“I’ve always been fond of Arsenal since I collected so many of David Platt’s legs in 1996.”

Watching your team play at Wembley is the pinnacle for many football fans. The sight of the stadium as you step off the tube, the walk down Wembley Way, the walk up the steps to join thousands of your fellow fans, and dreams of seeing your team win a trophy there. Well, we’re fucking nowhere near that, but we did at least stop off at Wembley Park tube on our way to see the Magpies secure yet another heard earned point on the road, as we played out a more interesting than it sounds 0-0 draw at Hendon.

Hendon is not too far a trip from my South of the river home, so meeting up with JP, a good friend of mine who lives in London but was schooled in Dorch, we headed over towards his former surrounds of Hendon. JP lived in Hendon several years ago and from his detailed local knowledge, it was easy to establish there was fuck all there to see and do pre-match. So, a trip from Canada Water to Wembley was agreed on, and we got a glimpse of Wembley Stadium as we set foot off the tube, before we headed to the less famous surrounds of the Stadium Sports Bar. The Stadium Sports Bar was a marvellously odd place. Situated next to what has to be one of the only remaining branches of Wimpy in the country, the walls of the sports bar are adorned with all manner of sporting memorabilia of varying degrees of intrigue. There is also a drawing of Glenn Hoddle on a door, or at least that is who it claims to be, which quite frankly has to be seen to be believed. It looks like a partially melted Alan Titchmarsh.

As JP and I settled down with a Carlsberg to have a watch of the early kick off between Man City and Brentford, JP asked just what he should expect from the day. Given his only previous experience watching Dorch had been a dire day out at Woking as we lost to the then tenants of that ground, Hayes and Yeading, in one of our last Conference South games, I had told him this could only really be an improvement if that was the yardstick. Unbeaten in four games with three wins on the bounce, we’ve been good to watch and nestled in fifth place; this is as good as we fans have seen in years. A sense of optimism rather than the usual gallows humour is taking some getting used to, but it’s actually enjoyable watching us. Having told JP this, we both naturally assumed he’d be the curse and it would probably be a good day out ruined by the football, but you never know. We were soon joined by Fred and he and JP discussed their tenures at Southampton university. I didn’t realise there were two universities there, but I have been to one of the more infamous students’ bars called ‘Jesters’. For those who have had several Jesticles in one night and lived to tell the tale – I salute you.

This was Fred’s first game since Hanwell and we chatted of improvements since then and changes in personnel. The signing of Harvey Bradbury is a good move and he’s been a real handful in his two games so far, and Ryan Hall in goal has looked composed and very competent in his loan spell so far. One thing both Fred and I agreed on was that we’d like a permanent keeper of our own soon as our reliance on loans is less than ideal and we can/have been caught out when our loan no1 has been recalled. We mentioned Lloyd Thomas based on the fact he’s appeared on TSOF twitter a few times recently, but having not seen him play and not knowing who he actually plays for, we thought no more of it. Little did we know.

The final London exile for the day arrived as Martyn Richards joined us. More commonly known as ‘Shanks’, Martyn arrived in a floral shirt that may at one stage have been a duvet cover, and was possibly based on wallpaper from the 1970’s. One for the road was consumed before we left the eclectic surrounds of the sports bar for the more mundane surrounds of a packed 83 bus. It was a relatively short journey and at one point it sounded like we might actually beat the team to the ground after they got stuck in traffic. As we stepped off the bus at Townsend Lane, which I can only assume is named after Magpies hero and title winning skipper from 1986/87, Trevor Townsend, it was a short but scenic route across the fields to Silver Jubilee Park.

Phil Standfield and Keith Kellaway were the first two familiar faces I saw; both seemed bemused at how the team coach had somehow ended up near Beaconsfield and nowhere near where it actually needed to be heading, but they’d arrived and Keith was impressed with the home club’s hospitality. Entering the bar, there were some of the Northern exiles in attendance who hadn’t had the joy/despair of watching Dorch for a long time in Evo and Ollie. Only Steve Dodge and possibly Tiago Sa remain from Evo’s last Magpies outing, and Evo’s record of not seeing us win nearly five years is quite impressive, although it is out into the shade by Kinners 14 years without a win. Even at a couple of games a season, that’s some going. The Northern branch of the Magpies exiles – it’s all Northern from London – were joined by a last-minute arrival in Dev who had seen his own side’s game that day called off early doors as the opposition’s manger had left and taken most of the team with him. Trying to structure the expectations of fans who haven’t seen us for a while is a tricky task, but it was a touch easier with Evo given some of his last games were under Craig Laird. However bad we could have been on Saturday; it won’t be Laird bad.

