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Ten Years Back Home – Princes Park

A decade ago football proudly came home for Dartford with the opening of a brand new environmentally friendly stadium. Princes Park has been the venue for some memorable moments in the club’s history and so Pure DFC raises a glass for many more to come.

Without the pain and heartbreak it’s really hard to experience the pride and joy Princes Park gave club officials and supporters on 11 November 2006. Exiled for fourteen years after one of the most difficult periods in Dartford’s history the road back home seemed never ending.

End of the Watling Street era
Whilst the eighties and in particular the latter part of the decade was successful on the pitch, the financial situation worsened. When Maidstone United started their groundshare with the Darts, the extra income was welcome. However, further politics turned the thought of bankruptcy into a reality and so Watling Street was finished and the following 1992/93 campaign went unfinished. Mudeford dart, one of over 550 forum members using Pure DFC remembers the day the terrible news broke, “I don’t mind admitting I sat at my desk and cried my heart out the day we went under, that might explain my half full, rose tinted attitude through thick and thin”.

It is with that positive attitude that kept the club going thanks to The Club’s Supporters’ Association. The club was rescued and senior status was kept thanks to the Youth Team. All that was left was to appoint a manager (step forward Tony Burman), find a squad and a venue, so the Darts could start over in the Kent League.

Watling Street: A former home of Dartford Football Club.

Watling Street: A former home of Dartford Football Club.

Dartford on tour
Known as the nomadic days, the fourteen years before Princes Park saw Dartford touring Kent and Essex with false alarms of homecomings along the way. Oxford Road, Sidcup became the first ‘home’ of the new era as the Darts shared with Cray Wanderers, a period Mudeford dart looks back on nostalgically, “from a personal point of view I loved our days at Cray with the iconic “Dave Skinner Stand”. There was a real camaraderie because everyone was so happy to have our Darts run by our supporters. Cray were great landlords and made us feel very welcome”.

Park View, Belverdere had better facilities, but once again drama unfolded and the main stand was burnt down in 1997. Between September and December, Dartford played home fixtures at Purfleet, Slade Green, Northfleet and Barking. The Kent derby against Margate was actually played in Essex.

Unsuitable to host Dartford matches the club were forced to move from Park View and into Ship Lane, Purfleet. With that came new problems, enticing fans across the River Thames, poor public transport links and the M25 to contend with. Attendances declined but the venue would eventually be the last destination of Dartford’s tour.

Before Ship Lane hosted Dartford games again, the club struck a deal with rivals Gravesend and Northfleet to play at Stonebridge Road. It was during this period news broke on 10 April 2004 that funding for a new home was granted by Dartford Borough Council. The words of a former fanzine title was never more apt, finally their was a “Light at the End of the Tunnel”.

So the nomadic times may have been tough but many have fond memories and were delighted the club were back, paulnorwich reflects on those fourteen years, “I never went to Stonebridge Road to watch the Darts. Cray was good, Erith and Belvedere and Welling was handy for me as they were both so local, but because of family commitments I could only really start watching the Darts again more regularly at Purfleet, which I quite liked though. None of them were ever “home” though”.

Oxford Road: A lifeline for the Darts.

Oxford Road: A lifeline for the Darts.

11 November 2006. An emotional day in the history of Dartford Football Club, a celebration of the continuous hard work put in by those that kept the club running, of those that made Princes Park happen. A huge sense of pride and relief to be home again and for new supporters an exciting adventure. In the days leading up to the grand opening, on the morning before kick off, behind the scenes was hectic. In the excellent Princes Among Men: The History of Dartford Football Club, Jeremy Kite MBE recalls the desperation on the eve of the homecoming when the Princes Park lights went out. Luckily it wasn’t a metaphor of fourteen years ago, the venue was ready for the sell out crowd against Horsham YMCA.

