MY MOST MEMORABLE SEASON – Ryan Hayes

    Ryan has played 456 games for Dartford (171 sub appearances) scoring 109 goals.

    What was your most memorable season in a Dartford shirt?

    It has to be the first season in the National League (2012/13)

    Why does this season stand out for you?

    Was just a great year for the club. As a team we had such a togetherness and personally just loved it.

    Was there a specific game that stood out during the season?  and Why?

    Probably Mansfield at home. Live on the tele scoring and getting MOTM was a great night. It was one of many seasons playing under Tony Burman.

    What was Tony like as a manager? 

    Just a great man. As a manager knew exactly how to manage me. What he has done for Dartford is unreal.

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

    Had so many. The whole squad had an unbelievable season. Can’t really pick out one really. Toss up between Arbs and Jacob up top was a real unsung hero for us. Also Betts was unreal, best goalie there will ever be in a Dartford shirt

    Why do you think we did so well that season?

    We was told to play with no fear and the dressing room was 16 mates just enjoying football.

    Do you have a favourite goal you scored that season?

    Luton at home. To get the winner against a big club was a great moment for me.

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

    Yeah we all still speak really. Obviously the core still speak loads and I’m still close with Vinty and Pughy and speak to Betts now and again. The togetherness we we had that season will never be repeated.

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

    We had a very good time. The laughs we had that season. You think we was away every other weekend so on a coach most the weekend. Some of the journeys still tickle me now.

    Season 2012/13 Review

    With promotion to the Conference Premier secured on that fateful Sunday in May, the hard work of preparing for the new season began only days afterwards. Pre-season victories against VCD Athletic, Thamesmead Town and Erith & Belvedere were followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat against Gillingham. However, that would remain the only preseason defeat as the Darts followed with strong victories over the West Ham United, Leyton Orient and Arsenal teams sent to Princes Park, and a 2-1 victory over Tonbridge Angels. 

    The season started in earnest with a tough home match against Tamworth, and despite goals from Elliot Bradbrook and Harry Crawford, the Darts slipped to a 3-2 defeat. As is customary in the first few weeks of the season, games come thick and fast. A defeat at Woking followed, but didn’t pass without incident as Lee Noble saw red for two yellow cards in quick succession, followed by a penalty decision which was dubious to say the least, and to top it off, a fan invasion at the Woking end. A second away match in a week culminated in a 2-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town, which featured the debut of Fulham loanee goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, who had come in at the last minute following the injury to Louis Wells at Woking. With three games down, the Darts had failed to pick up a point, but the performances had certainly not warranted that and it was generally felt that positive results were around the corner. 

    The Darts changed their fortune with a morale boosting 1-0 victory at home over Kidderminster Harriers on a stormy afternoon at Princes Park, with Lee Burns heading home the winner. Two days later, the Darts travelled to Cambridge United, where a last gasp Nathan Collier winner sealed a 2-1 victory. After three games, points were hard to come by but a trickle turned into a pour, when the Darts annihilated Alfreton Town 5-1 at Princes Park in which Crawford netted his first hat-trick for the club. Hoping to continue the good run of form, the Darts took on Newport County. Going into the final few minutes drawing 1-1, close-season signing Richard Rose marauded down the left flank, and slammed the ball into the top corner, sealing a late victory for the Darts. The next weekend saw the Darts undertaking the long journey to Gateshead where a two goal defeat broke the Darts’ run of form. However, this was set right with a 4-0 dismantling of Hereford United at Princes Park.

    The Darts played their sole Kent Senior Cup match following the Hereford match; Collier scoring twice to defeat Faversham Town at Princes Park. Controversy would follow later in the season with Dartford not taking any further part in the competition following delays to playing the next round match at Margate. The team travelled to Wrexham on the following Saturday, and took an early lead through Harris. Wrexham bounced back though, and were 2-1 ahead going into injury time when Noble’s deflected free kick found the corner of the net and sent the Darts back to England with a well-earned point. Three days later, the Darts had a more palatable trip to Braintree Town, where goals from Tom Bonner and Jacob Erskine saw three more valuable points come home to Princes Park. To cap off a hectic week, the Darts left things late against Hyde, when goals in the 85th and 90th minute from Crawford and Rose respectively, sealed a 2-1 victory. 

