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Saturday 29th June 2013 ko 15.00

Pre-Season Friendly


DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE 4 (Dennis 21 Elito 40p Goldburg 75 Gale 85)

Att 301

Entry £8

Programme £2

With a mere 15 minutes to drive the six or so miles from Faversham to Whitstable I was pleased and thankful to have Martin Bamforth behind the wheel. We were fortunate, the roads were kind to us, but I was grateful to Whitstable programme editor Andy Short for reserving me a programme; they’d sold out just before I’d got there.

I’ve owed Andy a visit for some time; he uses some of the material on here in his excellent publication, but every time I’ve tried to visit the Belmont Stadium I’ve been thwarted, last time it was by the M25, so I ended up watching an eventful game at Sevenoaks Town. http://wp.me/p1PehW-18S

What Andy hadn’t told me is what a gem the Belmont is. The stand is a wonderful example of an Isthmian League stand, dating from the 1950’s. What makes that remarkable is that the club have only played in the Isthmian League for 7 years! It’s beautifully maintained, a classic of its kind and a must-visit for fans of the Isthmian League.

Of course there’s more to Whitstable than just the Belmont. It’s famous for its oysters, which have been collected in the area since at least Roman times, and in 1830 one of the earliest passenger railway services was opened by the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company.  In 1832 the company opened Whitstable Harbour and extended the line to enable passage to London from the port. The railway has since closed but the harbour still plays an important role in the town’s economy.

Perhaps the town’s most interesting quirk involves the football club itself, and I reckon it’s a wonderful pub quiz question too. On 29th May 1985 escaping fans were crushed against a wall in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, before the start of the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool. Thirty-nine Juventus fans died and the backlash saw English clubs banned from playing European football for 5 years, but what was the first club to be affected? The record books show it was Everton, the league winners in 1995 but in fact it was Whitstable Town, playing in the more humble Kent League! The reason was that Whitstable is twinned with Bochum in Germany and the two sides were due to meet for a pre-season friendly in Germany, but the ban made the game impossible.

Andy also managed to answer a question that really needed an answer. Normally only internationals and organised summer leagues are allowed to play football in June according to FA rules. It transpired that both Faversham and Whitstable contacted the FA at Wembley Stadium for permission, and the blazer-wearers simply delegated the decision to the local Kent FA. They had no objections so our two games went ahead, but I do wonder what would have happened if a host club outside of Kent had have asked.

The game proved to be a one-sided affair as the Daggers passing was too slick for their hosts, who defended manfully to keep the score respectable. The visitors stayed in League 2 by the skin of their teeth last season, and they looked a proven goalscorer short of being a good team. That person manager Wayne Burnett will find difficult to recruit, the club has one of the lowest wage bills in the Football League, the Daggers teams I’ve seen over the years have often seemed like an Isthmian League Dream Team. I suspect it will be another season of struggle for them, fighting as they always are against almost impossible odds.

Those are odd well-known to Whitstable and almost every small club, trying to squeeze a pint from a half pint pot each and every season. I’d been greatly looking forward to my trip to Whitstable and both the club and ground managed to greatly exceed my expectations. That’s another club whose results I’ll be looking out for, as a hopper you do tend to have a list of clubs to follow!