A day of entertainment didn’t disappoint on and off the pitch. paulnorwich remembers, “I was talking to everyone I know about the “return” throughout 2006 and it was a day I’ll never forget!”. The team arrived by coach almost cup finalesque with fans waiting for the arrival. Fireworks greeted the two teams out of the players tunnel and finally football would do the talking.

Princes Park erupted when Brendon Cass entered the history books with the first goal. The striker netted another before Eddie McClements struck the goal of the day. Although the visitors pulled two goals back, Nick Barnes scored Dartford’s fourth in a 4-2 victory. The win was the icing on the homecoming cake.

Another Pure DFC user, El Kebabus of Arabia sums up the journey from homelessness to Princes Park, “all those years of following the Darts around during our nomadic days. Putting hard earned cash into the Warbler, holding ebay sales to raise funds, whip rounds and signing other people up for the Warbler. Boy was it worth it”.

Jeremy Kite’s chapter in Princes Among Men looks back at the long road back home and how much it meant to the community and on a personal level, “in the years since opening day, Princes Park has certainly fulfilled its promise as a catalyst for change and I couldn’t be more proud of it”.

Homecoming: Dartford take to the Princes Park pitch for the first time. Photo courtesy of Tony Jaglo.

Dartford take to the Princes Park pitch for the first time. Photo courtesy of Tony Jaglo.

Ten years of history and memories
Three promotions, two county cup wins, becoming the best part time team in the country and many more wonderful moments, the last decade at Princes Park has without doubt changed Dartford Football Club. Attendances have risen, an academy is beginning to blossom and the reputation of the club has improved.

In the early days, the venue helped attract players to pull on a white shirt and some of those players, Dave Martin, Cody McDonald, Charlie Sheringham, Ebou Adams, Tom Champion and current centre half Tom Bonner went on to play higher up the football chain. The core of today’s squad Elliot Bradbrook, Ryan Hayes, Lee Noble and Danny Harris have all provided brilliant moments, whilst a former core member Lee Burns added his imaginative and humorous goal celebrations. Title winning captains, Adam Flanagan and Alex O’Brien embodied the character and spirit manager Tony Burman works so hard to create, the type of spirit provided by current captain Elliot Bradbrook, Princes Park’s top goalscorer.


Wingers such as Hayes and Martin have produced some special goals and creativity, in particular Hayes’ trademark curler in front of the television cameras against Mansfield Town, Martin’s wonder strike against Burgess Hill Town. There have been a fair share of important goals, like Lee Noble’s in the National South playoff final against local rivals Welling United and the one that goes down in history as the first scored at Princes Park, Brendon Cass’ effort versus Horsham YMCA.

As team performances go, the Darts have blown opponents away at times, twice they have won 7-2 against Burgess Hill Town and then Witham Town. Through the leagues Enfield Town, Canvey Island, Ilford, Tilbury, Kingstonian, Thurrock, Sutton United, Alfreton Town and Woking have all been put to the sword. Dartford have shocked and conquered bigger sides such as Crawley Town in the F.A Trophy, Luton Town, Mansfield Town, Macclesfield Town, Grimsby Town, Newport County, Hereford United and Wrexham in the league. Port Vale were so close to being put on the list in the heroic F.A Cup first round 1-1 draw.

paulnorwich picks his favourite moments, “beating Welling United in the playoff final cannot be beaten in front of over 4000 and what a goal from Lee Noble to do it. So many great memories in ten years and so many goals but the performance versus Port Vale was excellent, as was the one against Mansfield Town on television when Ryno’s goal must be in the top five at Princes Park”.

Dartford have got used to celebrating whether it was the homecoming, the two league titles, the playoff win or the two Kent Senior Cup’s. Here’s to more glories, to ten brilliant years and many more fond memories. Cheers.

Thank you to Pure DFC forum users paulnorwich, El Kebabus of Arabia and Mudeford dart. Thank you sonytino for all the youtube highlights over the years, Tony Jaglo for the excellent photographs on homecoming day (to view them all go to Credit to John Anthony, Mike Brett-Smith, Tony Brown, Gary Clark and Steve Irving for the excellent Princes Among Men: The History of Dartford Football Club book, available in the club shop.

