“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.

“Why is he dressed like a traffic cone?”

Photo by Phil Standfield.

Pre-season is a strange old time. It is a period where results don’t matter and it is all about fitness and shape – that is until you lose two games and it’s going to be a disaster of a year again and the club has gone backwards. A time when you’re happy to see some deadwood depart the club before deciding based on nothing other than a hunch that their replacements aren’t good enough and you’d be glad to see said deadwood back and that all is forgiven. There is either too much or not enough change to the squad with no Goldilocks option in the middle to please all sides, and a time when you get your hopes up about the real issues that make a club tick; is the beer going to be more palatable this season, as in many ways I’d rather see the lager improve than our midfield.

With all those things in mind, it has been a difficult season to gauge Dorch’s progress from afar. So, Tuesday night’s friendly against what was hopefully going to be a strong Yeovil side, would be a pretty good indicator of where we are and would give some sort of insight into what to expect for the new season. With the earlier kick off time at 1900, I waddled my way down to the ground and was pleased to see what was a busy Avenue Stadium by usual matchday standards. There was a sizable Yeovil contingent to boost the numbers but the home numbers seemed very good for a friendly, so that was a positive straight off. Positioning myself on the Bovril just in time to witness Alfie Stanley launch a shot onto the bypass, the usual routine bollocks chatting was resumed with Luke From The Board, Kriss and I running the rule over our summer dealings and scrutinising the XI that was to start that evening’s game.

Two noticable inclusions on our team sheet were the pair of trialists, who for the purpose of this blog shall be named Trialist A, and Trialist B. One was a familiar face, the other not so, and it was the man of mystery in Trialist A who was noticeable both in warm up and in the game. Playing in central midfield and having very good experience in both this league and the two leagues above, he caught the eye of nearly all in the crowd and possesses the biggest set of thighs I’ve seen on a football pitch since Noe Pamarot played for Pompey. The usual faces soon trotted out to the Bovril as the Isaacs, Cranes and others emptied from the bar. I took this as a good time to head into said bar and was pleased to see a bottles of Bath Ales’rather delightful ‘Gem’ available, so electing for that rather than risking a lager, I was a happy man as I resumed my Bovril vantage point.

Noe Pamarot did not skip leg day.

The teams made their way out and a couple of things were immediately noticeable. The first of those was Mark ‘Deadly’ Derrien’s refereeing shirt. It was fresh out the packet as he informed me post game, and given it is what is best described as traffic cone orange, I hope for his sake it fades in the wash before it blinds anyone. Aside from Deadly looking like a cross between someone who will tarmac a road and a carrot, one thing that immediately struck me is that we have some serious height and will not be a physical pushover for any side. Kieran Douglas is a very tall man, and the back three of him, Callum Buckley and new man Keith Emmerson are imposing opposition for anyone at this level. Add to that the fact that Louie Slough is possibly the tallest man to play as a wing back that I’ve ever seen, and we have a genuinely physically imposing side which is something we have lacked at various times over the last few seasons.

Trialist B (this image has been doctored to protect his anonymity). Photo by Phil Standfield.

It was close to a full-strength line up for us but not quite. Harry Dillon was in goal with Brad Snelling absent, Harvey Bertrand occupied the right wingback slot with Louie Slough, the left, and the aforementioned trio of Douglas, Emmerson and Buckley the central three slots. Trialist A and new man, Matty Neale, were in midfield, with Alfie playing the number 10 role behind Shaquille Gwengwe and Trialist B. Well, that’s how Shaq told us the forward set up was post-match. Unsurprisingly, from ground level on the Bovril I couldn’t see a fucking thing about shape really, but it all became somewhat clearer in the second half when I sat in the stand.

Kieran Douglas is not short. Photo by Phil Standfield.

It was as good a side as we could put out, and it was a near to full strength Yeovil as well as we were informed by the Isaacs, who have the grave misfortune of following both Yeovil and Dorchester. They must have been terrible people in a past life. As you’d expect against a team two leagues higher, we spent large parts of the first half, and indeed the game, on the backfoot. An early shaky moment from Harry Dillon saw him fail to gather a bouncing ball but somewhat get away with it as a lucky deflection saw the ball roll away for a goal kick. Dillon would soon settle himself down somewhat with a more alert piece of keeping to stop a volley as Yeovil did most of the early pressing. 

