“I never thought that one part of my Saturday would be spent stirring a sausage casserole.”

I know its only one game and we don’t want to get carried away this early in the season. However, who is best to speak to at the council to arrange a parade and do Damory do open top buses? We’ll also have to put some feelers out about replacing the Town Pump with a statue of Jordan Ngalo. I know one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but Saturday’s win and performance provides hope that this season might be different to the last few years in that we might not be fighting for our lives come April and maybe we can afford ourselves the occasional look up the table, rather than down. Following a slightly indifferent start to preseason, both performance and recruitment picked up as it went on, and in our final couple of preseason games we seemed far more organised. On Saturday, it all came together quite nicely. We looked good going forward, scored a couple of good goals, defended well when we needed to, didn’t panic, and looked like a team that might actually be quite unpleasant to play against. As first games go, you can’t ask for much more.

Isotonic.

And as days out go, it wasn’t a bad one either. The weather was good and the odd sense of cautious optimism that many of us had saw a good turnout amongst the usual faces as we assembled in the Spoons beer garden for a hearty breakfast. Last season’s pre-match ritual of the Park Run with El Generale was in the original plan, but El Gen has sadly sustained a foot wound in the line of duty, so that part of the plan fell by the wayside. Said foot injury required an x-ray and he was offered a Saturday appointment at DCH to have this done, but that man was having none of it. “I didn’t want to miss the day out so I’ll get it done tomorrow when I’m hungover. The alcohol will numb the pain.” Commitment we could all learn from. Having foregone the run part of the morning, I made my way to Coffee#1 before 1000 (the Wimpy for those who remember) as I’d sadly got ready to head out far earlier than I needed to as I was quite looking forward to that day. Nothing like a piping hot coffee to calm a man down. Goddard was also a man out bright and early as he met me as we trotted to Spoons, although he was sadly not resplendent in his retro Dorch shirt as it still had a slight mark on it from where Welchy had managed to splatter some sick on it post Salisbury away last season. I dread to think how full that washing basket must be.

Seagulls, seagulls…

At Spoons we met up with Henry, were soon joined by Fred, and I was soon the odd man out as I had obviously missed the memo about the dress code. I was sporting my usual part skate park, part Primark look, the others wearing Fred Perry polo shirts. Or as Welchy put it; “it’s like a Proud Boys meeting here.” Kudos if that reference hasn’t gone straight over your head. Food was ordered and a couple made tentative steps towards pints as well. TG and I going for the isotonic choice of alcohol free Erdinger, others such as Cal going for the holy grail of breakfast beers and straight to the Guinness. As the clock ticked towards midday and numbers swelled further, the mood was good and we were all in a relatively confident mood ahead of the game, a feeling very alien to many a Dorch fan. Clarkie, Welchy, a brace of Buik’s, Watkins, and El Gen were all now on scene, and as two seagulls descended to obliterate the remains of another table’s food, the decision was made to head to the Convivial Rabbit, which also happens to be my favourite pub in town with its wide ale choice and rather delightful picture of the old Avenue Ground on the wall. The beer and the beer garden were both ideal, with many electing for a cold Budvar on a hot day, myself electing for an ambient temperature ale as I’m not known for my common sense. JW also went room temperate with his Dorset Nectar cider, although it was probably more by accident than design as he’d been on the Thatchers at Spoons and had likely forgot that scrumpy existed.

Rabbit rabbit.

After two or three pints at the Rabbit it was becoming increasingly difficult to for us to muster the energy to move to the ground, so we made our final pitstop so close that we could roll down the hill at will as we walked to the cricket ground, Dorchester’s largest beer garden. The cricket club have mastered something the football club have struggled with for several years in that they have both a successful Dorchester based sporting side, and good beer at the club bar, and we added to a good number of people at the Rec from their 3rd v 1st game against Wimborne. A pint of 871 for me and likely something colder for the normal folk was just what was required as walking all the way from town to the Avenue in this weather would have been daft. We arrived as Dorchester were in the field and as I nattered to some of the locals, it soon dawned on us that we might want to head to the football club by kick-off. I could have quite happily stayed there all day, but in hindsight was glad I didn’t. El Gen almost found himself wheeled part of the way there in a shopping trolley that was nearby, but we arrived at the ground in time to acquire some further refreshment before we trundled onto the Bovril to see what we were all here for.

Dorchester’s biggest beer garden.

In terms of the team it was almost as strong as we could be, Keith Emmerson the only likely starter who was unavailable. There were eight debutants in the XI in total. Brad Snelling started in goal, Slough and Bertrand as wingbacks, a central defensive three of Foot, Douglas and Buckley, Matty Neale and the newly signed and TSOF sponsored Jordan Ngalo in midfield, with the attacking three being Alfie, Ollie Balmer and Shaq. Ngalo signing was a huge boost heading into the season. He’d impressed everyone as Trialist A against Yeovil and his signing given his pedigree and experience is quite a coup. The side now looks a lot more balanced and it showed. In opposition, this was North Leigh’s first game at this level following their promotion via the playoffs, and they were a total unknown to us as both a footballing side and as a place. A quick Google search in the week by Kinners told us that North Leigh was in fact a village and that it had a population of about 1,900. So we were playing against a village that was bigger than Puddletown, but not quite as big as Stalbridge.

No sadder sight.

