“Some mush who got banned from Newport 30 years ago won’t stop talking to me.”

Better late than never (well possibly, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that), due to a combination of work and various unforeseen reasons, I am finally getting round to writing this blog nearly a week on from my visit to Merthyr.

In what could become an annual tradition after last year’s trip around this time of year, and the Southern League’s desire to send us on some long old midweek away days, I arrived at my mate Sam’s house in Worcester ahead of a trip down the M50 to watch us play a midweek game against our league’s only Welsh side.

As with last year, the weather was crap, and the air con in my car was stuck on freezing so we had to endure some limited views from the misted up windscreen as we tried to get down to Merthyr in good time, to try and avoid a repeat of last year’s car park shenanigans.

In another repeat from last year, we made a stop at a service station half way down for food and it again left us wondering if it was just there for money laundering, as it did its best to give off that eerie feeling like some sort of Netflix murder drama in the Australian outback with no one in sight apart from the people serving.

Sam, Dev and Mr Newport tuck into two Americano breakfasts and a Florida Waffle surprise.

We got back on the road and turned to discussing Sam’s unrivalled record supporting Dorch. Now he has no connection to the club, other than me, but had managed to rack up 14 games prior to this one over the years. He was boasting an impressive record of 1 win, 4 draws and 9 losses from those games, with us scoring 9 and conceding 32; a lucky charm he is not. That said, anyone who has watched us in recent seasons would struggle to boast a winning record or anything close to it.

Arriving at Merthyr about 45 mins before kick-off, we were charged £2 to take part in a real life game of Rush Hour. Clearly looking to make the most of the limited space available we were asked, “Will you be staying for an hour after or not?”. The inference was that if you were you could get blocked in by any number of vehicles, but confident of turning Sam’s record around we said we were and took the chance we might get blocked in for a night in the Valleys.

In the ground, we headed to the bar and got a couple of pints of “Atlantic Ale”. I’m not sure what we actually got, but judging by the colour and taste, it wasn’t what we ordered. The lack of Emmerson from the lineup was a disappointment coupled with the news Shaq wasn’t fit enough for the matchday squad, but with this news we headed out to “soak” up the atmosphere, quite literally.

With Dorch shooting towards the open end we headed round to the far side of the ground, standing as close to as we could to the end we were shooting, but staying under cover. As the game kicked off a “local”, wearing a Newport County jacket began chatting to us. Now normally I’d appreciate the conversation, as Dorch games in recent years haven’t been the easiest watch and something to distract from the game would be welcomed, however, it appeared that he was about to talk to me throughout the best 45 minutes of football I have seen Dorch put together in many years, probably since we beat Staines away 6-1, years ago, but even that was more down to the poor level of opposition than it was about us.

We knocked the ball around really well, Merthyr struggling to maintain any possession of note, and having gone ahead after just 4 minutes through Louie Slough, we had doubled that lead by 24 minutes in as Jordi Foot scored his first for the club. We were really good to watch, we looked in control and looked like a side that was well above anything I had seen in years. The 3G surface obviously helped our style, albeit the weather was a nightmare making the surface greasy but it had little effect on us, whilst the hosts struggled to match us across the park.

All that said, the highlights of the half had to be from my new found friend. His stories were the real main event, initially starting by dropping in the fact he’d been banned from County in the past, for an unfortunate sequence of events that led to him being in possession of something (didn’t hear what) that wasn’t his. Can fill in the blank there with something to make the story as interesting as you like.

He quickly turned to telling us how much he liked travelling down with the ‘County to Dorch in large numbers in the early days of their reformed club, regularly beating us convincingly and taking advantage of buying tins from Tesco to save money on the bar prices. He continued that the Southern League is “75% the same teams from when County was in it”. I asked where he remembered going: “Worcester?” “Shithole”, “Gloucester?” “Shithole” – the obvious next step was to discuss Weymouth and his trips there, to which he also replied with “That’s a right shithole”. Seems as if we were one of the few Southern League clubs that weren’t.

