Written by Andrew Madaras
Photos by Chris White and Liam Smith
Tuesday, August 3rd & an evening kick-off under the Creasey Park lights with the visit of new boys to the SSML, MK Irish. A lot of reading up to do to bring myself up to date with their history and like most of our fans I’m full of optimism for a successful season. During the summer break, the Club became a Community Benefit Society and expectations are high that we’d create some news on the field as well as off it.
The best laid plans of mice and men. The men from Bletchley haven’t read the script. A pretty miserable evening turned on a red card for Matt Ellis and a viral clip of our steward escorting Matt from the pitch gets over 26,000 views and a mention on Sky Sports. A four nil home defeat was not how we’d expected the match to end. On the positive side, the gate was 138.
5 days later and the opportunity to quickly forget Tuesday night and bask in the magic of the Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round. North Greenford Utd are the visitors to Creasey Park. It’s a glorious summer day. A new venture of providing different football food to tempt the tastebuds and waistlines showcases Clovis’ culinary delights as Jamaica Mi Crazy sell jerk chicken, curried goat and rice ‘n peas like there’s no tomorrow. Drew Phillips powers us ahead in the first few minutes, but the wheels come off and another heavy defeat follows, this time it’s 1 – 5.
This is the second successive year that the FA have cut the prize money for the Emirates FA Cup by half compared to pre-covid levels. As the losing side, we will receive just £375. Had we won the prize money would have been £1,125 and another home tie with even bigger sums of money at stake. Losing cup games is an expensive business.
A week later and we travel south on the M1 to Leverstock Green. The management team strengthened the defence with the signing of Bobby Armstrong from London Colney and the return of John Sonuga. Dan Gould is still unavailable so St Albans City loan signing, Mo Elmasry is between the sticks.
It’s a pretty straightforward 3 – 0 win for the home side but we compete and never give up.
Hadley come to town on the Tuesday night. Despite three successive defeats the crowd is still loyal and give the team their support. Dan Gould returns in goal. A much better performance but another defeat albeit a narrow 1 – 0 to a side who will get promoted at the end of the season.
Risborough Rangers are next. A decent second half performance and a goal from Tyler Fry. Complimentary comments from the Risborough management team on our performance and then it’s off up the A505 to Leighton for a Tuesday night match against our local rivals.
It’s a decent performance alright but not rewarded with goals or points, and Leighton get all three points with a comfortable 2 – 0 victory.
British Airways FC are next on the 11th of September in the First Round Qualifying of the FA Vase. Not surprisingly their ground borders Heathrow Airport. Goals from Simon Richards and Dan Trif look to have been enough to get what would be an important morale boosting win. The referee plays 8 minutes of stoppage time and with almost the last kick of the game the home side equalize and end up going through to the next round on penalties.
We earn just £160 from the prize fund kitty. We’re bottom of the League and now out of both FA prize-winning competitions. Played 7 and lost 7 is not the start we’d expected or planned for. Fortunately, Matt had budgeted conservatively and had not included any prize money in the budget forecast.
Make no mistake, this hurt all of us and none more so than Gareth, Ivan & Anthony who had worked so hard on the coaching side of things.
A bit too early to describe Baldock’s visit on Tuesday 14th September as a “6 pointer” but this was bottom (us) v next bottom (Baldock) and a season low 87 diehards witnessed the away side outperform us and we say goodbye to First Team Manager, Gareth Jackson, who submits his resignation. One of the fans and Club officials who helped rescue the Club back in 2017, Gareth deserves all our thanks and gratitude for everything he did for the Club.
Anthony Christophi takes over as Caretaker Manager at just 24 years old. And of course, as fate would have it goes on to win his first two matches in charge.
Harpenden are his first scalp. Goals from Tyler Fry and Gary Jones in front of a crowd of 149 is quickly followed by a first clean sheet away at Tring where a Dan Trif back post goal is enough to lift the Club off the bottom spot. A second half floodlight failure threatens to end proceedings prematurely but thankfully the game re-starts, and the points return to Creasey Park.