    October began with another intimidating away trip, this time to Grimsby Town, and goals from Champion and new loanee from Gillingham, Adam Birchall, sealed a 2-0 victory at Blundell Park in front of a crowd of over 4,000. Three days later though, the Darts suffered their heaviest defeat of the season to date when AFC Telford United came to Princes Park. The 4-1 defeat was not as one sided as the scoreline suggested however, with the visitors scoring four of their five shots on target. The longest trip of the season would follow on the next Saturday, with the Darts making the journey to Barrow. Missing both Champion and Bradbrook, the team was up against it, but a goal-less draw would prove to be a good result on the day. 

    The FA Cup campaign began the following week, with the toughest fixture possible at the time, drawing Forest Green Rovers (at the time sitting in second place in the table) away. Marcus Bettinelli was unavailable due to the terms of his loan, so Louis Wells was rushed back into the side. Wells, injured since the second game of the season at Woking, made two or three crucial saves in the 1-1 draw, forcing Rovers to come to Princes Park only three days later. The Darts took the lead through Harry Crawford, but unfortunate mistakes by Wells let Forest Green back into the match and they went on to win 4-1. 

    The Darts did have something else to look forward to that week – a first ever televised match was to take place on the Friday night live on Premier Sports as Dartford took on Mansfield Town at Princes Park. This match also coincided with the match airing on free-to-view television, which gave some concern for the size of the crowd. Fortunately though, these worries were allayed when a bumper attendance of 1,737 witnessed the game remain at 0-0 until the 45th minute of the match. Bradbrook sent the home crowd into rapture with a low shot into the bottom corner, to give the Darts the lead. Any thoughts of hanging on for half-time were dispatched when, straight from the kick-off, a loose pass from Mansfield found Hayes who ran straight for the opposition goal before curling a left footed shot into the top corner to seal the second goal in less than a minute. With the match taken beyond Mansfield in 90 seconds of first half injury time, the Darts won 2-0 against the eventual league champions. 

    Forest Green Rovers would return to Princes Park the following Tuesday night, this time for a league fixture, and left with all three points and a 1-0 victory. Both teams went down to 10 men in the first half with Crawford being dismissed for the Darts, but a single goal for the visitors gave them the victory. Almost six years to the day that Princes Park opened, the Darts were to play Luton Town in one of the stand-out fixtures of the season and things were only going to get better. Lee Noble’s 6th minute strike was followed by a close range Tom Bonner effort just before half-time. The Darts left the 6,567 crowd at Kenilworth Road with all three points. The following match saw the Darts concede an injury time equaliser against Southport as the sides shared the points in a 2-2 draw. However, the cost was greater to Dartford as they lost Mark Arber with a broken jaw. Arber, in a collision with Bettinelli, suffered the injury in the first half, but admirably continued the rest of the match, even making a tackle with his head in the second half. The FA Carlsberg Trophy was the next competition and the first round saw the Darts visit Ryman Premier Division side Kingstonian. On-loan Semi Ajayi’s debut was eventful as he conceded a penalty in the opening passages of the game. However, Bettinelli went down well to save the penalty, and Dartford went on to win 4-0 in a comfortable manner, aided by a needless red card from a K’s player. The following week, an away trip to Tamworth saw the home side take all three points. Goals from Ajayi and Harris meant that the Darts had the lead twice, but a sucker punch goal at the death meant that the journey home was without any points. A midweek jaunt to Nuneaton also saw the Darts return home without points following a 1-0 defeat in a desperately poor match; the home side scoring on the stroke of half-time. Dartford pressed the self-destruct button on the following Saturday, going in 4-0 down at half-time at home to Lincoln City. However, a spirited second half fightback, although ultimately unsuccessful, saw the Darts pull it back to 4-2, with another double from Crawford, who had begun to attract attention from league clubs. 

    The FA Trophy interrupted the league campaign further as the Darts hosted Tonbridge Angels from the Conference South and a 3-0 victory saw further progress for the home team. Goals from that man Crawford, Jon Wallis and a Bradbrook penalty sealed the victory, and sealed another home tie, this time with Bromley. With Christmas coming up, the Darts would be entering the “silly season” with lots of games in a short space of time. A 5-1 hammering at in-form Kidderminster Harriers was not the ideal start but this carried the Darts into the Christmas fixtures against Ebbsfleet United, wrapped around a home fixture against Cambridge United. The Boxing Day fixture against “The Fleet” saw the Darts go behind early in the second half but, encouraged by an attendance of 3,116, a double strike from Crawford and a further goal from Bradbrook gave the Darts a 3-1 victory. Another Crawford strike saw the Darts take the lead against Cambridge, but an equaliser on half-time levelled the match. The Darts were under a lot of pressure towards the end of the match, but two superb saves by Bettinelli ensured that the points would be shared in the 1-1 draw in the final match of 2012. 

