What was your most memorable season in a Dartford shirt?
It has to be the 2011/12 playoff winning season
Why does this season stand out for you?
It stands out for obvious reasons really – winning promotion with such a fantastic and memorable group of lads. It really was like playing football with your best mates on a Sunday morning in the park. We were brilliant on the field and felt like we could/would beat anyone, and then off it we would have such a laugh together. Great times.
Was there a specific game that stood out during the season? and Why?
The play-off semi final games were two that really stand out. Purely because that was the first time I had ever been involved in something like that and there is obviously huge pressure going into them – the whole season was on the line. I remember going to Basingstoke on the Tuesday night and we didn’t really play well, but we still won 1-0 and there was such a buzz afterwards because you almost felt like it was written in the stars. We played really well in the second leg at home and in-front of a big crowd. That was one of my favourite days in a Dartford shirt because it put us into the final with a lot of confidence.
It was one of many seasons playing under Tony Burman. What was Tony like as a manager?
Tony was great. I have said it before, but his biggest quality was being able to fill the dressing room with 18 great lads who would run through brick walls for the each other and the club. He didn’t make many loan signings, so as a player you knew everyone in the squad from basically the first day of pre-season. It meant everyone knew where they stood and the bond could grow – and I think that was obvious on the pitch. Tony was the sort of manager that you wanted to win for.
Who would you say was Dartford’s standout player that season?
Impossible to single out people really. I just look back at some of the names of people in that squad – and many of us were in our prime too, so it is no wonder how the season ended up. There were some great players there from front to back that all made a massive contribution. We also had the likes of Connor Essam and Luke Wilkinson come in on loan too when we were struggling with injuries – both went on to be good Pros. That just shows the strength in depth we had.
Why do you think we did so well that season?
As above, the group of lads we had that year was ridiculous. Every single one would have been one of the first names on the team sheet for any other club in the league. The bond we had was great and it showed on the pitch.
Do you have a favourite goal you scored that season?
The header in the play-off semi against Basingstoke is my favourite ever goal for the club. We were leading the tie 1-0 on aggregate at that point, so it was all very close. That goal just made it feel like we were on our way to promotion, so I remember it really fondly. The photo of me celebrating it gets used a lot, and I think you can see in my face how much it meant.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the team from that season?
Definitely. Obviously, many of those players were with club for years both before and afterwards so we still meet up from time to time. Football is really weird because you get so close with people seeing them 3 times a week for years sometimes – but then they move on and go to different clubs and it kind of stops suddenly. But you still see and speak to people and its just like the old times again. There are a few Whatsapp groups going with different people in them and the banter is great.
Did anything unusual happen that season that you can share with the fans?
Haha. Nothing clean enough to be printed!!!
Season 2011/12 review
Tony Burman retained about 75% of his squad from the previous season, bringing in Adam Green from Conference Premier side Hayes & Yeading, Richard Graham from Eastleigh, and highly rated midfielder Jon Wallis from Dover Athletic. The pre-season build-up was relatively impressive from the Darts. The only defeats were against league opposition, coming against Southend United (0-3), Gillingham (2-5) and Millwall (0-5). A draw against League Two newcomers Crawley Town was followed by victories over Thamesmead Town, East Thurrock United, VCD Athletic and Canvey Island.
Dartford’s second season on the second step of non-league football began with a trip to Weston-super-Mare in the middle of August. The travelling DFC support was in fine voice on a sunny weekend in Somerset (despite a certain Council Leader’s failed attempts to commandeer a land-train to transport the Dartford fans from the sea-front to the ground) and this was rewarded by a 4-0 victory. Charlie Sheringham continued the season where he left off, bagging himself a brace, before also scoring in the first home victory of the season, a 2-1 victory over Eastbourne Borough. To cap off a good week, the Darts made it nine points out of nine with another 2-1 victory at home, this time against Hampton & Richmond Borough, with captain Elliot Bradbrook and Sheringham scoring the goals.
