Dartford FC: Avoiding the Internationals (part 1)

27 Mar

Pre-match warm-up. International weekend. Yawn. Nothing good has ever come from international qualifiers, nothing. Largely they’re a waste of time, either with big nations humiliating small nations or big nations playing big nations in lucrative friendlies full of reserves and (dare I say it) sponsor’s picks.

In a week where the most intellectual football debate was as to whether John bloody Terry should captain England, I think most of us sensed there was going to be little of any interest going on this weekend.

For those of us with a less than a passing interest these fixtures, this weekend posed an interesting proposition. A number of clubs (in fact I’d say the majority in and around the Capital) decided to move their kick-offs to lunchtime so that supporters could first watch the live game before heading to the bar for the England match. Good idea. Some teams decided that they’d take their chances and go head-to-head with England at 3pm; Brave move. Most of you will see where this is going. Having looked at the fixtures, there was a very real opportunity to catch not one, but two live games. This week, The Pigeon Stands’ choice of games would not be a carefully considered choice, it would be left in the hands of club secretaries and geography.  Only one option presented itself: A trip to greater-Dartford area, first for Dartford v Lewes, then 10 minutes up the road to Crayford for VCD Athletic v Beckenham Town.  Sadly this would mean breaking a golden rule of the Pigeons Stands: Thou shalt not attend another game if Dulwich are at home. You see, Dulwich had decided that 1pm or 12pm or 12:30pm would not do, they would kick-off at 1:30pm, preposterous as it would mean that fans would either miss  the last 15 minutes of Dulwich v Fleet or the first 15 minutes of England. As it turned out, Dulwich were blameless and the bunch of fuckers who run Fleet refused an earlier kick-off as they’d be leaving home too early.

So with heavy heart, we departed on our exciting (yet Dulwich-less) bumper day of football. This was supposed to be great, our first double-header. Whilst this was (to some extent) completed successfully, I think both (my co-blogger) Darren and I feel somewhat hollow. As you’ll read in both my post on Dartford and later in Darren’s post on VCD Athletic, we accomplished our aim of seeing two games in 4 hours but the post-match ales were a more sombre affair following news that Dulwich Hamlet had not only beaten Fleet, but had wiped the floor with them in a barnstorming 6-0 victory. However, as will become apparent, these six goals were not the only goals we missed as the ghost of Edgar Kail showed us no mercy.

26 March 2011

Blue Square Conference South

Dartford FC 3 v Lewes 0 (att 1036)

Princes Park, Dartford DA1

Team talk. Dartford have – for as long as most care to consider – been a bastion of quality non-league football within the South East. History shows us that the Darts aren’t afraid of the big time, signified most prominently by an appearance in the FA Trophy final of 1974 at Wembley where they were beaten 2-1 by Morcambe.

Following last season’s promotion to the Conference South, Dartford are riding a crest of a wave. As with most newly promoted sides, the priority is very much consolidating their status within the division. This week’s opponents, relegation-threatened Lewes were themselves in buoyant mood having stunted table-topping Braintree’s push for the Nationals with a fine 2-1 at the Dripping Pan in midweek.

Home advantage. Princes Park is one of those grounds The Pigeon Stands have longed to visit. At this level, it’s rare to find a brand new state of the art stadia, but Princes Park is just that. I’m delighted to announce that we weren’t disappointed. Built in 2006, the ground boasts some excellent design features to motivate all of our inner sustainability champions. The ground’s heating is provided by solar panels on the roof of the main stand, rainwater is harvested to supply the toilets and the use of concrete has been dismissed in favour of wood. Timber features heavily both on the interior and exterior of the stadium with the internal timber roof cladding and trusses looking truly unique. Whilst this method of construction and indeed finish would look unsuitable on a grander scale, it suits the 4500 capacity stadium down to a tee.

What’s also striking about Princes Park is the closeness of the stands (themselves on a tight rake) to the pitch, this has been achieved by positioning the gangway at the back and sinking the level of the pitch, pushing the sidelines as tight to the railings as possible. OK, being close to the action is hardly unusual for non-league grounds, however, the stadium is also designed to create a bowl, with all four sides connected and by keeping a low roof it feels wonderfully claustrophobic, even when only a quarter full. With a crowd of just about 1000 yesterday, the ground was still buzzing. With a full 4500 spectators in the stands, I imagine it would be an absolute nightmare for visiting sides.

Look! Solar Panels!

However, there are down-sides to every ground. One of the famed non-league myths around our way is that of the heated hand rails in the ground, so attending on a cold day was a must. Yesterday didn’t disappoint, the winter fleece was back out as was the hat and gloves. The only thing that was missing was…the heated handrail, It’s not as if this was there and switched off, there was simply nowhere for this to be located. Dreams shattered.

Park the bus. Dartford is 50 minutes from Charing Cross with most trains stopping at London Bridge. Remarkably for a town on the very outskirts of Greater London, trains depart on average every 15 minutes.  Princes Park is around a 20 minute walk south of the Station, however, Dartford’s Fasttrack BRT (that’s Bus Rapid Transport) has stops by the station and stadium. BRT is basically just the same as a normal bus except they have dedicated roads without traffic lights etc so will hurtle you from station to stadium in just over 5 minutes.