Aside from a tame effort from Trialist B, we didn’t threaten too much, but looked pretty solid in defence. The central three of Douglas, Emmerson and Buckley looked very organised, with both Bertrand and Slough dropping in when necessary to make a very difficult to break down back five. That said, Bertrand was fortunate to get away with giving away a freekick rather than a penalty for a somewhat clumsy challenge after he’d lost the ball in the sun and found himself caught out. Having spoken to the man in the middle post-match, I was assured that this was in fact clearly not a penalty and I must have been mistaken… Trialist A impressed with his physical presence, calm manner and ability to hold off opposition players at will when carrying the ball forward, and his performance probably gave Matty Neale far more confidence to go about his duties as the slightly more advanced of the two. Alfie, Shaq and Trialist B didn’t have much to feed off, but we were looking steady at the back, with a couple of blocked shots and a Max Hunt effort which ended up heading towards the Ridgeway when he really should have scored being as close as Yeovil came.

After topping up my supply of Gem at halftime and bizarrely finding a poppy in the gents, I headed up to the stand for the second half and joined El Generale for a more elevated view of proceedings as we analysed the second half like a budget Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Well, maybe more Danny Mills and Phil Neville, but either way, you get the idea. The introduction of the very impressive Ollie Balmer for Alfie at halftime seemed to liven us up a bit and the game became a bit more of a contest. A Kieran Douglas header was easily saved, Shaq had a much better chance but could only poke his effort just wide under pressure from the defender, and two Yeovil efforts were only just off target but the scores were kept level as a fantastic reflex save from Harry Dillon kept our clean sheet intact. There were more subs from each side with Connor Callow, Jordi Foot, Ollie Griggs and Brinley Doyle all coming on, but as the final whistle blew, a draw was probably a fair enough result given the defensive endeavour shown.

The bar had an odd mood of cautious optimism after the game, and I’m not sure any of us quite knew what to make of it. We looked well organised, disciplined, kept a clean sheet, carried a threat going forward against a decent Conference National outfit, and there was a decent crowd in. It all felt a touch surreal. I got the opinion of the man in the middle, who was in a less offensively coloured post-match outfit, in between his slurps of Strongbow and chomps of a Ginsters pasty, and even he seemed to think we had done well. It was all very unsettling compared to our usual post-match post mortem. A lot of the conversation centred on Trialist A and whether we could keep him, and we did see Scott Symes, Glenn and James Wood emerge from the manager’s office with said trialist after a while. Did he sign? I’d have been reluctant to let him leave until he did so, but I understand there are laws against such conduct. On the whole it was actually very good, much better than I had expected. But what to expect from the current squad and the season as a whole?

As a Dorchester fan, you learn not to get your hopes up too much, so the aims for this season are modest at best in that I hope we’ll be clear of a relegation battle at the business end of the season, and that as much as I’d love to see us challenging for the playoffs, mid-table mediocrity isn’t a bad thing after six or so seasons of battling or being reprieved from relegation. 

In terms of the transfer business we’ve conducted, it’s been steady if not spectacular, and I’d like to see another one or two in key positions. I feel we’re a central midfielder or two light and I’d also like to see a goalkeeper more familiar with the level we’re playing at come in. If we can add those before the season begins, be it on loan of permanently, I can see us having a steady season. Without it, I can see us getting overran and struggling to get a foothold in some games. Glenn has been well backed to build his own side by the board and we seem to be on a very stable financial footing, but getting things right on the pitch is always the hardest part with us.

No three quarter lengths in sight. Photo by Phil Standfield.

Defensively we’ve added some quality and experience in Keith Emmerson, Kiean Douglas is a fresh face who comes with a good reputation, Callum Buckley was excellent last season and will play an important role this time around, and Louie Slough never let anyone down in his previous loan spells and is a good player to have around. Jordi Foot returning to the club is an interesting one and I’m pleased to see him back. He had an excellent last season at Shaftesbury in the Wessex League by all accounts, and he comes back a much more experienced player having been at the club in the youth setup for several seasons prior to his Shaftesbury move. With Tiago Sa and Harvey Bertrand likely occupying the wingback slots, it looks as solid a defensive setup as I can recall for a few seasons. 

Going forward, any combination of Alfie Stanley, Ollie Balmer, Matty Neale and Shaquille Gwengwe will cause opposition defences problems. Alfie’s 13 league goals last season were the best return we’ve had in a long time (respectful nod to Tom Bath’s 12 in a relegation bound side in the covid season), and although the other three are making a step up, all do so with good seasons at their former clubs behind them, and all have impressed at various times in pre-season. Shaquille in particular has looked threatening in all the games he’s featured in; this is potentially as potent a forward line as we’ve had since some or the more prolific Mark Morris seasons. The addition of Trialist B would only strengthen this department.

