It has been a while since our relegation from the Conference South, and since then we’ve had to go through the non-league fans’ version of the ‘five stages of grief’. First, there was denial. “It won’t be that bad a standard”; “we’ll piss this tinpot league”; “clubs won’t fancy playing us”. Then, there was anger. “What do you mean Dunstable doesn’t have a fucking train station?”; “No, I’m not having that Biggleswade is a real place”; “You can tell this place is a village, there isn’t even a Sutton sticker in the bogs”. Third came bargaining, which was really just Goddard saying he’d break his glasses to show how much Dorch means to him when in conversation with AWH. No one was offering up a sacrifice to experience Dartford away. Stage four was depression, and fuck me has it been depressing. Being saved from almost certain relegation by a global pandemic that killed thousands probably summed up the last few years quite well. And finally came acceptance that actually this is probably where we deserve to be, as staggeringly, the league table hasn’t been lying for nearly a decade, and on the pitch, we have just have not been anywhere near good enough.
Having gone through those five stages, we now, mercifully, seem to be coming out the other side and have progressed tentatively towards a new and very unfamiliar step: expectation. Its been a while, but these last few games have had a sense of expecting a result and even the rarity of feeling that we’ve maybe dropped two points rather than gained one when we’ve drawn. There is a lot of the season to go and a lot can still happen, but it does make a nice change not having to look at the bottom half of the table with a sense of dread every bloody week. Saturday’s game at Winchester is a good example of the expectation stage we find ourselves in as there was a good feeling that we’d get a result pre-game and a tinge of disappointment that we’d only drawn rather than won in the immediate aftermath at the final whistle. In truth, a draw was a fair result and it is seems a better point now than it did at 1700 on Saturday, but the days of just being grateful we haven’t got stuffed on the road seem to be gone, for the time being at least.
As a day, Winchester had all the hallmarks of being one of the better ones of the season. A city with a train station, pubs, and all in walking distance of the ground seemed to tick all the boxes. That was of course until the dreaded three words all football fans dread were mentioned: rail replacement bus. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Us London exiles had a 30-minute bus from Basingstoke having done the bulk of the journey on the train, and the contingent from Dorch had a similar time as the train took them as far as Eastleigh before the bus came into play. And in a most unusual bit of good luck/planning, we all managed to get in at the same time, but asthat time happened to be 1100, the only place that was open was the Spoons. So off there we trudged.
Numbers were reasonable for that hour as we headed in that direction, the three of us from London in The Roth, Goddard and myself were joined by the advanced guard of half a dozen or so from Dorch. Some were more hungover than others as Luke and Robbie Lowe both looked and said they felt like they’d been recently excavated after a long night out on the Friday. This conversation spawned the first odd question of the day; what is the shortest taxi journey you’ve done in Dorch? It was quickly established there are some seriously lazy bastards about with fares paid to get from The George to the Chinese, The Bull to the chippy on Fordington Green, The Station Masters to the Junction and Spoons to Kilmax. All these were deemed too far to walk and a reasonable expense. Spoons to Pauls was justified as the taxi had to navigate the one-way system. For those without a knowledge of Dorchester, you can either literally see the destination from the pickup point, or could be heard from A to B if you shouted loud enough. An honourable mention also went to Spud and crew as they tried to get a cab from St Pancras to O’Neil’s when in London, only for the cabbie to tell them you can literally see O’Neil’s from where they were stood and that it wasn’t even worth the hassle for him.
This chat took us all the way to Spoons and we soon realised we didn’t really fit the demographic. Lots of families out for breakfast and normal looking folk packed the place out. Not a single old man with a Ruddles or one group of a few elders with several empty Fosters glasses on the table. Just people with kids and normal members of society. Thatcher’s Britain. It was busy enough that in true Dorch fashion, we couldn’t actually sit together. This was good practice for the game as no matter how many or few fans we have, we never stand together there either. The plan was to have a drink or two at Spoons and then move onward to one of the nicer watering holes. Some wanted, or in the case of Rob and Luke, needed food, but the 45-minute wait was too much, so we’d get some elsewhere when the normal places opened at midday. That was the plan anyway – Goddard either didn’t get the memo or didn’t care, so the 45-minute wait for a rather sad looking vegan burger was taken. To be fair to him, he didn’t hang about when it arrived and the eating of the long-awaited burger took less than four minutes.
