What is your most memorable season in a Dartford shirt?
The season we got promoted from the Ryman North and won the championship to get into the Ryman Premier (2007/08).
Why does this season stand out for you?
We had a frustrating year the season before just missing out on the play offs in our first full season at Princes Park. So to bounce back the year after and win the title was a great achievement.
Was there a specific game that stood out during the season? and Why?
Couple of games stood out for me that season. Beating Canvey Island 6-1 at home on Boxing Day was a brilliant performance. But also, not quite a title decider, but getting a 2-2 draw away to our rivals for the title AFC Sudbury was a great game. I remember so many Darts fans made the journey towards the end of the season and I scored the equaliser when I don’t think the ball was anywhere near over the line!!
The manager that season was Tony Burman. What was it like working under Tony?
He was a great manager and for motivating a side before the game. But, what I enjoyed about Tony was he was very approachable and his man-management skills were good. You always felt comfortable and confident that he had belief in what you could do and that’s really important for players.
Who would you say was Dartford’s standout player that season?
I don’t think we had one. We all chipped in for goals, were solid at the back with players like John Guest, Norman, Coylie, Kessell and Adam Flanagan. Ryan Hayes tore up most full backs, Alex O’Brien was a true leader, not allowing anyone to get complacent. We also had Eddie McClemments and Junior Kadi with a bit of flair in centre mid and me and Jay May formed a great partnership up front.
Why do you think we did so well that season?
We were consistent for all the season and Princes Park (unlike the season before when teams enjoyed coming to a new stadium) was a fortress for us.
Do you have a favourite goal you scored that season?
A nice volley against Sittingbourne in the FA cup on the way to a hat-trick. I missed out on the last day of the season for the Goldon boot getting 31 league goals (37 in to total), the Championship medal made up for it though. Unfortunately, I remember missing 2 good chances at Bromley and conceding a last minute penalty in the last qualifying round.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the team from that season?
Not really- I have stepped away after being assistant manager at Whitstable Town, so not being involved you don’t really see the old boys.
Did anything unusual happen that season that you can share with the fans?
Couple of things. One I have already disclosed, that Sudbury goal definitely wasn’t in… Goal line technology would have killed us. I also remember running into trouble with skipper OB at half time at home to Hornchurch. Think it’s fair to say I didn’t say anything bad to him after that! It was a heat of the moment thing with both of us pretty frustrated about our first half display. I also remember playing Spurs pre season and some of the boys talking about trying to kick Adel Tarrabt second half- I think it resulted in 10 more nut megs followed by another assist! But our memories of winning the title and our celebrations will always stick in our minds with Tony Burman in tears at Edgware and big sing songs for a few hours!
2007/08 Season review
The first pre-season at Princes Park was going to be a special occasion. Teams from Tottenham Hotspur and Ipswich Town came to the new home of the Darts, along with Crystal Palace’s first team as part of the Dave Martin transfer in January. A heavy defeat by a Spurs XI which included future Premier League players Jamie O’Hara and Adel Taarabt was followed up by a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace, in front of the first sell-out crowd at Princes Park since that wonderful Saturday in November 2006.
However, as well as the “spotlight” friendlies, the Darts also faced off against opponents of the non-league pyramid too. Trips to Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks Town saw the Darts seal comprehensive victories, as well as a hard fought victory against Lewes at Princes Park, and draws against Hastings United and Bournemouth Poppies. The final friendly against Ipswich Town was met with a defeat for the home side, but the preparation was good for the season ahead, this time in the Ryman League Division One North.
In the close season, there had been some posturing from other clubs in the Ryman League system about the placement of teams, and Dartford were led to believe that they would be taking part, once again, in the Ryman League Division One South. However, at the league’s Annual General Meeting, a vote was taken, and the Darts were the narrow choice to be moved to the Northern arm of the league. Gone were the derby matches against Sittingbourne, Dover Athletic and the like, and in came visits to new grounds such as AFC Sudbury and Bury Town.