With us 2-0 up and seemingly cruising, Merthyr won a free kick 25-30 yards out, to which he quipped, “Ah there will be a goal here, f*ck bend it like Beckham, he’ll bend this in the top corner”. Not sure why, but I had belief in what he was telling me; the dead ball specialist was about to get them the goal back that they didn’t deserve and the comeback would be on, normal Dorch service resumed. However, to my relief he put the ball onto the roof of the stand behind the goal, and the panic was over.

Conversation turned to the FA Cup, with Merthyr still going strong in the first round. Sam mentioned the televised games, with Wrexham being the first to crop up: “Ah Wrexham, I call them Wrexscum”. The theme of the conversation was beginning to come clear as we were one of the few places/clubs he didn’t have a hatred for. Our unlikely partner in this was Millwall, a ground which he loved visiting, both with ‘County, or when Millwall were playing Cardiff or Swansea, on those occasions in the home end.

#GetTheBadgeIn 📷 Phil Stanfield

A variety of other topics including but not limited to female assistant referees (prompted by one being assigned to this match), Steve Claridge, “egg chasing” (his words not mine), and man boobs, saw the remaining time of the first half pass by, and with that he headed to the bar for a pint and to check the Newport score, and we headed to the covered goal for a very different second half.

The end we were now shooting towards was frequented by the local yoof, with some climbing on the inside of the roof, whilst others sang songs about sheep and a certain famous person being in a box.

We continued in the same vein as the first half, playing some really good football, with the ever impressive Olaf causing all sorts of problems for the left hand side of the home defence. Ngalo just seemed to control the midfield with Gunson working tirelessly pressing and chasing down balls. We looked relentless, not giving the home side a break, and there were numerous errors made by them, with misplaced passes, running balls out of play etc.

It seemed a third was just a matter of time. Numerous good chances went begging during the half, probably the most obvious when Gunson went through and instead of squaring to Alfie who had an open goal, he poked an effort wide.

As the game was dying out, the home side finally got a foot in the game. In the past this would have been where we caved, but some resolute defending, throwing bodies on the line and a great couple of reaction saves from new loan keeper Ryan Hall saw us weather the storm, before a break from Sa down the left saw Balmer set up Matty Neale to put the game to bed. A late Lewis Powell goal couldn’t dampen the spirits, albeit taking away a clean sheet that Hall had probably earnt for his efforts.

The game not only doubled the number of wins Sam has seen since his first game around the turn of the century, but a Tuesday night trip to Plymouth back towards his homeland is now on the cards.

The performance was great to watch and a real sign of the improvement the management team have managed to deliver in their year in charge. Almost a year ago we witnessed the draw there, against a poor home side, in a game we should have won, and whilst the Homeside have definitely improved since then, we are a mile away from where we were. It’s encouraging; there is still work and progress needed, as the management say, but I’m more than hopeful we can continue to look up the league rather than down if we carry on like that. This is a bit of a recurring theme in my blogs, but if there is any chance we can retain Olaf in the New Year it would be a great bit of business, as the home supporters also noted how his ability stood out. That said, the whole side were great on the night. It’s really hard to fault any of them, and we really looked and played like a team. UTM. DW.

“It’s the best I’ve seen us in years and we lost, so I dunno.”

“Oh here we go – another defeat on the road. Same old Dorch I see.” Well yes, we were beaten on the road, but losing in 2022-23 so far does not feel like the same old dross we’ve tortured ourselves with for the past 9 years. 8 games in and sitting comfortably in the top half of the league table is an unfamiliar sight for Dorchester fans of recent years, and yesterday at Hanwell Town you could tell as a team we are far superior to the performances we’d served out even last season.