We finished up our drinks and made the short walk to the brilliantly named ‘Mucky Duck’ which was a far better fit for us. With Poland v Saudi Arabia on the telly and drinks flowing much more freely, there was more chat about the game and other Dorch based miscellany. The recently unearthed newspaper clipping from 1990 of some terrace-based aggro from a Weymouth game many years ago popped up in conversation and a very young looking Buik was bang in the middle of it. Lucky for him that there was a photo as he has absolutely no memory of it. Probably best as he’s not been involved in any trouble against Weymouth since, so his record remains spotless. The Mucky Duck was a lovely little spot with a few screens for the sport, its own bitter – on tap, not just us bringing the mood down – and a decent food menu that saw the ravenous duo of Richards and Lowe inhale food at a pace that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the jungle.
We were there for a couple and then planned to go onto the King Alfred (Stanley) as that was the nearest to the ground, but a lack of research had been done prior to this and we quickly found out that the Stanley was more of a gastro-pub, and not one that we’d really want to be in, or probably be wanted in. Luckily, the ground was a mere five minute walk away along the River Itchen, a poor man’s River Frome if ever I did see it, and into the ground via a carpark which could do with having some of the pothole issues it faces being dealt with. One Winch fan ahead of us, who looked a lot like a knock off version of Buik, let himself in through a gate, then walked around to the turnstiles and promptly tried to bargain over the price of admission, which seemed a bold tactic. He duly paid full price when asked. I took the more conventional approach of entering though the turnstile and paying my concession rate, and got my first proper look at the ground.
Now, in terms of a one-off visit and for novelty value, I quite enjoyed my visit to what I think is the snappily named Charters Community Stadium. It comes under the bracket of ‘proper non-league’ and is the kind of ground that is a bit of a throwback with very little cover, a worn and uneven looking pitch, a couple of small stands, the clubhouse and changing rooms all under one roof, very old-fashioned floodlights, and some rickety looking wooden structures such as two literal garden sheds. Others were not so kind and it’s a game I’m glad we’ve got done this side of Christmas as come the new year and latter part of the season, the pitch will look like a farmer’s field after the harvest. To call the facilities basic would probably be too generous. The Acrow props holding up the roof of the bar took the attention away from the considerable work that needed doing on the face of the clubhouse, and that’s before your eyes were drawn to the storage container housing the toilets outside that looks like something straight out of a Coldwar Steve piece. Or as Evo put it, “How does a club manage to be so village when it’s a bloody city?” The whole place looked like the perfect setting for a series set in the late 70’s to early 80’s – fuck knows what series that would be mind. Maybe a prequel to the original series of the ‘Renford Rejects’.
Having got myself a drink at the bar for three pounds, 10 shillings and a halfpenny, I tucked into one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while at football, and also the best cup of tea of the season. A quick chat with Lee Loder and Cam Dabbs about all matters DTFC followed, with Lee taking a less favourable view than mine on the ground and saying, amongst other things, how it looked like the sort of place we should come to for a pre-season friendly, not a league game. He isn’t too far wrong to be fair, as Bridport is in better nick, but he was enjoying the food – so much so that a sizable bit of burger managed to get stuck in his beard. Food removed and conversation moved on, Lee was able to answer one of the season’s burning questions; why has Glenn made the switch from those awful three-quarter lengths to normal shorts and trousers. Well, it’s because Lee cancelled the order due to unspecified manufacturing issues. Well played. Glenn did appear to be wearing what was either compression tights of some of Mrs Howes’ leggings on Saturday, but we’ll gloss over that.
