NO FOOT OFF THE GAS….
Eastbourne Borough are on the road again tomorrow (Saturday) when they head for Dartford in search of National South points.
After last weekend’s soul-sapping journey to North Somerset, an away game at Dartford ought to be a breeze. The National South’s centre of gravity has lurched westwards, with trips like Torquay, Truro, Bath and Gloucester still to come – and Dartford have virtually become near neighbours. With Welling and Dulwich Hamlet, the Darts are Borough’s only opponents within a two-hour drive.
The North Kent club did play at Watling Street, a ground which saw – among many memories – the first managerial gig for Peter Taylor, who built a lovely and very purist footballing side that included a young Andy Hessenthaler. This elderly reporter recalls Taylor angrily berating his goalkeeper for once kicking the ball out from the back, when he’d been instructed he was only to throw it! That must have been about 1990? Darts lost Watling Street, and were vagrants without a home for some fourteen years until their local council, with notable generosity, found the Darts a site and built them a splendid stadium which is a joy to visit. With high attendances and sound management, Dartford have been a force to reckon with in recent years. Rather like Borough, they had a spell in Conference National but could not quite defy gravity up there for long enough.
But suddenly, this season, the Darts seem only human after all. Long-serving and respected boss Tony Burman moved upstairs and his replacements, joint managers Adam Flanagan and Jamie Coyle have found themselves rebuilding a team which, in the past two seasons, has twice failed in the play-offs after looking like promotion favourites.
Several key players have moved on, and midfield inspiration Andy Pugh suffered an awful double break of his leg in pre-season. The new Darts sit in mid-table and have failed to score in five of their eight games – although that last statistic might be turned around with the return of goalscoring machine Charlie Sheringham. The highly rated striker – who once notched six goals in a single night at Priory Lane, playing for Tommy Widdrington in a 2017 representative game – is back at Princes Park after an unsettled spell away.
“There probably isn’t a manager in this league who wouldn’t sign Charlie, given the right deal,” observed Jamie this week. “He is always a handful, and he has that uncanny nose for goal that he must have inherited from his Dad! We’ll need to be alert, but Dartford are not about just one player.
“They might not have had the best of starts, but they still have an excellent squad. They tend to regard Princes Park as a fortress, and visiting teams as the invaders. That’s fine by us. We haven’t lost on the road yet and we’ve rapidly been learning how to play away from home.”
In fact, the Sports have conceded just a single goal – that freakish back-pass moment at St Albans – in their four away fixtures. Howell has worked wonders in the space of a month. “My back five – Smudge in goal behind Gardiner and Ransom, and the full backs Hamilton and Campbell – have been really impressive so far. They are a tightly welded unit.”
And further forward, the Sports can count on their own Charlie. Sidelined for a fortnight with a jarred knee, live-wire striker Charlie Walker should be available for selection again in a fully fit squad. With Yemi Odubade and Lloyd Dawes also in good form, Jamie is likely to select two from three in the starting line-up.
Princes Park has been a daunting destination in recent seasons. Two years ago, in his first game in caretaker-charge after Tommy’s departure, Hugo Langton saw his Sports come desperately close to an upset, going down 4-3 despite a storming finish with only ten men. And last season, a dramatic night game arguably turned on a refereeing error: with Borough still in the game, a Ryan Worrall free-kick was charged down from a couple of yards and the Darts streaked away to score through Tom Murphy. Retake the free-kick? No. Caution Dartford’s Ryan Hayes? Nope. Even a yellow card for Worrall? Sorry. The man on the whistle took the only option not open to him under the Laws of the Game, and allowed the goal to stand. Hey ho.
But heck, it’s a football match and not world war – and there’s always another day and another game. With a fully booked supporters’ bus, and many other fans likely to travel independently, Borough will not be short of vocal backing at a ground where they have never won. Eight defeats and a draw, in fact, in nine visits. Is this the chance to break their duck?
Eastbourne Borough’s early form in National South has been bright, but early next week the club’s attention will be diverted from the league – to the FA Cup. The draw for the second qualifying round, which brings in clubs at Borough’s level, is announced on Monday lunchtime.
All the town’s Southern Combination clubs are already out of a competition which began on the first weekend in August, so Borough must carry the flag. Even in the preliminary and qualifying rounds, the FA Cup brings that very special tingle – as well as riches beyond compare….