More on that later, but for me, this was my first away day of the season. The last game I saw was the opening day at home to North Leigh so I’ve been looking forward to this one for a few weeks. Work commitments meant I missed the win at Beaconsfield last month, but for Hanwell my availability enabled me to venture out west to the dark depths of West Ealing for a straightforward London fixture.
With the north/south London divide separating myself and TG, we mutually agreed on the Liverpool Street Wetherspoons as a suitable meeting point for us both.

We settled there for an hour or so before venturing out west with the intention of meeting Eames and his friends at the Drayton Court Fullers hotel in West Ealing. The journey was quite easy and marked my debut appearance on the recently opened Elizabeth (RIP) line. We had a change at Paddington, then hopped on another Lizzy train before arriving at West Ealing station bang on the 1pm planned meetup time.

After a couple of peachy lagers and discussion about nonsense, local West London Dorchy exile Eames guided us towards a quick bus and a 10 minute walk to the ground. We arrived at the home of ‘The Geordies’ at around 14:15. Hanwell Town were founded in 1920 by a group of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne natives who were working in Hanwell at the time, hence the interesting nickname. This is a piece of history they are clearly very proud of, with Newcastle flags and framed memorabilia plastered around the ground and bar area. I was expecting the ground to be a typical lower league non-league ground having just gone up, but the set up was excellent and seemed an all-round decent and friendly club.

Onto the game itself: after a fairly settled start both sides grew into the match with both sides having chances. Our keeper, Harry Lee, was forced into a couple of excellent stops while our best chance came to the feet of Charlie Gunson, who fired a ricocheted ball narrowly wide. Had there been more anticipation he would’ve no doubt hit the target. To be fair to Gunson, he didn’t let that miss get to him and he didn’t stop running and battled well all game. However, it was the hosts who took the lead on 25 minutes, as Danny Rowe beat the offside trap, rounded Lee and slotted home; despite protests from the Magpies players for offside the goal stood. The highlights do show it was very, very close and if VAR (God forbid) came into this level it may well have not stood.

Hanwell were the better side for a period after that, but it was us who equalised 3 minutes before half time when a Gunson free-kick was met by Keith Emmerson on the back post for Alfie Stanley to nod home from close range. The away side were galvanised with the best chance being a Harvey Bertrand shot cleared off the line after Gunson’s free-kick was saved.

The second half, apart from the addition of a well-behaved golden retriever, was much of the same with both sides going at it. Olaf Koszela and Thiago Sa came close for the Magpies, firing just over and forcing a good save from the Hanwell keeper respectively. However, slightly against the run of play Hanwell re-took the lead with Danny Rowe notching his second firing past Lee from 18 yards or so. The remainder of the game continued in the same vein as the rest with both sides looking threatening going forward but there was little of note to help change the result. 2-1 was the final score.

While Eames and his mates left soon after the game, TG and myself hung about for a debrief with Messrs Luke, Watkins and the Taylors. There was disappointment amongst the Magpie faithful not to take anything from the game, which goes to show how far we’ve come in recent weeks. It was a game that could have gone either way, but the good thing is we now move onto 2 home games coming up, starting with Tiverton on Tuesday. Hopefully the return of Shaq and Ngalo from their recent knocks will boost us. With our 100% home record currently, I fancy us to beat anyone at the Avenue.

Making it a fortress again is what makes the majority happy and long may that continue. Our away results have been inconsistent but we have had good performances like Saturday, plus we also played well in the the Swindon Supermarine and Yate games by all accounts. Most if not all would’ve taken eighth place going into the end of September, and if we can turn some of those narrow defeats on the road into draws or better, then I’ve no doubt we’ll have a strong season. FR.

“F*** off back down South, you pasty eating c***.”

The dream is still alive. Not since 1901 has a non-league side won the FA Cup and we are only eleven games from a Wembley final and fulfilling our destiny. Well, maybe. Either way, the difference between this season and previous seasons is like night and day, and although a replay isn’t what either side really wanted, we continued our impressive start to the new season and kept a second consecutive clean sheet in what was a far more watchable game than the 0-0 scoreline suggests.

