29/1/22 Dover Athletic V Southend United, National League. Soul 2 Sole.

Many lifetimes ago, I got extremely close to taking a trip over to France. The plan was to travel by coach down to Dover before catching the ferry to Calais and then re-boarding the coach to journey to Paris for the day. The excitement was curtailed by extreme bad weather forcing the ferry service to abandon all crossings for the day. It was around 5 o’clock in the morning and nothing in Dover was open. We turned back for Shropshire. A good number of us pushed for a stop over in London to save the day. The ‘wet blankets’ on the coach just wanted to go home. A vote was taken, and the London idea lost. So i didn’t get to see much of Dover or in fact London, but I did end up going up to watch Manchester United that day. Visiting Dover properly was something I’ve wanted to put right all these centuries later. Hey, according to Vera Lynn, there’ll be bluebirds over some white cliffs there. No idea how many Cliffs there are, and why they’re white. What happens if you’re black and your name’s Cliff? Do you just get the bog standard seagulls hovering over you? I’m just glad my name’s not Cliff. Anyway, I prefer a different kind of ‘blue bird.’ (Winks mischievously at imaginary TV camera) When all this ‘virus’ malarkey started, and clubs were then eventually forced to play behind closed doors, Dover Athletic made the decision not to play. At the time, I could understand their stance on the matter. This was not only before the all singing and dancing vaccine, but it was actually before the ‘Kent’ mutation. Anyone with only a vague grasp of geographical knowledge, will still be able to tell you that Dover is in Kent. It not only looked a brave decision, but the right one. The National League took a dim view and both deducted points and fined the club. Hindsight is useless of course, but the decision now looks not only the wrong one, but stupid too. Dover are now in the situation where they’re not only staring relegation in the face, but they can smell and feel its rancid breath. I journeyed down there with an open mind. Although thankfully the ‘restrictions’ rubbish has now been lifted, I still think it was harsh with what happened to the club. I was up and out early. Probably a tad too early if I’m being honest. Even with all the games and grounds I’ve been to, I still get exited. At my age, you’d have thought I’d have settled down by now. It is only a game of football after all. I caught the train down to London Euston and walked the short distance to St Pancras. Ironically, if I was to take a trip to Paris now, I’d go by Eurostar from St Pancras. Maybe one day……

“You should see the size of their kids”

Touching down in Dover, I bought a return ticket to the station nearest to the ground.

“Wasn’t expecting to see this at the station”

The first on the itinerary was the Priory Hotel right opposite the lovely example of Art deco architecture that is Dover Priory station. The pub is a bit rough and ready, but as I was to find all day, was welcoming. The beer was a local brew and extremely well kept. If the Priory was rough and ready, Cullin’s Yard was a visual assault on the eyes. Did I take any photos? You bet I did.

“I could’ve easily have taken more”

Cullin’s Yard is more of an eatery than a bar, but if you’re in Dover, and you don’t do anything else, then you’ll do a lot worse than go here. Although not hungry at the time of my visit, the food looked amazing and it was yet again welcoming. I was learning fast that the locals are very friendly in Dover. Unfortunately with some places, a Wetherspoons can be a focal point for away fans. Southend had travelled down from Essex in numbers and were making their presence known. Again though, even with the hostile atmosphere they were generating, the staff were friendly. I was though, only filling time in the Eight Bells till Hoptimist opened. It was advertised as opening at 1 o’clock. I was to discover that they’d been open since 12. I really should join Twitter and Facebook I suppose. I’d get to find this sort of stuff out. Hey, you’re never going to believe this, the locals were friendly in here too.

“This lot of locals”
“Some might say it’s a perfect description of yours truly, but only the delusional ones”

I was really starting to enjoy my day out in Dover. The inhabitants of the place were just so hospitable. I travel up and down this country, meeting and talking to an awful lot of different people. This place was definitely growing on me. With it being a port, and undoubtedly the most busiest in the country, I was half expecting it to be a bit unwelcoming. I honestly couldn’t get over how friendly it was. It was just a shame that the Southend fans weren’t as nice.

“I even decided to take a photo of this place”

I’d worked in just enough time to do two more places before kickoff. The first was the Thirsty Scarecrow. It claims to be the first cider micro pub in the country.

“With this kind of menu, I’m not going to dispute their claims”

It did have two real ales on though. The Dover Athletic ground is a fair walk from the town centre, but the two places on the itinerary made it feel a lot less.

