Memorable Season – Steve Robinson – 88/89

    Steve Robinson - My Most memorable season

    Steve Robinson Dartford Stats:

    Apperances – 688 (43) Goals 67

    What is your most memorable season in a Dartford shirt?

    Season 1988/1989 was probably one of the most enjoyable and successful seasons I was involved in whilst playing for Dartford FC, and was so close to being a record making season in the clubs history.

    The previous season (1987/1988) had been hugely successful in itself, winning the Southern League Cup (beating Bromsgrove Rovers 3-0 in second leg), the Kent Senior Cup (beating Maidstone Utd 1-0 at Priestfield Stadium) but missing out on the Southern League title (and promotion to the National Conference) to Aylesbury on goal difference (4 goals to be exact).

    With the majority of the playing squad staying on, Season 1988/1989 started well with us gaining revenge on Aylesbury in August 1988 by winning the Southern League Champions Cup away from home with a 1-0 win.
    We went on to retain the Southern League Cup (beating Burton Albion 2-0 away in the second leg) but were again pipped to the Southern League title (and promotion to the National Conference) to Merthyr Tydfil by just 3 points.

    In addition, that year we had a fantastic cup run in the FA Trophy reaching the semi-final but disappointingly losing the second leg to Macclesfield and a trip to Wembley.
    Winning the Southern League title and getting to Wembley would have made it a “full house” and probably one of the most successful seasons in the clubs history.

    Personally, losing the semi final, was a huge disappointment as this was to be the third time I had missed out on playing at Wembley in a FA Trophy Final having previously lost with the Darts to Bishop Stortford in 1981 and Burton Albion in 1987.

    Why does this season stand out for you?

    The game that stood out most that season was the quarter-final of the FA Trophy against Altrincham.
    They were a strong side playing in the National Conference (league above) and it was at the time of the craze of the inflatable penguins !!

    In front of a packed crowd of over 1800, the atmosphere was electric, so it was even more pleasing for me to score the winner in a tight 1-0 win to take us through to the semi-final. This was, without doubt, also my favourite goal of the season.

    The manager that season was Peter Taylor. What was it like working under Peter?

    Peter Taylor was a fantastic manager, wealth of experience from his pro playing days and good character in the dressing room but stern when he needed be.

    Who would you say was Dartford’s standout player that season?

    In terms of stand out players that year, Andy Hessenthaler was fantastic with his endless energy and fitness in midfield. He of course went on to become a great pro himself and now a great manager at Dover Athletic.
    But for me, Peter Taylor himself made a huge difference to us. Then aged 35, his experience on the park was immense and he was still so clever and skilful on the ball, scoring 36 goals I believe from 63 appearances that year.

    Why do you think we did so well that season?

    I feel the team that season did so well due to the fact that the majority of the players had been together for nearly two seasons, so had built up a great understand on the park and great team spirit on (and off) the pitch.
    There were some real young talented players there at the time, Andy Hess and Peter I’ve already mentioned, but also Dave Myers, Steve Connors, really experienced guys like Colin Johnson, Adrian Foley and Paul Hinshelwood (ex Crystal Palace) as well as Kurt Davidson and Colin Sowerby up front who scored 32 goals between them.

    We played a total of 72 games that season and scored 138 goals, so I think we just ran out of steam towards the end of the season (losing 2 consecutive games 1-0 at the end of April / early May) which resulted in us losing the Southern League title to Merthyr by just 3 points and missing out on promotion.

    Do you still keep in touch with any of the team from that season?

    Unfortunately, as time drifts on, and players move on, sadly I’m not in touch with too many of the players now. However with Andy Hess still involved at Dover, our paths still occasionally cross being local.

    Did anything unusual happen that season that you can share with the fans?

    There were lots of characters in the dressing room that year, but Peter was great !!
    Well known for his impersonations of Norman Wisdom, Peter would also tease the supporters when chatting in the bar OR to the local press / media, talking really quickly and slurring his words so they couldn’t understand him. It was hilarious to watch them agreeing with him even though they didn’t have a clue what he was saying !!

    Season 1988/89 recap

    There were hopes both on and off the field for 1989-90. Peter Taylor agreed to continue in the search for a Conference place and the much heralded move to Cotton Lane appeared to be imminent. The local press anticipated that this would be the last season at Watling Street:
    “The 89-90 season should also see Darts’ last at Watling Street. Once the pylon on the new site at Stone is removed it is hoped that work can begin by the end of the year. The legal niceties are currently being sorted out and the club hope to start the 90/91 season at their new home. In the meantime Maidstone will be making a number of improvements to Watling Street to secure their entry into the Football League. These include constructing a segregated area for away supporters, replacing the crush barriers opposite the main stand, making improvements to the pitch perimeter fencing and building an extended boardroom within the snooker club”. (Steve Gedge, Dartford Times, 18 May 1989).

    Peter Taylor was determined to make it third time lucky and although Dartford faced a testing start to the coming season, they approached the task on the back of some good pre-season work. Amongst the pre-season matches was the Centenary/Steve Robinson Testimonial against Brentford which Darts won 2-1 thanks to goals from Peter Taylor – a typical individual effort – and a Colin Johnson penalty.

