Ground Number: 35
Saturday 13th February 1999
Dover Athletic 0-0 Hednesford Town
DOVER ATHLETIC- A BRIEF HISTORY
The club was established in 1983, after the previous club in the town, Dover Athletic, went into liquidation. They took over the old club’s Crabble Athletic ground and also their place in the Southern League. Starting in the lower tier Southern Division, they generally did well and after gradually improving, were promoted as champions in 1988. They adapted to the higher level well and a couple of seasons later, were Premier Division champions. Due to ground grading, they were not promoted but continued to have good finishes. The 1991/92 season would see them ultimately lose a two-horse race for the title with Bromsgrove Rovers, but the following year, with the required facilities in place, Dover Athletic would go on to lift another title and with it, gain promotion to the Conference. They’d spent nine seasons in non-league’s top tier in their first spell, the best finish of 6th coming at the turn of the millennium. The new century was not a happy time for the club at first - relegation from the Conference in 2002 was a big blow and despite a promising 3rd place finish in their first season back in the Southern Premier, there was a further blow to come. Geographical shifts and financial issues saw relegation from the Isthmian Premier in 2005 and placement in the step 4 Isthmian Division 1. The step 4 league was the lowest that the reformed club had ever played at and although finishes here were good, it wouldn’t be until 2008 that they would go up as champions. Another league win followed and so for the 2009/10 season, Dover found themselves in the Conference South. Again finishes were good, but it would take several near misses before the club would secure another promotion. The 2013/14 season saw a 5th place finish, victories over Sutton United and Ebbsfleet United in the playoffs saw them promoted to the Conference Premier. A 5th place finish in 2016 was a club record, but they lost out to Forest Green Rovers in the playoff semifinals.
The FA Cup 3rd Round has been reached twice. Firstly in 2010/11, they lost out to Huddersfield Town after a notable win against fellow Kent side Gillingham along the way. 2014/15 saw a repeat - following victories over Football League sides Cheltenham Town and Morecambe, they lost 4-0 at home to Premiership side Crystal Palace. The FA Trophy semi-final was reached in 1998, with Dover Athletic losing out over two legs to Cheltenham Town. Local honours include Kent Senior Cup, won in 1991 and 2017. Record signing for Dover Athletic was ace non-league marksman David Leworthy, costing them £50,000 from Farnborough Town in 1993, though they recouped the same amount back from the sale of Ricky Reina to Brentford four years later. The town of Dover is most famous for being a seaport and has a population of just over 31,000. Famous people from Dover include politician and author Jeffrey Archer, whose overuse of fiction landed him a jail term. In sport, referee David Elleray hails from the town, as does football player Sammy Moore.
VISIT 1: DOVER ATHLETIC 0-0 HEDNESFORD TOWN
I recall very little about my first visit to Dover Athletic's 'The Crabble' ground. I know that I was visiting my Aunt and Uncle at the time and with my Uncle Ges being an ardent Dover Athletic fan and my family all being football fans, it was inevitable that we would go to this game. I certainly recall a better contest than this 0-0 draw that the archives show. Both sides were going well at the time, Dover sitting in 3rd, ten points behind leaders Kettering Town, although it would be Cheltenham with all their games in hand that would win the league that year. Dover Athletic faded that season, eventually finishing in 11th place. Hednesford Town were sitting in 8th at the time so this would have been a great away point for them. They would also drop a couple of places to 10th before the season ended. I recall very little else about the day apart from a very smoky bar (this was long before any smoking ban was introduced) and a decent club shop. It was also a long time before the introduction of digital cameras, so all I have is one pretty poor picture on my old 35mm camera to recall the day and despite searching for ages, have been unable to get a programme from the game.
