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.

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.

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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Don was signed by then player-manager, the Belgian Marcel Gaillard, who himself was an ex-top flight footballer with Portsmouth, and Don would join a more than useful Dorchester side with many recognisable names from Magpies past. Dinky Curtis, Derek Stroud, Graham Fuge and Martin McDonald to name a few were all established names in the starting line-up, and the quality that Don and Marcel would bring would only make us a more fearsome attacking force. Sadly, Marcel would have to retire after injury would prove too much for him to overcome after 14 appearances and four goals, but that wouldn’t stop the rest of the side. We’d finish second to Salisbury that season with our 58 points falling short of Salisbury’s 66 (using the old two points for a win and one for a draw system) but we would set a record that still stands to this day. The 115 league goals scored that season remains our highest ever league goals tally, narrowly ahead of the league winning 2002-03 season by a single goal. Don would make 39 appearances and miss only a single game, a team high, and score 20 league goals that season (Graham Fuge and Alan Greening would also net 20 in the league!) as Dinky Curtis was top scorer with 25. A brace in a 4-1 opening day win at home to Bideford would set the standard for Don’s season, and as a side we’d only fail to score in two games all season. It wouldn’t be a season without some silverware either as we’d win both the Western League Cup and the Dorset Senior Cup.
1961-62 would be another season filled with goals, but they’d come at both ends this time with 101 scored but a worrying 85 conceded! A sixth-place finish would follow as we would finish 20 points off eventual winners Bristol City Reserves, Don’s 32 appearances and eight goals would be his return as Dinky Curtis would net 37 (!) league goals in the 38-game season. We would also win the Alan Young Cup (I have no idea what this was) as well as finishing runners-up in the League Cup. The next season would prove to be Don’s last with us and it was one that was severely interrupted by ‘the big freeze’. With the complaints about fixture congestion in modern football, our run of seven games in 15 days in April at a time when no substitutes were allowed really does show how badly late season games can pile up. A respectable 11th place finish would be the result of our efforts and Don’s would still feature in 31 of 42 league games, netting three times in the process. 91 scored and 79 conceded shows just how end to end a lot of the games were…
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Don’s son, Les, would recall some of his memories of his Dad’s playing days;

“When he left the Dell, my Mum had gone back to work and used to work Saturdays, so I used to go with my Dad to matches, I was 11 in 1960. First year he shared the driving with Barrie Hillier, who had been on Saints books, I’m not sure how many seasons that was for. For a lot of the matches to the North Dad would drive himself, occasionally picking up players who would drive up from Bournemouth. So, we would drive direct to places like Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Welton Rovers, Taunton (must have been for a cup match), Andover, Salisbury. Further west we would go down to Dorchester to pick up the team coach, for places like Bideford, Barnstaple, Torquay.”

“Dad used to get a postcard every Thursday morning with details of the Saturday match and travel arrangements. So sometimes that would be the way he learned he was dropped for the Saturday. In his last season he was in and out of the first team, so we ended up at the likes of Blandford, Chickerell, and Bluebirds at Poole. Happy days. I wish I could name Dad’s favourite match! What I can categorically say is that he did say to us he enjoyed his football at Dorchester more than anywhere else. And he never complained about playing in the reserves which sort of bears that out.”

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.

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.

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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.