*BS*Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup clash against Corby Town, ex-Whites defender Tony Browne speaks to Jack O’Sullivan about his own experiences with the club in the Cup.*BF*
The opportunity to speak to Tony Browne ahead of this weekend’s Cup match was one I was keen to take advantage of. As we are all aware, the club have only reached this stage of the competition on two previous occasions – firstly against Oxford United in the 2002/03 season, and most recently the famous victory at Priestfield against Gillingham three years ago to the day.
Whites’ FA Cup campaign back in 2002 started with a home tie against Basingstoke Town, and goals from Simon Glover and Nicky Dent sealed the side’s first FA Cup victory in four years.
The third qualifying round saw Kent rivals Welling United drawn to face Clive Walker’s side, and a hard-fought match at Crabble – in which Whites were leading 2-1 but were reduced to ten men following a straight red card for Lee Spiller – eventually ended two goals apiece, setting up a replay at Welling’s Park View Road the following Tuesday.
The replay saw another four goals, however it was Dover who took the spoils – despite an early goal from Dave Powell, strikes from Jamie Day, Nicky Dent and Lee Spiller sent the side through to the fourth qualifying round – where they would host former Conference rivals Woking for a place in the first round proper.
Nicky Dent kept up his record of scoring in every game of Dover’s FA Cup campaign as Whites were held to a 1-1 draw in a game of two very different halves. An emphatic 33rd minute finish from the striker gave Athletic a much-deserved half-time lead, but an improved second-half performance from the Surrey side led to an equaliser from Barry Moore.
*Q1*The general consensus at the time was that the opportunity of making the First Round for the first time in the club’s history may have gone; after their third consecutive home draw in the competition, a tricky trip to Kingfield for the replay saw Whites enter the game as underdogs.
Despite missing three key players – captain Andy Arnott, top scorer Nicky Dent and midfield dynamo Lee Spiller, a fantastic team performance from Walker’s side culminated in a historic 2-1 victory.
The headlines that night went to Tommy Tyne, whose 85th minute goal booked his side a place in the main stages of the Cup, but kudos has to be given to every player who turned out for Dover on that day. Jamie Day’s penalty in first-half injury time, resulting in Woking captain Jon Boardman being dismissed, gave Whites the lead but a Ben Abbey goal early in the second half evened the scoreline up.
Tyne’s winner five minutes from time sent the travelling support into raptures and jubilant scenes at the full-time whistle ensued. Dover Athletic had done it – progression to the First Round had finally been achieved.
A crowd of 4,186 packed into Crabble in mid-November for the following clash against Oxford United proved to be one step too far, however, but not for a lack of trying – the predatory Nicky Dent had a number of chances to find the back of the net but could not. A 22nd minute United strike from David Oldfield turned out to be the only goal of the tie, but everyone involved at the club was delighted with the Cup run and the knowledge that the hoodoo had been broken.
Browne has fond memories of this momentous match: “The game against Oxford was massive for the club.
“We were always so well supported, especially during the Cup run. To get to that stage and reward them with a big home tie was great – particularly as it had started to feel around the club as if there was a bit of a jinx that was stopping us getting that far.
“We had some tough games on the way to the Oxford match – both Welling and Woking took us to replays, but we deserved to get through both. The side pulled together and the buzz after the Woking replay was incredible.”*Q2*
Full of praise for his fellow members during the Cup exploits, Browne revealed that it is still a point of discussion between him and an ex-team mate almost a decade on: “Me and Lee Spiller still talk about our time at Dover, and the Cup run, now. We had some great players in that side – Nicky Dent was an absolute goal machine. He wasn’t always the most mobile of players, but you could always rely on him to get goals.
Players like Danny Chapman and Jamie Day were vital to us. We had a well-balanced side and had the chances to beat Oxford.”
Alongside Lee Spiller, Tony Browne now runs the Soccer Elite FA (SEFA) coaching school – a role he describes as “incredibly rewarding”.
The defender had two spells at Crabble – from 1999 to 2004, and 2005 to 2007. Making over 300 appearances in his time at the club, Browne says he has nothing but good memories of his time at Dover: “I haven’t got a bad word to say about the club. Everything is so professionally run – it always has been. I’ve been at League clubs that don’t compare, and that stretches from the backroom staff right through to the facilities.
“I’m disappointed I had to leave the club. It wasn’t my intention, but work commitments had to come first. I still follow the club’s results and know first-hand how big a boost a good Cup run can be.
“I will be looking out for the score on Saturday and hoping for a Dover win. Good luck to everyone involved at the club – I’m sure the fans will be as fantastic as ever.”