VISIT 2: DOVER 0-3 GILLINGHAM (21/07/18)
Fellow hopper Anwar had wanted to visit Dover Athletic for ages and with me not having been there since 1999, it would be like a new ground for me. The one photo I had was a grainy one taken on a 35mm camera, so I was keen to go back and get some better images. There were not many opportunities, as midweek trips were impractical due to the long distance, especially on roads that experienced long delays. But finally, the time came along to make the trip, a friendly against Gillingham in pre season. Entry would be a good value £10, plus I'd spotted a decent pub nearby. It would also give me the opportunity to get some pictures of grounds in an area that I'd barely visited. Usually, I like to avoid this, as it spoils the surprise when you do visit, but with me venturing down that way so rarely, I wanted to get pictures while I could.
The day of the came and I didn't have the best nights sleep. I woke up and had breakfast before getting ready and leaving at 9.50. I had to fill up with petrol along the way, but I got to Anwar’s at 10.30. We were soon on our way, going a strange route through some of London to avoid the traffic. There was a brief delay, but nothing horrific. We got to Dover at 1.15, parking in a nearby side road. I’d earmarked a little micro pub called Breakwater Brewery Tap, so we headed there. I had a pint of Dudda’s Tun Bone Dry Cider which was very nice. Food was needed, but lots of places were closing. We found a place called Tennessee and had a double chicken burger meal for £3.50. It was decent, if not exceptional. From there we walked to the ground, arriving at 2.30 and paying £10 entry. I popped into the club shop and was disappointed to see no old programmes. Teamsheets were 50p, so I passed on them, but did get some pictures of the ground which had a new stand since my last visit.
I recognised ex-Wycombe men from both sides. For the hosts was Anthony Jeffrey who was largely disappointing for us after he joined on a short-term contract from Arsenal. Josh Parker for Gillingham made a solitary substitute appearance for us during a 3-month loan spell, but he seems to have made a good career for himself. Pick of the bunch was Frank Moussa, though the Belgian midfielder only played 9 games for us on loan from Southend United, he is well remembered by the fans. Dover dominated earlier proceedings, forcing a number of corners but it was Gillingham who took the lead on 10 minutes. Navid Nassarri’s game shot getting a deflection and pea rolling past home keeper Mitch Walker. Dover continued to have some good chances but still trailed at the break. Gillingham were much improved in the second half and extended their lead on 52 minutes. A low cross from the right was rifled into the roof of the net. It was 3-0 on 61 minutes, Nassari getting his second with a decent shot from the edge of the area though home keeper Mitch Walker might have wanted to do better as it wasn’t unstoppable. The game died out after that, Gillingham looking the most likely to add to their tally. It wasn't the best of games to be honest and Dover, despite a bright start, they were largely disappointing. I've now seen Dover Athletic play four times and they are yet to score. They did look toothless up front, but had some good play from the wings during their early good spell.
We faced a long journey home, but I wanted to try and at least get some photos of Folkestone Invicta, which had changed a bit since my visit in 2010. Sadly, it was all shut up, so we headed to a local shop to get a drink. We found out that Wycombe had lost 2-0 at Havant & Waterlooville, conceding two penalties in the process and we are still yet to score a goal in preseason. The journey home seemed to take forever, especially with long stretches of road restricted to 50 MPH thanks to roadworks. It wasn't helped by Anwar sleeping most of the journey, so I only had the radio for company. I dropped him off at 7.45, popping in his local Co-Op to get a few ciders. I got home at around 8.10 and although it was great to get home, my find was occupied by the fact that I was back at work for the first time in a week. It meant a 4 AM alarm, so I didn't have much time before I needed to sleep. I did at least type my blog up and catch up online before going to bed around 10.
THE CRABBLE is a smart and modern ground with an interesting design. It appears as if half the ground is carved into the forest behind. Both sides have significant seating, totalling over 1000. The near side has a new elevated stand since my last visit, this offers great views but only runs for half of the pitch due to the club shop and bar taking up space. Behind both goals are decent full-sized terraces, meaning that most of the 5,745 capacity is undercover.
Bar and tea bar facilities are nothing to write home about, but they do the job. Within 15 minutes walk is the excellent Breakwater Brewery Tap and the town centre isn't too much further. The club shop has a range of merchandise, but in what appears to be a sadly ever-growing trend, no old programmes.