After a few months of inactivity, football is most definitely back as the Twitter timeline is full of complaints about VAR and tweets from non league players running around cones in their back gardens and in parks to show others just how “buzzing” they are for the new season. We’ve even signed a few players with some retained, some returning and some new, so welcome to those if any of them happen to find themselves reading this. We’ll fully believe that the season is approaching when rumours of Nathan Peprah-Anan turning up for pre-season on Hardye’s field start to circulate.
As I’m sure you’ll remember all too well, last season was not a classic in the DTFC historical annals as we were rock bottom prior to getting a lucky coronavirus based reprieve from relegation. But this is not the first time we’ve received a reprieve after having an awful season. Victory in the AGM Cup in 2007-08 saw us fortuitously saved from relegation due to Nuneaton Borough’s liquidation and the Conference’s decision to expel Boston United after we’d finished second bottom, but this wasn’t the first time either. So despite the fact that this is a piece about a successful title winning campaign, to understand the 1986-87 triumph, we’ll start with the disaster of 1985-86.
The 1980’s was a strange time to support Dorch. A league title win in 1979-80 under caretaker manager Stuart Bell would start the decade in style, but the Martin Chivers experiment the following season would only last six months before Bell would return in full charge as our title defence resulted in a 6th place finish. A 3rd place finish would follow as we’d also come agonisingly close to the FA Cup Third Round in 1981-82, before a respectable 9th place would be the result back in our first season in the newly reformed Southern Premier League in 1982-83. This is where the problems would start. Relegated back into the Southern League South in 1983-84 with what is as far as I can tell is our record low points tally of 20 (for a completed season) amidst an on going financial crisis, Keith ‘Dusty’ Miller would take over for the 1984-85 season as player-manager. A bit of stability would follow with a 14th spot in this season, but disaster would follow as 1985-86 would see us finish bottom by 15 points. our tally of 23 points is the second lowest in the clubs history since 3 points for a win was introduced as a rule (we finished with 21 points in 1951-52 in the days of 2 points for a win).
In that season we wouldn’t win in the league until December 21st, drawing only three games before that victory, a 2-1 win vs Andover who would finish second bottom. We would also go seven games without scoring prior to that victory, with our tallies of 35 scored and 94 conceded making us the worst side in the league both in terms of attack and defence. We’d use 33 players over the course of the season, which is very high considering there was only one substitute allowed in those days. 21 of those players playing 10 games or less. In dire straits financially with relegation to come, things looked bleak to say the least. However, this is where thing started to change. The financial crisis the club were in was eased and allowed the club to operate normally rather than relying on the manager calling in favours to name an 11, and in a stroke of luck, no clubs were relegated from the Southern League South. We’re not 100% sure as to why, but it’s quite possible that a promoted side from the tier below did not have their ground up to standard among many clubs folding or withdrawing from surrounding league. Either way, we stayed up despite being relegated and were presented with a chance to re-build.
The club were able to retain something of the core of a side going into the 1986-87 campaign with defenders Trevor Townsend, Peter Loveridge, Peter Morrell, Tony White all still remaining, forward Craig Morrison and midfielder Mark Baber all stayed having played at least some part in the previous campaign. Goalkeeper Martyn Jones joined from Poole along with Robbie Russell, Brian Chambers came in from Swanage, Steve Crabb arrived from Bridport and Gary Borthwick signed from rivals Weymouth. This would be the bulk of the squad that would play the majority of the season out, although there was a second arrival from over the hill that’ll we’ll come to later. Defender Pete Morrell would recall that the aims at the start of the season were simple;
” We were just looking to re-build and consolidate. It was pretty much a brand new side that would take time to gel after a really bad season the year before and we’d only stayed up due the team from the feeder leagues having a ground that wasn’t up to standard. We never really thought we’d win it.”
After the pre-season re-boot, we would start in true Dorchester fashion with a 0-2 loss at home to Dunstable. This would be followed up the next week with the first points of the season as a win by the same scoreline over Erith and Belvedere, Gary Borthwick and Craig Morrison with the goals. The first month would be rounded off with a 2-2 draw at Hastings (Baber and Morrison on target) and a 1-0 home win over Corinthian courtesy of a Trevor Townsend goal. September would see only two league games played due to the weather that would yield a draw a a loss, so with six games played, it was two of each in terms of draws, victories and defeats. Pete Morrell would miss some of the early games as he struggled with his fitness following his recovery from a badly broken leg (fibula and tibia) he sustained the previous season, but there was a reason for this;
“I was doing shift work which affected training and evening games the season before so it came down to a choice between football and work. So I chose to quit the job and get a new one which meant I could focus on football! I played a few reserve games to get back to fitness and worked my way back in after half a dozen games or so. Just before Christmas I got two late goals for us to get a draw at home to Hastings. There was a big night out after that.”