Shaq asking Shane of the ball has crossed the line in our win over Hamworthy. Photo by Phil Standfield.

In goal and the centre of the midfield are the areas I have some concern over. Goalkeepers Harry Dillon and Brad Snelling are either new at the level or have not played it in a considerable while, and we were very lucky with both loanees we had last season in Gerald Benfield and Jack Byfield who were both excellent, with Harry Lee and Alan Walker-Harris not letting anyone down when they featured. I’d like to see a bit more experience or a quality loanee in there again, but will reserve judgement on Harry and Brad until I’ve seen them in a game situation.

365 days a year respect in the DTFC bogs.

In midfield I feel we’re a touch light on experience and quality and it is an area we’ve tended to struggle in over the past few seasons. Tom Purrington is going to be very difficult to replace – I thought he was one of our best players when fit and when he played well, the whole team did. This isn’t to say that he’s irreplaceable, but he’s a big loss. Matty Neale did himself no harm against Yeovil in what is an unfamiliar position, fans and Ollie Griggs will be hoping it’s third time lucky for him as he comes back to the club from Winchester (along with Balmer and Douglas), and the announced departure from the club before re-signing a few weeks later of Charlie Gunson was a strange bit of business. Brinley Doyle is highly regarded and Michael Lilley signing from Exeter is the one we don’t know much about, but having played in the EFL Trophy at his former club, where he was for ten years, he must have something about him. We have a decent recent history of players coming to us from Exeter, so hopefully that continues. A touch more of quality and experience in the middle would be great and would give us a much more balanced side. Will Trialist A join? Can his identity finally be revealed? Who knows, but he would make a massive difference to the squad.

With no relegated side dropping into the league from the Conference South, only teams stepping up a level, it’ll be interesting to see how the quality of the league is. We face one of those sides coming up, North Leigh, in our first game so we’ll find out quite quickly. Some clubs have made some eye-catching signings with Poole, Salisbury and Gosport all getting good backing from their respective boards as they look to make the most of no relegated side looking to bounce straight back. Poole in particular will be hoping their side comes of age as they look to bring home the bacon. Their additions of Toby Holmes, Wes Fogden and Luke Cairney would all walk into most sides in this division, and with a strong squad to begin with, they’ll certainly be up there for my money. I’d love for us to have a good go at making the playoffs this time around, but being more pragmatic, a finish somewhere between 8th and 16th and not looking over our shoulder going into the last couple of months of the season would be a massive improvement on relegation battles, last day survival, or reprieves based on global pandemics or clubs going bust. A 12th place finish and a nice cup run will do at the time of writing…

With our final pre-season game coming this weekend over the Ridgeway in the Fans Festival, that will be another good test and it’ll be interesting to see if Trialist A is once again in the XI. If he is, that would be a very good sign. I won’t be there, I can’t say the festival appeals to me personally, WFC is a place I’ll visit for a competitive fixture and no more. I’ll instead be playing cricket in the surrounds of Buckhorn Weston as I’m a bit of a weirdo. Up the sporting Dorchies, three wins for the cricket club and a good result over the ridge would be good day, and normal service returns for the visit of North Leigh in a weeks time in the season opener -we’ll be clogging a few ale houses that day. SV

For those not travelling over the ridge.

“Imagine Steve here with a calculator trying to work out if we’d stayed up. That would be better than the game itself.”

Walton Casuals away in the last game of the season was a fixture I was dreading. Not due to any great fear of the area, but the thought of having to go there and get a result to secure survival, which seemed very likely a few weeks ago, was not a pleasant one. Memories of last day survival at Stratford in Craig Laird’s ill-fated spell in charge are still relatively fresh, as are flashbacks of the quite horrific hangover I suffered following that 1-1 draw after we’d sleepwalked into a relegation battle from a position of relative safety (sound familiar…?). And given my Portsmouth loyalty, I’ve known a few last day escapes over the years that have left nerves shredded and promises from various club talking heads of “we’ll never be in that position again” seem very hollow.

Stratford and the hangover of the season. 📸 Phil Standfield

As it happened, my fears were totally misplaced as we secured survival with two games to go. We can now start thinking in earnest about next season and how we plan to avoid a repeat performance of this borderline disaster of a season, that saw us reprieved from relegation for the second time in three years by circumstances out of our control. Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent set of results to keep us up, but the fact we were in this position once more is the real issue and concern. Given the dead rubber nature of Saturday’s game at Walton, this piece will be partly a review of that, partly an end of season review. Much like standing on the Bovril awaiting kick off on a Saturday afternoon, I’ve got no idea what to expect or how this will turn out. 

