Dover 3 Basingstoke 0

Dover 3 Basingstoke 0 (22/04/2011)

Dover’s Crabble ground might have an interesting name, but it’s not an easy place to find. Dover itself is extremely hilly, blotting out views in many directions, and even a sat-nav dumps you half a mile away, when you clearly have not “reached your destination”.

Just to confuse matters, the street namers suffered from a clear lack of originality, with a Crabble Road, Crabble Lane, Crabble Avenue, Crabble Meadows and even a Crabble Close in the vacinity. Crabble Lane, rather than taking you to the ground, leads to a small rural road with no passing places an no place to turn round. I’d recommend not trying that road.

As a final twist, the sign welcoming you to the ground is for Dover Rugby Club, and they naturally play at a cricket ground. Cricket has long since been abandoned there. The pavillion actually looks more like a large station master’s house on an old railway, and the disused scoring hut appears to have a thatched roof. Steps lead between these two up a large embankment to where Dover football ground is located, accept that there is no access so you have to use a side road instead.

Once inside, the ground actually looks a fair degree better than I thought. Both ends are fully covered, with enough steps of terrace to offer a decent view. From the ends you also notice just how much the pitch slopes. More pronounced on the west side, that touchline is perhaps as much as 6′ higher than the opposite one.

The main seated stand on the “high” side is perhaps not as impressive up close as it looks from the opposite side while squinting into the sun. Just four rows of red seats peer through a mass of roof supports, and supporters have to pay £1.50 extra to experience this good view/bad view lottery. If the number of supports there seemed excessive, it borders on comical in the northern end. Perhaps 15′ of roof requires a full two rows of supporting columns so closely spaced that you suspect Beijing’s Birds’ Nest stadium used less steelwork.

The othe side was rather untidily filled by a large new modern club bar, which was excellent apart from a curious smell reminiscent of school halls, and a small old seated stand tucked away in the corner. The view of the hills beyond makes it easy to overlook that this side hasn’t kept up with the Joneses elsewhere in the ground.

Dover have always struck me as a typical “conference” level club. They don’t really have the support to make League football look viable, but they are well supported in comparison below that level. Today’s crowd would be the 8th over 1000 in the league this season, and gave the occasion an almost League style feel.

The game kicked off in blazing sunshine with a small but noisy Basingstoke contingent making themselves heard, and usually outsinging the Dover fans who made up over 1000 of the 1,065 crowd. Basingstoke, despite having nothing to play for, were also doing their best to outplay their play-off chasing rivals. The problem was, they just weren’t getting many shots in. Not that efforts were raining on the Basingstoke goal either. While a total stalemate didn’t look on the cards as the game was still lively, efforts on goal were still at a premium.

I’d gone to the game with a Basingstoke resident and occasional supporter, and he seemed confident that no matter how well they seemed to be playing, they’d find a way to shoot themselves in the foot sooner or later. Sure enough, 25 minutes in, a scramble in the area resulted in Basingstoke’s No.5 poking the ball into his own net, despite the best efforts of Reading loanee keeper Simon Locke.

It got worse 12 minutes later as a ball into the box resulted in two players colliding, and a penalty being awarded. From the far end it looks possibly dubious, but Dover’s top scorer Adam Birchall didn’t worry about that, sending Locke the wrong way from the spot to make it 2-0.

Half time came, and the fans changed ends. It took a while at the far end as the stewards didn’t consider opening a second half of a gate to lets the fans out easier. It was a foretaster of the stewarding at this end of the ground. A female Basingstoke fan with an SLR was surrounded by a delegation of stewards, warning her in no uncertain terms that her camera wasn’t allowed in the ground. It did have a lens bigger than a bog-standard 35mm one, but it hardly made her paparazzi, or likely to sell her pictures commerically. This point was made to them, but they insisted it was Basingstoke Town’s fault for not informing fans of Dover’s ground regulations, as telescopic lenses were not allowed. It then got into Daily Mail paranoia territory with the stewards saying that people taking photographs might be taking pictures of children, and they (presumably Dover) could then be in a lot of trouble.

After that short interlude of annoying paying customers for no genuinely justifiable reason, the tension dissipated as the game restarted. It followed a similar pattern to the first, with Basingstoke going forward a lot, but upon getting forward, like a confused pensioner on a landing, they seemed to completely forget why they’d gone there in the first place.

I was then also warned to stop taking photographs with a much plainer “you aren’t allowed to use cameras in the ground”. I didn’t argue. I knew that trying to use reason with such officials is useless, because if they had any grasp of reason in the first place, they wouldn’t make such complaints. I also knew that if I moved around to the other side of the ground I’d be able to covertly take the odd sneaky pic anyway.

As the game wore on, it was starting to look increasingly likely that Basingstoke would get caught on the counter, and that’s just what happened. A long ball down the left was kept in, and crossed beautifully to the back post, from where it was headed back across the keeper, textbook style, into the net to make it 3-0.

It was very harsh on Basingstoke who’d made most of the running for no reward, yet the more they pushed for a consolation, the more it looked like Dover would notch a fourth. In the end there were no more goals, and the only consolation for the Basingstoke fans was giving the referee and assistants “a bit of advice” as they left the field in the near corner. Petty stewards aside ,I’d enjoyed the day, but for Basingstoke fans on a 270 mile round trip, you have to take your pleasures where you can.

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