    The first match of 2013 was the reverse of the Boxing Day fixture against Ebbsfleet United, and the Darts drew first blood with a Jon Wallis strike, before Crawford doubled the lead early in the second half. However, the two goal cushion didn’t last more than a few minutes before the Fleet clawed a goal back, followed by a last gasp equaliser with the last kick of the match. This was a theme in the next match as well, a trip to Alfreton Town. The Darts took the lead through Hayes and Collier, but a last minute winner for the home side scuppered any hope of at least a point away from home. The Darts were unfortunate in the match, however, with a goal ruled out for a dubious offside call, followed by a Crawford shot which hit the inside of the post and somehow contrived to avoid crossing the line. 

    Further FA Trophy progress halted the league campaign as the Darts progressed to the Quarter Finals with a 4-2 victory over Bromley; the goals coming from Burns, Crawford and a double on the debut of Dagenham and Redbridge loanee, Dominic Green. The first league victory of 2013 came days later against Macclesfield Town, with goals coming from Wallis and Noble either side of half-time (Noble’s being within 30 seconds of coming on as a substitute). Following this match, the Darts then had an enforced break of just over two weeks following a severe burst of winter weather. In this period, Harry Crawford left the club to join Barnet on a three year contract. The Darts’ next match was a long away trip to FC Halifax Town in the FA Trophy Quarter Final. Previously scheduled for Saturday, the match was postponed both then and on the following Tuesday, but after a huge effort from the Shaymen’s ground-staff, the match was hastily re-arranged for the next day, the Wednesday. 47 hardy Dartford fans travelled to Yorkshire where the Darts were held to a 1-1 draw, despite the home team being reduced to 10 men following a first half red card for a late lunge on Mark Arber. The match started a run in which Dartford would spend the majority of their following month on the road, including the next league match, only days afterwards, at Mansfield Town. The future Champions finished the match with a 5-0 victory over the Darts, which was probably a tad harsh on Dartford. 

    A combination of the Darts’ FA Trophy run and some appalling weather in the first three months of 2013 caused many postponements resulting in a number of mid-week matches. Barrow had to make the long journey south in March and stole the points with a penalty in a 1-0 victory. Here, The following day, Dartford took on FC Halifax Town in the Quarter Final replay of the FA Trophy, with a semi-final showdown against Grimsby Town for the winners. The Shaymen took the lead after only two minutes but Dartford turned the game around with two quick-fire goals in the second half before Hayes looked to seal the match. However, the visitors scored a late goal to unsettle the Darts, but ultimately, Bradbrook’s late missed penalty did not affect the result, and the Darts would be contesting a first FA Trophy Semi-Final in over 20 years. Another Saturday, and another away journey was on the cards for Dartford, with a trip to Lincoln beckoning. The Darts conceded early, but equalised towards the end of the match through Noble. However, the Darts’ curse of conceding late struck again with a last minute penalty converted by the Imps to give them the 2-1 victory. However, the Darts managed to get their league campaign back on track with a 1- 0 victory over Luton Town at Princes Park in the following midweek. A curling Hayes strike from outside of the penalty area gave the Darts the victory, and complete their first (and last) double of the season. 

    It was a journey back up the M1 for the Darts on the following Saturday as they prepared for their FA Trophy Semi Final first leg against Grimsby Town. Two supporters’ coaches travelled up to Lincolnshire to follow the Darts in their quest for glory. A returning Harry Crawford, back on loan from Barnet, came into the squad. The Darts ultimately travelled home with their hopes dashed, as the Mariners won 3-0. Grimsby had taken the lead in the first half, but Dartford were fighting back strongly in the second until two goals in three minutes effectively took the tie away from us. The home leg followed at Princes Park, and despite the previous week’s result, Dartford put up a sterling effort, but a resolute defensive performance meant that the 0-0 draw gained would see Grimsby heading to Wembley, and left the Darts wondering what might have been. 