Tony’s ten years – Where are they now?

Club director Tony Burman became caretaker manager, ten years on he remains in charge of the Darts seeing them through three promotions and a new home.

When Dartford were defeated away to Aveley, the desperate performance ended the Tommy Sampson era. Tony Burman steadied the clubs fortunes and in his first full season back as boss the foundations were be laid. Within three full campaigns Dartford returned home, Princes Park opened and the first league championship was won in 24 years, the boss celebrated with fans to a rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’. A Kent Senior Cup, F.A Trophy semi-final and two more promotions later, the Darts climbed to the Conference Premier, the top of non league football.

In his first season back in charge Ryan Hayes made four appearances scoring twice, the midfielder now in his tenth year has been part of the journey alongside Burman. Hayes has now made over 400 appearances for the Darts, and continues to bring creativity to the wing. Elliot Bradbrook, Lee Noble, Lee Burns and Danny Harris have remained loyal to the cause whilst others have brought leadership and skill to the club, a host of players could be listed here but that’s another feature in the making.

Aside from Tony Burman himself, the other contstant factor over the last decade is that the Darts have continued to exist and develop by living within their means. To put the tough realities of non league into perspective here is a look at the other teams in Dartford’s league, when Tony Burman took charge in 2005.

Fisher Athletic London

Under the guidance of Wayne Burnett and the backing of a new chairman, the Fish became champions. Their short term gain failed to bring long term rewards as the club lasted just four more years. Burnett resigned in November 2005 and was replaced by former Tottenham Hotspur defender Justin Edinburgh, who led them to another promotion into the Conference South. The South East London club were on the up especially with permission granted for major redevelopment of the Surrey Docks Stadium. After a Conference South playoff defeat and a player exodus a winding up order for unpaid tax dissolved the club in May 2009. Reformed as Fisher FC, the Fish have been playing at Kent League level now the Southern Counties league.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
23 April 2005 – Fisher Athletic London 2 Dartford 1
13 November 2004 – Dartford 1 Fisher Athletic London 2

East Thurrock United

The Essex club finished their first season in the Southern League Eastern division as runners up. The following campaign the Rocks were playing in the Isthmian Premier League. Toying with the idea of renaming the club to Thurrock United, the Essex FA rejected their request. The 2007/08 season ended in dramatic circumstances, a one point deduction for fielding an ineligible player was the difference between safety and relegation, Boreham Wood stayed up by two goals. Champions of the Isthmian Division One North three years later saw the Essex club return to the Premier League where they remain. Three years ago East Thurrock United created club history by reaching the F.A Cup first round a feat they repeated this term.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
30 April 2005 – Dartford 0 East Thurrock United 3
28 August 2004 – East Thurrock United 2 Dartford  1

Maldon Town

Promoted to the Southern League East division the season before, Maldon Town followed up the success with a third place finish. Winners of the playoffs the Essex side moved up once more to the Isthmian Premier League. This time they were unable to continue their rise and were relegated after one campaign in the seventh tier. The ‘yo-yo’ affect was cut short in 2007 when Maldon Town were prevented from taking part in the playoffs due to ground grading issues. Just over five years ago, Tiptree United chairman Ed Garty took over the club. Tiptree withdrew from the Essex Senior league and joined forces with Maldon Town to become Maldon and Tiptree. The Jammers remain in the Isthmian League Division One North.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
22 December 2007 – Maldon Town 2 Dartford 2
18 August 2007 – Dartford 2 Maldon Town 2


