“Are you kidding? He won’t fetch the curse out mumbling a few prayers.”

30 years. Three whole decades. 10,950 days. No, that’s not how long the last few seasons in the Southern League have felt, that is how long the Avenue Stadium has been the club’s home. Built at a cost of over £2 million with Prince Charles involved in the design process, we switched from the old Avenue Ground in 1990 (now the site of Tesco) to the brand-new Avenue Stadium. It is in fact 30 years to the day since we played our first league game at the ground (more on that to come) and in the seasons that have followed we’ve been treated to some great highs, a curse placed on the stadium by a “Dorset wizard”, a scheme to put flats around the ground, a televised FA Cup game, an away keeper trying to jump into the home fans for a scrap, some stunning goals and gaffes, memorable testimonials, as well as being subjected to some staggering lows. Of course, listing all off these highs and lows isn’t possible as quite frankly, I don’t want to depress myself with having to spend too much time looking at crushing defeats. But a condensed version with 5 of the best, and on the flip side, 5 of the worst, seems much more manageable. So along with some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the top slots, here are some of the best and worst games that have taken place on the hallowed turf/3G at The Avenue Stadium.

Honourable mentions;

A most honourable of mentions has to go to the official opening of the stadium with a friendly against Chelsea. Monday the 15th of October 1990 was the date and in front of a bumper crowd of 4,000 plus fans, a strong Chelsea side would run out 1-4 winners thanks to two goals from Kerry Dixon, a Kevin McAllister effort and bizarrely, a penalty from England goalkeeper Dave Beasant. The Chelsea side also included Graeme Le Saux, Dennis Wise, Steve Clark, Frank SInclair and ex-Magpie Graham Roberts in their number, but Dorchester put in a performance of their own and were rewarded with a strike from Colin ‘Harry’ Sayers as a consolation. With a ‘grand penalty shootout’ of DTFC youngsters as well as a performance from The Massed Band of the Devon and Dorset Regiment, entry priced at £4 for adults and £3 for OAPs/children in the main stand and £3 & £2 respectively on the terrace, it was a bargain as well as a memorable night for the club.

Jeremy Judd saves from Kerry Dixon in the official opening match.

In the middle of an awful run of form and on a horrible night in March, a 4-1 win over soon to be promoted Bromsgrove in the league cup would be the standout result from 1992. The Midlands side would win promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference that season (no idea if they sponsored it but I just like the name) but they would be undone by a tremendous team performance at The Avenue. Two goals for Tony Diaz and one each from Paul Masters and Gary Green would see us take a 4-1 lead into the second leg, but that’s only part of the story. We had to use both of our subs inside 30 minutes (yep, only 2 subs then), and when Pete Morrell was stretched off after 64 minutes with no feeling in his previously broken leg, we were down to 10 men. Staggeringly, Pete would return to the pitch for the final 10 minutes as we held off late pressure to take a big win that would give the club and the dressing room a boost.

Big spending Crawley came to town in 1995 and had David Speedie amongst others in their side, but we had a few handy players of our own. Taffy Richardson, Owen Pickard and Tommy Killick goals would see us emerge as 3-1 winners over the money side in the league and the game would be excellently summed up as; “one of those glorious ‘we’re quite good actually’ moments of pride that come around all so rarely come around as a Magpies fan.” A high scoring classic would see us overcome Salisbury 4-3 in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup in the year that would eventually see us face Wigan in the first-round proper. Two Matt Lonnon strikes and single efforts from Andy Harris and Owen Pickard were enough to get the job done in a real end to end game.

We’re not sure there are any greater winning margins in the league than a Martin Shepherd inspired 8-1 thumping of St Leonards on our way to the title in 2003 [edit-we won a game 9-0 that season at home against Spalding]. Shep would net 4 that day and he also kindly allowed Justin Keeler, Matty Holmes, Stuart Cooper and Mark Jermyn to score as well as we would utterly rout the lowly opposition. There was another nine-goal game in and around this time as we would defeat Stamford 5-4 having been 4-1 down. Frustratingly, I can’t find any information on this one other than the result, so that will remain a mystery for the time being. A 5-4 injury time win over Sutton in 2006 with a last gasp Groover winner adding to two Dave Town strikes and goals from Mark Robinson and Justin Keeler in a game that had a red card and a penalty was a real thriller, a late 3-2 win over Welling in 2005 would keep faint promotion hopes alive as Warren Byerley would score a late clincher, and we couldn’t look at memorable games without looking at local derby matches.