Applications flood in for the vacant Head Coach position. Overseas applicants with Champions League experience as part of Mourinho’s backroom staff apply but don’t speak English. LinkedIn is a wonderful invention but I think it has its limitations for Step 5 appointments. We know better next time!
MK Irish dent Anthony’s 100% win percentage as they do enough to beat us on home turf, 3 – 1 on Saturday 25th September.
Applicants for the Head Coach position number well over 20. It’s a thankless task to shortlist only 5 or 6 when there are so many suitably qualified and experienced applicants.
Interviews are held on Saturday 2nd October at the Holiday Inn Express.
Joe Deeney is offered the post and accepts it. He’ll be supported by Kyle Durcan. With National League South experience at Oxford City and Hemel Hempstead, Joe is the man we trust with turning our aspirations into reality.
His first test is away at Harefield. There’s a good away following. This is the opportunity “Gareth’s players” have to show they have the skill, the character, personal attributes and hunger to succeed that Joe seeks in all his players.
Harefield run out 4 – 0 winners and only Dan Gould, Dan Trif & Dylan Baker from the line-up that day stay with the Club for the remainder of the season.
New names appear on the teamsheet for the Tuesday night visit of Aylesbury Vale Dynamos. Joe’s men. Players he knows and trusts. A battling performance and worthy of a point, but ultimately another loss, but a very healthy crowd of 148 shows Deeney & Durcan’s appointment has sparked a lot of interest.
Then at the third time of asking an away day victory at the home of Rayners Lane FC on the 16th October, where Broadfields Utd groundshare. A very impressive facility and a very impressive performance. Joe Sellers-West opens the scoring, Kwazim Theodore executes an absolute beauty and despite the home side making a strong come back with Theodore shown a straight red, we hang on and run out deserved winners.
And it’s no fluke. Leighton Town visit on Tuesday night. The gate is 435 and Creasey Park is hit by staff shortages and is unable to serve any food. Jamaica Mi Crazy sells out of salt fish and ackees, chicken wings and patties. A 1-1 draw is a fair result in an absorbing contest.
It’s the highest gate since Hereford came to town in February 2018 and Creasey Park rocked with two sets of passionate and well-behaved fans getting behind their teams.
Even Joe is allowed a bad day in the office (occasionally!) Flackwell Heath (a) on Halloween Eve was it. Drawing 0 – 0 at half time we imploded in the second half and shipped 5 goals in “a close your eyes and watch from behind the sofa” 45 minutes.
Terrence Muchineripi had hit the crossbar shortly before the break and I drove home wondering the imponderable “if only” question.
I learn Joe fronts up to everything. There’s no hiding and no passing the buck. You’ll have to take my word for it that not every manager or head coach accepts full responsibility when things go wrong. But Joe does and his “mea culpa” to the fans and committee was symbolic of everything that this man brings with him to the Club. Pride, professionalism and character. The same exacting standards he demands of his players, he demands of himself and his coaching staff.
We bounce back against table topping New Salamis a week later. Joe Sellers-West netted again and even though we narrowly lost against the eventual league champions, Creasey Park was abuzz with excitement and the chatter among the fans of new beginnings.
It’s not personal, but I dread going to Ampthill as we always seem to lose. Knocked out unceremoniously in the Vase the previous season I manage to jinx the result in the Challenge Trophy by assuring myself once Jimmy Hartley put us 2 – 0 up deep into the second half that victory is ours. When you have as many football superstitions as I do you know that really is the height of stupidity. It was a case of déjà vu as Ampthill equalized with the last kick of the game and then went on to win the resulting penalty kicks.
Another game against Leighton Town and additional gate receipts would have been very welcome but was not to be. Anybody who told me in an attempt to console my disappointment that we can concentrate on the League was unceremoniously removed from the Christmas Card list.
Salvation came four days later away at London Colney on the 13th of November. Five goals and three points and little do we know at the time, that this will be the start of a 14 game unbeaten run in the League which will last until 15th March.
A very narrow home win v Oxhey Jets follows the next Saturday with Joe Sellers-West netting the all important goal. Scottie excels himself with his programme which moved one of the Oxhey Jets committee to tears with his tribute to Tom Lake, one of Jets' fallen comrades in Afghanistan.
