“This is the best I’ve seen a Dorchester side look with Ollie Griggs on the pitch.”

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.

No sign of Phil Mitchell or Cilla Black.

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.

📷 Phil Standfield

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.

📷 Phil Standfield

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.

📷 Phil Standfield

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

“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.

“It’s actually fun coming down here, I don’t know what the fuck to make of it.”

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.

Many moons ago…

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.

📷 Phil Stanfield

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.

📷 Phil Stanfield

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.