“Why are you up at 6:30 am on this depressing, wet Saturday morning?” was the question on Radio Leeds. “Why not stay in bed? It’s forecast heavy rain all day in West Yorkshire, tweet us with your reasons for being up at this ridiculous hour,” they continued. It’s fair to say that there were a few replies from dog walkers and people working on Saturday mornings, but Tesco Pete’s response sounded like the winner when it was read out “Up early this morning to support the mighty Shaymen who are playing away at Dover Athletic #Early start”. The only problem was, you had to be as daft as us to have heard it broadcast!
They say Dover is a long, long way from home but in many respects it’s not that far at all. Barnet, Boreham Wood, Dagenham, Leyton Orient, Ebbsfleet and Maidstone were all familiar places we passed on our near 300-mile journey south. Indeed, the waitress at our breakfast location in Epping seemed completely underwhelmed when the Greetland Shayman was trying to impress her with tales of our epic journey. “Oh, it’s only 90 minutes from here,” she said, “You’ll be in France in no time.” It was an entertaining conversation to listen to as the Greetland Shayman tried to explain where Halifax is in relation to places like Watford and the fact that we were not going to France. In the end she smiled politely at him and perhaps assumed he was making it all up.
It’s not often we deliberately make a detour to see the tourist areas of the towns and cities we visit, but you can’t go to Dover and not see the famous sights. The A20 coastal road from Folkestone provides a panoramic view as you get near to the town. One lane of the dual carriage way was clear, the other bumper to bumper with stationary lorries all queuing for the last few miles for the port entrance. The sea was wild, huge waves crashed against the harbour wall. There is an impressive castle, high up above the town. There were tourists taking pictures of the famous Banksy EU mural on the side of an abandoned amusement arcade. Beyond that, the main street towards the ground looks good at first but further long, perhaps forgotten. A local off-licence displayed a sign “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy cider here!”
Dover Athletics’ Crabble ground is located at the top of a very steep wooded driveway. Their rickety old golf buggy is still providing free rides up to the ground of those who arrive without crampons and ropes. The engine roars like an industrial wood shredder whilst it breathes a cloud of smoke akin to a steam train. The driver has nerves of steel has he spins the vehicle on a sixpence at high speed on a near 45-degree slope. In truth, it’s an exciting 30 second ride, much appreciated but not one for the faint hearted!
With an admission fee of £17 spectators are free to wander around the unsegregated stadium. There is an impressive and welcoming club house alongside the pitch as you climb the last part of the slope towards pitch level. Behind each goal there are colourful blue and yellow safety barriers under covered terracing. The far side is a small stand with around eight rows of red seats running from one corner flag to the other. Above this stand are more seats reserved for directors and sponsors. Dover has a new family stand with 500 seats with changing rooms and player’s tunnel beneath. The whole ground is picturesque, cut out of the white chalky hillside. It’s surrounded by trees and offers a view down the wooded valley towards the town.
At half time Dover led by a single goal. It was scored at the far end. It was hard to see what happened but there were several audible appeals for a free kick in the build-up, all ignored by the officials. The Shayman had a few chances in the half but weren’t at their best. The wind was blustery, calm at times and at other moments strong and noisy as it whistled though the nearby trees then across the pitch. At least it was dry, and we had a game to watch.
The second half started more brightly, the 50 or so travelling Shaymen gathered together behind the goal and were occasionally vocal in their support. The game seemed lost when Dover scored a second from what looked like a tap-in from a wayward cross that deceived Sam Johnson. The Greetland Shayman was spitting chips when he returned from the loo to discover he missed the Shaymen scoring from a Matty Kosylo wind assisted header with around 20 minutes remaining. From that point on it was all Halifax, the team sprung to life and looked good. Dover were nervous but hung on for a much needed three points.
Driving back and it seemed to take forever. The Dartford Tunnel was snarled up with traffic and we had no other option than to join the back of the long queue and wait our turn. In the end we travelled for over five hours nonstop to get home. This week has seen us clock up just short of 1000 miles; we’ve seen the team score two goals and earn a point. It’s not been a bad week really; the other results seem less of a worry now and the prospect of a relegation fight has long since faded.
Next up, it’s our last trip down south this season, Leyton Orient in 3 weeks’ time, C’mon Shaymen!
Total miles on the road this season: 7407, total league goals on the road: 16
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