6 – The Wonder of You
The Birth of Flagzilla
It had been just over two decades since Dartford’s last appearance in the F.A Cup First Round. For the first time ever Princes Park would host a Football League side in a competitive match. A sell-out crowd was expected and four days before the big day a sell-out was announced. The unlucky Dartford supporters who were unable to buy tickets did get a second chance when Port Vale returned some of their allocation.
Walking towards Princes Park, Vale fans displayed their away shirts looking for decent public houses. Dartford supporters were already there lubricating their vocal chords, the build-up was friendly; the charm of the F.A Cup had entered the town. The Darts were under no pressure, had nothing to lose but dreamed of what might happen. The Port Vale following, aware of a possible cup upset, was still confident enough to pull through. After all Micky Adam’s side were flying high in League Two in second position.
As three o’clock approached the atmosphere was cranked up a notch. F.A Cup fever had reached its peak and what better way to celebrate than unleashing Dartford’s new signing. Paid by the fans, its black, its white and its pure dynamite…Flagzilla made its debut.
Dartford started with intent and in the opening minutes left Port Vale shell shocked. In the commentary box Gary Clark and Paul Philpot described the action: “Burns across field to Hayes, Hayes left footed looking for Danny Harris, Harris, Danny Harris is through, Danny Harris, ohhhhhhhhhh off the line”. The crowd gasped, The Darts were incredibly denied, what a start, the crowd were lifted, as if the match wasn’t enough in the first place!
After a Hayes free kick flashed wide, The Darts grew in confidence, the performance was steady and with the Princes Park crowd behind Tony Burman’s men the nerves had disappeared. Half way through the first half a controversial moment arrived, Carl Rook laid the ball off but Vale midfielder Gary Roberts miss controlled the ball. Michael Shinn stood his ground to win the ball, Roberts lunged two footed and Shinn was fouled. Tony Burman and Paul Sawyer were incensed at the side of the pitch; nearly every player got involved as a brawl broke out, Shinn made no fuss, surely a red card and advantage Dartford. The referee called the Captains over and spoke to Roberts and Shinn. Yellow card, Roberts was lucky to stay on the pitch.
The Darts looked more like the Football League side and almost went in front when Lee Burns fired wide. Then Carl Rook worked tirelessly to hold up the ball, Hayes’ trickery created a crossing opportunity and when it found the feet of Rook he scuffed the shot into Stuart Tomlinson’s hands.
Rook and Hayes battled on down the left and when Hayes persistence paid off he was brought down on the edge of the box near the goal line. “So it’s a free kick about a yard outside the penalty area and three yards from the touchline. Shinn and Hayes now stand over the ball, I think it’s going to be Hayes, it is. Delivers it in, a cross, YEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH. CAPTAIN ELLIOT BRADBROOK, GOAL TO DARTFORD, GOAL!” Princes Park erupted, The Darts were in front.
At half time Dartford fans could not quite believe what was happening, forty five minutes away from glory. If you thought about it too hard then nerves would kick in, the only cure was to sing a long, get behind the boys and hope time would tick along quickly to four forty five. Port Vale feared the worst, Micky Adams made a triple substitution. The second half kicked off…
The Vale played with more urgency but Dartford stayed strong and continued to create chances. Paul Goodacre headed straight at Tomlinson, Hayes sent a free kick over, the clock ticked away. The Darts defence were resolute, Harris was the Patron Saint of Lost Causes troubling Port Vale with his pace, Hayes troubled The Vale with his trickery and Rook worked hard to keep possession up top on his own. Charlie Sheringham then entered the equation as Tony Burman swapped him with the tired Rook. Six minutes remained.
A hopeful through ball was played forward from The Vale midfield, Hayes swiped at the ball to cut it out about 30 yards from goal, and the slice on the ball spun it towards Andrew Young’s touchline. Out came Young who caught the ball, unfortunately he was unable to save the corner. Tommy Fraser went over to take the corner kick; right footed he swung the ball out towards the middle of the six yard box. Players were tugging at each other, jostling for position when the ball broke loose to John McCombe who bundled the ball towards goal, heartbroken, silence. Port Vale escaped Princes Park with a draw.
The full time whistle blew and the Dartford faithful proudly clapped every player off the park. Time passed and everyone had time to reflect on an exhausting day, no one knew whether to be proud or gutted, in the end we settled for both…six minutes, just six more minutes.
Away Day Blues are Dover
Searching for the first away victory in the league Dartford were on a high after their F.A Cup heroics. Over recent years Dover Athletic had got the better of The Darts and had just come off the back of an F.A Cup giant killing themselves. The Whites had famously defeated Gillingham to make national headlines. A Tuesday night at The Crabble turned out to be satisfactory night for Tony Burman and his men. Both sides were tired and Dover looked the better side creating better chances. Dartford dug deep and was certainly up for it.
Ryan Hayes opened the scoring after just eleven minutes, Hayes sent in one of his corners which goalkeeper Ross Flitney let slip, fortunate or poor goalkeeping it did not matter, 1-0. Andrew Young was kept very busy and again put in another outstanding performance. Eight minutes into the second half Michael Shinn brought down the ‘unstoppable’ Adam Birchall. Birchall scorer of eleven goals in Dover’s opening twelve league matches picked himself up to take the penalty, Young saved. Dover pushed on, continued to create chances and spurn them. Then on 82 minutes The Darts launched a counter attack, Elliot Bradbrook crossed towards Ollie Berquez who nodded in to win the game for sure. Only the travelling faithful witnessed a terrific win for The Darts, the away press were allowed no cameras.
