26 November ~ The last time a Dover side beat Aldershot in a national competition, they were drawn to visit Chelsea in the next round. Whether Dover Athletic can emulate the glory boys of the DAFC National Federation of Football Supporters quiz team circa 1995 remains to be seen, of course. In our FA Cup first round tie a month ago, much was made of the fact that Whites put one over both Kent neighbours – we don't kid ourselves that we're rivals – Gillingham and former boss Andy Hessenthaler, together with the coaching staff he took with him to Priestfield in the summer.
Given the manner in which Dover fans and chairman Jim Parmenter were patronised, insulted and disrespected during that brief period of upheaval and discontent, few would deny that there was no better place than Priestfield for the club to record their first-ever first round victory in the competition.
Yet whilst the Hess factor was meat and drink to the Kent media, for Dover fans of a certain vintage feelings ran much deeper. The fact is, we have a truly atrocious record in the FA Cup. In the 28 years since Athletic replaced the defunct Dover FC, we've reached the first round proper just twice, losing at home to Oxford United on both occasions. Otherwise, you'd be hard pushed to randomly stick a pin into a map of the Home Counties and not pick a city or town, maybe even village, that hasn’t humiliated us.
If the town hasn't quite gone down with Cup fever this week, a few have certainly picked up a slight sniffle. In these days of mass stewarding and "sterile areas" it's unlikely that the club's attendance record will be broken unless the Shots can shift a 2,000 ticket allocation. However, Dover's 3,000 tickets were sold inside two days as the town – not to mention its pubs – prepared for the club's long-awaited debut in the second round.
Many locals felt that a side that is changing weekly under Martin Hayes would follow historical precedent and make a mess of a fourth qualifying round replay against Farnborough Town, thus scuppering the trip to Gillingham in the first place. So with that hurdle emphatically negotiated, fans not known for their joie de vivre and boundless optimism were all echoing the views of their chairman in that a win at Gillingham was “written in the stars”.
This week, we're mostly back to our usual collective pragmatism and just looking forward to a full house and the type of occasion we haven't witnessed since Cheltenham Town came here for an FA Trophy semi-final in 1998. If we play as well as we can, “we've got half a chance” seems to be the consensus, even if Whites have been no great shakes at home of late. If we are successful in what will be a third FA Cup tie against Aldershot in recent times, there's a word of warning to be heeded – the football quiz team received a fearful shellacking in that aforementioned fixture away to Chelsea. Mark Winter