We decided two years ago that we would try and make a DTFC matchday the best football experience locally. The best programme, the best pre-match hospitality, the best choice of merchandise, the best choice of food from our partnership with Jamaica Mi Crazy, the best social media platforms and of course the best matchday atmosphere.
For the second successive year Scottie’s programmes have won awards and now have the honour (and I genuinely mean “honour”) of being ranked the 18th best programme in the whole non-league pyramid. An absolutely fantastic achievement.
The result on Tuesday night against Holmer Green bamboozled me. A very controversial late penalty spared Green’s blushes with film footage clearly showing no contact had been made, the 2 -2 draw actually felt like a defeat. I gave us the moral win despite what the record books showed!
That man Scottie was in the news again on Saturday. Along with Dean & Peter, they walked the 20kms from Creasey Park to Rothamsted Park, Harpenden to raise money for charity. There is a dramatic finale where it’s our turn to grab an equalizer in the 4th minute of stoppage time and a draw feels like a win. We climb up the table to 15th place.
Into December and it’s now four games unbeaten and the return of former Assistant Manager, Ryan Sturgess and several former Blues now playing for Tring Athletic.
There’s an above average crowd in Creasey Park on the 4th of December and an early injury to one former Blue, Adam Sawyer, makes life difficult for the away side. Dunstable capitalize on the visitor’s misfortunes and chalk up a comprehensive 3 – 0 victory. Sellers-West, Faulkner & Muchineripi score the goals which make sure I have a happy birthday.
Two weeks later and a week before Christmas, Flackwell Heath come for the return match. A very good game of football ends all square with Joe Sellers-West again finding the back of the net. It’s his 7th goal in just 12 appearances. The attendance is 201, unheard of around these parts with a week to go before Christmas.
With the Christmas fixture away at Crawley Green postponed the New Year fixture v Arlesey Town attracts a bumper crowd of 281. It’s the Deeney & Durcan effect. A good game of football ends all square at 2 -2. It’s now seven games unbeaten in the League.
Aylesbury Vale Dynamos away on the 15th of January. A great turnout from 50 or so Dunstable fans easily identifiable by their bobble hats and scarves in the crowd. J’Ardell Stirling is taken to hospital by Club Welfare Officer, Kristy Lewington following a heavy challenge.
What makes this Club so special?
The fact that Kristy drove J’Ardell over 40 miles to his home in London so that he could receive treatment closer to home if necessary. Steve bringing Remell home in the other car with George and Freddie. Thankfully J’Ardell’s injury isn’t too severe and both Stirling boys, and their car, are safely home.
“All in a day’s work for the Club Welfare Officer” Kristy will modestly tell me afterwards. I discover a strange new acronym ULEZ and file under New Salamis (a).
A Jack Percy screamer seconds away from the 90 minutes looks to have sealed all three points before the curse of the “last kick of the match” returns and sees the home side grab an equalizer. It feels like a defeat.
On Tuesday 18th January a big crowd of 365 pack into Creasey Park and watch a very polished performance from a Luton Town team featuring a mix of Youth & Academy players. Elliot Thorpe is the standout Hatter for me but it’s a good experience for Deeney’s young disciples. Luton eventually go through the gears and win 5-0.
Saturday sees our shortest distance travelled for an away match as we drive the 7 miles to the Brache and a somewhat workman like performance against Crawley Green, who themselves feature a couple of former Blues in their starting X1.
Three good goals from Creary, Sellers-West and Faulkner are enough for the three points and SSML game number 9 unbeaten.
Harefield Utd are the opposition for game number 10 unbeaten. How much Deeney & Durcan have achieved in just 15 weeks is evident for all to see. Brushed aside in a very professional way at Preston Park on October 9th, today is Dunstable’s turn to snare the Hares, with that man, Sellers-West again grabbing the all-important goal.
If I could omit the next match on the 12th February v Ardley I would do. The game finishes 1 -1 and the camaraderie in the clubhouse after the game between players, coaches and fans is a cruel antecedent to the events that occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning as committee members and supporters enjoyed some live music and each other’s company around town. That night we lost Aaron Bateman who loved this Club as much as we all do and followed us home and away in all weathers in his trademark replica shirt and leather jacket. Never a bad word to say to anyone and one of life’s gentle souls who always had a smile on his face.
