Don Roper: One of the most decorated Dorchester players you’ve probably never heard of.

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Lockdown is impacting people in different ways. The increased spare time has seen some people take up new hobbies with a vast percentage of the population now artisan bakers with an excellent line in banana bread and sourdough with seemingly little else on the menu. There have been Mensa levels of IQ exhibited in the family quiz on Zoom; that mate from school on Facebook who added you as a friend 11 years ago and never spoke to you has become a political analyst, a doctor and a prick all inside a three week period. Others have taken to running and people have gone from having never worn running shoes to seeing a hairdresser from St Helens beat the world record for a 5k. Speaking from personal experience, most of Camberwell would appear to think they’re Mo-Fucking-Farah. However, we at The Same Old Few have gone even weirder than that: We’ve blown the dust and cobwebs off some of the long forgotten parts of Dorchester Town FC history.

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It all started with the ‘team of the last 30 years’ which was initially a bit of a boredom killer but actually turned out to be a reasonable success. Over 3,000 votes, some brilliant interactions from players and fans and the rediscovery (and indeed discovery) of times gone by that many people have either long forgotten or were too young to remember.

After several seasons of mediocrity at best, it was nice to look back at times when we were competing and having success as a club. Not to mention seeing the calibre of player that was involved in those times – quite the eye opener.

It was of course a quite different time, but in the 1990’s we were able to attract and sign experienced ex-professional players or on the flip side of that, sell players onto football league sides for fees that we wouldn’t see the like of for several years. With a sprinkling of exceptional local and regional talent, we were a good side. So as the lockdown has worn on, we’ve had a look further back with some interesting finds.

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The source for this first blog was from an even stranger place. The ‘You’re over 30 and from Dorchester when…’ Facebook group isn’t a usual goldmine, but in amongst the pictures of blue bridge and videos of people clapping, JW discovered a gem! A post on the group that looked back to the era of Dinky Curtis and his record goal scoring feats (235 goals in 458 games), there was a mention of a player by the name of Don Roper. He was apparently very good.

But who was Don Roper? A local boy done good or did he go onto better things? Well, after 3 whole paragraphs, we’re going to get to that part now and tell you why Donald George Beaumont Roper (Or just ‘Don’) is possibly one of the best Dorchester players you’ve never heard of.

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Born in Botley, Hampshire on 14th December 1922, Don’s early career was somewhat stunted by the Second World War, with the centre forward-cum-winger making 40 or so appearances for Southampton between 1940-47.

But he’d done more than enough to get himself noticed by then Arsenal manager Tom Whittaker (later to become an MBE) and Don would move to Arsenal in a deal that involved a £12,000 transfer fee and two players moving in the opposite direction. An estimated total fee £24,000, which in 1947 would have been big money (the record fee at the time was £14,500…). His career would take off from there.

He would win the old First Division in his first season there in 1947-48 making 40 appearances with a healthy return of 10 goals.

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Don Roper and George Swindon an FA Cup semi-final win over Chelsea at White Hart Lane as Arsenal fans invade the pitch.

In the years that followed Don would overcome the disappointment of losing his place for the FA Cup final win in 1950 and being a losing finalist in 1952, to once again win the league with Arsenal in 1952-53 and an England B cap vs Scotland that same season. He would also score 5 goals in a 7-1 friendly win over Hibernian – one of the first games played under floodlights. Consider that a bonus fact.

After 10 years yielding 95 goals in 321 matches, Don would drop to the Third Division and return to his former club of Southampton for another two profitable seasons. But this spell would end in acrimony over alleged broken promises of a job as a trainer and he left Saints in 1959. After one season where he averaged a goal every three games at our rivals over the ridgeway, Don would move to Dorchester in July of 1960.

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This is where the tale becomes a bit more educated guess work than I’d like with information a bit harder to come by, but with the help of some online research, an old programme or two and some input from the ever helpful Melvin Cross, there is something of a rough timeline.

Don was likely signed by then manager, the Belgian Marcel Gaillard, (who was himself a former top flight footballer) and came into a side that was more than useful. We would finish second to Salisbury in the 1960-61 season in the Western Football League: us on 58 points, them 66 (Using the old two points for a win and one for a draw system), and we would also set a club record that still stands to this day of 115 league goals in a season, with Gaillard, Roper and Curtis likely having a lot to do with that scoring rate. We would lift the Dorset Senior Cup that season and also be runners up in the Western League Cup.

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A more than respectable sixth place finish would follow in 1961-62 with a further 102 league goals being scored (the 85 conceded equally alarming) with players such as Roper, Galliard and Curtis ably assisted by Derek Stroud and Graham Fuge. 1962-63 would see a more disappointing 11th place finish but with a further 92 goals scored that season, it’s safe to say the issues weren’t finding the opposition net, more so keeping it out of our own.

Don would retire at the end of that season at the age of 40, but his tally of 103 league games and 31 goals is a more than reasonable return and his contribution in the 1960-61 season sees that particular club record stand to this day. Don would move back to his home of Southampton to work as an engineer. He sadly passed away in 2001, aged 78.

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So how does the story of a man who won the league in the top-tier twice as well as being an England B cap and an FA Cup finalist get forgotten? Well we don’t know.

Although it was a much different time, Don Roper signing for us seven years after winning the league with Arsenal is like Michael Carrick or Ashley Young tuning up this year for pre-season, which I’m sure people would notice. He also played one game of first class cricket for Hampshire in 1947, so he wasn’t just someone who could kick a ball. There were some good players in those sides, but it is a largely forgotten period of the clubs history. Looking into the past has seen a few other former players of some repute come to our notice, so in the absence of booze fuelled away days and relegation chatter, historical look backs like this will have to do. Hopefully we’ll have some success in the future to talk about, but in the meantime, here’s to Don Roper, one of the best players we’ve had that you’d probably never heard of. SV

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Dorchester Town FC, 1962-63 (We think)

Back row L-R; Marcel Gaillard, Don Roper, Charlie Purves (?), Ray Walbridge, Dave Neal, McDonald (?), Ron Moscrop, Brawley

Front row L-R; ???, Graham Fuge, Derek Stroud, Dinky Curtis, Alan Greening.

If anyone has any more info on Don, this side or any other info/photos of Dorch teams from this era, please get in touch, this lockdown isn’t ending anytime soon…