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CRABBLE ROCK – Dover Athletic FC

We are going on a journey today, a journey back into the Fuller family tree.  A long time ago the current line of Fuller’s were Wells’s.  And a fine stock we were, which included such notable characters as Charles Wells, the man who reportedly “Broke the bank at Monte Carlo” and more impressively Herbert George Wells – aka H G Wells who wrote such classics as The War of the Worlds and the Time Machine.  As with many things in live, what comes around goes around and HG was actually born no more than a stones throw from TBIR towers today.

The Current Mrs Fuller Senior, aka My Mum, has traced our family tree back for decades and found out by such similar co-incidences that her family have on a number of occasions gravitated back to Dover.  It was here that my Great, Great, Great Grandad lived and worked, it was here that my Great, Great Uncle was killed by a doodle bug bomb in World War 2 that fell down his chimney, and it was here that my fantastic Grandad George spent his last few years and his ashes are buried in the church in the town centre.  But in amongst these fine upstanding gentlemen was a miller and he was employed by the Crabble Mill, which used to sit almost on the penalty spot of Dover Athletic’s current ground, unsurprisingly called The Crabble Ground.

So Dover and I have a bit of a history but in terms of my favourite sport, I had never been to a game down here or even had the pleasure of playing football in or around the town.  But this was going to change.  As part of my drive to visit all Blue Square South grounds during the season Dover Athletic was a prime candidate being one of only two teams in the league playing in my home county (sort of) of Kent.  I had been to Welling United hundreds of times, being as it was just a short bus ride away, but Dover was a good hour and fifteen away in the car which did limit the fun of the day if I had to drive after making myself very welcome in the club house.

CRABBLE ROCK – Dover Athletic FCSo what’s been going on down at the Crabble?  Well Dover had been rockin’ and a rollin’ actually.  They came into the season fresh from waltzing to the Isthmian title last year as the bookies/Blue Square’s favourites for the Championship.  With the experienced Andy Hessenthaler in the hot seat (watch out for an exclusive interview with the once-terror of the Gravesend Sunday Leagues coming soon), an ambitious chairman who has invested in the youth set up, and a set of loyal and passionate fans, Dover set an early pace in the league.  They were unbeaten in their first eight games and sat atop the league with Newport County close behind.

Autumn brought a change in fortunes though.  Their form dipped and they lost to challengers Woking and Newport as well as surprise defeats at Worcester City and Weston-Super-Mare.  Added to that was an amazing 5-3 defeat to Eastleigh in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup.  Things all of a sudden looked dark on the horizon, confidence was low and doubts were creeping in.  Boxing Day saw them throw away a 2-0 lead away to Lewes to lose 6-2, and 2 days later a 1-0 home defeat almost pushed them out of the play offs for the first time this season.

Dover had been at the dark before dawn before.  In 1983 the club folded under serious financial pressure.  The town looked like it would be deprived of a team, with many of the players driving down the A20 to local rivals Folkstone Invicta.  However, they reformed as Dover Athletic and just ten years later they were finally admitted into the Conference (they were denied a few season earlier due to ground-related issues).  During their time in the Conference in the 1990’s they were managed by Peter Taylor and Neville Southall, but neither could help the club move forward.   In 2003 they finished bottom of the Conference, and had to enter Administration due to more financial pressures.  They were relegated back to the Southern League and a few seasons later changed leagues to play in the Rymans/Isthmian League.  A further relegation unfortunately followed and Hessenthaler stepped into the management hotseat in 2007.  Less than two years later with two consecutive promotions behind them Dover have once again risen, ironically passing for rivals Margate and Folkstone Invicta on the way who are now in the Isthmian Premier and South respectively.

I’d been trying to get to a game down here for a few weeks but the weather and then a bizarre set of road problems which saw every main route into the town closed, blocked or unpassable due to a power failure hampering my last effort (the subsequent crowd for that game was over 50% down on average).  That left one stand out game.  Dover v Lewes.  On paper a complete home banker….but this was the reverse of the game from Boxing Day when 2nd from top played 2nd from bottom.  And with twelve minutes gone it was 2-0 to Dover…Game over surely and 3 vital points for Dover in their push to catch Newport.  Oh no, the new Lewes are a different kettle of fish, and by half time they had taken the lead 3-2 and then unbelievably went on to score three more in the second half to record an outstanding 6-2.  Danny, who was in Spain and also missed the 3-1 cup win versus Hampton & Richmond suggested a Fiesta in the village they were staying in to celebrate Saint Ibbo.