This was a weekend I’d planned on watching Dorch, selfishly hoping we’d get a FA Cup tie that was favourable for travel from London. So, Wimborne away wasn’t really what I was looking for at all. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, so back on a Dorchester bound train from Waterloo it was to watch the early stages of the inevitable march to Wembley. As with most things on the railways at the moment, nothing was straightforward. My journey home on Thursday was going swimmingly and I’d got all the way to Wool when the train remained stationary in the platform for a little while longer than usual. Suddenly, a WhatsApp message on the cricket club group asked why there was a fire engine on the outfield at the Rec – I soon got an answer via the train tannoy as we were informed the train was being held at Wool due to two lineside fires in Dorchester, caused by a steam engine setting fire to the embankment. Of course it fucking had. Luckily, I was close enough to get a lift home with my long-suffering Mother, and the train duly pulled out and continued on its journey not five minutes after I’d left it. I was rather hoping this was not an omen for the coming days.

Wimborne is not a long trip, but one that’s not local by virtue of the Wimborne postcode being BH. At this point, Wimborne becomes part of Hampshire as anything outside of a DT area is quite obviously not Dorset. Bournemouth and Poole can move along into Hampshire, or possibly even into France, if they’ll have them. Areas outside of a DT postcode wishing to become part of proper Dorset will be considered on a case-by-case basis and certain exemptions apply to parts of Purbeck and Durdle Door which we’ll gladly keep. Otherwise, redrawing the county boundary and using clubs to have played in the Dorchester and District Evening Cricket League as a guideline seems a wise option. Whatever way you slice it, Who’s Afear’d could see which way the wind was blowing. Their song, ‘Borderline’, provides all the necessary warning you need.

Despite it not being a long journey, we set off in plenty of time to enable us to catch the early kick-off in the Merseyside derby. The plan was to have ourselves a no-frills breakfast at Spoons (complete with a gurt big teddy bear in the corner for reasons unknown), hop in El Generale’s armoured Ford, and head on out to the New Cuthbury ground. The first two parts of this plan were ticked off in a straightforward manner as El Generale, JW and I were regaled by TC of his tales of a day trip to London to watch the test match at Lords. Despite the cricket being highly entertaining, the most noteworthy part of the day came when his old man, who was driving that day, accidently cut up a black cab driver on the way back. After an exchange of pleasantries when they were next to each other in stationary traffic, the cabbie told TC Snr to “fuck off back down South, you pasty eating cunt.” Not really having a reply to that due to being too busy laughing, he took that advice and headed back home.

Back to our journey and after a smooth trip out of Dorch as TC helped us navigate the back roads and avoid show traffic, we made it to the Puddletown bypass, and soon we were over the border into Hampshire as we reached Wimborne. Now, you’d think that was the hard part done. This was not quite the case. Steve’s Google maps took us to Wimborne’s old Cuthbury ground, now a load of new build houses, and it took a little while for us to get our bearings, TC once again helping navigate as we made our way to the new ground. A new ground that we duly missed the turning for. Still, it would be easy to turn around and go back on ourselves as we took a left and would soon find somewhere to turn. Well, Steve did the first part and took a left. We then carried on for about a mile and a half through suburban Wimborne, passing some lovely houses and scenery, yet failing to turn. It was only when we came to a crossroads that the question was asked: “what are you looking for? A fucking roundabout?” – Steve had in fact been waiting to be told where to turn, so after a couple of minutes to recompose ourselves and get our bearings, we eventually arrived at the quite pleasant surrounds of the New Cuthbury and settled in the bar there.