As well as talk of expectations, who is the oldest outfield player we’ve had in recent times (we think Vickers, but may well be wrong), and the usual catching up with friends you’ve not seen in a long time, there was some attention paid to the starting XI and the inclusion of a new goalkeeper in Lloyd Thomas, which seemed a touch spooky given we’d only been talking about him an hour or so ago. As we had said might happen/feared, Ryan Hall had been recalled by Aldershot, and we’d been left a little in the mire. Poole, who Lloyd was registered with, had apparently been helpful with helping this go though, and given the 90 minutes that followed, it was a good job they were. The only other changes to the side saw Kieran Douglas return from suspension in place of Harvey Bertrand, and Matty Neale came in for Alfie Stanley. A bench of Harvey Bertrand, Alfie, Sa, Michael Lilley and Keith Emmerson was pleasingly strong, and we soon ambled out the bar to take our place on the terraces. This was Evo’s first experience of Dorch on an artificial pitch and it wasn’t the best surface for him to start on. In last season’s fixture, the amount of rubber crumb on the pitch made it look like it was being played on scorched earth. This year and with the pitch having been relayed in pre-season, it looked very green but had next to no crumb on it, so the ball just skipped on. It was like a lightning-fast outfield in cricket, which is not ideal for decent football. Put last year’s and this year’s pitches together, and you’d have two normal surfaces. After an immaculately observed minutes silence for Remembrance Day, it was a stroll past what once appeared to have been a flower bed and behind the goal with the sun beating down towards it.

Given our recent history of starting well in games, this one bucked the trend a bit as we were on the backfoot and forced to defend quite deeply as the home side started the brighter. A couple of early tests for new man Thomas and some alert defending kept Hendon at bay, and it took us a while to really have any meaningful possession. As the half wore on and Hendon had another couple of half chances, we started to get on the ball a bit more with Charlie Gunson and Jordan Ngalo getting more touches, and Harvey Bradbury got to properly introduce himself to Hendon’s number 5 as he barrelled into him as they both went after a through ball. Shanks was very quick to point out to 5 how he would be in for a long afternoon and he didn’t look like he fancied it. He’d possibly fancy Harvey more if he’d seen how he looked as a woman after being ran though FaceApp where Bradders seemed to morph into Kiera Knightly, but then again that was the last thing on his mind as Bradders borderline terrorised him for parts of the game.

Our play was much improved as the half drew to a close and we could and probably should have gone ahead late on. After a sighter from Gunson went over, we soon were back on the attack. Some pinball in the box after good work from Jordi Foot saw Olaf have his shot blocked by their no6 while the keeper was stranded and the ball was cleared to Kieran Douglas on halfway. He put it straight back into the box where it was duly headed across goal by Olaf with Harvey Bradbury perfectly placed to meet the cushioned header, but he could only side foot it wide. We’d certainly finished the better of the two sides and the halftime debrief was a positive one with the general consensus that we could and would push on and get the three points. Given the browbeating that many of us have got subjecting ourselves to Dorch over the years, this optimism is unparalleled. And we started the second half looking like we might actually be proved correct as we picked up where we left off.