Leading Maldon Town in extra time of the playoff final, Uxbridge went on to lose on penalties. The Middlesex club changed their manager the following season when Tony Choules was appointed, he remains in charge today. Stability is a common theme for the Reds who have gone through just five managers in forty years. Under Tony Choules, Uxbridge reached another playoff final in 2008, this time falling short in a 1-0 defeat to Oxford City. After a switch to the Southern League Division One Central, four years later the Reds suffered more playoff heartbreak in the semi-finals. Still playing at the same level the Reds have participated in the Southern League for the last ten years.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
7 February 2006 – Dartford 1 Uxbridge 3
31 December 2005 – Uxbridge 2 Dartford 1

Wivenhoe Town

A fifth place finish was followed up with an appearance in the playoff final a year later. Wivenhoe Town were beaten 2-1 by Stamford to miss out on promotion. With the geographical challenges non-league brings the Dragons moved back to the Isthmian League, finishing bottom in 2008. After 22 years the Essex club returned to the Eastern Counties League where they continue to finish at the lower end of the table. Life at Broad Lane has not given supporters much to cheer, even when former West Ham United defender Julian Dicks was appointed boss. In their second season back in the Eastern Counties, Wivenhoe Town hit rock bottom with a paltry eight points. Fortunately they survived because two other teams withdrew from the division.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
15 December 2007 – Dartford 4 Wivenhoe Town 2
21 August 2007 – Wivenhoe Town 0 Dartford 3

Barking & East Ham United

At the time Tony Burman stood in to take charge before the Tommy Sampson era, Barking and East Ham United had only just begun a new adventure of their own. A merger in 2001 was incredibly short lived, within five years the club were dissolved. Based in Dagenham, the Essex club reached the playoff semi-final in 2006 losing to the winners Stamford. The club spent two seasons in the Southern League East before switching back to the Isthmian League, however prior the new campaign Barking and East Ham United folded. Out of the ashes Barking were formed and entered the Essex Senior League immediately, the Blues have enjoyed top half finishes over the last eight years and are amongst the front runners this term.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
25 February 2006 – Barking & East Ham United 2 Dartford 2
25 October 2005 – Dartford  2 Barking & East Ham United 2

Boreham Wood

The second highest ranked team from the class of 2005, the Wood have been a thorn in Tony Burman’s side over the last ten years. The Hertfordshire club have lost just twice in eleven games against Dartford during Burman’s third stint in charge.  Boreham Wood won the Southern League Eastern division the following season; the exciting end to the campaign saw the club take the title on goal difference. Four years in the Isthmian Premier League came to an end when they were promoted to the Conference South along with Dartford; the Wood beat Kingstonian in the playoff final.  Managed by Ian Allinson since 2008, the club may well overtake the Darts as they currently lead the Conference South table.

Last meeting against the Darts

Conference South
21 April 2012 – Dartford 2 Boreham Wood 2
8 October 2011 – Boreham Wood 3 Dartford 1

Barton Rovers

A consistent club continuing to play at the same level, Barton Rovers have been pootling along. The only major excitement over the last ten years has been the renaming of their division. From Southern League East to Midlands to Central, the Rovers regularly finish mid table but have flirted with relegation to add a little danger. The Bedfordshire club did manage to attract a trio of former Luton Town players in Tony Thorpe, Scott Oakes and Liam George but this didn’t make too much difference. Last season Barton Rovers came sixth ending three points behind playoff winners Slough Town, this term they are hanging around in the same region hoping to reach the playoffs and finally move out of level 8.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
30 April 2006 – Barton Rovers 0 Dartford 2
28 January 2006 – Dartford 2 Barton Rovers 0

Waltham Forest

Formerly known as Leyton Pennant the club changed its name under chairman Harry Ramis. Renamed Waltham Forest and with the chairman’s brother Hakan Heyrettin in charge, the Stags finished in the top ten. Heyrettin and his brother left the following season and the Essex club were left on the brink financially. Two more changes in the chairman’s seat plus ground difficulties added to a chaotic period up to 2008. The Stags became Illford’s tenants and lower league finishes in the Isthmian Division One North were now the norm. Four years ago, Waltham Forest survived with a reprieve but last term the club were relegated to the Essex Senior League, with their lowest points tally and 118 conceded goals.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
1 March 2008 – Dartford 1 Waltham Forest 0
20 November 2007 – Waltham Forest 2 Dartford 4