It is a tidy new ground with a good-sized bar and a good selection of beers to choose from. Two that caught the eye were the ‘Magpies Salute’ and the ‘Magpies 1878’ that had been brewed for the club by the Ringwood Brewery. Always nice to see a novel local ale available… As we watched the Merseyside derby, we were joined by others who had made the trip including a few familiar faces not seen for some time. Spud and Ben Ward made a rare appearance and were on fine form, this is despite Spud suffering with bad knees. How has he got bad knees; you ask? Is it work? New fitness regime? Old football injury? Nope, he has bad knees from playing darts. Or as TC put it;

“Fuck me, you’ve got bad knees from being at the oche? Fuck me, help me out, I’ve just thrown a treble twenty and put me knee out.”

Numbers seemed good and the Dorch fans numbered one more when it was at last established the Ollie Griggs was in fact still suspended and unavailable for the game. Probably best that was worked out pre-game. When we did get the team news, it showed four changes from the Yate game as Harvey Bertrand, Tiago Sa, Charlie Gunson and Ollie Balmer replaced the benched Jordi Foot, Louie Slough, Matty Neale and the injured Jordan Ngalo. None of those players had done anything wrong; this seemed more tactical than anything else and gave us more of an attacking threat from the wide areas. Helpfully, the loan players were all able to play as well so Olaf, Alex Moyse and Harry Lee were all able to play, which was more than helpful. After a bit more of a natter with the assembled masses, it was out to the terraces to find a suitable vantage point and to hang up some flags. All of this was done with fresh breath as Spud had thoughtfully passed some chewing gum around.

“As football fans, we need good breath.”

Always grips the glass from the lowest point.

The start we made was an excellent one, and we were unfortunate not to take the lead on several occasions. A Balmer free kick went narrowly over before Balmer again really should have opened the scoring and grabbed his first goal. After a defence splitting header from Kieran Douglas, Balmer did the hard part in rounding the keeper but a combination of taking fractionally too long and some very good tracking back from Ash Wells saw the effort cleared when the goal had been gaping. More chances would come and go, with a Moyse header over the bar, and an Olaf free kick went the same way before yet another free kick would draw a save from the home keeper, Ollie Balmer this time testing him as we continued to press.

We’d go closer still just after the fifteen-minute mark, with Olaf heading against the bar before Shaq’s effort was blocked for a corner. From the resultant set piece, Kieran Douglas would thud a header against the face of the post as we did everything but score. It is genuinely pleasing to see us carry a threat from set pieces now after years of both struggling to defend them and not having much luck attacking them either. We are a totally different side to this time twelve months ago and its enjoyable to watch again.

What was not enjoyable to watch was the referee’s performance as he made some very curious decisions across the course of the day, the worst one being the penalty appeals he turned down after Shaq had literally been punched in the head by the Wimborne keeper. There was no malice in it – it isn’t like he chinned him at a corner – but he horribly misjudged the bounce of a ball over the top, Shaq got up to head it and got there first by a comfortable margin, with the keeper’s flying fist catching nothing but Shaq’s noggin as he clattered into him. The referee and the linesman looked at each other, both looked clueless and gave a goal kick, which was the one thing it couldn’t really be. It would logically have either been a free kick to Wimborne for simulation if they think Shaq had dived to try and win the penalty, or it is a penalty due to the keeper literally punching Shaq in the fucking head and getting nowhere near the ball. To give nothing was to bottle it totally, which is exactly what he did. A baffling decision.

Play on! 📸 Phil Standfield.

Thankfully, that was the only punch to the head landed during the half as tempers threatened to boil over on the terraces at one point, but the DTFC peace corps of TC and I helped to quell the tempers like a modern-day Max and Paddy. Well done to the Wimborne stewards as well for not piling in and potentially worsening the situation; it’s nice to see some common sense used in situations like this and was much appreciated. We were also very appreciative of our own crossbar as a Wimborne cross struck the face of it before it was being cleared, giving us a reminder that it wasn’t going to be one way traffic all day. Alex Moyse picked up a booking at some point for what we think was his first foul challenge of the day in another one of the ref’s more confusing calls, before we’d twice go close again in the final five or so minutes of the half. 