Walton should have been a relatively straight forward 30-minute train journey out of Waterloo for me, but the wonders of track improvement work meant that my 30-minute trip turned into a more arduous hour and 20 minutes train and rail-replacement bus journey, so it didn’t start brilliantly. I was once more joined by The Girlfriend as she somewhat naïvely enjoyed her sole previous outing to watch us win at Kings Langley so much, she fancied another trip. I’m sure she’ll learn soon enough. The replacement buses from Wimbledon were a total fucking farce, but luckily for us, the bus pulled up and opened its doors right next to us, despite the fact we were nowhere near the front of the whacking great queue. Was it a lucky omen? Well, if that was, being stuck next to a trio of walking, talking rich university student clichés was not. Mercifully, the journey wasn’t too bad, and after a short taxi ride to the ground, we arrived to get something to drink and have a look at the teams and our surrounds.

As a ground, Walton is quite pleasant, although given it is part of a wider sports complex, it does have the feel of playing at school about it. The actual stadium part is very nice and modern, and is how Hayes and Yeading’s ground should look and feel if they ever get around to finishing it rather than putting money into the playing budget and not the physical infrastructure of the place. Unlike Hayes, the bar does not feel like it is in the boiler room, and from its elevated position you get a bloody good view of the game. Picking up a couple of drinks, lager for myself and a very fancy looking hot chocolate for The Girlfriend, I was joined in the queue by Callum Buckley and Thiago Sa. This gave me a good indication that they were unlikely to start. They were also joined by Josh Bertie (I think/was told), so it will be interesting to see if he re-appears for us next season. When we did see the starting XI, it showed four changes from the Yate defeat as Calverley, Lowes, Purrington and Koszela all returned. Yemi, Soares, Gunson and Josh Phillips all dropped to the bench.

The turnout from the Magpies fans was understandably small given the nature of the game and the travel involved, but a small band of us headed towards the goal we were attacking that was against a bloody strong wind. Just before kick-off we were joined by a late arriving and somewhat weary Eames, who had to go through the penance of shoe shopping with his children whilst suffering from a hangover in order to get the green light to attend the game. Eames had previously met The Girlfriend and I at Bekenscot Model Village last year. Eames with his wife and children on a family day out, The Girlfriend and I there as we really should grow up. The model village is in Beaconsfield, and the model village trip marks one of the few occasions I’ve enjoyed a visit to Beaconsfield as most other have seen us get soundly beaten there, including another especially unenjoyable 90 minutes there a few months back. Bekenscot Model Village was used a the setting for an episode of ‘Midsomer Murders’, so consider that your useless fact of the day.

Murder in Bekenscot before death by boredom at Beaconsfield.

As a game, it had the classic end of season feel to it. We started well and despite being denied a penalty from what looked like a good effort to catch a cross by a Walton defender, we took a deserved lead after 13 minutes after an excellent ball from Tom Purrington set Olaf away. Walton’s goalkeeper totally misjudged the weight and speed of the pass in the wind and ran hopelessly out of his area for a ball he was never going to reach first. Once Olaf had done the hard part and lifted the ball over him, the rest was simple as he took his time to slot the ball into the empty net. The quality of the ball from Purrington was exceptional – he is one of the players I would love to see back at the club next season. We were playing well with Olaf, Purrington and Alfie all causing problems. Alfie was twice denied chances by the lineman’s flag despite looking to time his runs well, and we probed and pushed without any real reward.

The goalkeeper is more out of position than this image
lets on. 📸 Phil Standfield

Kicking against the wind didn’t seem to cause us too many issues, Walton initially struggled with the wind in their favour as they overhit several passes and looked unsure of how to use it to their advantage. The home side picked up a bit as the half rolled on, a hanging cross causing issues as Jack Bycroft had to be alert to claw the ball away. Better was still to come from Bycroft as he made an excellent stop down low to his right to keep out a stinging shot from Walton’s Rohdell Gordon. It was a far better save than I’ve made it sound, and Jack’s performances have been key in seeing us nudge towards safety. I’d imagine it is unlikely he’ll return to the club next season as his parent club will probably seek to loan him to a club in a higher division, and we wish him all the best. We’ve not had many better keepers than him, loan or otherwise, over the past few seasons.