And by that game just before Christmas, we were in a seriously rich vein of form. In a remarkable run we would score at least two goals in every game starting with the 3-0 home win over Ruislip on October 11th, all the way through to a 0-1 home defeat to Andover on February 3rd. Results in the October to February run would be excellent. 10 wins in 13 games with two draws and a loss, that loss being a 4-3 defeat at Waterlooville, having been 0-3 up at halftime. Keith Miller’s theory on how to recover from a loss was simple; “if we lose, we can’t lose the next game.” And we didn’t lose back to back games all season. In fact after starting the season with a loss and a draw, we would win the following game after each of our six losses. ‘Bouncebackability.’
Goals were coming from all over the pitch in this spell with Craig Morrison leading the line with what Keith Miller would describe as his “yard and a half arse” that enabled him to back into defenders with few able to get round his circumference. Morrison would end the season as top scorer with 19 league goals, but more than useful contributions came from a number of sources. Pete Morrell would score seven with a good few from a free-kick routine borrowed from a youngster called Stuart Pearce from Wealdstone, Mark Baber and Robbie Russell would bag eight goals a piece, Peter Loveridge (six) and Gary Borthwick(five) would contribute 11 goals between and Steve Crabb would notch 10 times as well as assisting many more. There was one other player who would hit double figures for the season and his arrival is one of the two key points of the season that Pete Morrell identifies, both occuring in December. The Boxing Day fixture, a 2-0 home win over Trowbridge was one of the key games of the season, and it was around this time that a youngster by the name of Tony Diaz would join from 8 miles over the hill.
Joining on the recommendation of assistant manger Phil Simkin, Tony had been used mainly as a substitute by Weymouth prior to his departure and in the days of only one sub, having a bit of versatility in that one player was vital. As a result of this, Tony would feature at the back and in midfield but his move to Dorch and an injury to Robbie Russell would provide him to play up top alongside Craig Morrison. A debut goal in a 1-3 win at Poole Town the day after the Boxing Day win over Trowbridge would help him settle in quickly, and he’d finish with 16 goals in 21 games (17 starts, 4 as sub) at the end of the season. Well in title contention with a growing belief that this form could be sustained, we’d win all three games in January by an aggregate of 10-4, Morrison scoring all four in a 4-1 home win to avenge the defeat in the away game at Waterlooville as the title charge would carry into 1987.
Two losses in Feburay would each be responded to by a victory. A 0-1 defeat to Andover would be followed by a 4-0 thumping of Sheppy United with Diaz (2), Morrell and Morrison on target, and a 2-1 loss at Woodford saw us in the next game 3-2 at home to Chatham with Diaz and a Steve Crabb double doing the damage. The Sheppy United game would see the start of run that saw Tony Diaz score 15 goals in the next 14 games, with the majority of games seeing us take the points. A 2-1 home win over title chasing Ashford courtesy of a goal each from Diaz and Morrison would be vital in the context of the season, and our ability to win games by the odd goal proved invaluable in this time. Not every game was close though as we would win by a 7-0 scoreline at Canterbury on March 28th, with Craig Morrison grabbing his second 4 goal haul of the season along with solitary goals from Baber, Diaz and Crabb.
Into April and two draws would follow the 7-0 mauling. A 0-0 at home to Dover Athletic could be seen as a bad result, but with us reduced to 10 men due to a red card early on, Dover seemed content to take a point and never really attacked making for a reasonably easy afternoon for Martyn Jones and his defence. A 2-2 would follow on the Tuesday night at home against Woodford with Loveridge and Steve Crabb scoring our goals, and you could be forgiven for thinking our momentum may be coming to a halt. But a 2-1 win that Saturday in Tonbridge would prove that wasn’t the case, before an away trip to relegation threatened Ruislip would follow on the Tuesday night. It’s a game fondly remembered by both Tony Diaz and Pete Morrell, although not because it was a footballing classic.