The next match turned into a celebration of Aaron’s 28 years of life. Our opponents, Broadfields Utd played their part in proceedings with huge dignity. Respect to Ryan & Connor Duffy & everyone at Broadfields Utd. Thank you, gentlemen, for your friendship and sportsmanship. It will live long in our memories. The football family united.
A 3 – 0 home win was a fitting way to remember Aaron with players and coaching staff going over to Aaron’s family and friends at the final whistle to show their respect and solidarity.
The same scoreline was repeated a week later when London Colney visited. A heroic goalkeeping performance from the away keeper kept the score respectable. Remell Stirling scoring on his debut. A crowd of 214 demonstrated there really was a resurgence in home support not seen for many years.
The Club’s transformation to a Community Benefit Society in the summer had also created a lot of excitement and saw a return to Creasey Park of old supporters and some new supporters.
Arlesey Town away were the final opponents on the 14 game unbeaten run. Goals from Joe Sellers-West and an audacious volley from distance from Kyle Faulkner saw the Blues return home with another clean sheet and three more precious points. 30 points from 14 games is a very decent return and was made up of 8 wins and 6 draws.
Kyle was on the score sheet early on in the next game away at Hadley on the 15th of March. A proverbial tale of two halves saw the home side score three quick goals in the second half and for the first time in three months, we tasted League defeat but at least it is from the comfort of a very respectable mid table position.
New Salamis will be remembered for the players’ post-match sandwiches. Or rather the lack of them. Although the siege we laid to their goal in the second half before they secured victory with a break away third goal will have pleased many of the travelling away support. Remell Stirling showed the benefits of never giving up with a very well taken solo goal.
A winning penalty from Joe Mead was enough to knock Arlesey Town out of the Premier Division Cup on the 22nd March. The game had finished 1 – 1 at the end of 90 minutes. Kelvin Osei-Addo turned on a sixpence in the box and hammered an unstoppable shot to put the Blues 1 up in the first half. The second period was war of attrition like with the drama of penalties coming at the end of 90 minutes.
A battling performance saw us edge past Leverstock Green 2 – 1 on the 26th March. Dylan Baker deservedly got on the scoresheet with Remell grabbing the other. It’s a third successive attendance over 200.
Another trip to Arlesey on Tuesday night. This time it’s to play against Baldock Town who groundshare at the New Lamb Meadow.
It’s a difficult watch but the boys dig in and grind out a useful point. Dan Gould is the Blues hero with three excellent saves.
A decent first half away at Holmer Green on the 2nd of April really should have seen us out of sight by half time. Dan Naylor’s wicked free kick though was the only advantage we took into the half time break. A very poor second half saw the home side punish us and the large away support struggle to comprehend what they’ve just witnessed. Filed for future reference under Flackwell Heath/back of the sofa/eyes closed.
A second consecutive defeat is inflicted by Risborough Rangers three days later but injuries to key personnel have not helped so the comprehensive away win at Oxhey Jets on the 9th of April is most welcome. Joe Mead scores a brace with Benji Crilley heading home a third on the far post.
Crawley Green overturn the form book and deservedly get all three points on the 16th of April and then on Thursday night Ardley Utd are too good and too strong and win comprehensively 4 – 1 in the Premier Division Cup.
Less than 48 hours later though a large travelling contingent celebrates Jack Percy’s injury time winner at Ardley Utd to see the season complete and a well-oiled singalong on the coach home. 17-year-old debutant Axel Piesold is Man of The Match.
Injuries clearly adversely affected performances in the latter part of the season but for the team to challenge for honours next season there will need to be greater strength in depth.
As it’s football which brings us together it was only right that the Club came together as one to stand in solidarity with Ian & Charlotte.
They would do the same for every single one of us. We, therefore, look ahead to the new season with Aaron’s favourite Idles lyric always in our thoughts and hearts.
“In spite of it all, life is beautiful”
Aaron Bateman RIP.