📸 Phil Standfield

The second half didn’t exactly burst into life, but from a game that was played at training pace, it all of a sudden had some needle to it. Walton looked to press more and missed a couple of reasonable openings, and we struck a free-kick from a good position into the wall, before an odd flashpoint saw temperatures on the pitch raised a bit as the referee started to lose control. Walton’s number three, a limited footballer with a seemingly unlimited temper, got himself into a bizarre shoving match with Alfie, of all people, and appeared to throw the ball at him. There was a small huddle with some more argy-bargy from players of both sides, but it seemed to act as a catalyst for the game to breakdown into a more verbally spiteful, if not physical, encounter. The turning point of sorts came shortly after as our friend the limited three and another Casuals defender came together to clumsily foul Billy Lowes (I think), to give us a penalty. Harvey Bertrand clapping and laughing in three’s face would be as good as it got though as Alfie uncharacteristically screwed his effort wide of the keeper’s righthand post, the keeper himself having gone to his left. The miss seemed to deflate us, with Alfie soon after getting a booking for a rash challenge, likely one borne out of frustration, and he was soon replaced by Yemi.

Around this time there was once again an odd flaring of tempers, with assistant manager James Wood getting a yellow card and both benches clashing. I had initially thought it had been Brian Churchill who had been carded which would have capped off quite the week for him as he had already received a red card for the under 23’s this week. Special mention to Kriss Radivojsa, TSOF sponsor, and the under 23’s for getting through to a couple of finals this season. Best of luck to them for those. Also, worth acknowledging the shithousing celebration of U23’s goalkeeper, Cameron Pike, who scored the winning penalty in the shootout during the week, and gave the vocal home support some back. You’ll go far.

Back to Walton and we’d dropped a touch deeper and were coming under increased pressure as missed chances and good defending/goalkeeping kept it at 1-0, but with injury time approaching, Walton got the equaliser they merited, albeit in a fortunate manner. Jack Bycroft misjudged a looping ball, his fumble turned into the gaping net and we were level at 1-1. It was unfortunate for Bycroft, who has done as much as anyone to ensure our survival, to gift them such a goal. Thankfully, it wasn’t his last touch in a Dorchester shirt as he had one final top drawer stop in his bag, his right leg denying Walton a certain winner in injury time, and the final score of 1-1 was probably a fair reflection. The players thanked the fans for their support as we applauded them for their efforts these last few weeks, and in the end, it was job done by the barest of margins. After a few handshakes, or in the case of The Girlfriend, missed high fives, with the players and staff, we retreated to the bar for a quick natter. Luke, Lee and I chatted about what next season may bring, while Keith Kellaway was quite rightly more concerned with why I was taking so long to bring The Girlfriend’s drink back and took matters into his own hands, delivering it to her personally. Finishing those up, it was off back to London and that was the 2021/22 season done, ending as it started, with a late goal costing us points. A 1-1 draw was a neat summary of the season, good in patches, ultimately not getting the result we wanted, and being stung late with only ourselves to blame.

There will be a few players there who have played their final game for the club over the past two fixtures against Yate and Walton, and a clear-out is certainly in order. Even with our improved performances and form, we’ve still only survived due to a reprieve this season. Four sides were supposed to go down from each step three division of non-league, of which we are a member of, at the start of the season, but multiple vacancies in the non-league football pyramid saw that drop to three relegated sides from each division as the murky mathematic based Points Per Game method decided one of those spots. Thank fuck we didn’t have to get something or rely on other results going into the Walton game. El Gen would have been frantic in this scenario, calculator, walkman radio and Flashscores his companions as he tries to work out the permutations. This seasons reprieve, alongside our Covid based escape the season before last, mean we’ve stayed up due to circumstances we don’t control twice in three seasons, which is nowhere near good enough. Add that to previous lucky escapes, we’ve won the ‘AGM Cup’ at least five times, possibly more. We have a better recent record in that than the Dorset Senior Cup.

Thanks for all the photos, Phil.

Who to keep and who to let go is a tricky question, and we’ve been caught out in seasons past by keeping on too many members of an underperforming squad. Thommo, Callum Brooks and Leigh Robinson were all guilty of keeping too many of a side that had not performed one season but hoping that would change the next. The definition of insanity etc… That’s not to say there isn’t talent in this squad, but we do need a good number of new faces if we want to avoid being in this situation again. Buckley and Stanley are contracted for next season, we believe (the latter with caveats but that is both fair and understandable), and there are others who I would happily see back involved. But this is the very clichéd Big Summer © for the club as Glenn has to really do a pretty big rebuild job. I don’t think anyone is demanding or expecting us to win the league next season, but to be closer to the playoffs and not be in the relegation mix at Christmas would be nice, and then we can have a look from there at where we are. Hopefully Glenn can bring his own people in, be it on the pitch or off it, as he wants and build a side and a squad that means we won’t find ourselves scrapping for survival again. The league table doesn’t lie, especially after 42 games. This season hasn’t been anywhere near good enough.