The season started with a home match against Maldon Town, and the Darts got the season underway with a point in a 2-2 draw, goals coming from Jay May and Brendon Cass. A 3-0 victory four days later at Wivenhoe Town gave the Darts their first win, the goals coming from May, Steve Norman and new signing Adam Flanagan. The winning feeling would come abruptly to an end on a warm Bank Holiday Saturday as Ware put the travelling Darts to the sword with a comprehensive 4-0 pounding.
However, as poor as the Bank Holiday Saturday was, Bank Holiday Monday was the perfect answer. Jay May’s hat-trick against near neighbours Aveley condemned them to a 4-0 defeat, with the other goal coming again from strike partner Cass. This would be followed up by an FA Cup Preliminary Round victory over Leatherhead, this time with Cass netting twice and Tom Bradbrook completing the victory. Following this, the Darts were defeated at Northwood and then were held in a 1-1 draw against Sittingbourne in the next round of the FA Cup. The replay at Bourne Park, three days later, was a much more one-sided affair with a Cass hat-trick helping Dartford coast home 5-1 and in the process, seal a tie at home to Camberley Town in the following round.
Following the replay, the Darts had two league games in four days – home to AFC Sudbury and away to Ilford. Both were won 1-0, but in wildly different conditions. The Ilford match was played in less than optimal conditions – a poor pitch, strong wind, heavy rain and under floodlights that looked more like a multi-storey car park than ones befitting a football pitch. Getting a result on an evening like that was a massive achievement – just the sort of result that would be decisive at the end of the season. However, the league campaign was put on hold for a fortnight as FA Cup action took precedence. A 2-2 draw at home to Camberley Town meant a midweek jaunt around the M25 to Krooner Park for the replay. The cause took a blow early on when Jay May was dismissed for kicking out at an opponent, and a resolute Camberley Town held out for 0-0 until extra time. Even the returning talisman of Ryan Hayes (injured with a broken metatarsal during the pre-season friendly with Ipswich Town) couldn’t break the deadlock, and it went to penalties. Darts keeper Tony Kessell was in imperious form on the evening, saving two penalties, which left Adam Flanagan to blast home the winning penalty. A trip to Conference South Bromley was the reward for this victory, but the fairy tale ended with a 0-1 defeat at Hayes Lane.
On a brief return to league action, the Darts dispatched Great Wakering Rovers 3-0 at Princes Park, before taking part in yet more cup action, specifically the FA Trophy. The Darts were drawn away to AFC Hornchurch where they held the Ryman Premier League side to a 0-0 draw, but the Urchins showed their superiority in the replay, winning 3-0 at Princes Park, signalling the end of DFC’s national cup competition for the season.
However, the Darts were not disheartened, taking apart Potters Bar Town in their next match, winning 4-0 before visiting Tilbury in the following midweek. A Brendon Cass brace was enough to give the Darts all three points. The partnership between Cass and Jay May linked up again against Wingate & Finchley, where the Darts made it three out of three wins. However, the league progress stalled briefly in one week when Edgware Town came to Princes Park and played out a goalless draw, and Waltham Abbey ruined the first birthday celebrations of Princes Park with a 3-2 victory over the Darts.
The Ryman League Cup provided the ideal opportunity for the Darts to record a victory and they duly obliged with a 3-0 win over Aveley, but this was followed up by a dismal performance away at Redbridge. This left the Darts winless in three league matches. A victory at Waltham Forest ended the run, but DFC were defeated by Bury Town back at Princes Park.
Then, just like that, it changed. Whether it was something the coaching staff had said, whether it was a change in matchday mentality, or whether it was divine inspiration, it didn’t matter. The Darts stopped losing.
A cold Tuesday night in November at Princes Park against Witham Town on a UEFA Champions League night may not have sounded the best proposition (as the unusually low attendance of 504 signified) but it was nothing short of a massacre as Dartford crushed Witham Town by seven goals to two. In truth, the score line could easily have been in double figures but for two shots off of the woodwork and a great save from a 25 yard drive from Tommy Osborne. Five different scorers for the home side showed how good the team performance was. Things didn’t stop after Witham Town – four days later the Darts put six past Enfield Town, again with five different scorers.