The matches kept coming thick and fast, and a midweek draw down at Dover was followed by a further away draw at Chelmsford City on August Bank Holiday Saturday. Two days later, the Darts’ perfect home record remained intact with a 3-1 victory over Bromley, Charlie Sheringham scoring another goal from the penalty spot.
September began and Sheringham continued to bang in the goals. A penalty was scored against Basingstoke Town (at the second time of asking – the first one was ordered to be retaken due to encroachment) in what was the Darts’ first defeat of the season, followed by a brace against Eastleigh at Princes Park and another goal at Farnborough (taking his goal tally to ten goals in nine games). The team continued winning, with two consecutive home league wins against Staines Town and Tonbridge Angels to end September with four consecutive wins and a Player of the Month award for Charlie Sheringham.
October’s matches started with a bang as the Darts crushed Ryman Premier League side Harrow Borough 5-0 in the FA Cup. However, the month continued with a whimper as the trip to Boreham Wood returned no points following a 1-3 defeat by the Hertfordshire side. The FA Cup journey continued with a 2-1 victory over former landlords Cray Wanderers, in what would turn out to be Charlie Sheringham’s last game for the club. It was revealed following the game that AFC Bournemouth had made a bid that had been accepted. As Sheringham departed for the South Coast, Tony Burman used the opportunity to bring in striker Jacob Erskine, who had been released by Hampton & Richmond Borough for budgetary reasons following their FA Cup exit. The Darts suffered their first dropped points at Princes Park the following week, after a 2-1 defeat to Truro City. Disappointingly, the Darts were two down within the first ten minutes following a goalkeeping mistake and an own goal. As if to underline the bizarre nature of the match, the referee was also injured, leaving a long delay while he received treatment and then continued as an assistant referee. However, in the next match, the Darts travelled to Thurrock and recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory against their former landlords. FA Cup time was here again, but a trip to league opposition was not to be as the Darts lost 1-2 to Bromley. The Darts had their chances, but a Ryan Hayes missed penalty at 1-1 was to be decisive as the visitors sealed their place in the First Round proper.
As November came in, news filtered out that ‘keeper Andy Young had been released, and a replacement was signed from Staines Town in Louis Wells. His debut, away to Salisbury City, couldn’t have begun any worse, as a hugely deflected shot after 90 seconds gave the home side the lead, but Jon Wallis’ first goal for the club gave the Darts a share of the points at the half-time mark. A second half goal from Jacob Erskine gave the Darts a thoroughly well deserved victory, with what would be one of the performances of the season (in this writer’s humblest opinion). Two league draws followed, although the away draw at Eastleigh was disappointing, given the fact that the Darts frittered away a two goal lead, as well as a man advantage following the home team’s first half dismissal. The FA Trophy campaign began with a trip to Eastbourne Borough on a late November afternoon. The match was spoiled by poor playing conditions and a very strong breeze causing both defences problems. The Darts did, however, win the replay 2-1 back at Princes Park, giving the Darts another unbeaten month.
Dover Athletic were the first visitors to Princes Park in December, and were sent back to the coast with a 3-1 defeat, with goals coming from Adam Green, Ryan Hayes and captain Elliot Bradbrook. Two cup games followed, with the Darts winning in both – 4-1 away to Folkestone Invicta in the Kent Senior Cup and a 3-0 win away to Brackley Town in the FA Trophy – before a crunch match against Woking at Princes Park. Woking got themselves into a 2-0 lead at half-time, but goals from James Rogers and Jacob Erskine gave the Darts a chance, but ultimately a 3-2 defeat was the end result. The final game before the Christmas holidays saw the Darts draw 1-1 with Dorchester Town at Princes Park.
The festive period provided two matches against Welling United. At Park View Road on Boxing Day, the home side took the lead in the first half through a penalty. The Darts gamely tried to get back on level ground, but despite a Welling United red-card, the visitors found it difficult. The cause looked forlorn when Tom Bonner was penalised for hand-ball in the penalty area late on, but when Louis Wells saved the resulting penalty, there was to be one final chance for an equaliser on the counter-attack. Ryan Hayes drifted to the left-hand flank and whipped a in cross which was nodded on by Danny Harris, and seemingly into the net by Lee Noble although this would be queried by a good number of fans. The scorer, in the end, was irrelevant though as the Darts secured a late point.