So, season review and some ‘awards’ into the bargain. Player of the season was a reasonably straight forward one for me, Callum Buckley getting the nod ahead of Alfie, for my money. Defensively, we’ve really not been that bad this season. 58 goals conceded over 42 games isn’t an awful return at all, especially by our standards. And although the personnel around him has changed, Callum has been almost ever present in our XI, wearing the captain’s armband and even becoming the first player we’ve paid any sort of fee for in many a year. He also changed his very outdated claret and blue based Twitter profile and cover pictures after we spotted them; that alone deserves recognition. Congratulations, Callum, you win our warmest wishes.

Signing of the season could quite conceivably have gone to Callum as well, but that doesn’t seem fair. Jack Bycroft has been almost faultless and will surely go onto better things, Harvey Bertrand has been absolutely excellent in the games I’ve seen him, and Oakley’s consistency deserves noting. But, for his vital goals and quite delightful haircut, Alfie Stanley is crowned signing of the season. Alfie’s return of 13 league goals is our highest in the league since we don’t know when. Quite possibly looking back to late spell Groover unless we missed someone more recent who just bettered Alfie’s tally. Of those 13 goals, 11 of them came in games we got points from (I think), with several vital ones in amongst them. His match winning hat-trick in our 3-2 victory against Tivvy included what is the undoubted goal of the season with his strike from the halfway line, but other goals have been equally important. His brace against Swindon broke a 10 game winless run, his equaliser at Kings Langey followed up with another brace at home to Hendon helped us secure vital points, and he finished off his scoring with the goal that kept us up as he netted the only goal of the game at Salisbury. Goal, signing and trim of the season go to Alfie, all three well deserved.

Alfie from range in the 3-2 win against Tivvy. 📸 Phil Standfield

For every good signing, there is an equal and opposite flop. Poor Michael Green. A no doubt very good player, and man described by Mark Derrien as “far too good looking to play football”, may have the distinction of having one appearance in the undoubted season low point of our 3-1 home capitulation against Merthyr. Rudi Plummer looked like someone who could be really useful for us on debut at Harrow with his quite obscene pace winning a penalty before he tailed off badly and left under something of a cloud, and many others seemed to leave as quickly as they arrived over the season as a whole. I’ll let Rudi and Greener fight this one out and will instead award the season low point to the Merthyr horror show as we gifted the rock bottom Martyrs only their third win of the season. This was bad on a par with some of the Brooks/Robinson games of the ill-fated Covid season, which is an incredibly low bar to match. Survival seemed a million miles away at full-time that day, so full credit to Glenn, James Wood and the rest of the side for pulling clear.

A rare shot of Michael Green in action.

High point is the full-time whistle at Salisbury, both securing survival and ending a truly abysmal run against that lot and their scarecrow of a manager. We hadn’t beaten them for over a decade, so winning there and under the circumstances was a great feeling. Hopefully we can win more games next season and make it more of a habit. Other moments of the season go to the improvement in the food available in the snack bar and the prices of it. The WFC snack bar was long due a transfer, this season’s version with excellent gravy to boot is an upgrade on a par with what parts of our squad require. Most improved player goes to Oakley, who has performed well and really made that right side position his own this season. Tiago Sa was in the running for this as he became a totally different player to the one who seemed to struggle under Callum Brooks and Leigh Robinson.

And the unsung hero award goes to Glenn’s three quarter length shorts. A curious fashion choice that initially appeared to be a pair of Robbie Herrera’s old trousers, they have remained in favour and a dependable sight on the touchline, even in our most dire run of form. Credit to them, they were still there at the end of the season despite not providing much protection for the ankle – it will be interesting to see if Glenn elects for actual shorts or trousers next season. It’s a big summer for the club in so many ways Glenn’s wardrobe included.

Thanks for reading our nonsense across the season, it is much appreciated. We’ll be back next season for more droll musings, and there might even be a historic lookback or two over the summer months – suggestions for DTFC topics yet to be covered always welcome. Up The Magpies, here’s looking forward to next years open top bus parade down South Street. SV