The run of DFC home league games was aided by two cup games (victories over Whitstable Town in the Ryman League Cup and Dover Athletic in the Kent Senior Cup) and Brendon Cass added to his tally with a hat-trick against Wivenhoe Town in a 4-2 victory, also at Princes Park. This hat-trick gave Brendon a total of 24 goals in 32 matches. The Saturday before Christmas saw the Darts sample life away from Princes Park for the first time in over a month at Maldon Town. As in the opening game of the season, the Darts were held to a 2-2 draw. Boxing Day saw another DFC home match, and Canvey Island were the next victims. A 6-1 trouncing was the end result, and this time all six Darts goals were scored by different players. The final match of 2007 was away at Aveley, and in a continuing trend, the end result was a 2-2 draw.
2007 had gone out with a bang, as the Darts had gone eight matches undefeated, and 2008 started in the same vein. The Darts travelled to Witham Town and ran out comfortable winners 4-0, before returning to Princes Park where Ilford were the next team put to the sword, this time 5-0. A further trip into Essex followed, this time to Great Wakering Rovers. Ryan Hayes’s brace sealed a 2-0 win, including a diving header! A diversion into cup football saw the Darts go out of the last two competitions in quick succession. Either side of a league win over Arlesey Town at Princes Park, the Darts exited the Ryman League Cup at Heybridge Swifts and the Kent Senior Cup at the hands of neighbours Ebbsfleet United. This freed up a full blown assault on the Ryman One North. The hard earned victory over Arlesey Town kept the Darts at the top of the league, but AFC Sudbury and Ware were breathing down the necks of the boys in black and white.
The Darts continued to make in-roads at home though, winning against Northwood at Princes Park, with Junior Kadi scoring twice. Following this were two away matches at Brentwood Town and AFC Sudbury. A Tuesday night at the Brentwood Arena in pouring rain was never going to be an easy prospect, but the Darts were well and truly up against it when Jay May was dismissed for a two footed challenge in the first half, before the Darts went a goal down. However, Brendon Cass levelled the score up before John Guest gave the Darts the lead, but a near immediate equaliser left the game poised at 2-2. The ten-men Darts held out and, on reflection, the point was a good return.
Two coaches departed Princes Park four days after the Brentwood Town draw, for the trip to Suffolk. The Darts took the lead before conceding twice, the second looking to be a foul on Tony Kessell but this goal was allowed to stand. However, fortune soon favoured the Black and White Army when a Brendon Cass shot from close range was deemed to have crossed the line… a decision which was very clearly wrong. The match ended 2-2, and it was ‘as you were’ at the top of the table.
Buoyed by the result in Suffolk, the Darts went on to win their next four league games without conceding. A 2-0 home victory against Redbridge was followed up with a midweek victory at foggy Arlesey Town. The match was in some doubt upon arrival when thick fog descended, but this cleared up sufficiently and TB’s men won comfortably by four goals to nil. The next match, again away, was an improvement on the trip to Arlesey as the Darts knocked five past Waltham Abbey, with Brendon Cass scoring his sixth goal in six games.
What followed was one of the more tense games of the season, as Dartford hosted Waltham Forest. Forest defended deeply and repelled a number of Dartford attacks, and as time went on, it looked like the Darts were not going to get the three points. However, after a lengthy delay due to a particularly nasty clash of heads between Forest captain Gazmund Dauti and Brendon Cass (so bad in fact, that blood had to be washed off of the pitch before the match could continue), Dartford’s possession turned into a bombardment of the Forest goalmouth. Thirteen minutes of injury time were given, and then a Dartford player was brought down in the penalty area for a penalty. Jamie Coyle stepped up, in the 103rd minute, and slotted the spot-kick straight down the middle and into the net for a 1-0 victory.
This was, in the opinion of most, one of the turning points of the season.
