The usual outcome of my Saturdays spent watching football are enjoyable on the whole, with the football between the hours of three and five PM somewhat ruining the day. It is with much delight and surprise that my last two visits to the Avenue have not only been enjoyable days, but also have yielded two wins and some excellent football to boot. This development has left many stunned, with even Bovril regulars having good words to say. It really is a momentous time for all involved as Glenn Howes’ Magpies occupy our highest position that isn’t due to alphabetical order in several years.
A few days R&R back in Dorch just so happened to coincide with Saturday’s home fixture with Salisbury – I know, what are the chances – so I put the feelers out to see if any of the usual faces were around – the same old few, if you will. As it happened, there was not much clamour from the regulars to attend this game, and it was just JW and I that decided to meet and make a day of it. The initial plan had been a trusty Spoons breakfast, before a trot to the usual spot of the Convivial Rabbit. That was until Welchy couldn’t get the car parked and ran so late that Spoons stopped serving breakfast. The initial meet time of 1100 seemed manageable, but it is quite possible he parked in Puddletown given the time it took him to make it into town. Not really fancying a gourmet burger for breakfast, I went on the hunt for a more fry up friendly option and eventually ended up in the nearby Italian restaurant of Basilico, who now serve what turned out to be a bloody good fry up. It was here that the first real good omen was discovered and really set the tone for the day – I had by chance sat at a table right beneath a picture of Diego Maradona. This could only bring good luck. As Welchy turned up, with a sweat on from his 5k walk from his parking spot, he remarked how we’d benefit from a favourable handball due to the fact we were sat beneath the picture of the God of Naples, and we tucked into a rather good breakfast and went over the usual conversation topics.
First up was how we were actually favourites for this one and there is now a sense of expectation at home games, rather than trepidation. Salisbury have been somewhere between a bogey team and harbinger of doom for us over the last few years across several divisions, but their recent dismissal of resident scarecrow, Steve Claridge, in a manner so unceremonious it would make Jamie Brown proud, has seen their form drop off and a series of lengthy posts of dirty washing being aired very publicly on various social media platforms by some of the parties involved. Former Salisbury vice-chairman Ian Ridley, a man who once wrote an article regarding a salary cap in the non-league only a few years after appointing Steve Claridge as Weymouth manager on a £100,000 a year contract, wrote a lengthy post on a Salisbury FC Facebook page about falsehoods that had been made regarding Claridge after his departure from the whites. Salisbury’s board have issued statements and Claridge himself has taken to posting on his own Twitter account about his departure with sniping from both the present and former managerial set up as they seek to get their story out there. It’s lovely to see.
Implosion of the opposition aside, we have been pretty good at home all season and despite a couple of recent reverses, we rebounded well with a point at Gosport and all three at Merthyr. Going into games and not expecting a loss is a new sensation that still takes some getting used to, but we aren’t in the top half by accident and the novelty of winning a few games early doors and the surprise that followed has now turned into a sense of expectation and a hope that winning at home is more the new norm than the exception to the rule. JW had probably seen more home wins this season than he had in the last three combined, and he was even in attendance at Salisbury last season for our first win against them in years, although he didn’t and still hasn’t seen the goal as he was still in the bar when Alfie scored the winner. On the subject of Alfie, another topic of discussion was our striking options and how they had been bolstered by the signing of Harvey Bradbury from Gosport. Harvey is the son of former Portsmouth terrace hero, Lee Bradbury, who now manages Eastleigh. With my Pompey supporting hat on, Lee Bradbury was one of my favourite players growing up. As wholehearted as they came, he was a menace to all Division One (now the Championship) defences, and scored about a goal every three games in his 130 odd league appearances for the club. All arms, arse and elbows, he scored some vital goals for us including a few of my favourites, and if Harvey is like him on the field, he’ll do for me. There is certainly no doubting the parentage – Harvey is the spitting image of Lee, so hopefully he plays like him as well.
As the two of us made ourselves at home in the Rabbit, we took the bold decision of both backing Dorch to win, before moving onto other such eclectic topics as the corruption in boxing, beard wax, Corinthian football figures and rail replacement bus services. It was quite the chat, I can tell you. As time crept on and the teams were announced on Twitter, it became apparent that it might be worth heading to the ground rather than nattering in the pub, so off we trotted in the direction of Fortress Avenue. The team news showed a solitary change from the midweek win at Merthyr with Tiago Sa coming in for Louie Slough, which had us guessing slightly as to what formation we’d be using. We were on the right track with thinking four at the back but our train of thought was interrupted by the fact there was an actual queue at the turnstiles to get in. Were these folks all just as fashionably late as JW and I, or was there actually a half decent crowd in? It turned out to be the latter, with the attendance being a season high of 657. Even with good travelling support from Salisbury, there were a lot more home fans than we’ve had in previous seasons present, with a good few familiar faces I hadn’t seen at a game in a long time. Add that to a very good number DFTC colts and younger fans of teenage years, and the next generation of youth who will be taking tentative steps in the world of warm cans of lager on away days is coming along nicely.