New Year’s Day is not known to set the pulse racing in the UK.  Apart from the start of another DFS sale not alot else is open.  Our original plan of a day of culture at Dover Castle followed by the football was scuppered by English Heritage refusing to open the castle despite us showing our annual membership – I ask you!  It wasn’t just the castle – Dover was shut.  Quite literally.  The town recently voted the 32nd “Crappest” in the UK is really showing signs of wear and tear.  Shops boarded up, a plethoria of fast food outlets (Deaks counted 24 on the walk between the ground and Dover Priory station) and poor signage sent CMF and Littlest Fuller 20 minutes up the road to Ashford after dropping us at the Crabble.

CRABBLE ROCK – Dover Athletic FCDover Athletic 2 Lewes 0 – The Crabble Ground – Friday 1st January 2010
Freezing it was as we walked up the slope to the ground.  The club provided “Executive transportation” in the form of a golf cart with tinsel on for those fans who couldn’t walk but demand was low so the stewards were using it to do handbrake turns.  We wandered into the clubhouse which is large to say the least and met up with Deaks and Dave.  We worked out that you could play the whole World Championship of Darts in this room simultaneously – it was huge and quite barren.  However, it was warm and if you stood on tip toes you could watch the game outside.  But that would be cheating so we headed outside and waited for the toss so we could chose our end.

The ground is set on the side of a valley, and from three sides you get a great view of the rest of the valley.  The stands have lots of pillars meaning that views aren’t the best and you had to feel sorry for the “Executive” guests who are perched on top of the “main” stand higher than everyone else but exposed to the biting cold 2010 wind.

The game, in all truth, was poor.  In the first half Lewes tried to get the ball wide at all opportunities but often the passes were over hit to Wheeler or underhit to the left hand side.  Dover had a big shout for a penalty on 10 minutes when Birchall appeared to be pulled back and if he would have shown some Premier League class and fallen dramatically to the floor I am sure it would have been given.  Lewes fans had travelled in their dozens and made quite a noise under the roofed terrace.  Rikki Barnes (according to the announcer) was the busier of the two keepers in the first half but still didn’t need to do much in the first half apart from handling a 30 yarder from Fish well.

Back in the bar it was tempting to stay for the darts with the temperature falling below zero.  Lolly was even regreting not going with CMF to the shops it got that cold.  With twenty minutes to go Lewes at last produced their first chance of the game when Keehan’s shot is well saved by Dover keeper Hook.  At this point I had wandered into the corner to take some pictures.  Four young Dover fans decided to abuse me at the highest level – “Oh mate…Lewes are shit…how did you score 6 against us last week.”  I stood up, thought about it and then explained what the net was, what a goal was and repeated it six times.  They thought about it in their tiny heads before one of them said, “Yeah but you wont score six today”..brilliant wit.

CRABBLE ROCK – Dover Athletic FCThe shot from Keehan was the highpoint of the day for Lewes.  Two minutes later Dover took the lead.  A corner from the left wasn’t cleared and Banks did seem to be impeded but Schultz was on hand to bundle the ball into the net.  This goal seemed to take all fight out of Lewes and they tried to wind down the clock.  With a minute to go we decided to go but we couldn’t leave.  The “extended” tunnel blocks the exit from one end of the ground (surely against all ground regulations?) and we had to wait for the game to finish.  But not before Dover scored a second with a harsh penalty awarded for a handball that few (including the Dover fans behind the goal) actually saw.  Adam Birchall stepped up and scored to finish off the game, and give Dover some much needed confidence.  And with that the referee brought to an end our suffering.  Lolly was cold beyond belief and I had a 210 mile drive to look forward to as we headed up to wintery weather up north.  Hopefully next time we visit a few more things will be open.


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