Justin Keeler and Glenn Howes would secure a 2-0 win over our rivals in January of 2006, the battle that was the 2-2 draw on New Years Day in 2004 saw Browner and Steve Claridge clash in between Alex Browne and a Matt Hann goals, and the game when player/manager Mark Jermyn would fire in the only goal in a 1-0 win on August bank holiday in 2015 are all memorable for many reasons. Two Justin Keeler goals and a Matt Lonnon injury time winner would be the difference in a 3-2 victory in the Dorset Senior Cup in the early part of the millennium, and Mark Jermyn and Nick Crittenden’s final game on Boxing Day in 2016, a hard fought 1-1 draw was an notable day on many levels. I could go on for a while talking about wins that meant something, but that’s not the point.

Dishonourable mentions.

Where to begin with this… A strong side was dumped out of the Dorset Senior Cup by the mighty Swanage in 1991 in one of the first real stinkers at the new ground. An XI that included terrace heroes such as Paul Thorpe, Pete Morrell, Tony Diaz, Gary Borthwick, Neil Coates, Tony White were soundly beaten 2-0 by the Wessex League outfit but sadly that wasn’t the only disappointment the club would have to deal with. Owen Pickard has less than fond memories of Gravesend at home in the mid 1990’s as he missed two penalties and then proceeded to give the ball away which resulted in their equaliser. Thankfully for Owen this was a draw and not a defeat. Our form was so bad at home in 1994 (8L, 4D, 2W) that we took the unusual step of having the club chaplain come in to help lift a curse that had been placed on the ground by a local wizard. And no, I am not making this up. A curse was placed on the ground by the Wizard of the Wessex due to a dispute with the Dutchy, who own the land the stadium is built on. Please see the article below as the quotes genuinely have to be seen to be believed.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/football-curse-lifted-1428943.htm

Other notable defeats were to follow and to be honest, having lost 24 games in the league in 2000-01 on our way to relegation, you can take your pick from that lot. After returning to the Dr Martens Premier Division and then into the newly formed Conference South we would suffer a 0-7 defeat to champions elect, Grays Athletic, who were full time and powered to the league title. Mark Morris’ final home game, a 3-0 loss against Histon was a depressing day all around, and our eventual relegation from the Conference South was every bit as sombre as you’d imagine it to be. Sadly, we then come to the Southern League seasons of recent time which has been an utter abomination on the whole. A real low point was the tragic death of Alex ‘gangster’ Legge, popular figure and kitman, in September of 2014. He sudden death shocked the whole club, but Truro’s alleged insistence of playing the fixture on the day of his death left a sour taste. The 1-2 defeat that followed did little to ease the pain of a horrific week for all involved at the club. Both Alex and his late father, Stacey Legge, have had seats purchased in their honour in the main stand as part of the club’s ‘sponsor a seat’ project.

Last season was abysmal and we were reprieved by a deadly pandemic which tell you all you need to know. That said, a 0-5 loss at home to Salisbury, a 1-5 score line vs Tiverton were soul destroying, but the biscuit is taken by grinding out a 2-2 draw with Walton Casuals. On the face of it, a point is no bad thing. But having been 1-0 up when Walton has thier keeper sent off, put an outfield player in goal and then proceeding to go 2-1 down to said 10 men with a midfielder in goal, a point earned deep into injury time really is a disaster. Other Southern League . shockers include nearly all of Graham Kemp and Craig Laird’s games with Mick Jenkins and Shaun Brooks having their fair share of stinkers in there as well. But, enough of this. Here is the best and indeed the worst 5 games as picked by TSOF Think Tankto commemorate the last three decades of DTFC at The Avenue Stadium.

Best; Dorchester 3-2 Worcester, 18/08/1990.

30 years to the day since this match which is by more luck than judgement, but a very fitting tribute to what was the first league match at the new ground. At first glance, a 3-2 win was likely to be an exciting game regardless of the ins and outs of it. But the result only really tells a fraction of the story. The crowd of 1,250 were witness to a remarkable game that saw Dorchester goalkeeper, Jeremy Judd, sent off inside the first 20 minutes for a professional foul with the score at 2-1 to The Magpies. This saw full-back, Pete Morrell take the gloves for well over an hour, and despite playing the pre-season promotion favourites, two Robbie Taylor goals and a strike from Harry Sayers alongside a heroic rear-guard action would see the first league game at the ground yield 3 points for Keith Miller’s side. As Jeremy Judd recalls, it was an expensive night for him in the players bar, but five goals, three points, a 1,000+ crowd, incident and a gutsy performance would set a high bar of what to expect from games at our new home.

The first ever Dorchester Town FC squad to play at the new ground, 1990-91.

Worst; Dorchester 1-3 Weymouth, 26/12/1990.

Fast forward a few months and the first local derby at the stadium would be an absolute disaster. A 1-3 home loss to your local rivals is bad enough. But with a 3,000+ crowd there to witness it against a Weymouth side who would get relegated, finish rock bottom and only win 4 games all season was a really difficult result to take. Add to that the fact that manager Keith Miller, who had been in charge when we won the league in 1986-87, was sacked after the game, it was a shocker in every way possible. Gary Green would score our solitary goal and we would only win 1 game in 7 between Boxing Day and February 2nd, including a four-game stretch without a goal as we’d finish our first season at the new ground in 11th place. Weymouth would finish bottom with only 24 points, but four of those would come against the Magpies.