PM; “Ruislip’s drainage had gone so it was an awful pitch. Some patches were rock solid, some parts would take a stud and other parts were like quicksand. We got a free kick way out in the boggy area and I just did what I could to get it into the box and their keeper totally mistimed his jump due to the bog and could only flap at it and tip it behind him. Tony was coming in behind him and scored with a diving header and it was a very important win. He got some vital goals that season, him and Martyn Jones were two of the real key signings.”
TD; “It was a really scrappy game. It was a bare, hard pitch, on a horrible windy night. I got the goal with a diving header after a free kick got played in and it was a deserved, key win. The sort of game champions win.”
After that vital win would come a 3-1 home success over Burnham (Diaz 2, Borthwick) on the Saturday, but a Monday night defeat away at Trowbridge would put a spanner in the works. Things were still in our own hands though, and a 5-2 win at Corinthian with goals courtesy of Baber, Loveridge and hat-trick for the returning Robbie Russell would see us ensure promotion back to the Southern Premier. Steve Crabb would create four out of the 5 goals and we’d gonefull circle from a club that by rights should have been relegated to winning promotion. The only remaining question was could we win the league. As Pete Morrell put it, “we’d not been up there to get shot at” all season, with Ashford and Woodford being the front runners for much of the time. Woodford would lose their two key players to a bigger side, and Ashford would stutter just enough to allow us to sneak in during the final stretch with two draws and a loss in the final five games compared to our four wins and a loss. Our final game of the season? Away at Ashford.
After we’d secured our promotion at Corinthian on the Sunday, Ashford did the same three days later on the Tuesday. But with fixture congestion, Ashford would have to play again on the Thursday and would fall to a 3-1 defeat at Woodford, when a win would have seen them go top an lead us by two points going into our winner take all game on the Saturday. As it was, we were top by one point with it all in our hands. The equation was simple in theory; avoid defeat and win the title. But we were the away side and it was Ashford’s final game at their Essella Park ground before moving. There was a 1,000+ crowd to contend with, as well as a hard, bare pitch to be played on. With a good travelling support making the journey from DT1, it was sure to be a tense affair and it proved to be just that as we would battle our way to a 0-0 draw to secure the title to go along with promotion. Described as an “ugly game” by Pete Morrell, as he quite rightly pointed out, “the result was more important than the performance.” It had been a stunning turn around after the horrors of the season before, and despite a few visiting Millwall fans who were intent on causing trouble, it was job done. The league was ours, the title presented on the pitch and the players and fans could celebrate and remarkable achievement.
It was a title win in which every player did their bit. We had the best attack in the league with 83 goals scored as well as the second tightest defence with 42 conceded. 13 players played in 20 or more of the games with the central defensive partnership of Loveridge and Townsend playing every single match. Fullbacks Morrell (34) and White (35) barely missed a game, and they were backed up by the excellent Martyn Jones in goal. Crabb (10), Chambers (one), Borthwick (five) and Baber (eight) contributed 24 goals combined on top of the vast number that were created, Gary Borthwick helping in stopping just as many with his efforts in the centre of the pitch. Martin Stormont would be involved in over half the games (17+3) proving his worth to the side, and Lyn Stockholm would be one of the keepers called upon in the absence of number one choice Jones. Finally the forward trio of Morrison (19 goals in 37 appearances), Diaz (16 in 17+4 )and Russell (8 in 25+3) would contribute over half (43) of the teams 83 goals. Everyone who played contributed, and it’s a season that lives long in the memory of those involved;
PM; “Its one of the top three moments of my career. A few of us suffered the indignity of finishing bottom of the league the season before and it was an amazing turn around with one of the best groups of players I’ve had the privilege of playing with. On a personal note it was a long recovery from breaking both my fibula and tibia in the January of the previous season, and it was a really long recovery back in the day. But with great support from staff and the club I got back to my best and was part of an amazing achievement.”
TD; “It was a fantastic five months after moving from Weymouth at Christmas, playing for my home town club and being able to celebrate a league title at the age of 19. On a personal level, being able to contribute to the cause by scoring some goals was very special for me and made me feel that I played my part in the club securing the title. In hindsight it was a really special moment for me and on a personal level it ranks alongside winning the Southern League golden boot five years later and representing England Schoolboys Under 18’s in 1985.”
Now we realise that this precedent of being rock bottom one season, being reprieved and avoiding relegation before winning the league the following term is a thing, I look forward to Leigh Robinson guiding us to the Southern Premier League title this coming season after the disaster that was the 2019-20 campaign. But whatever happens in the future, we’ll be lucky if we see season and have a side like the 1986-87 incarnation again. Up The Magpies, SV.