An away draw at Bury Town kept the momentum with the Darts, and continued the unbeaten league run, and this was again maintained with a 3-0 away victory against Enfield Town the following week. Easter was going to be a key period (as it is in any season), and a spell of bad weather meant that AFC Sudbury’s games were both postponed over this period. This gave the Darts a chance to put some daylight between themselves and the Suffolk side. Ware were the first team up at Princes Park, and a smidgen of revenge was gained as the Darts, courtesy of a Hayes double, won 2-1. However, news emerged after the game that Dave Skinner, the football Chairman of the club, had suffered a heart attack at Princes Park following the match. Thankfully, one of the positives of Princes Park was that a full medical team had been put together, and the medical treatment had saved Dave’s life.
Easter Monday saw the Darts travel across the river to Canvey Island, where a single Brendon Cass goal was enough to give the Darts a 1-0 win. The season was now entering the end-game period, and points on the board were going to matter. However, the Darts’ unbeaten run (21 league games – a club record) came to an end the following weekend when Brentwood Town defeated the Darts 1-0 (the goal by future Dartford player Lee Noble). AFC Sudbury won their game which gave them a chance to close the gap on the league leaders.
The following week, the Darts travelled to Potters Bar Town in another crucial match. The Darts, however, conceded two goals to be trailing with only minutes to go. AFC Sudbury were also losing, and as Jay May gave the Darts hope, the Suffolk side also equalised. However, when all was looking lost, a Ryan Hayes cross was nodded down to Adam Flanagan into the path of captain Alex O’Brien. O’Brien, who had yet to score for the Darts, brought the ball down with his left foot and placed a calm right footed shot past the keeper and into the net for a dramatic last minute equaliser, and the Darts’ 100th goal of the season.
The Darts had the midweek off, whereas AFC Sudbury were at home to Canvey Island. A number of Dartford fans, twelve in fact (including two of the co-authors of this publication), made the trip to Suffolk to hopefully witness Canvey Island take points off of our main contenders for the Ryman One North title. As the Islanders took all three points against Sudbury, it sent the few Darts fans who travelled home happy, as well as the hundreds who were monitoring the match online. With three league matches left for the Darts, the championship could be won before the final game of the season. This was confirmed when the penultimate home match of the season saw the Darts roll over Tilbury, by five goals to nil.
Edgware Town was to be the final away game of the season, and the perfect opportunity for the Darts to seal their first league title in 24 years. The figures were very simple – if Dartford won, they would be champions. AFC Sudbury also had to win their match away at Redbridge. If they didn’t win, the Darts would be crowned champions. Hundreds of Darts fans made the journey to Edgware, including Dave Skinner’s return following his heart attack. There were different ways of arriving at Edgware, some by car, some by train and some by coach, and they were given the perfect start when Jay May scored giving the Darts the lead. However, an equaliser meant that Edgware were back on level terms with minutes to go. News was filtering through that Redbridge were leading AFC Sudbury, and even a last minute goal for Edgware didn’t dampen the spirits. As the final whistle went at the White Lion Ground, Darts fans flooded onto the pitch. The players and management disappeared into the changing rooms whilst confirmation was being sought of the Redbridge result.
Five minutes or so went by before the Darts players came bounding out of the changing rooms with bottles of champagne. There were tears pitch-side as Dave Skinner and Steve Irving embraced on the pitch. There were also tears in the Radio Kent commentary booth as the enormity of the situation sunk in. Tony Burman had guided his side to the Ryman One North Championship at the first time of asking, and after a further few minutes, he joined his players out on the pitch before being drenched with champagne, and ice water. As the celebrations continued, he even found the time to lead all the fans with a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” by Andy Williams whilst still on the pitch. The celebrations continued throughout the evening, both at Edgware and then back at Princes Park, when a 50th birthday party of a supporter back at the club was willingly gate-crashed by the squad and supporters alike. It was an evening that very few people would forget.
The final game of the season was at home to Wingate and Finchley, and a lone Brendon Cass goal would round off the season in the best way possible, as Alex O’Brien’s side lifted the Championship title on the pitch at Princes Park. The celebrations went on long into the evening, which had also been designated as the Presentation Evening, as well as later on into the summer when Dartford Borough Council threw a Civic Reception for the players, staff and officials of the club followed by a supporter’s party in the Marquee at Acacia Hall. Dartford FC would be playing Ryman Premier League football in 2008/09.