An early start slates grey skies, persistent heavy rain, almost 300 miles ahead of us and the Cantankerous Shayman for company, no wonder most of the usual suspects had come up with excuses. In truth, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who turned down the existing opportunity to travel south with us, everyone we know seemed to have other plans. I’m not saying that our cantankerous friend and his anecdotes about a career spent driving coaches are unpopular, but in the end the Todmorden Postie was the only willing friend he could muster to share the back seat. Bizarrely they both sit together at home games and they share a car to most of the away games but neither knew the other’s name! “It’s not something you want to ask,” the Cantankerous Shayman explained, “especially when you’ve known each other for 20 year or more.”
With traffic flowing freely and the weather improving, our journey south seemed to pass by quickly. In no time at all we parked up outside Hythe Town FC in warm sunshine well ahead of their 1:30 pm early kick off against the mighty FC Romania in a mid-season friendly. The club are located just 10 miles away from Dover in a picturesque location. There is a steam railway that passes though the town and runs alongside the Royal Military Canal on one side, and the pebble covered beaches of the English Channel on the other. The ground is typical of Northern League standards with good facilities. The most unusual aspect is a live army firing range behind the two sides of the ground complete with large warning signs. There are access gates at the back of the covered terraces to retrieve lost footballs but not too many volunteers willing to try!!!
Lunch was a bag of chips sitting on the concrete sea wall in a strong wind alongside numerous boisterous seagulls. They hovered in the wind barely two feet away watching our every move ready to strike the second anything was dropped. Tesco Pete spent most of his time back in the chippy explaining the concept of a fish butty; they’d never heard of this idea and didn’t want to sell him one despite having all the ingredients on view… Almost 30 minutes later and after a display of some truly diplomatic skills, a triumphant Pete appeared with a freshly fried fish inside a sesame seed bun with his arm aloft in celebration. I don’t know who was more exited, Pete or the flock of seagulls.
Dover’s Crabble ground sits high in the chalk mountains above the town. We were once again lucky enough to hitch a ride up the steep driveway to the turnstiles on their famous rickety golf buggy. We encouraged the Cantankerous Shayman onto the rear seat on the off chance that the sudden juddering motion created as the buggy gets into gear, might also act as an ejector seat. Alas he held firm but did teach the locals a few new Yorkshire sayings!
With the game unsegregated, we were free to wander around the ground. The pitch slopes significantly from one side to the other with the main stand cut out of the rocky tree covered hillside. There are terraces behind each goal with bright yellow and blue paint covering the various barriers. The new family stand with around 250 seats and a solid oak frame has now started to weather, the once varnished appearance looks much better as the wood has started to turn silver over the years. A single rusty floodlight pylon remains in one corner of the ground behind the new and more efficient lighting added just a few years ago.
The first half was great; it was all action as the Shaymen took control. Cameron King opened the scoring as the team attacked the traditional home end of the stadium. The 30 or so travelling Shaymen were made to feel welcome and exchanged good banter with the locals. Dover’s home form has not been good this season, so there wasn’t too much surprise amongst those around us. As the half time whistle blew, most of the supporters from both teams exchanged ends as dusk arrived.
The second half was all Dover as the Real Ale Brigade kept the rest of the travelling fans entertained. They all had tickets to a local Ale & Cider festival and were taking a well-earned break to watch the football. The Man in Shorts was his usual eloquent self with his one-liners and attempts to get us all singing along. With just moments of the game remaining it was 2-0 and pandemonium broke out amongst the travelling fans as most rushed up the hill towards the corner flag to celebrate a cracking goal. It made a dour second half exciting and one to remember.
Driving back and it was dark and raining heavily with the hours ticking by slowly to midnight and beyond as Yorkshire finally appeared. The day was long but worth every moment. The team are now just a point off the top of the league and performing way above pre-season expectations. We’ve already had four wins on the road and it’s not yet October, it’s going to be an interesting winter.
Next up and we’re off to Maidenhead, they’re currently bottom of the recent form table, but we all remember our visit last season. I think we may owe them one!
Total goals on the road 12, total miles 2182 – C’mon Shaymen!
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