You can tell it’s going to be a long journey just by checking the online weather forecast; sunrise in Dover is a full 26 minutes before Halifax but bizarrely sunset is just one minute different between the two towns, what’s that all about then? In deep darkness, edging slowly down the soggy icy path Tesco Pete appeared, it was 7.00 am and we were on our way, 5 hours driving and 282 miles ahead of us.
“Do you think we’ve got time to go back?” asked the Greetland Shayman an hour into the journey. The question was answered in an instant by the Ripponden Shayman, not with any words, just a look. Football is more important than romance, it doesn’t matter how exciting the Christmas gift may be, the waitress will have to wait. As luck would have it she was off duty anyway, still we had a massive breakfast and saved a fortune on the tip. Leaving Northampton, we were still only half way there.
Dover’s Crabble ground is situated near the summit of one of the highest mountains in Western Europe. We parked the car on the roadside at the bottom of the valley and set off on the steep walk up to the lower car park. We then got lucky, a wonderful steward, acting like a Sherpa offered us a lift in a James Bond style golf buggy up the remaining twists and turns of the road. With space for three on the stuttering shaky electric vehicle poor old Tesco Pete was left behind to carry his heavy flags on foot. In no time we were at the turnstiles and looking back we could see Pete staggering in the distance but perhaps it was more like Hunger Hill than a mountain.
The Crabble ground has had a major upgrade since our last visit. A brand-new family stand costing £1.3 million has been built with 500 additional seats, elevated disabled viewing, a match-day control box and new changing rooms. The stand was part funded by the football stadia improvement fund and ensures the ground now meets football league standards. New floodlights have also been installed to complete the recent upgrade with a capacity of almost 6000.
Without segregation in force we were free to wander and watch the first half amongst the very friendly Dover fans on the terraces behind the goal at the home end. It’s fair to say it wasn’t a great opening 45 minutes but the Shaymen gave as good as they got and without the advice of the linesman, the referee would surely have awarded a penalty. With the whistle to his lips, it seemed a stone wall penalty to the Shaymen, but the referee refused to blow, to the relief of the locals.
The second half was like an edition of Countdown; minute by minute the electronic scoreboard ticked over towards full time as the 50 or so travelling Shaymen constantly reminded each other of how long was left. It wasn’t that the Shaymen were under pressure on the pitch, it was more the recognition of how valuable a point was. Both teams had chances but a red card for Danny Clarke gave Dover hope in injury time. In the distance, Sam Johnson appeared to make a great save on the line with the home crowd cheering for a goal in the last few seconds of the game.
The full-time whistle was greeted with cheers amongst the travelling fans, a great point against a full-time team doing very well in the league. The players and management were also thankful for the support; one by one each player and the management came to the away end and worked their way past every supporter, shaking hands and wishing us a safe journey home, a real touch of class that was much appreciated.
Driving back and there was a real buzz in the car, 12 points clear of the relegation zone and another solid performance. The Greetland Shayman had forgotten all about his romance and was insisting he can’t wash his hand again, having met all his heroes in just one day.
Next up we’re back down south, a new adventure, Maidenhead away, can’t wait!
Total miles on the road this season: 4680, total goals on the road: 12.
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