March 3, 2011
On Valentine’s Day, a Dover-supporting friend of mine took his wife on an outing. The short story is that they spent six hours on a minibus and got out for ten minutes halfway through their journey. It seemed like an awful lot of fuss to make over a McFlurry, which I think she had to buy herself. Though hardly a romantic myself, I shared in this couple’s annual treat as I joined them and 70 others on Dover’s recent trip to Havant & Waterlooville for a rearranged Blue Square South fixture. It was then called off for the fifth time, just before we pulled in to the club’s car park. Like most Dover fans who travelled I’m hovering somewhere between putting this down to experience and being furious.
One of the major benefits for the committed follower of a Blue Square South club this season is that the competition has become increasingly regionalised. Even for a club like my own that is very much out on a limb geographically, there’s just one exception to the rule that you can get to any Saturday away game and still be home in time to go out. Midweek away games don’t generally involve taking time off work or getting home after midnight. However, winter postponements have caused a few anomalies which do much to explain an alarming downturn in gates since the turn of the year.â€¨â€¨
Initially, the Havant v Dover fixture should have been played in October, but was scratched due to the unusual fact that Dover were still involved in the FA Cup. A rearranged date on the the first Monday in December also went west, this time due to heavy rain. Two further attempts to get the game played were scuppered due the bizarre ruling which dictates that, even in the second decade of the 21st century, county cup games take priority over fixtures that people actually want to play in and watch.â€¨â€¨
Still, attempt number five was going swimmingly right up until the point that a frenzy of texts indicated that the game was off, as we reached the outskirts of Havant. On a dry and unseasonably warm night, we felt we might be victims of some elaborate hoax until our secretary Frank Clarke confirmed that the match referee – who’d travelled all the way from Gloucester – had called the game off an hour before kick-off.â€¨â€¨
The clubs’ reaction to the postponement could not be more at variance. As I write, Dover chairman Jim Parmenter is likely to seek compensation for travel costs through the league, feeling this was a decision that could and should have been made much earlier. Havant director and secretary Trevor Brock claimed the postponement "comes down to one man’s opinion and that’s the referee". He added that "three strong showers" in the afternoon were a causal factor after the pitch, in the host club’s opinion, had been playable on the morning of the game.â€¨â€¨
Opinions apart, what is certain is that Havant had entertained Ebbsfleet United two days previously and, according to some Fleet fans of our acquaintance, the pitch had cut up badly. On Sunday, it rained heavily across most of Hampshire. At 7.10pm on Monday night, one glance at the pitch at Westleigh Park suggested that, if it was to have a game of semi-professional football played on it, it wasn’t going to be this week and it was wildly optimistic to have believed otherwise. As if the home club were trying to prove a point, their players went out to squelch their way through an impromptu training session.â€¨â€¨
Looking at this from a fan’s perspective, I was one of the lucky ones. Though this was six hours of my life I won’t get back, I hadn’t taken time off work and will get my travel costs back through the supporters club’s insurance. Also, I fully recognise that, at our level, so much is done by volunteers. Accordingly, I appreciate that someone presented with a choice of two made the wrong call; which may or may not have happened here. Either way, it would have been nice to have heard the word "sorry". For when you’ve made a pointless 270-mile round trip, "nothing to do with us" and dark murmurings about health and safety don’t begin to cover it.