Leighton Town

Isthmian Division Two champions the year before with a sound 91 points and an impressive 111 goals, Leighton Town have been in the Southern League’s second tier ever since. The Reds mainly ended each campaign in mid table with their best ever finish coming four years ago, when they secured seventh spot. Last season has been extremely difficult for the Bedfordshire club, due to mounting debts the club decided to not pay their players to become the only amateur side in the Southern League Division One Central. Despite the decision the Reds improved on the previous campaign which saw them second from bottom and conceding 121 goals. This term Leighton Town are hovering around the same region of the league standings.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
19 March 2005 – Leighton Town 1 Dartford 1
18 December 2004 – Dartford 0 Leighton Town 0

Chatham Town

The most notable and significant link between Chatham Town and the Darts is Brendon Cass. The striker joined Dartford in 2005 and went on to score 83 times. In the five years Cass played under Burman, the Chats continued at the same level finishing as high as tenth and consistently in mid table. Having moved between the Isthmian Division South and North, the Kent club employed former Dartford title winning captain Alex O’Brien as manager in 2010. O’Brien only lasted a season, and as recent as last season the Chats enjoyed their best F.A Cup run in eighty years. Reaching the F.A Cup fourth qualifying round, the club came close to a first round tie against Mansfield Town.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One South
9 April 2007 – Dartford 1 Chatham Town 3
26 December 2006 – Chatham Town 2 Dartford 3

Wingate & Finchley

On 26 April 2008, the Blues visited Princes Park to face the newly crowned Isthmian Division One North champions Dartford. Three years later the London based side tasted promotion themselves but not before heartbreak the season before. Back to back third places gave Wingate and Finchley two attempts at the playoffs, firstly losing to Enfield Town then winning the final a year later, after extra time against Brentwood Town. Promotion to the Isthmian Premier League was the icing on the cake, as the club also triumphed in the Isthmian League Cup and London Senior Cup. Last season ended dramatically, a 5-0 final day win saw the Blues relegated on goal difference only to be reprieved when Worksop Town resigned from the Northern League.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
26 April 2008 – Dartford 1 Wingate & Finchley 0
3 November 2007 – Wingate & Finchley 0 Dartford 2

Arlesey Town

The club had risen through the lower levels of non-league and after nine years moving sideways between the Southern and Isthmian leagues, the Blues became champions of the Southern League Central Division four years ago. Despite having a nine point deduction Arlesey Town still managed to rack up 108 goals and win the title by a point. In the following campaign the Bedfordshire club reached the F.A Cup first round for the first time losing to Salisbury City. They repeated the feat the following season and this time Coventry City stood in the way. Another year on, Arlesey Town did enjoy cup success lifting the Southern League Cup. This term, the Blues are in the lower regions of the Southern Premier League.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
19 February 2008 – Arlesey Town 0 Dartford  4
26 January 2008 – Dartford  1 Arlesey Town 0

Beaconsfield SYCOB

Over the next three seasons Beaconsfield SYCOB played in three different divisions without being promoted or relegated.  Sticking in the Southern League, the Rams moved from East to West to South West before relegation arrived in 2007. Beaconsfield SYCOB bounced straight back winning the Spartan South Midlands Premier League by nine points. The following season saw the club reach fourth, their highest ever finish. Twelve months later, the Buckinghamshire side fell to bottom of the pile but were spared a return to the county leagues with a reprieve. Fortunes turned quickly and in the following campaign the Rams finished as playoff runners up losing out to Bedworth United. The club remain in the Southern League Division One Central.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
15 January 2005 – Beaconsfield SYCOB 2 Dartford 1
21 August 2004 – Dartford 0 Beaconsfield SYCOB 0