“It’s just work for our Spoons, but for the rest of us, it’s captivating”

The Breakwater Brewery Taproom obviously showcased their whole range. Having already sampled one of their beer’s with my first pint of the day, I chose a different one. Even if the first one of the day had actually been good, it’s still a good idea to taste others from a breweries range. A brewery may be really good at brewing a particular style of beer, but for whatever reason struggle with another. It’s a bit like a chef having a signature dish. Coming out of the Taproom, I got my directions out again. A local spotted this, and remarked on it. After strenuously denying being a Southend supporter, something made extremely easy with a Brummie accent, we entered the home end.

Here comes the photos.

“If you think that stand is a bit strange looking”
“Then what about this one?”

The stand in the second photo, reminded me of a stand at Swansea’s old Vetch Field ground. Up until the Halfway line, it was quite a substantial looking stand. it then abruptly ended. It was as though it had been chopped in half and that bit taken away. The weird ‘crow’s nest’ on top of the stand in the first photo, I could understand. After all, Dover is known for being a port, and thus acquainted with ships.

“The two covered ends of terracing was far less unusual”

A boisterous 2,000 strong army of Southend fans made for a cup tie feeling. Standing next to lad I walked into the ground with, I found out he was a Manchester United fan. Before anyone starts to make assumptions that he can’t have ever been to Old Trafford with living in Dover, prepare to have your suspicions unfounded. He was only at the Dover game, because United hadn’t got a game. Not only was he a season ticket holder at Old Trafford and a regular at away games, but had been going since the 70s. What impressed me the most though, was like me, he travels everywhere by train. Now retired, he’d spent the whole of his working life on the railways and so was able to make use of discounted travel. The only thing that I found a little surprising was it appeared I knew Manchester better than he did. As the teams were read out, my ears pricked up with hearing one name in particular. Koby Arthur was in the home lineup. The ex-Blues player had been the next off the conveyor belt of homegrown wingers, after both Nathan Redmond and Demauri Gray. Hard working enough, but just hadn’t got the talent of his predecessors. If I wanted Dover to win before, I certainly did now. You could tell that the points deduction has really taken the stuffing out of the team, as much as the financial punishment has knocked the stuffing out of the club itself. Sometimes hardship can galvanise a club. Instills a ‘backs to the wall’ mentality. With Dover, it’s done the opposite. The whole place seems like it’s resigned to its inevitable relegation. Had Southend been a better side, they would’ve done exactly the same as a lot of teams in the National League have done, and just steamrolled through Dover. Although well on top, Southend just hadn’t got the nous to break the home side’s resistance, and it was still 0:0 going into halftime. Miraculously, Dover and Koby Arthur still had a chance of sneaking a 1:0 win. 1 goal was all this game was ever going to muster, and on 72, Dover’s resistance was finally broken. At least it was a good goal, all be it for the wrong side. Both sides continued to toil, but it was what it was, a game between two poor sides.

Coming out of the ground, after taking advice from the Manchester United supporting local, I headed towards Kearsney station. I’d got just enough time to duck into the Royal Oak on the way. A place that looks cozy and inviting from the outside, but rather plain and sterile in inside. After supping up, I continued to the station. Sometimes when I’m in a place I don’t know, my infamously terrible sense of direction, does battle with the meticulous instructions I’ve written down for myself. When this happens, blind panic envelopes me. This panic is almost immediately replaced by an apathy that sweeps over me, reminding me to relax. It’s a Saturday, you’re doing something you love doing, and so why worry? Just take everything in your stride and enjoy whatever happens. Once I’ve sent the bout of anxiety off packing, I not only go back to thinking straight, but admonish myself for being so ridiculous. Touching back down in Dover, I went back to the Priory Hotel for one last pint in the town.

“Nope, not a shocking reference to the Klu Klux Klan, but a joke directed at the Hartlepool born owner”

Getting the train back to London, I still couldn’t get over how friendly the inhabitants of Dover had been. I had fully expected a suspicious aloofness due to the continued reporting of illegal immigrants washing up on the South East coast’s beaches. I had expected a certain amount of elitism due to it’s status as England’s busiest and thus most important ferry port. There was none of that. If I’ve got any criticism about the place, like a lot of coastal towns, the further inland from the sea you go, the more run down and neglected it became. I would’ve also have liked more places that did real ale and a bigger choice of it, but what I had was well kept. I simply didn’t have a bad pint. Touching down in London, I went to the Euston Tap for one final pint before heading back home to Brum.

“Hold on, Wait for me!”

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