Pint of Tribute in hand and residence on the Bovril assumed, we had another look at the Salisbury line up as well as our own to see what we may have missed. Harvey Bradbury took his place on the bench for us, and there were several familiar faces in the away side in the XI and on the bench. Gerard Benfield, Josh Wakefield, Antonio Diaz and Brandon Goodship all started for Salisbury having spent varying amounts of time at Dorch in the past, with Calvin Brooks and Charlie Davis both on the bench. Things of note regarding those ex-Magpies weren’t many, although Antonio being deployed as a left wing back was an interesting tactical choice as spent most of his time in the first half in front of the Bovril having to deal with a very lively Olaf, which is not something many would fancy with the form Olaf has been in. Charlie Davis, to the best of our knowledge, didn’t actually emerge from the bench at all to even warm up and was an unused sub. The lack of a warm up could have been for many reasons, but it is likely he’d have got a rather frosty reception and was getting loud enquiries from the Crane family as to his whereabouts. The only other things of note from the ex-Magpie contingent was Gerard Benfield loudly being called ‘Gerald’. I am unsure it this was deliberate or not, but I found it far more amusing than I should. As for the other ex-Dorch players mentioned, had I not seen their names on the team sheet, I’d have hardly known they were there, such was the level of their contributions.
As with many games this season, we made a quick start and won a corner inside the first 15 seconds. It may have come to nothing but it did set the tone for how the game would go. Soon after the impressive Matty Neale picked out Olaf, who fired narrowly wide, and Neale himself would then head wide when well-placed after an excellent cross from Charlie Gunson. Olaf would elect not to shoot when well-placed as he probably took the wrong option in trying to find Alfie after the ball was played across to him, and the impressive midfield duo of Gunson and Jordan Ngalo would go close; Ngalo’s shot going wide, Gunson’s effort forcing ‘Gerald’ into a low save. There were a couple of warning signs at the other end, with Salisbury’s Sam Roberts heading over and the otherwise anonymous Goodship drawing a sprawling save from loanee keeper, Ryan Hall, in the Dorch goal. We were joined on the Bovril by Keith Kellaway for the last few minutes of the half as he waited patiently for the kettle to boil, and although he wasn’t able to help conjure up a goal, Keith witnessed us finish the half strongly.
As the halftime whistle blew, I went from one DTFC favourite to another as I trotted over to the railway side to seek out Dorch legend Tony Diaz. Tony may not be familiar to the newer generation as much more than Antonio’s Dad, but his contribution to the club in his playing days was enormous. Winning the league with the club in his first season in 1986-87 and playing at both the old and new grounds, his record of 404 appearances with 180 goals is excellent, and his return of 43 goals in all competitions during the 1991-92 season was incredible. A thoroughly good man who retains his competitive nature when talking about his time at the club, it was a pleasure to interview him as part of the club’s interviews with various icons of seasons past and very enjoyable to speak to him in person on Saturday. To provide context for his scoring exploits in the 91-92 season, last season we finished with a total of 41 league goals scored; his total for the 91-92 season in the league was 38. Prolific.
Back on the pitch, we started the second half as we had the first and had a good amount of possession without any real end product to speak of. Matty Neale shot wide when Alfie might have been the better option, and Gerald showed some solid handling when called upon to intercept a couple of crosses that maybe should have been more difficult to defend. We were issued a sharp reminder that there were two sides playing as Ryan Hall was called upon to make a good save from a Dan Fitchett header. Hall wouldn’t have known a great deal about it as Fitchett’s close-range header was straight at his, but he was alert enough to shovel the ball away and the danger was cleared. Back up the other end there was a change to come as Harvey Bradbury came on for his debut in place of Alfie Stanley. Alfie was asked to play the lone striker role, a thankless task against two sizable central defenders, but he worked hard and was a general nuisance. Harvey Bradbury coming on provided us with a different outlet and much in the same way as his Dad had done when used as a sub at Pompey, a player like Bradders, Snr or Jnr, coming on after 65 odd minutes is not what any defender wants as he looked to impose himself physically on both defenders and the game. Bradders would almost get an instant reward as he stretched but could not quite get on the end of Neale’s cross-come-shot with the goal wide open. The impressive Gunson would once again come close as Gerald was forced to shovel clear another effort, but it would soon be third time lucky for Charlie as we went 1-0 up after one of the better worked goals I’ve seen us score in a long time.