The home match against Welling, the first of 2012, was played in front of a bumper crowd of 2,559 and it was to be a largely happy Dartford crowd at the full-time whistle as Danny Harris’ second half goal separated the two sides. A happy Dartford crowd would be the order of the month, as the Darts would go on to win the next six games, taking January’s total to seven wins in seven matches. The away victory at Havant & Waterlooville was tempered by the sad news that club President, and one of the “Magnificent Seven” mentioned elsewhere in this publication, Fred Leach had passed away. Elliot Bradbrook and Danny Harris grabbed a brace each in the Havant & Waterlooville match. This was the perfect preparation for the Darts before their next FA Trophy match against Boston United. The match was a physical and bruising encounter, so much so that due to various injuries and wounds, Tom Bonner wore no fewer than four shirts over the course of the match! The Darts would progress, however, with a 4-2 victory and Jacob Erskine scoring his first hat-trick in the famed Black and White.
On a heavy, boggy pitch the following week, Dartford travelled to Hampton & Richmond Borough and recorded a 3-1 victory, including another brace for skipper Bradbrook, including a peach of a goal from all of 30 yards. Continuing the goal-fest, the Darts won away at Staines Town on the following Tuesday by four goals to one, including a goal from on-loan Gillingham defender Connor Essam, and then a further six goals were scored on the Saturday in the rout against bottom side Thurrock. Elliot Bradbrook bagged himself another two goals, and consequently, the Blue Square Bet Player of the Month for January. Tony Burman had also secured the Manager of the Month award with the results achieved in the month. The final match of January saw the Darts get past Tonbridge Angels in the Kent Senior Cup with a 4-2 victory, after extra time. The match, played in sub-zero conditions, saw the Darts confirm a semi-final match-up against Charlton Athletic.
February began with a fortnight off, due to the already mentioned sub-zero temperatures and a healthy dose of snow, but the first match was an FA Trophy third round match-up against Wealdstone of the Ryman Premier Division. The “Stones” had already dispatched of Conference Premier side Barrow, and they held the Darts to a 2-2 draw at Princes Park. Between this match and the replay, the Darts had a crucial match against Woking in the league. However, despite Dartford exerting pressure on the hosts throughout the match, a headed goal early in the first half was the difference as Woking sealed the single goal victory. With this victory, things were very much in Woking’s favour with regards to the league campaign and this may have been playing on the minds of the Dartford players as they were knocked out of the FA Trophy only four days later in a replay at Grosvenor Vale against Wealdstone.
It is often the case that a reaction to disappointment can shape the future, and this was certainly the case for the Darts. Following the FA Trophy exit and the defeat at Woking, the Darts were unbeaten in seven matches, winning six of them. Victories against Salisbury City and Basingstoke Town (including a hat-trick for Danny Harris; his first for the Darts) ended February in a much more positive manner. March began with victories at Tonbridge Angels, and at home to Farnborough, Havant & Waterlooville and a 6-1 trouncing of play-off rivals Sutton United. Only a draw against Maidenhead United could blot the Darts’ copybook at this point. A defeat at Dorchester Town was the only disappointment in March, although in the Darts’ pursuit of the league title, Woking were also defeated on this date which meant that ultimately no ground was lost. The month ended with a 3-1 Kent Senior Cup victory over a Charlton Athletic side which contained the likes of former Premier League player Jason Euell, and a victory over Maidenhead United in the league.