Harlow Town

The Hawks returned to the Isthmian League the following season finishing runners up in Division One North. A penalty shootout win in the playoff final against AFC Sudbury secured Harlow Town’s place in the Isthmian Premier League. Joined by Dartford a year later, the Essex side were relegated which included a three point deduction.  The club continued to slide and ended bottom of the Isthmian Division One North with a further ten points docked for financial problems. New owners revived the club temporarily but two years later another ten point deduction for an administration error led to another reprieve.  Last season Harlow Town look back on track with a fourth place finish, an all-weather pitch and a playoff final appearance.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Premier League
24 March 2009 – Dartford 1 Harlow Town 1
25 August 2008 – Harlow Town 1 Dartford 2

F.A Trophy First Qualifying Round
18 October 2008 – Dartford 2 Harlow Town 1


Restructuring of the non-league pyramid meant that Aveley were another team to move across to the Isthmian Division One North the following campaign. It wasn’t until Rod Stringer was appointed manager that the club started to progress. Six years ago, the final day of the football calendar was full of tension when the top two met. Aveley had to beat free scoring East Thurrock United away from home, Aveley’s 3-2 win saw two former Darts experience different emotions, Joao Carlos triumphed but Max Cornhill missed a crucial penalty. Stringer led the club to third in the Isthmian Premier earning a move to Braintree Town, two years later the Millers returned to the Isthmian Division One North.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Premier League
17 April 2010 – Dartford 2 Aveley 2
24 October 2009 – Aveley 1 Dartford 4

Isthmian League Cup Third Round
15 December 2009 – Dartford 4 Aveley 5

Berkhamsted Town

Financial troubles hit the club at the time Tony Burman took charge Dartford ten years ago. Berkhamsted Town had seven points deducted and would have finished above Beaconsfield SYCOB had it not been for the off field problems. The Lilywhites would only last another three full seasons, on each occasion the Hertfordshire side ended in the bottom two, twice getting a reprieve. Berkhamsted Town were finally relegated in 2008 and so they moved downwards to the Spartan South Midland League, with just 10 points and 128 conceded goals. Attempts to resolve its debts were unsuccessful and the club eventually bit the dust when they were wound up in 2009 with its record expunged.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
18 February 2006 – Berkhamsted Town3 Dartford 1
1 October 2005 – Dartford 1 Berkhamsted Town 1


The Brickies have been consistent over the last decade and remain in the Isthmian Division One South, which they joined nine years ago. Sittingbourne’s main success came in the Kent Senior Cup when they won the honour for the first time in 52 years by beating Folkestone Invicta. The Kent side under Richard Brady had former Dartford defender Jamie Coyle as his assistant, the pair eventually left Bourne Park for Leatherhead. The Brickies have had less stability in relation to where they are playing home matches. After leaving Central Park for Bourne Park in 2002, the club upped sticks once more for financial reasons to Woodstock Park, to share with Southern Counties East side Woodstock Sports.

Last meeting against the Darts

F.A Trophy First Qualifying Round
17 October 2009 – Sittingbourne 0 Dartford 1

F.A  Cup First Qualifying Round
18 September 2007 – Sittingbourne 1 Dartford 5 (replay)
15 September 2007 – Dartford 1 Sittingbourne 1

Great Wakering Rovers

The reorganisation of the league system meant Rovers moved from the Southern League Division One East to the Isthmian Division One North. Mid to lower league placing’s become the norm for the Essex club peaking at ninth five years ago. Since then Great Wakering Rovers gradually slid down the pecking order and within two years were relegated back to the Essex Senior League, which they left only 13 years earlier. Only a point separated the bottom three with Rovers finishing in last place. Rovers top scored in the first campaign back but couldn’t amass enough points, however the following season they won the championship by a point on the final day, to return to the Isthmian Division One North.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
19 January 2008 – Great Wakering Rovers 0 Dartford 2
16 October 2007 – Dartford 3 Great Wakering Rovers 0

