I was on my way to Torquay for my summer holiday when our Press Officer, Steve Lewington, rang me and described in glorious technicolour detail Chris Stapleton’s worldie away at Unite MK in our first away pre- season friendly. I’ve seen some absolute corkers in the 10 or so years I’ve spent watching Dunstable Town but watching the goal that evening on edited highlights made me curse my holiday plans. Fancy missing that just to go on holiday. I obviously needed to have a word with myself!
A Luke Little hat trick a week before against the 61FC on the Creasey Park 3g and a first Davide Pobbe goal gave cause for optimism after the disappointment and heartache of relegation from the Southern League despite everyone’s best efforts to avoid a second successive relegation.
It’s hard not to take these things personally. There comes a period of reflection and soul searching. Did we as a fan’s run club do absolutely everything within our means to support the managers, coaches and playing staff? Were we as a collective of former white and blue collar workers up to the job of running a semi professional football club? Had we made the right appointments ? These were questions individually and collectively that we asked ourselves and fans naturally asked of us.
It’s in the DNA of every football fan up and down the country and across the world to think they know the best team selections, formations and tactics. First and foremost every single member of our thirteen string committee is a fan of the Club, and in that respect we are no different to other supporters except the buck stops fairly and squarely with us.
Like eager children waiting for Christmas we counted down the days (literally!) until pre season training started at Kingsbury Park in June. Some familiar faces but many unfamiliar faces and new names to get to know all needing to fit the precise criteria our management team look for in player recruitment.
The best bit of news over the summer was the commitment Gareth Jackson made to stay at the Club and try and steady the ship. To work alongside him Gareth bought in Ryan Sturges who had only recently hung up his boots but bought with him a wealth of knowledge and contacts in the local non league community. Rory McMullen came in as goal keeping coach and Tasos Psarras took up his duties as the man with the magic sponge on the touchline.
Competitive games versus Ampthill, Leighton Town and away at Winslow all prepared us for what we knew would be a tough season ahead. A final pre season away at North Leigh who were rivals on the field but friends off it from the previous season, demonstrated the bond and camaraderie that exists between our two clubs.
Game Day. August 3rd. The waiting was over. Creasey Park held it’s collective breath in eager anticipation. A healthy crowd of 120 matching last season’s average came to witness events unfold. Opponents Broadfields United had been promoted from Spartan Division 1 and showed why with a professional performance which was worthy of all three points. The day also saw the arrival of sin bins and the FA’s determination to reduce incidence of on field dissent. We knew our boys could do better and so they proved with a morale boosting win at home to Baldock Town three days later. Points on the board and some smiles on face
Those smiles were still there four days later when we entertained Chipping Sodbury Town in the Extra Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup. Our visitors had travelled from the outskirts of Bristol. A 3 – 2 victory was not only the second time the Club had been able to celebrate back to back victories in more than two seasons but brought with it prize money and another home draw against Shortwood United.
In between those games an away defeat at table topping Colney Heath and a hat trick for ex AFC man Courtney Massey for Division 1 St. Panteleimon knocked us out of the League Challenge Trophy. It was a big night for Development Team keeper Ben Lincoln who had such a fine season last time out and acquitted himself admirably on his First Team debut in difficult circumstances.
Due to AFC Dunstable also being drawn at home in the Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup we played our match v Gloucestershire side Shortwood United on Sunday 25th August. A rousing 4 – 1 victory in the hot sun was watched by a bumper crowd of over 150 who raised the roof with each goal and news of Ben Stokes’ match winning knock of 135 not out at Headingley in the Test match. The importance of the prize money of over £5K from just these two matches cannot be overstated for a Club of our size. As tenants of Creasey Park we pay a five figure sum each season and for that we are graced with one of the best pitches at ours and AFC’s levels, 3G training facilities, and no worries about costs of repairs, replacing floodlight bulbs or re seeding pitches every year. But the flip side of the coin is that with no income on match days other than gate receipts and sales of 50 – 50 tickets, programmes and badges, we struggle to make ends meet. That we have done so now for the third successive season is thanks to you our supporters for sticking loyally by us, to our wonderful sponsors, our informal commercial team, and to initiatives like the 100 Club and Junior Blues and to Dudley Peacham our Treasurer who keeps the books balanced.
Sadly the FA Cup run came to an abrupt end at home two weeks later when Bishops Stortford came to town and sailed into a four goal lead by half time. If whatever Gareth & Ryan said at half time could be bottled and sold the Club would be rich as back came the Blues and scored three times to make it a tense and nail biting finale. The game also saw a season ending injury to Kai McArthur who had shown so much promise in the early part of the season.