📷 Phil Stanfield

An excellent run and cross down the left was cushioned back across goal by Olaf; Harvey Bradbury was the man who had his goal bound shot blocked this time by some excellent last ditch defending. We seemed in good shape but all that nearly came undone in the 56th minute as Ngalo was penalised for a foul in the box, resulting in a penalty and a horrible sense that our decent start to the half was about to be undone. It wasn’t. Although the penalty was struck well, Lloyd Thomas guessed correctly as he dived to his right and parried the ball away. 0-0 still and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Another sigh of relief followed soon after as Hendon struck the post, possibly from the resulting corner, and it started to feel like we were pushing our luck a little bit. Things did improve again though and after a free-kick in a good position was cleared, Gunson’s ball back into the box found Douglas in space. His header was a tame one though and straight at Hendon’s keeper, Marcin Brzozowski. Brzozowski would soon become a busy man as he did excellently to block and gather Neale’s attempted cutback towards Bradbury, before making another good save to keep out Neale again after the latter’s trickery got him into a shooting position. Brzozowski wasn’t done yet as the ball was only partially cleared and after it eventually found its way to Olaf, his cutback deflected into the path of Gunson who managed to force it goal bound with his momentum rather than anything that might be considered a shot, but the keeper once again was down low to his right to pull off an excellent reflex save. The Hendon keeper was playing annoyingly well and he may have been a bit pissed off as in the second half, Bradders and Olaf helped themselves to some of his drink that was beside the goal, and once they’d got what they wanted, they poured the rest away. Wonderfully petty and the sort of thing we as fans can totally get behind.

Bundle! 📷 Phil Stanfield

Gunson then had an appeal for a penalty turned down and he tried to run onto the ball, but Brzozowski was out quick to try and smother. With my goalkeeping hat on I’d say it was more of a case of good keeping as he seemed to get to the ball ahead of Charlie. The ball was quickly up the other end and Lloyd Thomas was forced to push over an overhit cross as the game became very stretched. Hendon would once again strike the post from the corner that followed but time was ticking away and the final whistle would follow soon after, not before Thomas would come and claim a high cross from a freekick with the last action of the game; many of us fearing a 90th minute sucker punch could now breathe a final sigh of relief for the day. As 0-0’s go, I’ve seen a lot worse, and the players deserved their applause at the end of the game in what felt like a point gained rather than two dropped. No one had a bad game and both sides had good chances to win it, but as both keepers had good claims to be named as man of the match, I’ll say Lloyd Thomas gets the nod and is named TSOF MOTM.

The bar afterwards was quite entertaining with most of us glad to have taken a point, Evo and Ollie largely glad not to have seen a defeat, and the pleasing sound of players being a bit disappointed with only a point and considering it as two dropped. The squad seems very settled and from my few chats with some of them are a good bunch of blokes. Nice blokes off it they may be, but on the pitch they can also be fucking horrible with all the petty shithousing we as a team have missed and have far too often seen previous Dorch squads fall victim to. Harvey Bradbury will be an utter menace for opposition defenders, and we’re no small team now either and can mix it physically. Standing next to Kieran Douglas it quickly becomes apparent why he wins most of his headers, and we can certainly win our fair share of 50/50s now with several players who are either not afraid of the physical side of things, big lads, or both. It makes for entertaining viewing and the fact that people are making the effort to go to away games and that home gates are up reflect that we’re moving in the right direction.

As the players headed off and the exiles made their exits, we headed back to Trevor Townsend Lane to get the 83 back towards Wembley, where we were able to catch the late kick offs as Fred was able to see his Chelsea side lose at Newcastle, and JP was able to provide the most obscure reason for why he was backing Arsenal to beat Wolves:

“I’ve always been fond of Arsenal since I collected so many of David Platt’s legs in 1996.”

He is of course referring to the Merlin sticker album from 1996, not some odd fixation with the ex-England international’s kneecaps, but it was quite the revelation. We were all a bit weary by this time, so after a much needed stop off at McDonald’s and the obligatory picture of us with Wembley Stadium and Way in the background, it was back off home for some much-needed rest.

A good day was had by all, even if I did feel somewhat ropey the next day, and it is a shame we have no game this coming Saturday due to Beaconsfield’s involvement in the FA Trophy. But Hendon was another encouraging game as another point was gained and one more clean sheet added to the collection. Attention turns for us exiles now to Winchester away on the 26th and the joys of a rail replacement bus service to navigate on our way there. A rejuvenated Plymouth Parkway awaits us on Tuesday and it’s not been a happy hunting ground for us in recent times. Here’s hoping we can change that and keep this good little run of form going. Keep an eye out for some of the Bovril Oldtra stickers on a lamppost near you soon – hopefully David Platt’s legs don’t start appearing as well. We know who to blame if they do. SV.

Kiera Douglas and Caren Buckley.

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