    Dartford got off to a flying start with five successive league wins; in addition the Darts (Cup-holders) beat Merthyr Tydfil (Champions) in the Southern League Challenge match played at Penydarren Park by 2-1. Bath City were the first side to slow Darts down in a 0-0 draw at Twerton Park but that was the only hiccup in the opening period. Thanks to goals from Taylor, Garvey, Keen and Britnell in a 4-2 win at Redbridge Forest, Dartford had got their FA Cup campaign off the ground.

    October saw Dartford deeply involved in cup competition. Three FA Cup ties ended in Dartford’s favour – Witham Town (3-1 at home), Heybridge Swifts (1-0, away) and Dagenham (3-1, home) saw them safely through the Qualifying Rounds. A thankfully early exit from the ill-considered Club Call Cup (only Dover ever took much interest in this competition) by 0-4 at Waterlooville brought sighs of relief.

    The Southern League Cup defence started with a 1-1 first leg draw at Baldock, an own goal finding the net for the Darts and the ‘cup’ month ended with a 2-1 second leg win over Baldock (3-2 aggregate). Mid-October had witnessed Darts’ first league defeat (Burton 0-1 at home) and November started in the same vein with Atherstone winning 1-0 at Watling Street. November also saw John Leslie’s first appearance in a Dartford shirt: the former Millwall, Wimbledon and Gillingham goal-scorer marking his Dartford debut with an extra-time goal in a 2-0 victory over old rivals Gravesend & Northfleet in the Kent Senior Cup. A key top-of-the-table match at Dover ended 1-1 (Ian Brown heading in from a corner). Wealdstone were dismissed from the Southern League Cup 9-0 on aggregate during the month but the big game of November was the FA Cup-tie with Exeter City.
    Evoking memories of the historic tussles some thirty years earlier with the same club, 3129 spectators witnessed a game which Darts could have won had Garvey converted just one of the three golden opportunities to come his way in the final few minutes. As it was, the crowd were stunned when Exeter took the lead against the run of play from the penalty spot but were stunned in a different way when Andy Hessenthaler restored parity with a spectacular equaliser in the second half. A series of heavy tackles on Peter Taylor early in the replay underlined Exeter’s attitude to the re-match. In the end, the home side were somewhat flattered by the 4-1 scoreline but Dartford drew some consolation (later) from the fact that their two games with Exeter drew larger crowds than did Maidstone who faced the same club in the next round of the Cup.

    Two draws and two narrow wins in December were the preamble to a 5-0 trouncing of Gravesend & Northfleet on Boxing Day but the month was to end with a bitterly disappointing 0-4 defeat at Ashford. Smashing Margate 9-2 over two legs in the League Cup – the second leg including a rare Paul Blade appearance (and goal!) – lined up a Quarter Final tie with Waterlooville.

    Three league wins in January kept Dartford’s title hopes alive and kicking and so the disappointing exit from the FA Trophy (1-2 at home to Yeovil) was taken more or less in everyone’s stride. February’s league action saw Dartford record one win and three draws, one of them a dour 1-1 at Wealdstone and another, 2-2 at home to Dover. Whereas the earlier draw at the Crabble was marginally a better result for Dartford, the 2-2 return draw was more a case of two Dartford points thrown away, the 2-0 half-time lead being dissipated. Waterlooville were dumped out of the League Cup 5-2 over two legs.

    Though Darts continued to hang on in the title race, wins became noticeably more tense whereas Dover and Bath were appearing to be more comfortable with their performances. Offsetting the tension, Dartford clinched their third successive Southern League Cup Final place with a steady win over Bashley (3-0) and Welling United were beaten in the Kent Senior Cup after a replay.

    Although April began with a 1-0 win at VS Rugby, two successive home defeats (Chelmsford 2-3 and Bath 0-1) seriously dented Dartford’s tilt at the title. There was a feeling that it was all going to slip away once more, particularly as the local derby at Northfleet ended in defeat, the home side exacting some measure of revenge for their Boxing day humiliation in a niggly contest.

    To add to the despondency, VS Rugby established a 2-0 First Leg lead (at Watling Street) in the League Cup Final and Gillingham ousted Darts from the Kent Senior Cup thanks to an odd-goal in five win at Priestfield in the Semi Finals.

    The rest of the season seemed to be played out in a hypnotic daze. A Steve Conner goal gave Darts a narrow win in the Second Leg at Rugby but the Final was lost 1-2 overall and the season ended with Dartford in third place in the final table. To many a club, third place, runners-up in the League Cup, a County Cup Semi Final and a good FA Cup run would have been success. But Dartford had become not just any other club under the Taylor influence.

    In early June Peter Taylor left the club because he was faced with a slashing 50% reduction in his budget and, having agreed new terms with players, found that the Board’s decision would not allow him to honour his agreements. Taylor said: “I made agreements with players I thought would be good for Dartford. On Monday of last week I gave a list to the directors of players I wanted to sign and they told me the budget had got to be cut in half. That made it impossible for me to get any team I would want to manage and would have meant me breaking agreements I had made with players. I can understand the directors’ position. But their decision was a financial one and mine was a football one”. (Dartford Times).

    Concurrent with this, Dartford Football Club scrapped the planned move to Cotton Lane. Chairman Brian Alford claimed that the club was paying £1000 a week in interest charges and that the sloping new site would need £1million spent on it just to get the ground ready to build on. Falling land prices had already put the move on ice and the Club could not raise enough money on the sale of Watling Street.

    Season record

    Finished 3rd

    Played 42, Won 26, Drawn 9, Lost 7, Scored 80, Conceded 35, Points 87