In fact, the prize money this year has roughly doubled. For the Sports, whose campaign will open on Saturday 22nd September, a victory will earn £8,000. And a decent run to the First Round Proper would see the club £48,000 richer – not to mention gate takings, increased commercial interest and sponsorship, and the Holy Grail of a possible televised match.
On Wednesday evening, I popped over to the Dripping Pan to watch Lewes take on Molesey in their preliminary round replay. After a goalless draw in the first meeting, we might have expected a pretty grim slugging match, but spectators were rewarded with a fabulous 8-1 victory for the Rooks, in a performance full of exciting play and explosive finishing. Never mind conceding eight, visitors Molesey were lucky to get the one. But under the new prize-money rules, they actually earned £960 as losers. Goodness, that’s more than £100 per goal conceded! Lewes, since you ask, banked £2890 for their victory.
Last season’s FA Cup campaign at the Lane lasted two rounds – a win over Carshalton followed by a 2-0 home defeat to Bognor, Jamie Howell’s former club. It dealt a crushing blow to Borough’s morale which, some would say, left them reeling for the rest of the season. This year should be different….
Incidentally, the Sussex Senior Cup gets under way shortly, and you can hear yours truly hosting the First Round Draw from Lancing HQ, at 5.50pm this Saturday (don't ask) on BBC Sussex. The Sports, along with the most senior semi-pro clubs and Albion U23s, have a bye in this round, but our other local Eastbourne clubs will learn their opponents.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?….
Meanwhile, the newly formed Under-23s began their season with a rather feisty 2-1 victory over Newhaven. Now, Under-23 matches are regarded by some as glorified coaching fests – but not a bit of it last Friday. Two managers – one from each side – were banished to the stands, and one Borough player was red-carded, although neutral observers felt that the Sports were more sinned against than sinning. I believe there is a PhD out there somewhere on sports clubs living up to their nicknames. I mean, Kiddy are the Carpetmen so I assume their pitch is immaculate. At Wycombe, the Chairboys, you can be sure of a decent seat. Hinckley United's Knitters play some intricate patterns. Banbury United, the Puritans, haven't had a yellow card in fifteen seasons. I could go on, but they'll be offering me a one-night-only at the Royal Hippodrome. But anyway Newhaven’s tag, the Dockers, is purely coincidental….
Borough official, and former Hastings United chairman, David Bealey has filled various roles at the Lane since moving westwards. As fixtures secretary, he assiduously collects the match programmes and team-sheets – more than ten seasons’ worth, to be exact. Now, it may be just a quick admin sort-out, or it might just be that the saintly Mrs Bealey is putting her foot down, but David is putting the whole collection – over 500 programmes – up for the highest bidder, with proceeds going to the Supporters Club.
They are not just paper and print. They tell a remarkable story. Take a large breath and try reeling off this list of opponents: Rushden & Diamonds, Stevenage Borough, Oxford United, Barrow, Forest Green Rovers, Wrexham, Gateshead, Torquay United, Mansfield Town, Luton Town, Cambridge United, Darlington, Newport County, Grimsby Town, AFC Wimbledon, Aldershot, Crawley Town, Fleetwood Town, York City and Southport. All past or current Football League clubs. Can we do it all again, please?
THAT LOT ALONG THE A27….
And finally. My comments in last week’s Lane Latest, on a fresh approach to relations with the Albion, drew a mixed response. Some people seem to agree that there is scope for co-existence, or even active partnership. One or two begged to differ. “Would Albion give Borough supporters a reduction?” asked one. (Actually I don’t know.) “Never!” said another. “I’m not handing any cash to the Seaweed!” Ah – but both of those respondents just happen to be Palace fans!
This is of course a personal view, but I stand by what I said. Let’s have a punt. Torquay United visit the Lane on Saturday 13th October – the next International Weekend. If the kids in the Youth Section are offered, say, a photo-call (but not, this time, at 1.30, which is too long before kick-off!) or a half-time skills competition… If we showcase the Framers.... If there is a parent/carer/guardian concession…. If an Amex season ticket could get you in for a fiver… And if we get the publicity right, we could pull in the biggest home crowd for ages. Give us your feedback – but do make it positive!