gosport to make it 3-4 after 89 mninutes. Cue some celebrations which in hindsight made us look a touch silly but at the time were totally merited. Unbeknown to us, Hutch had apparently ran down the touchline celebrating and this shithousing didn’t impress the natives. But we sponsor Hutch so we approve of this.

With time ticking down we were in no danger with the ball deep in the Gosport half. Then, the inevitable happened and it was not a good one to concede. A foul throw from Franklyn resulted in Gosport taking posession, Callum Rose dived in and was second to the ball but a hopeful cross was floating harmlessly towards Shane before Tiago Sa headed the ball for a corner, despite an audible shout from Shane. A failure to clear the corner resulted in ex-Magpie Ryan Woodfrod slamming the loose ball in and we’d snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. This evidently pleased Dan Strugnell who celebrated a point with clenched fists towards us, but after being relegated last year and being part of a leaky Dorch defence this season, I guess even a point is a welcome change. There seemed to be some tension on the benches and Charlie Davis copped a fair bit of flack, but 4-4 it was and we had to settle for a point.

As the players thanked us for our support and Jody Rivers channelled his inner Churchill when speaking to us after the game. There was still time for a couple of us to get called twats by what we assume was a Gosport fan in a Havant jacket who had waited until we’d walked 10 metres past him to abuse us. He seemed a thoroughly sad and miserable man and we hope he has a long and unsatisfactory life. After talk of questionabel car pooling and bidding goodbye to Franklyn’s Dad, it was back to the car for more rain and road closures. It had been an odd game and not a good night for keepers in particular. Gosport’s keeper who had been described as “mustard” was rather more like a condiment that gets left in the cupboard and found 2 years after its sell by date. Not for the first time this season, Hutch’s red card will see him missing, and Shane came on a as sub on the day he was revealed as being one of Gosport’s top fans of the week on Twitter. When the dust settled, this definitely is 2 points dropped. Playing for an hour against 10 men should really have seen us out of sight, but you can see that it’s a defence bereft of confidence, but on the plus side, we scored goals and created multiple chances. The midfield 5 and Tom Bath up top can cause any side problems, and add Tom Blair to that and we’ll be a tough prospect for any defence. The problems really seem to lie at the other end.

Where we go from here in terms of the new manager is anyone’s guess, but this is the most important appointment we’ve had in many years. The usual names tend to get thrown around (Jem, Vickers, Tully, Fricker, Jury) but preferably an experienced hand at this level who can get us going and work with a squad which is underachieving and hopefully add to it with the wiggle room that’s in the budget. Whatever happens, we’re in a dire mess and relegation is a genuine prospect that could have far reaching consequences for the club as a whole. Hopefully the festive period will bring some points rather than the inevitable cancellation of the Boxing Day clash at Poole due to a waterlogged pitch. In the meantime, Up The Valiant Magpies, you can stop a River-lutionary but you can’t stop a River-lution. SV

Photo credit; Phil Standfield