By Gerry PrewettOn Saturday Bristol Rovers take a trip around the M25 to the border of Kent to face Dartford for the very first time at Princes Park.
The Darts are currently in 22nd spot in the Conference 8 points away from safety. They are in a poor run of form, having lost their last 5 League games, the last of those a 6-1 thumping at Dover.
It is somewhat ironic that their last game was a 2-2 draw at home to Halifax in the FA Trophy (a team who had just beaten them 2-1 in Kent in the previous home game). The Darts were 2-0 down when Boss Tony Burman decided to throw on long-serving winger Ryan Hayes as a half-time substitute for Peter Sweeney.
He scored direct from a corner, for the second time this season, right at the start of the half to put the home team back in the game. His dangerous set-piece deliveries put the Yorkshire team on the back foot, with Rory McAuley scoring late to keep Dartford in the Trophy.
After the game Burman said: "At 2-0 down, it was made for Ryan to come on and do something like that. He came on and caused a few problems although we probably didn’t get the ball out to him as much as we could have done. He’s good at dead ball situations and he’s come on and done OK.
"You need that little bit of good fortune or luck. I wasn’t too sure if it went straight in or if someone else has put it in but he’s put a decent corner in. He played alright against Halifax when we played them before but they went tight on him in the second half so he couldn’t get any crosses in. He’s got to learn that sort of thing but he’s done alright."
Looking back at the foundations of the club Dartford Football Club was formed in early 1888 by members of the Dartford Workingmen's club and for the first few seasons, played only friendly fixtures with the occasional cup game. A run to the final of the Kent Senior cup in 1894 encouraged the club committee to enter Dartford as a Founder-Member of the Kent League for the 1894-95 season. It was in October 1895 that Dartford first played in the FA Cup.
Two seasons later Dartford became Founder-Members of the Southern League, Division Two winning the Championship at the first attempt. Over the next few seasons Dartford fluctuated between the Southern and Kent Leagues but a financial crisis in the early 1900s saw the club drift down to the West Kent League.
Dartford gained a reputation nationally by becoming the first club outside the Football League to reach the FA Cup Third Round Proper in successive seasons. In 1935-36 Dartford lost to a star studded Derby County (then second in Division One) by 3-2 at the Baseball Ground having at one time led by 2-0. The following season saw Dartford lose 0-1 at home to Darlington at the same stage.
In the wake of the Bradford fire and the Hillsborough disaster Dartford, like so many clubs, needed to either re-locate or upgrade their current facilities with the Board going for the latter option. Large sums of money were spent on planning and design fees, which burdened a manageable financial deficit with crippling interest charges.
At the same time Maidstone United, who had sold their own ground, needed a suitable home to launch their ill-fated foray into the Football League and the Dartford board agreed to let Maidstone ground-share at Watling Street, the rent income providing a welcome boost for finances.
Within a few years Maidstone had gone into liquidation, most of their cash being taken up to gain the eagerly-sought Football League place. Ground improvements, which Maidstone United has paid for, were sold to Dartford at a cost (around £500,000), which pushed Darts' debts beyond manageable proportions. Watling Street was sold to pay off creditors and Dartford withdrew from the Southern League four games into the 1992-93 season.
In the May 1996 came the welcome news that Dartford had gained promotion to the Dr Martens sponsored Southern League, exactly one hundred years after the club first entered that competition.
Off the field, Princes Park was taking shape and the first game was played on 11 November 2006 when the Darts entertained Horsham YMCA in the Ryman League.
A capacity crowd of 4,100(all tickets sold in 3 weeks), we won 4-2 with Brendon Cass having the honour of scoring the first goal after 10 minutes.
After finishing as champions of the Isthmian League Division One North in the 2007–08 season, they competed in the Isthmian League Premier Division. They finished in 8th position in their first season (2008–09). They were crowned champions of the Isthmian League Premier Division in their second season (2009–10), and started playing in the Conference South from the 2010–11 season. That season they finished in 10th place, but once again gained promotion at the second attempt in 2011–12, by winning the play off final, after finishing second in the table earning them promotion to the Conference Premier.
They finished 8th in their first season but had a poor 2013–14 season and finished 22nd, relegating them to the Conference South after two years. However, Salisbury City were demoted to the Conference South on 13 June 2014 after missing a deadline for paying their debts. With Hereford United having already been expelled from the Football Conference for the same reason, Dartford therefore became the second team (alongside Chester) to be reprieved from relegation.
Earlier this season Rovers entertained the Darts and had a narrow 1-0 home win to extend their unbeaten run to 8 games.
Dartford came to the Mem with a great physical presence committing fouls on Adam Cunnington and Stuart Sinclair and it was that physical energy that was their downfall. Adam Cunnington picked the ball up in the Darts area and had his shirt pulled by Rory McAuley and referee Andy Hopkins had no choice to point to the spot.
Matty Taylor stepped up to take the penalty and drove his spot kick low and to the goalkeeper’s left hand side. Jason Brown got a hand on the shot but the ball still found the back of the net.
Substitute Ryan Hayes came on to take the corner and picked out Luke Daley in the area who’s header came crashing back off of the underside of the crossbar before Rovers could clear the danger.
The Darts who have an average home attendance of about 1,250 are preparing for one of its biggest days this weekend. The news of Rovers 2,000 strong following has many clubs rubbing their hands with glee.
Manager Tony Burman said: “Playing Bristol Rovers is a great opportunity for us and it’s good for the club. It’s what this league is all about. Luton was the same last year, and Cambridge. We only used to play those sort of clubs in cup competitions and to now be alongside them, it shows how far we have come.”
“The atmosphere will be great and sooner or later, we’ve got to beat one of these big clubs. I hope it’s sooner. The players want to play in these games. They get a boost from the atmosphere and I hope it’s our turn to get a result. We played Bristol Rovers earlier in the season and we were unlucky not to come away with som