A ball into the edge of the box was partially headed clear, and Bradders was able to use his strength to hold off a couple of defenders before being able to get a pass off to Alex Moyse. An exchange of passes with Sa was the followed with some delightful quick feet from the Torquay loanee enabled him to lay the ball off to Ngalo, who was having absolutely none of Sam Roberts’ attempts to shoulder him off the ball as he deposited him somewhere near Castle Park. More good footwork from Neale enabled him to lay ball off to Sa, who was able to beat his man at the byline, and his low cross to the edge of the six-yard box was slammed in by Charlie Gunson’s left boot, via the fingertips of Gerald. It was a high-quality goal with the celebration to match, and no more than Charlie deserved, he’d been excellent all game. 1-0, 15 minutes to play, it was now a case of whether we could see the game out.
We did just that, although not without one rather major alarm. Deep into injury time a looping cross bounced and struck Kieran Douglas on what appeared to be his arm. And when I say appeared to strike his arm, I really mean it looked a hell of a lot like handball, even from the other end of the ground. The rule of thumb I tend to use is to ask the question; if that was at the other end and it was a Dorch penalty appeal, would I want/expect it to be given? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, I would. The unison appeals from the away players and fans coupled with some nervous glances to the referee told their own story, but the ref was having none of it and gave it the big cut the grass and we played on. Was this the God of Naples looking down favourably on us from breakfast and blessing us with a fortunate handball? No. No he wasn’t. But for the purpose of this blog, Maradona had a hand in this win. We had undoubtedly got a touch lucky, but Douglas himself appeared to be the victim of a botched German suplex attempt only minutes earlier for what should have been a Dorch penalty, so I guess these things even themselves out. Ryan Hall would superbly claim a corner to ease any nerves, and we could have had a second as substitute Ollie Balmer’s pass found Bradbury, but Gerald was there to smother his effort. The fulltime whistle soon followed and we were able to celebrate another home win, a welcome habit we have picked up after many seasons of disappointent.
That sort of game is one we’ve seen us lose on multiple occasions in the past. 0-0 at halftime, looking half decent, concede before the hour mark, lose 2-0 or worse, bemoan the mentality and don’t dare look at the league table. The change this season is like night and day, and a bad run of form isn’t part of a big mentality problem or chronic lack of quality as it has been in recent seasons. We were excellent all over the pitch on Saturday with a calm goalkeeper who didn’t put a glove wrong, a back four who never looked unduly bothered, a central midfield high on industry and quality, and attacking options who will piss off many defences with quality and running. It would be remiss of me not to mention how much improved Charlie Gunson is this season. I’ll admit he wasn’t a player who I thought had many games of note last season, and was slightly surprised to see him reappear in pre-season after initially leaving the club. Staggeringly, Glenn may know his players slightly better than our WhatsApp group, and his recent performances, not just his MOTM effort on Saturday, have seen me tuck into a couple of slices of humble pie. More than happy to make that a regular part of my diet if he continues this form; he has been excellent in a more advanced role.
The bar had an unfamiliar atmosphere in that people were in a good mood and smiling, and the picture of Groover by the new telly had also been straightened. Thanks, Pete. Even the most ardent of Bovril men were in good spirits, with Ant Buik hitting the nail on the head as he stated;
“It’s actually fun coming down here, I don’t know what the fuck to make of it.”
A good few of the players came in a had a drink and chat with the fans; the place was busy, the atmosphere good. It was totally alien to me, like something from a bygone era. There was some sad news with the revelation that Alan Luther will not be re-growing his winter sideburns. Al’s sidies were a regular presence at the club last season, and they alongside Glenn’s three-quarter lengths were two of the more curious sights at the Avenue in last season’s survival run. Speaking of things that were strange to see, the league table was also very odd to look at as we found ourselves in seventh place – proper nose bleed territory compared to recent times. And although results midweek have seen us drop to eighth position, it could be a great deal worse. I mean we could be rock bottom, with no wins, five points and a minus 22 goal difference. Imagine that.
A quick natter with a few of the players and a debrief in KFC with fellow former DRBM stalwart, Rob Lowe, and it was off home for a cup of tea and a wartime crime drama on TV, as I’m an 84-year-old trapped in the body of a 34-year-old. It had been another good win and even if the opposition have obvious problems on social media and on the pitch, they possess a number of quality players at this level who can win games. An average team with problems, in a league of average teams with problems, as one Tropicana drinking former goalkeeper put it. But you can only beat what is in front of you, and we have a pleasing knack of doing that at the moment. Met Police at home on Saturday will provide another tough test, with only two points separating us in eighth and them in fifth. They have been a real bogey side since being in the same league, but we’ll fancy anyone at home at the moment. There might even be a blog from that one depending on who is there – JW is hoping to go, but hopefully for his sake he can park a touch closer this time. Up The Magpies. SV.