“Where did Euro 92 take place, Phil?…..”Mexico”

Plus ça-fucking-change eh!? It seems hard to believe that it was over a year ago that I last attended a Dorch away game. A work trip back to the UK and I thought I’d bolt on a week-long holiday in Dorset to see the ‘rents and take in a Tuesday night jaunt down to Truro for the first away game of the season. We lost 3-0. I should have known better.

Fast forward a year, a pandemic, a family bereavement, a sabbatical-cum-repatriation later and I find myself once again back in Dorset eyeing up the first away game of the season. On a Tuesday night. I should have known better.

And perhaps I did, subconsciously. After all, this was only going to be Christchurch …”a nice easy one” – the type of game most fans would drive over after work, routine victory, drive back home and be in bed by half ten. Obviously this is Dorch, and that was never going to happen and so, out of necessity if nothing else, the day would instead revolve around a few beers in Bournemouth before the inevitable 90 minutes of football ruining a perfectly lovely day.

And so ‘El Gen’ and I headed over by train in the mid-arvo to catch up with Phil (now living in the distant, bright city lights of Bournemouth) and have a few beers with him in his local gaff of Ashley Cross – “The Shephard’s Bush of Bournemouth” apparently.

Whilst we waited for Phil to finish work, Steve and I headed to The Camden and took advantage of £6 steak night and tucked into a few Estrellas as we ran the rule over the opening day defeat to Weston. We had apparently done this in the immediate aftermath of the game on Saturday, but due to reasons that definitely weren’t linked to us having done match sponsorship for the day, I had fallen asleep in the bar by this point.

Steve’s thought process (or “philosophy” to use the very much over-used modern day football parlance) is to build from the back first-and-foremost. Defend well first and then add the more attacking layers on top of that. As anybody who has ever stood next to El Generalè at a game knows, this can neatly be summarised as “BASICS!!!!”. As such, Steve is quite at ease with us playing three at the back with wing backs and felt we looked solid enough for a first proper hit out – three individual mistakes aside of course.

My thinking is a little different. For me, you play to your strengths – and certainly look to build your team around them. Ours just happens to be a winger and so I struggle to see how playing what appears to be a 5-4-1 system – that is, a system with wing-backs and two wingers (albeit one tucked in more) , does anything other than nullify our main threat, whilst leaving us somewhat short in the middle of the pitch. Anyway, it was all immaterial really, as we were obviously not going to go to a team two leagues below us and play five at the back and only one up top. Obviously not…

The beers began to flow and it dawned on us that with capacity capped at 300 we should probably begin to get a move on to the ground. We are after all quite the potential giant killing here. And we were right too. Arriving quarter of an hour before kick off, the line was snaking out of the car park. Bollocks.

Fortunately for me, by virtue of helping out down the club over lock down, I was able to wangle myself a comp ticket and sneak on through – leaving Steve in the line. I know. Shit friend. Still, any smugness was soon wiped off my face as the teams were read out over the tannoy. Five at the back and one up top. Bollocks.

To compound matters, Steve then messaged the group to say the gates had shut at 300 and he wasnt allowed in. Fortunately, all those pre-seasons friendlies at Poole Town back in the early 2000’s has made El Gen quite the expert at climbing into tinpot grounds. And ten minutes later he comes strutting along the touchline like a peacock/the chairman approaching Wimborne fans.

El Gen, all smiles from sneaking in and breaking government covid regulations. The smiles would stop from here.

Christchurch were straight out the blocks as you’d guess them to be and picking up the majority of loose balls in midfield in the early exchanges. But after a bout of pressure, we went ahead through Tom Blair. Picking up the ball in the middle of our half, he turned a ran. Beating the first man on the inside, the second man on the outside, and then riffled a shot into the far corner. A proper “nestles” if ever there was one. Lovely, we crack on from here….

Or not. A couple of half chances were all we could muster following that and Christchurch began to grow back into the game. Shooting down the hill they had the majority of play, by virtue of closing us down quickly, winning the second balls and playing in the right areas. Basics, one might say.

The half time whistle almost came with a little relief. But never mind, shooting down the hill second half, bit of a rocket up their arses by Leigh at half time and we’ll crack on from here.

Or not.

Merely a matter of minutes into the second half and Christchurch lob a ball, from deep, towards the back post. Will Buse, decides he fancies this one over 6ft5 Sam Poole but can only muster a flap at it. It lands at the thankful feet of Christchurch’s impressive, and excellently named, Ron Frost. His shot deflects of Dunstan, Lowes, the post and Madden, before ending up in the net. Bollocks.

From here, Christchurch sensed a famous victory and we were second best throughout, falling deeper and deeper as the match went on. The introduction of our two best strikers (now, there’s an idea!) saw us get a little more into it, but it was still the home team picking up all the loose balls and on top.

And just as you begin to find peace with the idea that Christchurch were going to take us to penalties (Christchurch FFS!), they pick up one of those loose balls in the middle of our half. Two seconds, one run and three half-hearted challenges later and the ball is riffled past Buse by Harvey White to set the Christchurch players – and the hundred or so Christchurch fans who weren’t there as neutrals – wild. And frankly, it was utterly deserved, and I found myself clapping Christchurch rather than in howls of despair, such was the obviousness of it all.

The drive home with Berry and Cooky was one of the most depressing I’ve had in a while… and not because of Berry and Cooky, I should point out. Perhaps it was the realisation of another false dawn that hurt the most? Perhaps it was the fact that we went to a team two leagues below us, played five at the back and left our two main strikers on the bench? Perhaps it was just the sheer lack of effort we had just witnessed. Whatever it was, it was neatly summarised by Steve yelling “its the mentality… it’s the fucking mentality” non-stop from Christchurch to Crossways, where I was relieved to jump out.

Whatever it was, it’s clear that something isn’t right or close to it, and whilst it’s early in the season and a completely new group of players who are still getting to know each other, the problems that have been evident all pre-season still remain. Namely, no attacking threat other than through a mazy-run from Blair, and we look consistently a man light in the middle of the pitch. It’s early enough to fix and easy enough to do too.

Still, two winnable games up next to lift the mood, starting with Yate on Saturday. I’ve not the hunger to sit in a car for three hours to watch it. I’ve learnt better. CM

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