*BS*FOLLOWING another boring and uneventful summer on the Kent football scene, with little to be discussed on the website forums and local papers, thank goodness the season proper is back to give us something to talk about!*BF*
I jest, of course, as it has been an eventful summer in the county and Ryman League. Crabble has seen more changes than most but the likes of Whitstable, Ashford, Cray, Dartford, Dulwich and Canterbury have all had their own stories in the past three months.
I think it’s fair to say that many Dover supporters were relieved to get away from football in May, following the disheartening end to last season. None of us though can have expected such a positive summer of news to emerge.
Whites’ new-look squad, carefully assembled by Andy Hessenthaler, looks a good mixture of youth and experience. Patience may be required for some players to bed-in and click with their new team-mates but pre-season performances bode well for the season ahead.
Last Saturday’s disappointing result against East Thurrock underlined the fact that there is still a way to go in terms of the team gelling and understanding each other’s games. However, that will be the case for quite a few Ryman South sides this season and Whites’ previous performances in pre-season were a joy to watch.
Perhaps best placed for a good start in Ryman South this season are Kingstonian, who have not made as many changes as some expected this summer. Whilst their pre-season results have not been hugely impressive, Alan Dowson is gradually putting together a very solid outfit at Kingsmeadow and striker Bobby Traynor, one of several K’s players who gained promotion from Ryman One in 2005 under Dowson at Walton & Hersham, is likely to fire on all cylinders this season.
Dulwich, with their remodelled team following the departure of their manager and quite a few players to ground tenants Fisher, will be a hard side to beat with former Chelmsford boss Craig Edwards in charge. They will be interesting to monitor this season. As, no doubt, will Ashford. With probably the largest squad in the division, the Nuts and Bolts look set to enjoy their best season in many a year. Will it be third time lucky for Clive Walker?
*Lpic1*Dover have a tricky start, with Cray, Leatherhead and Whitstable on the fixture list in August following Saturday’s trip to Horsham YMCA. Being a resident of Whitstable, I know how much they are looking forward to our local derby at the Belmont.
Firstly though, Whites face a trip to Horsham YMCA to kick-off their league campaign. Team news is fairly good, depending on some niggling injuries. Jon Wallis is suffering from a slight hamstring problem, while Andy Hessenthaler has a calf strain. Both are hoping to be fit though.
Sam Gore is the only player definitely out injured, while John Keister misses out through a one match suspension from last season. Matt Bourne came through a full 90 minutes for the reserves last Saturday and should be in the squad.
Whites’ Sussex opponents were boosted recently by the news that Dean Carden and Glen Woodburn have both rejected moves to Redhill, managed by former YMCA assistant boss Tommy Sampson. Sampson had already recruited left back Nick Levett from YMCA. Also leaving the club in the summer were top-scorer Scott Kirkwood to Hastings and Dover’s new goalkeeper Dean Ruddy.
So there has been a rebuilding job at Gorings Mead by manager John Suter. Over 40 players came to pre-season training and pre-season results have been mixed. Last Saturday Folkestone travelled to Horsham YMCA and went away with a comfortable 4-1 victory, having gone 4-0 up within 25 minutes.
Dover will be hoping for more fortune in front of goal than they got at Gorings Mead last season, when Whites hit everything but the back of the net. Dean Ruddy made a big impression that day between the sticks for YMCA and will hope to keep another clean sheet this season but for Athletic this time.
Following the season opener on Saturday, Dover’s squad will have little time to recover as Whites’ midweek matches this season will be played on Mondays. Cray Wanderers will be the first to sample Monday night football at Crabble this season and are expected to provide a stern test with their improved squad.
*Ppic1*Cray boss Ian Jenkins is said to be targeting the play-offs this season, having retained most of his squad from last term and added Glen Knight from Dover, experienced midfielder Danny Chapman, following his controversial exit from Crabble last season, talented defender and regular goalscorer Ryan Royston from Maidstone and former Dover reserves striker George Fenwick from Ashford.
Jenkins has been talking up his side’s chances of challenging for the title but has been disappointed to only have four pre-season matches due to two postponements. His sides have always made life difficult for Dover and it is unlikely to be any different this season. Chapman’s return to Crabble will be an interesting sub-plot in what is usually an entertaining and eventful fixture.
Last season Whites beat Cray three times, sneaking past them 1-0 at Crabble last September and emerging 2-1 winners at Bromley in April after a late Cray fightback. The teams also met at Crabble in March, when a memorable Westview Cup match ended 4-3 to Whites. Cray fought back in that game too, after being 4-1 down with five minutes to go. However, the game had already been marred by a bad injury to Matt Lee which required a 30-minute delay as paramedics came to the ground to remove the defender from the pitch.
Only six players from the Dover squad that night are still with the club though. It is a fresh start at SeaFrance Crabble. Here’s to an exciting and enjoyable nine months of football.
Finally, to quote a wise man from Hastings: “Enjoy the season for whatever it may bring to Dover Athletic and to you, but always remember to keep your football in perspective.”