Battling Blues Go Down At The Last.
Written by Andrew Madaras, Pictures by Steve Lewington.
The season closed with Dunstable Town finishing on the wrong end of a 3 – 0 scoreline away at promotion chasing Sutton Coldfield Town and relegation from the Evo-Stik Southern League after a five year stay which has left some fond and lasting memories. Charlie Henry’s shorts dropping goal celebrations, the magnificent sportsmanship showed by Hereford FC fans at Edgar Street as they gave our lads a standing ovation at full time, Daniel Trif’s goal at Biggleswade and the ensuing team celebration. I could go on with personal favourites aplenty but not today. Needing a win to be “pretty certain” of avoiding the drop, Dunstable found themselves on successive Saturdays a goal down with less than 3 minutes on the clock. A deep corner from the right being cleverly worked back to the foot of James Hurst which gave Connor Coulson no chance. Dunstable needed a swift response and a goal back but found Sutton Coldfield to be in no mood for charity despite having found themselves in the ubiquitous position of knowing that even if they win the play offs they will not be promoted into Step 3 next season, given the points per game system enacted as the FA goes about restructuring the pyramid. Sutton Coldfield were well organised, had an efficient game plan and restricted Dunstable’s offensive plans to half chances despite seeing plenty of the ball and playing some attractive pass and move football. There was no disgrace in losing yesterday to a team who were strong all over the park and rightly won the 3 points. On 5 minutes Sutton Coldfield striker Jon Letford hit the post but Dunstable came back into the game after this shaky start and tried to impose their own style of play. A well worked move involving six players ended with Erin Amu producing a good save from Lewis Williams. Dunstable kept plugging away looking for gaps in the Sutton Coldfield back line but finding precious little opportunity to exploit. A tall order became even harder when Sutton Coldfield broke quickly and with devastating clinical efficiency on the half hour for Letford to make up for his earlier chance and put Sutton Coldfield two up. With the strong wind at their backs Sutton Coldfield pressed hard for a third before the break. Connor Coulson was on top form and made several fine saves to keep them out, Joe Mead, assured and composed, cleared another off the line. Half time came with news that North Leigh were ahead against Champions, Peterborough Sports, but both Kidlington and Aylesbury were behind. Maybe a draw might be enough for safety then if Aylesbury lost and the FA were to offer a reprieve for finishing in 19th position. Whatever the permutations one thing was certain though, Dunstable needed a minimum of two goals in the second half. And they gave it their all. No complaints of lack of effort or of “not turning up”. While there was plenty of possession again in the second half the compact Sutton Coldfield midfield and back line proved too strong on the day. Shots from Davide Pobbe and Erin Amu were dealt with efficiently and on the hour mark Ryan Nesbitt for Sutton Coldfield hit the woodwork again. Two minute later though Reece Gibson hammered a loose ball home and that was that. Gaffer, Gareth Jackson, used all three substitutes, Charlie Black for Chris Wreh, George Naismith for Davide Pobbe and Marius Patru for Folabo Agunbiade, but to no avail. Consensus of opinion was that Ben Collins was the DTFC Man of The Match, although pressed hard by Alex Taylor & Connor Coulson. So the curtain came down on the season and our fate was sealed. It will be Step 5 football next season. We wait to find out where the FA place us, although it would be unusual if it were not in the Spartan South Midlands League. We will of course be saying our goodbyes to some players who will move on and grace the turf of rival clubs, and some players will stay and represent us again next season. To every single one of them, stayers or leavers, we can only stand and applaud their efforts, individually and collectively, and say thank you for your effort, commitment and devotion to the cause this season. To you, our fans, thank you for your loyal support and doing your bit to help keep the Club alive, two years after we were within hours of folding. It’s not been an easy watch at times this season but without you, we might as well all call it a day and go home. I’m tempted to say it was ever going to be thus. The harsh reality of football economics dictate that money, as often as not, buys success. And we, as a Club, have to make do and get by on limited means. This is not a complaint but merely a statement of fact. Without recourse to bar and food takings on match days, without a clubhouse to call our own to generate income, and a fan base which this season has averaged approximately 100 home supporters, there is simply not enough income to generate a playing budget which enables Gareth to offer wages to players he believes can strengthen the squad. The flip side of the coin is that we don’t have to worry about the upkeep of a stadium, employing groundstaff, or the costs of complying with ground grading regulations. Swings and roundabouts. Behind the scenes are committee members trying to secure more revenue streams, sell more advertising boards, arrange more fund raising events but it is an uphill herculean task. There is no single easy answer. More supporters would be nice, and yes of course there will be supporters who return when they see a winning team on the pitch but even at Step 3, apart from last season, buoyed by the likes of Hereford, Gosport, Slough, Hitchin & Kettering, average attendances over the three seasons were only 20 to 30 people higher than this season at Step 4. The Club this season, more so than at any other time that I can remember, to try and increase income has helped organise a fundraising charity football match, run two race nights, a quiz night and a film night, operated a 12th Man scheme, a weekly 100 Club draw, sold 50 – 50 tickets, sought online funding to share with Mind, taken a players’ wages bucket around the ground, and in so doing has helped the Club get through the season. Be under no illusion though, while our gratitude to each and every one of you who has supported us by participating in those events is infinite, the very sad truth is they are not sufficiently well supported, do not produce enough income, and there are simply too few of “us” (fans) to be ever able to do more than paper over the cracks of trying to run a semi-professional football club. The last two seasons have proved that conclusively and a change of some sort is inevitable and imperative. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has tried harder or put the hours in than Gareth Jackson has in trying to keep the Club at Step 4. His attention to detail, his preparation and planning has been meticulous. His twice weekly coaching and training sessions for the players are tough and demanding. He stepped up to the plate when Tony left and has given it his absolute everything. He has been well supported by Coaches Colin Lauder, Val Qoku, and Physiotherapist, Seana O’Reilly and Josh Kent earlier this season. All five individuals have been a genuine pleasure to work with and we hope very much that they take some much needed time off, recharge their batteries and come back ready for next season’s campaign refreshed, revitalised and raring to go. Before that you might like to watch Tyler Dunnell’s Under 18’s go head to head with Wayne Upton’s U 16’s in a “bragging rights” friendly at Creasey Park on Tuesday 7th May, kick off 7 45 pm, Admission is free. Tyler has helped Ben Lincoln progress into the Development Team as well as justifiably been called up into the Development Team on his own merit, while Wayne coaches some incredibly gifted and talented young men who look as though they have bright futures ahead of them. It should be a cracking good game. Please come and show your support for the budding stars of tomorrow. For now, our thanks again to all of the players, managers, coaches, physios, and all of you for your wonderful support. It’s always darkest before the dawn. One Club. One Family. Dunstable Town.