Erith & Belvedere

Local rivals Erith and Belvedere were relegated to the Kent League ending a 23 year stay in the Southern League.  Often top ten finishers, the Deres appointed former Dartford striker Micky Collins in 2010 as manager. Collins made steady progress and three years ago almost delivered the title losing out on goal difference to Herne Bay, a three point deduction proved costly. Erith and Belvedere went to the final day the following season and this time lifted the title in style. The Deres needed to beat VCD Athletic’s result by five goals, they managed a 7-1 win to secure a league and cup double. Last term the club returned to the Kent League, where this season they are amongst the front runners.

Last meeting against the Darts

Southern League Division One Eastern
5 February 2005 – Erith & Belvedere 1 Dartford 1
23 October 2004 – Dartford 1 Erith & Belvedere 1


The basement boys of 2005 wasted no time in returning when they were promoted from the Essex Senior League after one season. Tilbury finished third which was enough to earn promotion to the Isthmian Division One North. The Dockers have remained there ever since despite the odd scare of returning to county level. In Dartford’s title winning season, Tilbury ended third from bottom but they moved in the right direction thereafter. The Dockers did manage an Isthmian League Cup triumph in 2009 beating Harrow Borough in the final. Three years later the Essex club reached the playoffs with a third place finish but an extra time semi-final loss to Needham Market denied the club any glory.

Last meeting against the Darts

Isthmian Division One North
12 April 2008 – Dartford 5 Tilbury 0
30 October 2007 – Tilbury 1 Dartford 2

A View From The South Coast

Happy 125 year anniversary – but is there much to celebrate with second season syndrome looming?

It’s great to be back, new players, new teams, new optimism, and new start. Welcome to the 2013/14 Conference Premier season and Dartford’s 125th year as a club. Only time will tell if the Darts can set a record third successive year in the top non-league division but what chances do we have?

Twenty seven years ago, Evertonians cursed their rivals Liverpool who pipped them to the league and F.A Cup, England were cheated by Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and Dartford suffered the dreaded second season syndrome.

In the Watling Street days, John Still led the Darts to the Southern League Championship. Momentum took the club to third in the Alliance Premier League, today’s equivalent of the Conference Premier. The following year relegation back to the Southern League was confirmed. John Still departed in February 1986 and will meet the Darts again next month.

The thing is, second season syndrome just seems to be a coined phrase and is really nothing to fear. Since the beginning of the Conference Premier, North and South leagues eight years ago, just under one in four clubs have returned to their former division two years later. In fact, if you want numbers then that’s 22% of the promoted teams returning to the North or South after a couple of seasons.

Amongst those is our local rivals Ebbsfleet United, who along with AFC Telford United were the latest clubs to suffer the three S’s. Southport were the first since the Conference reconstruction with Stafford Rangers, St Albans City and Bath City in between.

Okay, so what if second season syndrome is defined slightly differently, to mean a club who finishes higher in their first campaign than their second season?

With the exception of the Conference South play-off winners, sorry readers, it’s pretty much a 50/50 split. Overall eleven clubs improved their final standings in season number two and a dozen finished lower.

Only Hayes and Yeading United negotiated the Conference South play-offs to promotion then bettered their first season’s position, albeit by one. Salisbury City and Eastbourne Borough declined whilst the last two winners Bath City and Ebbsfleet United perished and were sent packing back to the Conference South.

Positive cases from North and South include Fleetwood Town who are the only club to take the championship and enter the Football League, it helps when money talks. AFC Wimbledon moved from eighth to second, but the biggest mover was Southport who improved a whopping fourteen places. The Sandgrounders finished in the bottom four when they returned to the Conference Premier, surviving thanks to the decline of Rushden and Diamonds, then followed up with a seventh place placing.

On average clubs that make improvements gain four positions, whilst going in the other direction costs an average of seven places. At least that makes Dartford safe based on these statistics.