If you plan to come by car. Firstly, make sure your sat-nav is navigating you to the correct location then take the A2 orA225 until you hit Dartford. Access to the club is best achieved from Darenth Road. WARNING: As part of Dartford’s eco-policy, there’s very limited parking so if you can use alternative means, you are advised to do so.

Prawn sandwiches. Food was in plentiful supply courtesy of a little refreshments room at the back of each end. A simple one-way system was in operation to ease congestion and for the most part, seemed effective. However what was a great concern was the food itself. My simple order of one burger and one tea was greeted with a “wait a minute son, we’re just waiting for a delivery”. Delivery? Hmm, now this IS interesting, from where? Of what? Hang about, where’s the hot plate in here? Where’s the sizzling of the burgers? Where’s the slightly vile yet tempting smell of offal and rusk masquerading as beef? Oh no! What have I paid £3 for?? My concern was only heightened by the arrival of a postman’s bag pull of bulging envelopes. Please no, not an envelope…“Enjoy your burger love”. I had been given my envelope. I was now squarely in possession of Postman Pat’s lunch, a lukewarm burger in foil-lined envelope. In fairness it was better than I expected, but that’s not saying much and I’m still none the wiser where the food had been delivered from, therefore I can only assume (judging also by its temperature and cardboard texture) it had made the long trip from Greendale.

Pat arrives with another batch of burgers and pies for the Princes Park faithful

A trip to Dartford’s bar was far more pleasant. Whilst small in stature the area, located in the main stand was bright and airy and featured the team’s relatively well-stocked trophy cabinet as well as some quotes from some of the legends of the game (and Ron Atkinson) which someone must have thought amusing enough to stencil onto the walls.

More trophies than you can shake an Arsene Wenger at

Hilarious AND motivational

…and the game. In total, we watched around 65 minutes the game. Not driving has it’s advantages, many advantages, however, one cannot pick their chauffeur. Yesterday I learned that Darren – one of the smartest and of the most difficult person to bull-shit that I know – is a total slave to his sat-nav. I won’t bore you with the gorey details but sufficed to say, it turns out we had the wrong postcode, twice.

Nonetheless a stellar bit of motoring, right out of the pages of How To Drive In Lewisham, got us to the Princes Park just a few minutes after kick-off. Sadly that was enough to miss Danny Harris’ (apparently) superb opener.

Bow down to the timber god of Dartford and he shall keep you warm in the absence of a heated handrail

Having paid our £12 in and clocked Neil Pearson from 90s sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey in with the Lewes support, we took our place in the north stand right by a carved timber giant. As well as observing non-league tradition of crowding around the end your team’s attacking, a number of Dartford fans wanting to observe from elsewhere chose instead to stand by the timber giant. Whilst being all very Wicker Man, it was nice to see such a good distribution of fans around the ground.

The game itself was rather ordinary, Dartford looked a cut above throughout, with strikers Lee Burns and Charlie Sheringham (son of Teddy) pressing the play on several occasions. Tom Champion looks like a real force in the midfield and although Lewes gave him a lot of time, he looks like a guy who could comfortably play at a higher level.

“I’d rather be watching AFC Wimbledon”. Half Man Half Womble

Dartford’s second came from a corner after a goalmouth scrambler had seen Charlie Sheringham’s shot deflected wide. Sheringham himself delivered the second after a dipping corner was ghosted in from about 8 yards. All very simple.

The third goal, like the first, cannot be commented upon as we had left early to beat the traffic on the way to our second match (for which we only just made kick-off). Now, I’m not one for leaving games early, if I’ve paid to watch a whole game, that’s exactly what I expect to do, however, in these extraneous circumstances I made an exception. Of course, it was inevitable that we’d end up missing a goal, I’m just eternally grateful Dartford hadn’t employed a Boston Bruins-style enforcer.

Man of the match. It’s hard to have a man of the match in what amounts to an hour of football. So for me it’s the Timber Giant. To many he’s just a bit of carved wood adding some semi-public art to a place usually void of meaningful art (Dartford…sorry, I mean stadia), to me he’s an embodiment of 21st century sustainability and construction. He is a fortnightly reminder to supporters that every little helps. If a football club can do its bit for the environment, why can’t we?

Post game rub down. Our trip to Dartford was, on the whole, enjoyable. I think it’s fair to say that I never really settled into the game and I will undoubtedly return to Princes Park for a return visit. In terms of interest, it’s unquestionably one of the better grounds in Blue Square South and costing a snip at just £6m (or one Lee Cattermole in Premiership values) represents pretty good value for money. Dartford looked like a competent outfit although their opponents looked visibly tired after their splendid midweek win. The support seemed friendly enough (a rarity with Kentish teams) and the club maintains the general jolly atmosphere of a non-league club albeit with a well-placed sense of ambition. Although once again I left  feeling that the higher up the pyramid you climb, the less opportunities there are for silliness.

With this in mind, we began our short journey to VCD Athletic…

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. VCD Athletic: Avoiding the Internationals (part 2) « Tales From The Pigeon Stands - 28 March 2011

    […] Darren McCreery ← Banstead Athletic Dartford FC: Avoiding the Internationals (part 1) → LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Chessington and Hook United « Tales From The Pigeon Stands - 21 April 2012

    […] readers of this blog will know that we did a double header last year when we saw VCD Athletic and Dartford. The decision to visit these games saw up miss a massive 6-0 win at our own Dulwich Hamlet. This […]

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