We finally had the ball in the net, but it was disallowed for a foul on the keeper, and their keeper would make a good save, connecting with the ball and not a Dorch player’s temple as he kept out a shot on the turn by Balmer. I didn’t see the foul that saw the goal disallowed as I was getting a tea and had a slightly obstructed view, but I like to think we were hard done by so I’ll assume it was a bad decision. The cup of tea was served from an actual teapot, complete with tea cosy, so it scored highly on the SV BrewScale. Flags were removed from behind the goal, a critical flaw we’ve had in seasons past, and it was back into the bar for a debrief and a natter on how we weren’t ahead. It was a short one as we all fancied we’d finish the job second half.

Said second half wasn’t as one way as the first, as Wimborne came far more into the game and a more even 45 minutes followed. We still had chances, with Balmer again going close and Keith Emmerson lifting his effort off the bar when a rebound fell kindly to him. We lost a little bit of shape when Alex Moyse was subbed off – that’s by no means a dig at Matty Neale, we just seemed to go a touch longer with our passing and found ourselves a bit more under pressure. The pressure almost told as Wimborne created chances. A number of corners were dealt with but an excellent point blank save from Harry Lee saw the rebound fall kindly to a Wimborne player who, mercifully, slammed it wide via the outside of the post. 

We weren’t done yet either as sub-Alfie’s shot on the turn from a cross by our third sub, Jordi Foot, was well saved, and possession and a couple of good positions from wide areas and corners came and went. There was still more time for another interesting decision from the ref as Wimborne’s assistant, Mark Gamble, got a comedic red card for literally picking up the ball when it went out for a throw in, and waddling off with it. His protestations of innocence were almost as amusing as the initial act of picking the ball up and running off with it as he claimed to be changing it. These protests would have carried more weight had our player not just picked up another perfectly round and normal looking ball that was where he just shuffled off from. Bizarre. The full-time whistle followed soon after and after a deserved bit of applause for the players, it was back to the bar for a further natter, before heading back home, thankfully avoiding another couple of miles around Wimborne’s suburbs. TC, Welchy and I popped into the cricket club to have a beer and a chat with some of the faces there. It is always good to see Trev Senior and we had a very enjoyable chat with Jorge Diaz as he told how how the Poole v Salisbury game was interesting both on and off the pitch. As time went by, Fin Barge ending up with a smoke grenade wedged between his arse cheeks was my cue to head home.

As 0-0 draws go, I’ve seen far worse and I have also seen Dorch fail to turn a good first half into anything other than a loss on multiple occasions. Over the 90 minutes we were the much better side, but there is a confidence from both the fans and the team that we’ll get the job done on Saturday. This squad is far better than anything we’ve had in recent seasons, and a look back at some results and line-ups really hammered this home. A couple of sides we had were genuinely awful and propped up by very good loans. Harry Kite has gone from playing alongside Billy Lowes when on loan from Exeter to scoring League One goal of the month contenders; Jordan Storey also came to us on loan from Exeter and has gone from partnering Ross Carmichael in the centre of defence to keeping seven consecutive clean sheets in the Championship. Had it not been for COVID, we’d have gone down three seasons ago, but this squad look capable of more than just keeping us afloat. Likable and with plenty of ability, the team and their start to the season has been far better than even our most optimistic fan would have predicted, and we’re enjoyable to watch again after some tough seasons. Lots of games to go yet, but it really does feel a bit different this season. The key for us as fans is to not get too far ahead of ourselves and carried away with such a good start. Enjoy it, make the most of it, and don’t get pissy when we do eventually lose a game again. Hopefully that won’t be on Tuesday as our march to European football continues – the £2k prize money will be more than handy with the electricity bills.

I’m not sure when my next game will be with work and other commitments, but I’ll be following from afar and no doubt tweeting some utter nonsense about it on TSOF’s page. Up the (Dorset, not Hampshire) Magpies, and if you see any red smoke coming from the Rec, it’s not a fire, likely just Bargey at last orders. SV