*BS*DOVER ATHLETIC fans can smell it. It’s there, unfamiliar and almost unrecognisable. The scent of success is wafting under the club’s nose, ready to be tasted.*BF*
It’s been a long time since Dover supporters have had something to really celebrate. There have been a few highs in this decade, amongst all the lows, but none as exciting as the prospect of seeing the team winning a league title for the first time since 1993.
15 years is a long time to wait. It seems a lifetime ago that I jigged round the Crabble turf behind Barry Little and co. with the Beazer Homes Premier division championship shield.
In those 15 years though, we have been fortunate in many ways. Out of those seasons, how many have been boring mid-table affairs? Less than we’d like perhaps but one of the reasons for our large fan base is probably the fact that life is rarely dull around Dover Athletic. We have moved leagues four times in that period and experienced life at the highest and lower reaches of the pyramid.
Whether it’s been admiring the great Dave Leworthy in his pomp, getting to the FA Trophy semi-final, seeing arguably the best midfield in non-league form and then split up in a matter of a few months, reaching the First Round of the FA Cup at last, suffering the humiliation of missing out on the newly-formed Conference South, or enduring the agony of financial woes and near-misses on promotion; it’s rarely been predictable at DAFC in the last 15 seasons.
And so the roller-coaster continued with the arrival of Andy Hessenthaler last summer. Having been at possibly their lowest ebb following the play-off semi final defeat to Hastings, Whites fans were given a bright ray of hope. Hopefully the Hess-Express is still only pulling out of the station on a long journey at the club.
But the job of gaining promotion is not yet done. Tooting could yet still win their remaining seven matches and Dover’s last five opponents are all top half teams going for the play-offs. That could work in Whites’ advantage though. All their opponents need wins rather than draws so the team is less likely to face 10 men behind the ball, as the lower sides in the division have often lined-up again Athletic this season.
Whatever the opposition though, Whites just need to keep up the level of discipline and professionalism that has poured out of them in the last few months. Last weekend in the horrid conditions at Leatherhead and in the local derby against Ashford, Hessenthaler’s team showed no signs of cracking.
*Lpic1*Only Ashford’s handled goal truly unsettled the team over the course of both games, and even then the ship was soon steadied. The superb defensive record in the last 14 unbeaten games remains intact. Just four goals conceded in that many games has set the club apart from all others in Ryman South.
Whites fans will be keen to see Saturday’s game at Worthing go ahead but a pitch inspection has been requested in the morning due to the heavy rain there this week. If the game is called off, Tooting could play twice before Dover’s next game at home to Burgess Hill on Saturday, April 5.
Tooting are scheduled to play Met Police at home tomorrow (Saturday) and Walton Casuals away on the evening of Friday, April 4. The scenario Whites fans would rather not happen is for Tooting to hand the title to Athletic without the team playing. Greedy perhaps, but a post-Dover-match celebration would be the icing on the cake of a tremendous season.
As usual with Dover Athletic, nothing is simple. Saturday could be a damp squib, a ‘nearly there’ moment or the full fireworks. But that’s one of the reasons we keep coming back – nobody knows what’s going to happen.
Boss Andy Hessenthaler hopes his team can get over the finishing line soon.
Hess said: “It would be nice to win it as soon as possible because then we can really start planning for next season, but we have just got to worry about what we do and be as professional as we have all season.”