The number of Dorch steadily grew and with kick-off approaching the bar was busy and optimism was pleasingly high. Finn Barge, who I assume was the DeFacto leader of the 20 or so North Face Magpies, was feeling a tad delicate from the cricket club do the night before, as was the DCC Chairman, Mark ‘Deadly’ Derrien, who with his officiating experience would turn into the Dorch equivalent of Peter Walton as he was consulted for his view of every refereeing decision that was made. The team news showed a couple of changes with Ryan Hall returning in goal after he re-joined on loan, Tiago Sa coming in for Louie Slough in defence, and the welcome sight of Ollie Balmer on the bench, but otherwise it was as you were from Hendon. Heading out to the tiny terrace behind the goal and awaiting the players, the numbers of Dorch seemed high with a few unfamiliar faces. We soon worked out why as Winchester have a small but loud youth element who stay at that end, regardless of which way they’re kicking. Their constant noise and hammering on the terrace annoyed some, but I’m all for it. There was no malice, probably as they’re all about 13; they get behind their team, and the songs aren’t the usual fare for non-league in that it isn’t just the name of the team shouted over and over again. They did rhyme black with black at one point with is just lazy and they need to brush up on their geography when they go back to school as they referred to us as a bus stop in Poole – everyone knows Poole is in Hampshire – but aside from that they were good value. Far more tolerable than the Poole and Chesham ASBO crews that we’ve come across in the past who seemed to come to football straight from watching ‘Green Street’.
The game started as it would go on for the whole 90 minutes in that it was a scrappy affair made very difficult by a heavy pitch and strong wind. We were kicking with the wind in the first half towards the North Face and Stone Island clad section, but there was little of note to liven up a fairly even first twenty minutes or so. Harvey Bradbury picked up where he left off against Hendon as he introduced himself to the home centre halves with his elbows and full bodyweight, but getting the ball down and playing was difficult for both sides as a combination of the wind, some rain and the heavy nature of a pitch next to a river in a week with a lot of rain meant it wasn’t a fast game of free-flowing football. After nearly half an hour of not a lot happening and the highlight being the Winchester youngsters singing about someone having shit TikTok’s, we took the lead.
Harvey Bradbury barrelled into a couple of players as held them off and he then set away Charlie Gunson down the left. Now, Charlie is adamant he saw their keeper go early and went to shoot at the near post. From behind the goal, it looked like the keeper went a touch too far too early, expecting a pull back towards the penalty spot. By going so far so early, when the ball was much closer to him than he first anticipated, it looked like it went off his outstretched elbow and into the goal at what was pretty much a right angle. However, there is no dubious goals panel at this level – the goal was given on the day to Charlie, and I very much doubt their keeper wants to claim it, so well-done Charlie on your third goal of the season. His continued good form is one of the most impressive things from this season, and the celebration was an enjoyable one, even if I was coated in lager afterwards. George Isaacs’ pint was one of those that went flying, and this obviously upset the Gods as he soon appeared to develop stigmata as blood flowed from wounds on his hands. Either that or he cut himself on one of the several uncovered nails behind the chipboard barriers. Could be either.
As we settled down after the excitement of the goal, we almost netted a fortunate second as a Gunson corner almost crept straight in, but we were pegged back shortly after as we gave away another penalty. This has been an unwelcome habit this season, and this was the second game in a row that Jordan Ngalo was the culprit as he appeared to shove the Winchester attacker over as he went away from goal. It looked stonewall from the other end, and it was scored soon after via the glove of Ryan Hall. 1-1 and back to where we started. Not much else of note happened in the remainder of the half other than noticing that Steve Hill had to stand on tip toes due to the height of the barrier, and all square at the interval seemed about fair. One thing that was apparent at halftime was that Kieran Douglas was not a popular man with the home fans, and it was never really revealed why. Ollie Balmer didn’t have any such issues it seemed, but Douglas was the villain of the peace for reasons unknown. All very odd. Maybe he promised to paint the clubhouse and fucked off before doing so. Our ire was more directed at the referee who aside from getting the penalty call what looked like correct from a distance, had been next to useless for large swathes of the game. Harvey Bradbury got nothing all half except fouls given against him, which would be fine if he was the guilty party, but he was one half of a proper physical battle with both he and the defenders giving as good as they got. But apparently Bradders was the only one who was committing fouls. Add that to some very curious calls in the middle of the pitch and the ref’s bizarre decision to give a goal kick when it was the most obvious corner after a great last-ditch tackle from a defender, and he hadn’t had a confidence inspiring half. The decision was so bad Winch started to set up to defend a corner, and the keeper had to ask the linesman for confirmation of the goal kick.