Best; Dorchester 7-1 Merthyr Tydfil, 05/09/1995.

The 1995-96 season would be more notable for our run to the FA Cup first round against Oxford (sadly a 9-1 loss…) than our 13th placed finish in a season which we struggled with injuries. But that’s not to say the season wasn’t without success. Not only was this the month where we beat big spending Crawley 3-1, as was mentioned earlier, we would also pummel a hapless Merthyr Tydfil on an early season Tuesday night in September. Solitary efforts from Paul Wilkinson, Andy Gater, Taffy Richardson, Tommy Killick along with a hat trick from the prolific Owen Pickard. It hadn’t been a great start to the season, but this result would help us kick on with the cup run and the Crawley win all coming in this timeframe. With Stuart Morgan at the helm, this was a Magpies side which included fan favourites Neil Coates, Tony White, Pickard, Killick, Richardson, Ken Veysey and many more. One of the first real hammerings dished out by us at The Avenue, there won’t be many times we’ve scored 7 or more over the years

Worst; Dorchester 2-3 Woking, 01/03/1997.

Now despite being a defeat, this almost made the best 5. But having a loss in the best 5 of the last 30 years was a bit too much, even for us. A crowd of almost 3,000 were in attendance for the FA Trophy third round tie, and there was plenty of intrigue as Hans Segers signed on loan for Woking, despite being embroiled in a match fixing scandal at the time. Segers was duly showered with Monopoly money by the home fans and subjected to what would have been an uncomfortable afternoon for a man who was used to playing in the FA Carling Premiership until recently. This was no bad Dorchester side though. Killick, Richardson, Pickard, Criag Taylor, Russell Coughlin, Neil Coates, Martyn Sullivan, Toby Redwood and many more were all in this side who has overcome Slough after 2 replays, and both sides would put on a show. We would take an early lead thorough Tommy Killick, but would be pegged back to 1-1 before halftime. Then would come the drama. Kicking towards our fans at the bypass end, Segers would bring down Tommy Killick and give away a penalty, and despite saving Craig Taylor’s initial effort, Owen Pickard was first to the rebound to put us 2-1 up after 65 minutes. Segers was well and truly in the fans cross hairs, but two Woking goals in the last eight minutes would see us fall to a narrow 3-2 defeat. This wasn’t the last incident of note as after Woking’s third goals, Segers had decided to return to the favour to the home fans as he celebrated in front of them. This would draw the ire of the local policeman who would go onto the pitch to reprimand Segers in front of 3,000 people. Segers would have the last laugh as the final whistle blew and despite it being a spirited performance and an excellent game, this make the worst 5 due to the sickening nature of the defeat.

 Best; Dorchester 2-1 Eastbourne Borough, 01/04/2003.

This may have taken place on April Fool’s Day, but it is a notable highpoint and a game that really started our kick towards promotion and eventually, the league title. Eastbourne Borough were the league leaders coming into the game, and a win was key to our hopes of overturning the deficit at the top of the table. A draw was a much better result for the visitors than us, and that was the way it was heading as the game went into the last 10 minutes. An early Matt Hann header with 12 minutes played, following work by man of the match Matty Holmes, was cancelled out after 63 minutes following an error from the usually reliable Mark Ormerod. However, Holmes wasn’t finished. Having been a menace to the Borough defence all night, Holmes would embark on a run with 84 minutes on the clock, skipping away from a defender and letting loose a left footed shot from 20 yards. It wasn’t sweetly struck by any means, but the wet ball squirmed through the away keepers grasp and rolled into the back of the net. Cue pandemonium from the fans assembled at the Tesco end who had been getting a soaking on what was a miserable night weather wise. We’d hold on for a vital win and this would be part of a remarkable run of 16 wins in our last 17 matches, culminating in a 1-0 home win over Kings Lynn in the final game of the season that would see us pip Eastbourne to the title on goal difference. The importance of this win on a wet Tuesday cannot be underestimated as we would score 114 goals in 42 games en route to the title.

Worst; Dorchester 1-4 St Albans, 17/09/2005.