First Defeat at Home
Dorchester Town were next up at Princes Park, confidence was high in the Dartford dressing room after the past week. The problem was that the players had one eye on the F.A Cup replay in three days’ time. With the match level at half time, The Magpies exploded into action in the second half. Ryan Moss scored in the sixty fourth minute when he followed up from Andrew Young’s fine save. A break away from Dorchester two minutes later resulted in a second goal, this time taken by Mark Jermyn from six yards. Dartford tried to find a way back but was caught out for a third time when experienced midfielder Nick Crittenden finished off a counter attack in the eighty seventh minute. To rub salt into the wound Moss completed a brace in the final minute, Dartford were well and truly beaten.
An Evening in Burslem
Two coach loads travelled up to Burslem on a Tuesday night not expecting victory but still hoping for a giant killing. Even with the dodgy air conditioning this did not deter the Dartford faithful from a memorable occasion. Micky Adams learnt from the first match and played a stronger side. The winners would take on Accrington Stanley or Morecambe at home in round two. The coaches arrived and fans from both sides mingled in the bar, bottles of Titanic Ale went down well until seven forty five arrived. The Darts travelling contingent of just over three hundred entered Vale Park which looked huge compared to the non-league surroundings we had got used to in recent years. Dartford flags were draped over the spare seats and nonstop singing throughout the ninety minutes made sure this was an evening to be proud.
The wide pitch was used to full affect by Port Vale, playing with width, using their wingers and overlapping full backs, Dartford were stretched. Football League experience paid off and from the outset The Vale controlled the game.
The boys gave it their all but it was a step too far. The support was fantastic, 314 fans travelled but it sounded like we took 500. Andrew Young was kept busy and had a super game but he was unable to keep out Marc Richards’ penalty on seven minutes. Eight minutes later the lead was doubled when Richards netted his second. Sean Rigg scored number three on 56 minutes and Justin Richards scored the goal of the night with fifteen minutes left.
Dartford fans could be excused for thinking they had lost 4-0, after all we did score five imaginary goals. Altogether now, “let’s pretend, let’s pretend, let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal” cue cheering and goal celebrations. After the third imaginary goal the Dartford supporters really didn’t let the defeat spoil their party. “Let’s pretend, let’s pretend, let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal” cue cheering and goal celebrations, “four nil and you ****** it up, four nil and you ****** it up”. What a comeback, oh no wait a minute why not make it five, we never did have our match with Accrington Stanley.
Dartford players and staff applauded the crowd, appreciating the tremendous support. The support applauded back appreciating the tremendous effort put in by the players and staff. It was a night to be a proud Dartford fan, the fans belted out Elvis Pressley’s Wonder of You, scarfs displayed above heads, the evening closed.
Now for the Trophy
One cup run ended, another one began. The F.A Trophy represented Dartford’s only realistic, albeit slim chance to reach Wembley. Not since Peter Taylor was in charge at Watling Street had The Darts came close to a repeating their run to the final in 1974. Of course, this was a long way off but you never know.
Dartford returned to Ship Lane to take on Thurrock who held The Darts in their league match back in September. Thurrock had not won any of their opening fourteen league matches and was propping up the Conference South table, in their match before meeting Dartford they recorded their first win against Staines Town.
Carl Rook headed in an eighteenth minute goal to give The Darts some breathing space. Before the opener, there was little to choose between the two sides. Thurrock looked for a way into the tie but could not break down the Dartford defence. With eight minutes left Rook doubled his tally from six yards out to secure a place in the First Round. Next up…Crawley Town.
After the F.A Trophy tie Tony Burman confirmed Lee Noble had been given a chance to prove his worth at Concord Rangers and Ollie Berquez also went out on loan to Billericay Town.
Tony Burman was in the loan market again and on 23 November 2010 announced the arrival of George Purcell from York City. Purcell was to make his first start against Woking, three times F.A trophy winners.
The Darts were off to a tremendous start when Ryan Hayes opened the scoring with a deft lob on seven minutes for Dartford. Hayes ran to the away end, back facing the audience and celebrated with a jig, a great finish from the winger. Woking looked strong up front and had the experience of former football league stirker Elvis Hammond who equalised mid-way through the first half. Woking passed the ball well and when Hammond went through his scuffed effort wrong footed Andrew Young and trickled into the Dartford net. The Cards then went into the break with a lead courtesy of Craig Faulconbridge’s header in first half stoppage time, the cross was pin point and the header was well placed beyond Young.
In the second half it did not take long for parity to be restored. Only five minutes had been played when loanee and debutant George Purcell finished in style. With a looped ball forward Purcell chased onto the ball waited for the bounce then almost karate kick like lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper, an exquisite finish, top goal indeed. Purcell was lively all afternoon and was foiled twice by Andrew Little in goal and blasted two opportunities over the crossbar. The game ended 2-2 to leave Dartford in eighteenth place, three points above the bottom three.
Cup games and wintery conditions made the league campaign slightly unsettled during November. Bromley and Braintree Town shared top spot. Ebbsfleet United continued where they left off in October and were now unbeaten in ten matches. Havant and Waterlooville finished the month on four consecutive wins. Braintree Town and Staines Town played out an astonishing 4-4 draw, Welling thrashed St Albans City 6-0 and Thurrock lifted themselves out of the bottom three by winning two in a row.
|8||Havant and W||13||6||4||3||20||11||+9||22|
|16||Hampton and Richmond||16||4||7||5||19||23||-4||19|
|21||St Albans City||16||1||7||8||15||31||-16||10|
*Welling United deducted five points
Photos courtesy of Dave Adkins, videos courtesy of Ray Cherry.