Kicking towards the Tesco end in the first half, we positioned ourselves on the side and no sooner had we got comfortable, we took a fourth minute lead. Some lovely play between Slough, Neale, Balmer and then Shaq saw the ball squared across the six-yard box, Alfie Stanley flicking the ball home to finish a fine little move. One up inside five minutes is not something we’re used to; this made a pleasant change to say the least and it was almost two soon after as Slough saw his effort saved before Shaq rattled a post from the rebound. We were playing well and even looking threatening from unlikely positions, with Alfie’s 40 yard strike on the turn not missing by much. North Leigh began to settle more into the game after our start without causing too much panic, and we soon added a second that our play deserved, even if this wasn’t quite the team goal the first one was. A hopeful ball was played forward by Jordi Foot (I think it was him) but it was slightly overhit and found only a North Leigh defender. Rather than close the man down, Alfie showed great anticipation and realised the defender was going to pass the ball back to his keeper before either keeper or defender knew that they were going to, and he duly latched onto the back-pass, got the ball past the keeper, possibly via a nutmeg, and rolled said ball into the empty net. The finish was made to sound a lot easier than it was, Alfie’s anticipation and execution were both excellent, and at 2-0 up, we were in very unfamiliar territory. The visitors did force Snelling into a save before halftime, but the 2-0 score line at the break reflected what had been a very good half for us.

The chat at halftime was that of a content fanbase but one that also knows the perils of counting the proverbial chickens. Soon after the resumption we had a good chance to make it three, Ollie Balmer only just missing the target, but minutes later one of those proverbial chickens copped it as North Leigh pulled a goal back. It wasn’t one we’ll be keen to watch back as a corner was bundled in at the back post after a couple of ricochets, but it was game on again and those nerves started to jangle. If the nerves on the Bovril were strained, they didn’t seem to be on the pitch. Griggs, Sa and Moyse were introduced for Balmer, Slough and Shaq respectively, and rather than retreating as we may have done previously, we more than held firm as the game remained relatively open. North Leigh were only really threatening from range as the defence and midfield stood firm but we were then treated to some early season needle after Glenn had stopped North Leigh taking a quick throw in by kicking the ball away. He blamed his competitive edge for it; we thoroughly endorse this type of behaviour. The result of this was a melee involving both benches, lots of pushing and shoving, and some serious finger wagging. After order had been restored there were cards for one North Leigh player, Glenn and Brian Churchill. This is possibly Churchy’s first reported use of force since B wing in about 2009. After that bit of excitement, there wasn’t really much more left in the game, although there was still time for Ngalo to get booked for time wasting, and we saw the final moments out pretty comfortably. Three points and lots of encouragement for the season ahead.

After a well deserved round of applause for the players, it was back into the bar for the post-match debrief. This is where things got a little weird as an issue between one North Leigh follower and some fans behind the goal that had been allowed to simmer rather quickly headed towards boiling point, and temperatures had to be cooled. Part of my post-match this week was spent in a very small kitchen with two others as we tried to calm down one rather annoyed man. Diffusion and de-escalation skills were on show and the figurative temperature may have dropped, but the literal temperature remained high as a sausage casserole bubbled away on the cooker hob behind us. The situation being resolved at that point was a blessed relief, not only as a potential crisis had been averted, but I could now breathe easy again away from the molten crock pot. There were several questions that quite frankly need answers as a result of the whole incident, the most pressing for me is this; what is the uptake from players of a sausage casserole post-match in August heat? Who is doing 90 minutes and looking for bangers based scran after? I’m not mocking, and it did smell bloody lovely. I’m oddly intrigued.

Aside from that weirdness, which did no one from either club any favours, there was a genuine happiness at the result and performance. Everyone had played well. They’d have all got at least a 7/10 were I doing such ratings. We looked strong at the back, Ngalo is a quality addition who immediately improves us and allows Matty Neale greater freedom, and we have a strike force that will cause any side in the league problems. Alfie looked very sharp and his two goals are the perfect start to his season. There are some big scoring names in the league this season with ex-Magpies Brandon Goodship, Ben Seymour and Toby Holmes, other predatory front men from last season having moved on, and hopefully Alfie can be right up there with them. Scoring goals isn’t enough for some though, with one erstwhile fan on the Bovril proclaiming; “he’s scored two goals but the rest has been rubbish!” What “rest” is this bloke expecting? A more exuberant celebration? A haircut? For him to turn into one of the ten a penny crap forwards we’ve had who run around but don’t score? He’s a goal scorer who scores goals, and when he does so, we usually win. What did the Romans ever do for us…

Photo credit: Phil Standfield.

We also looked like a team that would be horrible to play against. We actually look like a team of grown adults and played like one as well, and we seem far more streetwise. Tougher tests than North Leigh will come, but they were by no means pushovers. I’ve seen much worse sides than them at the Avenue, sadly it has usually been us, but they are newly promoted and it is difficult to gauge how good they are in what is a much changed league this season. With no relegated side coming down from the Conference South, only sides coming up, the league has an odd feel to it. Truro away on Saturday will be a better barometer of our progress, and the visit of Plymouth Parkway the following Tuesday will show us how far we’ve come and what we might expect from the coming months.

But for me, after a quick visit to the Rec to see the cricket club complete a welcome Dorchester double as they beat Wimborne, it was home for fish and chips with the family ahead of my coach journey back the next day. As opening days go, we couldn’t have asked for much more. A win, a good day out, and some novelty stuff to write about. The league table after ten games will be very interesting given the rather odd mix of teams this season – for me personally I’d still happily accept a midtable finish and not being in another bloody relegation battle as a decent result, and throw in a nice cup run to sweeten the deal and I’ll be more than content. Truro away this weekend awaits, I’ll be scrutinising the post-match food options to see if they too offer a casserole. SV.

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