Dartford’s excellent run between the defeat at Woking and the beginning of April meant that the league title was not beyond Burman’s men, and a victory over Eastbourne Borough on a Tuesday night meant that Woking would have to continue to win their games – the Darts were not going to roll over. Unfortunately, a win on Good Friday for Woking prompted league sponsors Blue Square to pay out on Woking’s challenge to win the league. Dartford and Chelmsford City played out a 0-0 draw on Easter Saturday, before the Darts won at Bromley on Easter Monday. The final nail in the Darts’ title challenge was when Woking were victorious on the following Saturday, as the Darts were winning at Sutton United.
With a play-off berth confirmed, Dartford were held to a 2-2 draw against Boreham Wood, before hosting the Kent Senior Cup Final on the Tuesday night. Hythe Town were the visitors to Princes Park, and amongst their squad was Brendon Cass, scorer of the first goal at the Park. Unfortunately, Hythe were victorious on the day, winning 1-0 through a penalty. Adam Green had the opportunity to equalise in the first half through a Dartford penalty, but his effort was saved. Ultimately, the Darts had bigger things on their mind with the play-offs looming and it meant that the final standard league game of the season, away to Truro City, would be played only days following a cup final defeat.
The trip to Cornwall was, when the fixtures were released, one of the first dates looked for by many supporters and, much like the trip to Bognor Regis Town a few years previously, hundreds booked a weekend away. Supporters began to arrive in Cornwall from the Thursday, and from the Friday evening, it became an effort to actually avoid Dartfordians in Truro itself! One party of Darts fans arrived at Truro City’s stadium in full Hawaiian dress, despite the strong wind, the cool temperatures and the threat of rain. The match itself was a disappointment, with Dartford needing a last gasp Jacob Erskine equaliser to rescue a point. A great weekend was had in Cornwall by all, and it led on nicely to the play-off matches which would start on the Wednesday following, at Basingstoke Town.
This was the first time that Dartford had been involved in play-off football, and it would grow to be a tense affair. Dartford began kicking down the slope, and it took a Lee Noble shot on the stroke of half-time to give the visitors the lead. The second half was a tense affair, as the rain began pouring on the visiting supporters, with Basingstoke beginning to get on top of the Darts. Fortunately, a fantastic rear-guard action from the Darts, including two top class saves from Louis Wells, ensured that the Darts would take a lead into the second-leg at Princes Park on the following Sunday.
Princes Park on “Semi-Final Sunday” had an electric atmosphere, possibly as good as any matches had been previously since that opening day in November 2006. An attendance of over 2,000 convened with the Darts having a one goal lead. Louis Wells, having made two crucial saves in the first leg, was called into action during the first half with a wonderful save from Tim Sills which kept the scores level at the half-time break. On 56 minutes, the Darts took the lead on the day with an Elliot Bradbrook header. However, Basingstoke pulled a goal back on the tie with an equaliser, keeping the nerves increased for all Dartford fans, but the lead was regained when Danny Harris finished a goal-mouth scramble and confirmed the Darts would be playing in the Blue Square Bet South Play-Off Final on the following Sunday against Welling United.
Tickets went on sale on the Tuesday following the completion of the semi-finals, and by 2.30 on Thursday afternoon, all of the tickets had been sold out. Princes Park would be the host ground of the final, in front of a capacity crowd. Nerves built up over the remaining days before the kick-off, and in the hours before the match on the Sunday morning, people were walking around Dartford town centre in a daze. As the hours ticked by, the stadium began filling up and the hour was almost there.
After four minutes, a throw from Adam Green was flicked on to James Rogers, who fed Lee Noble the ball, thirty yards from goal. Noble took two touches and then drilled a shot from about twenty five yards which beat the Welling ‘keeper on its way into the corner of the net. This would be the only goal of a match of few chances and as the referee blew the final whistle at 16:51 on Sunday 13th May 2012, players sank to their knees on the pitch and directors of the club burst into tears as the realisation sank in… Dartford FC were going to be playing Blue Square Bet Premier football in the 2012/13 season. As Elliot Bradbrook lifted the Promotion Final trophy above his head on the pitch at Princes Park, the celebrations began and, in truth, probably didn’t stop all summer long…
Season gallery by Carol White Griffiths