Hard to beat and always hovering around the play-off places, life is good on the south coast whether they move up a level or not
9 March ~ At the start of 2016-17, I celebrated a golden anniversary. Notwithstanding the fact that it seemed like an awful lot of fuss to make over watching Dover Athletic draw 0-0 at Wrexham, I’ve spent plenty of worse afternoons during the preceding half-century.
Like the majority of fans who follow non-League, I guess that the idea of grubbing about in the lower reaches of the Football League for a bit is always the stated aim. Though I’ve spent enough time watching live League Two football to think we might not have too much to fear, I think I just might be careful what I wish for.
As things stand, there’s room for cautious optimism. Having started the season from scratch – nine players made their league debuts in an opening-day win at Hartlepool – following so many summer departures, Dover manager Chris Kinnear has put together a side who are notoriously difficult to beat. In a division that’s 80 per cent perspiration anyway, only the aforementioned Wrexham have conceded fewer goals. Compliments occasionally come Dover’s way, but are invariably back-handed and made grudgingly.
Following a fortuitous promotion from Conference (now National) South, the team have finished an impressive eighth, fifth and sixth in the last three seasons and there’s no reason why the current squad, largely made up of London and Home Counties journeymen, can’t secure a top-seven finish and a play-off spot. Frustratingly inconsistent though they can be at times, the same can be said for pretty much everyone else.
What I tend to ask myself is does the town really want League football and could it sustain that level? Irrespective of average attendances boosted by free tickets handed out for the club’s much-publicised “Community Days”, a couple of defeats will invariably ensure a marked dropping off of support.
Indeed, on a night when BT Sport were bringing us “live and exclusive” coverage of Chelsea v Barcelona, only 677 pitched up to a witness a Mitch Pinnock goal of extraordinary quality earn a 1-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge. Under such circumstances, one wonders how the visit of Mansfield, Bury or Crewe next year would increase anything other than Kent Police’s overtime and the number of pointless segregations.
Frequently we’re told – invariably by embittered parents of the next David Beckham – that Dover “would average 2,000 week if they had a team full of local lads”, a viewpoint that’s been proven to be utter tosh so many times, our regulars just tend to agree and change the subject. A team full of locals is always the ideal, of course, but for us that would mean the Southern Counties East League.
If all this sounds rather negative, those of us with a sense of perspective are, in the main, having a whale of a time. There are calls for chairman Jim Parmenter to splash the cash if promotion’s to be achieved, naturally. However, Parmenter’s insistence that he won’t be throwing good money after bad rings a bell with those who saw the club suffer three relegations in four years as a result of similar profligacy around the turn of the century.
And if recent upgrades to the ground seem to be for the benefit of flush sponsors who have yet to reveal themselves (the chairman’s fruit importing business seems to sponsor most home games), redevelopment around the town itself, with a few big-name businesses moving in, might ultimately change that. Either way, we’ve a smart little ground that wouldn’t look out of place in either League One or Two.
I’d cherish promotion if it happened, along with friends I’ve known for decades. If it doesn’t, like most things I might want but have learned to live without, I’ll get along just fine. For while ambition’s essential, this is the highest level our club’s ever played at and – as relatively huge clubs such as Leyton Orient, Tranmere Rovers and Hartlepool might happily confirm – we’re doing rather well. And some of the away days are second to none. Mark Winter
Photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photos: The Crabble, home to Dover Athletic, taken in 2016