AFC Hayes knocked us out of the FA Vase at the first hurdle but then came back to back victories and solid performances against Potton Utd and Edgware Town. A last gasp winner for Oxhey Jets away was followed by a narrow 1 – 0 home win v Wembley, who could consider themselves unlucky to have left Creasey Park with nothing.
Two more consecutive games at Creasey Park and two defeats at the hands of Newport Pagnell and Arlesey who both bagged four goals as did AFC Dunstable a week later in the Beds Senior Cup. In between was an away match at Tring and a more solid defensive performance, well worthy of a point until a cheeky lob out of nowhere beat Dan Gould on his debut and gave Tring all three points.
An excellent backs to the wall winning performance away on Tuesday 29th October at Harefield in the Premier Division Cup was the first of three matches at Prenton Park, which proved to be something of a lucky ground for the Blues with two wins and a draw against The Hares and their ground sharing tenants Broadfields Utd.
If Prenton Park was to prove to be the lucky ground last season, the bogey team had to be Leverstock Green. The local non league scene had mourned the sudden death a year ago of Chairman, Match Secretary & Bar Manager Graham Smart who personified the word gentleman and served the Club he loved for may years. His daughter, Emma, has taken over from her father and must look forward to playing us as in three games last season The Green were victorious in all of them. In a scintillating 30 minutes away at high flying Biggleswade United on the 9th November Dunstable stormed to a two goal lead and crucially had a diving header from Luke Little chalked off for offside. Ultimately Biggleswade salvaged a draw and a further draw against Harpenden Town showed the Team was not that far away from being able to grind out results and get points on the table.
An eagle eyed Assistant Referee spotted an infringement and disallowed what would have been a match winning goal from Sam McClelland for Crawley Green in a 0 – 0 draw following newly titled Aylesbury Vale Dynamos 1 – 0 win at Creasey Park earlier in the week.
In truth October and November were difficult months for Gareth, Ryan and the players. The reasons why are sometimes difficult to pinpoint but it took two months from the home win against Wembley on October 5th for the Club to taste League victory again away at London Colney on December 7th. A sequence of nine League games brought a return of only three points.
The end of November saw Gareth & Ryan act swiftly to address the loss of form and appoint Ivan Arapov to the coaching team. Uefa B qualified Ivan had tasted championship winning success at London Colney and although SSML rules did not allow him to be in the technical area on match days his influence and experience helped guide the Club to it’s best points per game sequence for the remainder of the season.
In the space of ten minutes between 4 45 and 4 55 pm on the 7th December at London Colney my emotions went from near despair to unadulterated extasy as two injury time goals gave the Blues victory against the League’s bottom placed Club, who despite their lowly position and difficulties off the field were perfect hosts who came to our rescue and loaned us their socks as we did not have enough of our own. The recent news that there will be no relegation and promotion between the leagues is undoubtedly good news for London Colney who I hope are able to regroup over the long lay off ahead and enable us to repay some of the sportsmanship they showed that day.
The sweet taste of victory deserted us until the 21st January when the players gave a wonderful account of themselves in a 2 – 1 victory at Crawley Green followed up by one of the performances of the season in a 5 – 2 demolition of Oxhey Jets. The win at Crawley Green marked a milestone in the career of Regimental & fan favourite, Daniel Trif who played his 100th competitive appearance for the Blues. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Daniel so suffice to say Daniel, we thank you for everything you have done for the Club. Here’s to the next 100 !
Sandwiched in between was a narrow loss away at Eynesbury, who have one of the best if not the best playing surfaces in the League. There was a season’s best attendance of 234 for the post Christmas derby v Leighton Town on December 28th. The weather played havoc with the fixtures with the Club only able to play six competitive fixtures in December and January.
The Club’s final seven matches brought 14 points from a run of four wins, two draws and only one defeat. That sequence of an average of two points per game had it continued would have lifted us into a final projected position of 10th which overall would have reflected the season pretty accurately.
Wins in the last four matches of the season against Harefield and Eynesbury, a draw which felt more like a defeat away at Broadfields, and a performance away at Edgware which merited a point showed the Team was on the up and should have finished the season strongly had the run continued.
Gareth, Ryan & Ivan, all deserve much credit for their achievements over the season. The style of football they like to play has won many plaudits from fans, opposition and match officials. They kept their heads and their faith in themselves even when Lady Luck deserted them. They have assembled a tight knit squad of players with an average age of 21 who I truly believe if they chose to stay with us for next season will have us pushing for promotion next season. Exciting times lie ahead.
Our thanks also to all of the players who have worn our shirt this season and to Rory, Wayne & Tasos for all of their selfless hard work.
Before that though comes many weeks of social distancing, self isolation and shielding. Please be safe and look after yourselves & your loved ones. We thank every single one of you for your support and hope to see you again whenever the next season starts.
One Club. One Family. Dunstable Town.