When high flying St Albans came to town in a season that would see our visitors win promotion to the Conference National, manager Mark Morris had a plan. The pitch was narrowed by a few yards on either side to stop St Albans getting behind us as easily as they had other sides and make it easier to keep our backline tight. When we went 1-0 up inside 30 seconds though a Justin Keeler thunderbolt, it seemed like this plan might work. How wrong we were. Inspired by ex-Magpie, Matt Hann, the free-flowing visitors would tear us apart. The prolific Simon Martin and Lee Clarke would have a field day, including one goal that came from one our own corners as St Albans countered and scored within 10 seconds of us taking the set piece. It was abysmal and was part of a run of 17 goals conceded at home in only four games. It left Morris furious and telling players to show more passion or look for a different club, saying eight of the eleven on the pitch hadn’t been good enough. We would eventually finish 11th as things improved, but this was a lesson taught in the harshest of ways.

Best; Dorchester 4-1 Weymouth, 26/12/2004.

When we decided to limit this to one Weymouth game in the ‘best’ category, this was the one that stood out above all others. Weymouth manager Steve Johnson had boldly proclaimed that Matt Groves and the rest of the Dorchester side weren’t good enough to play for Weymouth. The best way to respond? Thrashing them 4-1 with Matt Groves ramming Johnson’s words down his throat with a hat trick as Mark Jermyn netted the other goal in this absolute mauling. It was another bumper festive crowd of 3,000+ that witnessed this one sided thumping as Mark Morris’ side were the better team from start to finish. It was as good a Dorchester side as we’ve had in years with quality all the way through the side. From Craig Bradshaw in goal, Radders, Jem, Keeler, Browner, Jose Barandiarain and more, it was a side that would fall agonisingly short of the playoffs. But this fixture provided much festive cheer, and of all the derby games played at the new ground, this one nudges out the competition to take top spot.

Worst; Dorchester 0-3 Weymouth, 26/12/2014.

This was as bleak as it sounds. To say the bloom was off the rose for manager Graham Kemp would be an understatement. We were in freefall, on a four-game losing streak which had seen an agonising late 3-4 defeat at home to Paulton and the quite ridiculous spectacle of a 6-5 defeat at St Neots. Dissention amongst the fans, poor performances on the pitch, AWH and Nathan Walker both being dropped for discipline-based issues, and a relegation battle staring us in the face. Just the time you want your local rivals who are on an upward curve coming to town. We were second best everywhere and despite going in level at halftime, it wasn’t to last as two penalties and a late third goal to add further salt to a somewhat gaping wound would see our descent into a relegation battle continue. Thankfully, Kemp’s time was soon to come to an end. Three more games were all he would last before Mark Jermyn would return to the club as player/manager, steer us away from trouble and provide us with the hope things would improve as we moved into next season. This wasn’t to last but at least it was better than this Boxing Day embarrassment which was the lowest ebb of several lows we’d encounter in this period.

Best; Dorchester 1-0 Plymouth, 04/12/2012. 

The obvious choice for this piece, this is the undoubted peak of life at The Avenue Stadium. FA Cup First Round, live on ESPN, a strong Magpies side, league opposition, a big crowd and the feeling that anything could happen. The Vic was drunk dry of cider in the pre-match festivities, and as the game began, we were given a helping hand as future Premier League player Conor Hourihane would be sent off early in the first half. A Charlie Clough header would strike the post and it would be a tough slog on a cold wet November afternoon. But early in the second half a deep Jake Smeeton cross was turned back into the danger area by Mark Jermyn. Loanee Jake Gosling was on hand to turn the ball into the roof of the net and secure us a famous, historic win. It is one of the high points of the club’s entire history, let alone at the new ground and one that will live long in the memories of fans for years to come.

Worst; Dorchester 0-6 Farnborough, 15/01/2019.

Our final match is one that is once again, as bad as it sounds. Three days after the narrow 2-1 defeat away at Barnet in the FA Trophy, our league form was patchy at best as we were descending into a possible relegation battle. A cold February Tuesday night would leave fans in no doubt as to how dire things were as we were battered on our own patch by an inconsistent Farnborough side. The signs were there early that it would be a long night with the visitors being afforded the space to shoot twice inside the opening minute. We would be 2-0 down by half-time and that would be a slightly flattering score as far as our performance was concerned. After the break, we’d fall apart as four more goals would compound our misery as our reliance on loanees Harry Kite, Brennan Camp and Ben Seymour would be evident for all to see. The three loanees who had been so impressive three days earlier at The Hive were unavailable due to commitments with their parent clubs, and their absence and the score showed just how important they were. Manager Steve Thompson would only last a handful of further games before the axe fell, and Callum Brooks would guide us to safety. What happened following that is a blur of coronavirus and embarrassing defeats…

With the pre-season program starting tonight as we face Winchester at home in a ‘behind closed doors’ friendly, we can only hope things improve and we can add games into the best rather than the worst category in coming months. We have no doubt missed several games, so do let us know which ones. Up the Magpies, don’t forget to buy your 505/50 tickets online for tonight’s friendly! We’ll have Cherry Magpie providing us updates from the safety of Guyer’s cherry picker in the railway side carpark. SV.