We had a quick look in the bar and it was back out for the second half. While attacking the far end, we soon found out that you can’t actually get right behind the goal without standing in what looked like it might have at one stage been an allotment. You can stand either side of the goal, but you can’t all stand together as one side is fenced off. So we of course had fans on both sides of the goal, and on either touchline, but continued the Dorch tradition of not standing together at away games as we kicked into a gurt wind second half, with flags tied to the metal barricade that was supported by a wooden post and bungee cord. Harvey Bertand had come on for Jordi Foot at the break – not that we noticed until about an hour in, and there really wasn’t much to report for the opening fifteen or so. Winchester started the better of the two sides with a couple of efforts going wide, but we grew into it more and had a lot more possession as the game wore on.
The last half hour saw some goalmouth activity, and Harvey Bradbury was unlucky not to have a penalty as he seemed to be held back as he muscled his way into the penalty area. Deadly was brought into the conversation in the same way Clive Tyldesley would bring Peter Walton in on ITV – he offered his expert analysis of “well I think it was as he had no reason to go down.” Thanks Mark…back to Clive and Ally McCoist we went, although Deadly’s other pearl of wisdom during the second half was the title of this blog. I thought it was a penalty and so did the rest of the team. The ref did not. This was perhaps him punishing Bradders for him laughing at the keeper and bellowing “what the fuck was that” when the keeper seemed to lose the ability to move his limbs properly and appeared to try and slide tackle a ball that he could have just picked up. Chances did eventually come as some good work down the left saw the ball fall to Olaf, but his shot was shovelled behind for a corner. The resultant corner drew a very good double save from the home gloveman as he blocked the first and second efforts right on his line.
It felt like we were the better side, but it wasn’t all one way as Winch had a couple of shots either wide or deflected that way, had a good claim for a penalty of their own turned down, and thankfully Callum Buckley got his noggin in the way of a rising effort from sub-Ollie Griggs that was certainly on target. However, 1-1 was how it stayed. Both sides will feel they maybe could have done more but a draw is probably a result both sides will see as fair. It looked tough going out there on a heavy pitch that was stating to cut up even more, with Buckers summing up the 90 minutes by saying “that was fucking horrible” when asked how it was out there.
A point gained, or two dropped? Immediately after, it felt like two dropped. Looking back now, it wasn’t a bad point at all. Back in the bar afterwards, Dodge, in between telling us how he was trolled online on the Echo website for his recent post and pre match wisdom, made some good points about how the home side had treated this game, and given the conditions, pitch and performance, it wasn’t as bad a point as it first seemed. The home part of the bar was decked out for what looked like a child’s birthday party – do not touch the party hats – so some of our number added their own decor to the away area and the flags were caringly draped to make the area feel more homely. It was a good laugh afterwards as a few of the players chatted with the fans and towards the end of the evening a few of us spoke with Glenn about the season so far and much more associated footballing nonsense. One sad piece of news is that Glenn is a Southampton fan. This was tough to hear but as long as we continue to not be terrible, I can look past that fact. I also feel less guilty at laughing the demise of his three-quarters. As the players all departed and the set up for the 80’s disco in the bar began, we sloped off for a final beer in the city centre before the replacement bus would take us the first step of the home journey. Steve tried to board the wrong bus, and it was never revealed if some of the Dorch bound Magpies made the final train. The London bound journey was largely uneventful, even if my salad fingers did mean we missed the fast train, instead having to take the stopper through places like Byfleet & New Haw that I’m not actually sure exist. We made it to Waterloo, and it was home for some much-needed rest, which was actually watching the World Cup highlights.
Chesham at home is next this weekend, and that’s likely to be another tough game as they sit third – it looks like them, Weston-super-Mare and Truro could pull away from the pack. Still, we’re a tough game for anyone and aren’t sixth by accident. A 1230 kick-off will also mean an unpleasantly early start time for our visitors, so every little helps. The kick-off has been moved due to a possible England World Cup knock out fixture but we won’t know until after the England v Wales game what position we’ll qualify in, if at all. That game will also see former Dorch man, Kieffer Moore, play for Wales, and he joins a very niche club of two of players to play both for Dorch and at a World Cup final. The other one is Rory Fallon, who played more games for New Zealand at the World Cup in 2010 (three) than he did for Dorch in 2017 (two). You could see Keiffer Moore would go on to play higher even in his short spell with us, but I doubt anyone thought he’d play at a World Cup, let alone thought that he was Welsh.
Anyway, I’ll be there Saturday. I might walk to the ground but given some of the journeys I’ve found out about, I might just get a taxi to the ground from KFC. SV