    With the cup run over, it was back to the important business of league football, and a crowded schedule of nine matches in March – the side were playing twice a week that month. An away trip to Southport started the month, and it was another example of the Darts’ last minute woes as Southport grabbed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw. It could have been worse, as an even later winner was ruled out for offside. Three days later came another draw, this time at home to relegation-threatened Stockport County. The visitors took the lead early in the match, but a Harris close-range finish saw Dartford claim a share of the spoils. The Darts were then scheduled to play Wrexham three days later on the Friday night, live on television, but an afternoon of torrential rain saw the match postponed. However, due to some excellent work on the pitch by the ground-staff, the match was able to be played at 1pm the next day (unfortunately not televised). The visitors, as was the case against Stockport, took the lead but a second half fight back saw on-loan midfielder Jack Evans equalise for the Darts. As time wore on, Dartford battled hard and, as was the case at the Racecourse earlier in the season, a late goal changed the complexion of the match as Bradbrook headed home a stoppage time winner to hand the Darts three points. 

    With a further postponement of the Braintree Town home match due to freezing conditions, the next game the side had was an away trip to Hyde. However, this was possibly the lowest point of the season as the team slumped to a 3-0 defeat in Greater Manchester. The following Tuesday, the side lost again, this time to Barrow. However, as sometimes is the case, this match turned on a single point in the first half where the referee decided not to send off a Barrow defender when the decision looked clear-cut. With the end of the transfer window approaching, moves were afoot to shuffle the pack. Joining the Darts on loan deals were Jason Prior, from AFC Wimbledon and ex-Dart Charlie Sheringham from AFC Bournemouth. Prior’s debut came against Barrow, whereas Sheringham’s second debut would be in the next match, taking on Gateshead. The first half was a dour affair, but the game was changed in the second half with the introduction of Ryan Hayes. Within three minutes of his appearance, Hayes had scored the opening goal, followed by his second only six minutes later. The result was put beyond doubt four minutes from time when Hayes set up Sheringham. The congested month of March continued with an away trip to Hereford United on a freezing Tuesday night. 

    Marcus Bettinelli had been recalled by Fulham from his loan, so Wells returned to the side. Despite Wells’ first half penalty save, the Darts went on to lose 1-0. However, in the course of this match, Wells injured ankle ligaments which left the Darts without an experienced goalkeeper. Prior to the next match, a trip to Newport County on Easter Saturday, Tony Burman managed to bring in a further loan signing from Fulham, Hungarian ‘keeper Csaba Somogyi. Somogyi made his debut in the 0-0 draw in Wales, in which he made two good saves to keep the clean sheet. With the Easter break meaning a second match in three days, the Darts were keen to make amends for their defeat at Woking early in the season with the reverse fixture. Collier gave the Darts a lead early on, but Woking managed to level before Noble, the villain in the away match, gave the Darts the lead again just before half-time. Sheringham scored on the hour to effectively seal the win, but Lee Noble ended the match with a flourish, scoring a 30 yard free kick into the top corner to give the Darts a 4-1 win. 

    In the week following Easter, the Darts sent a mixed side across to local side Phoenix Sports to open their new stand, before travelling to relegated AFC Telford United on the Saturday. Goals from Prior and Sheringham, gave the Darts their first away victory since November 2012. In the following week, Grimsby Town and Braintree both visited Princes Park in what would be the busiest week of the season, but the Darts would only gain one point from the six available as Grimsby took all three points in a 2-1 win, and the Darts and the Iron would play out a goalless draw, with both sides looking jaded. With only three matches remaining, the Darts would travel to Stockport County on the Saturday before heading off to Gloucestershire on the Tuesday to take on Forest Green Rovers. A lone goal from Sheringham sealed the victory against Stockport in front of 6,113 fans, leaving them perilously close to relegation (confirmed a week later). A third consecutive away win on the Tuesday night at Forest Green Rovers saw the Darts move above the Gloucestershire outfit with a 3-2 win (Harris and Bradbrook (two) were the scorers. The final match of the season against Nuneaton Town was a celebration of a great first season back in non-league’s highest division, but the result went against us as the visitors edged the match 1-0. Lee Burns won a clean sweep of the awards, presented on the pitch after the match, before the celebrations continued long into the evening at Princes Park.