Monday, 2 February 2009

Darts send Stones rolling

Dartford 1-0 Maidstone (31:01:09)

What better way to notch up my 180th ground than at Princes Park, home to The Darts of Dartford FC. One huuuundred and eiiiighty. I had planned on bringing you an EFW exclusive by continuing the darts theme and interviewing former World darts champion: Andy 'The Viking' Fordham who now runs a pub in the area. However, his wife Jenny informed me a few days prior to our meeting that Andy (ironically) would not be able to make it as he was away on an EFW of his own - watching Glasgow Rangers.

Dartford and Maidstone have some history. This is a story that needs telling. If your easily bored then feel free to move on a few paragraphs. During the 90's Dartford needed to upgrade their Watling Street ground. Around the same time Maidstone United had a) Sold their ground b) needed a home to move into c) Had gained entry into the football league and so d) Moved in with Dartford.

This is where it all went badly wrong. Maidstone went into liquidation - having blown all their cash on trying to get into the league. The ground improvements which they had paid for were sold to Dartford for around £500,000 which in turn knackered The Darts, who couldn't really afford it. As a result they sold the ground altogether to pay off the creditors. A shambles.

As usual, the supporters came to the rescue. 400 of them saved the club. Since those days they've ground-shared with Erith and Belvedere, Purfleet and Gravesend and Northfleet before moving into their new home 'Princes Park' on November 11th 2006.

Evidently the villain of this whole sorry story was Jim Thompson. He passed away a couple of weeks prior to this match. I'm not sure it would have been wise for him to attend anyway. Although a few fans still hold grudges, most have chosen to move on from it all now.

If I'm not abroad watching my football, these days you'll find me at home getting my domestic kicks from non-league football. It really is the perfect antidote to those of us who are 'Against Mod£rn Football'. At non-league games, you'll find lots of fans who have turned their backs on Premiership football. We still love our football, we just don't want to pay £50.50p to watch it thanks very much Chelsea.

Cynical Dave and I stepped off the train at Dartford and straight into rock and roll history. It was here 40 years earlier that the Glimmer Twins 'Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' were re-united and went on to form The Rolling Stones. You may have heard of them!? We walked the mile or so to the ground to see if we could get some 'satisfaction' of our own.

First impressions upon our arrival were very positive. It's easy to see why this stadium has won hatfuls of awards. It's ecologically sound, it's got a grass (grass!) roof all the way around, it's got solar panels, it's totally sustainable and it creates it's own electricity. Some argue it's the best ground in the country. I agree.

Once at the ground, Cynical and I were met by Chairman Dave Skinner. Handshakes were exchanged and we were shown around the ground by a number of friendly chaps. It was then time to say hello to Mr Beer. There are two large bars at the ground. On the walls comedy quotes from the world of football are relayed such this one from Ian Rush "I couldn't settle in Italy - it was like living in a foreign country".

Cynical and I chatted merrily with stadium announcers, programme editors, leaders of the local council and members of the Dartford FC Forum; The Duke, Eagle (also the club photographer), Trev B and lots of other chaps. Stoke v Man City was being shown on the big screens but happily nobody was watching. Nobody cares.

The company and the friendliness was such that before we knew it, we'd sunk six pre-match pints - whoops! Inside the ground the atmosphere was splendid. Maidstone had brought around 500 fans with them and the Darford boys behind the goal were making plenty of noise. Happily, you could walk all around the ground at your leisure. Both sets of fans swapped ends during half time - call me an old romantic but I love that tradition.

Darts keeper Andrew Young in action. 15 foot wooden man in crowd is impressed.

The game itself was great. End to end and of a very high standard. It was settled in the 63th minute by Darts number 9 Rob Haworth. He took advantage of the Stones defenders and keeper fannying and faffing around and smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Haw about that! Rob Haworth smashes the ball into the roof of the net.

During half time, Cynical and I found a little treasure chest inside the ground. It was a small shop selling all sorts of footballing goodies. Cynical clocked his mince pies on a load of Rothmans non-league yearbooks. They were 50p each so he extended his arm out and swept the whole lot off the shelves and into a bag. He is already the most knowledgeable man in Europe regarding football stats. Lord knows what he's going to be like once his digested all that further information.

What else have I forgotten!? *checks non existent notes* oh yes, Monkey Alan. Whilst we were chatting away in the bar, the subject of Monkey Alan arose. He was a tramp who lived (lived!) under the stand of Dartford's old Watling Street ground. Monkey Al was allowed to live there by the club and attended all of their matches home and away. Sadly, he passed away about 25 years ago but I would love to have met him. He sounded like a right character. Cheers Monkey Alan!

So full marks and five FIFA stars to Dartford FC then. They've taken a leaf out of the German book of how to do football properly. They are a great club, with a fantastic stadium and friendly fans. There was no frenzy of affectionate punching, no toe to toe fighting with the Maidstone fans - just banter and plenty of it. Football as it should be. Sombreros off to everybody.

On the way back to the station afterwards. Cynical and I accidentally found ourselves in another pub. As if life couldn't get any better the pub was great. It was called the Malt Shovel. It's the sort of pub you dream of having as your local. After a few pints we made our way back to EFW headquarters in Brighton and pondered our next move. Oxford v Lewes the very next day!? I think so don't you.

Cynical ticks every single non league stereotype box in one foul swoop.

God help us all.

A first for the country. A Conservative Council that has done something useful.

A winning combination.


Anonymous said...

great review mate its my local club and mick jagger actually went to my primary is a great stadium to watch football at and i watch them when i can did you see cody mcdonald on show his a class act and norwich would be justified in snapping him up i believe.

Anonymous said...

Turns out that my mate who is one of our group of 'moaners' at FGR was there too.

He speaks highly of the place as well. Look forward to a visit one day.


Anonymous said...

Good Luck on your travels lads.

hope you enjoyed the darts experience.

The General said...

I was sent off against Malt Shovel back in 1987 for calling the referee "thick" when I was playing for Railway Tavern....dark dark days....

Anonymous said...

From Gilesy

Nice to meet you in the bar glad you enjoyed the day.

That game was sponsored by the pure DFC website about 40 of us put money in for it.

Anonymous said...

Great chatting in the bar before the game. We like to think we are a friendly club and I think we proved it on saturday.

Anonymous said...

What a great interesting write up,and excellent photos. Good luck in your travels

Anonymous said...

Just got back from Dartford vs Tooting & Mitcham, a very nice ground, best non-league I've been to so far.

Also, very friendly fans and enjoyable atmosphere. The bar was most enjoyable as well!