Here we are at the end of another really tough season on the playing field but in many ways, one to celebrate if we look at the progress made to underpin the structure of the club and how that looks in terms of the future stability and sustainability moving forward.
It’s hard to believe that we have now been at Princes Park for the best part of 9 seasons. When we set out on our new journey at PP, we were in Ryman One South, Step 4 of ‘Non-League’ Football. In the next 5 seasons, we achieved 3 promotions, won the county cup and progressed to the Conference Premier Division-5 years ahead of the clubs 10 year Development Plan. Our 3 years in the Premier Division have come to an end-the longest run in the top division since the formation of the Alliance Premier League in 1979.
I think we have all found that the competition in the Premier Division has been much tougher than we thought it was going to be when we were first promoted. You look at the last 3 seasons and see that without exception, the sides gaining promotion to League Two have all been ex-Football League clubs, Mansfield Town, Newport County, Luton Town, Cambridge United and Barnet, plus possibly Bristol Rovers or Grimsby Town. Full time clubs, with substantial budgets and in most cases huge home support.
If we have failed in any respect, it is that we haven’t as yet got the infrastructure right to support a successful and sustainable run in the top division and be challenging at the very top. What we have been doing is building on that infrastructure, to enable us to bridge the huge gap between part-time and full-time football.
I would like to look at some of the work we have been doing to help bridge that gap and support Tony Burman in fulfilling our objectives of becoming that stable, successful and (I’ve used the word many times before) sustainable full-time football club.
1) For several seasons now, we have been running two very successful Academy sides in the Conference Youth Alliance. Last season, Tony signed six of the previous years, 2nd year scholars in to the 1st team squad. The reprieve meant that they had to be loaned out to clubs lower down the ladder for them to get 20-30 games experience at that level. We’ve been delighted with the progress made by Ronnie Vint, Kaka Dembele, Ebou Adams and Bode Anidugbe. However, we have been working extremely hard to promote a way to bridge the gap between the academy and the first team so that we don’t have to send our young players out to other clubs. More of that further on in this article.
2) We have added a 3rd Academy side, with the recent partnership with Leigh Academy, to offer an alternative ‘A’ level programme. This is a great move forward and will hopefully open up other ways in which we can work with our neighbours at the Leigh.
3) As mentioned at 1), we have been working at how we can bridge the gap between the Academy and the 1st team. I’m delighted that following the hard work of both Tony Burman and Phil Murray (our Youth Development Manager), we are at the forefront of a pilot under-21 Development Programme, that will allow us to play our post-Academy and current senior Academy players alongside a number of 1st team players against local League Two, Conference Premier and South clubs. The pilot is ready to go in September so watch out for more details throughout the summer.
4) One of our senior coaches in the Youth Development Centre, has been appointed our Community lead with immediate effect. Sean Scolding currently coaches our YDC under-15’s and he will be building up our Community offering with a range of events for the young people of Dartford and beyond, including holiday clubs, birthday parties, school visits to name but a few.
There is no getting away from the fact, that the bottom line is, we need to generate more income, to achieve greater success. A simple solution would be that our average crowd was to double overnight to 2000 per game. That isn’t an immediately realistic objective but part of our strategy plan, looking at some key areas that we need to concentrate on to move forward. We are in the process of drawing up some ‘Key milestones’. These milestones will help us achieve our aim of 1) By year 5, becoming a stable and sustainable full-time club, comfortably maintaining its position in the National League and 2) By year 10, challenging for promotion to League Two.
We can achieve all of this with everyone’s continued support. We will not risk the future of our great club, by spending money we don’t have. Working closely together, we can achieve more of the success we have enjoyed over the years at Princes Park. We will look to you supporters to come up with ideas to help achieve our objectives by way of open forums, one we would like to hold in the close season.
Thank you, as always, for the fantastic support you show, particularly in the last two difficult seasons. There will be great things to be achieved in the coming seasons!