Dover A.F.C. 1891-1900

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  It was from the Highland Light Infantry, stationed locally, that the appetite of the townsfolk was first whetted to the idea of a football team of its own, and in October, 1891 – the year Royal Arsenal became the only professional side in the south of England – an enthusiastic meeting at the Prince Albert Hotel formed the first “Dover Association Football Club”.

  Among the pioneers were Messrs. A.C.Leney, J.W.Bussey, A.Harby, and F.Clark, with Mr.Parsons appointed secretary, Mr.H.Goodwin, Treasurer, and Mr.Oscar Savill, the team captain.

  The first side ever to represent the town was:- Jones, Savill, Wise, Ayling, Wilkins, W.Brown, G.Brown, Cadman, Harvey, Ealden, and Herring.

  With a 2-1 victory at The Danes against the Royal Artillery in their opening game on October 17th., 1891, Dover spent a month rejoicing at their success before they again took the field, against the West Kent Regiment, at Shorncliffe. In addition to the 12-0 defeat at least one Dover player must have had his enthusiasm considerably dampened;-

  “Carruthers, Dover’s centre-forward, was quickly down with a broken collar bone. A strange face is that when a search was made for a surgeon, not one was found in a camp of over 2,000 men, and Carruthers had to remain in the cold waiting for a train for Dover.”

  As the season went on, more and more spectators became interested until “by the end of the year, football in Dover was a term almost exclusively employed to describe Association Football.”

  But even in those early days when a charge of 3d. was made for admission to matches, the Club officials found how difficult it was to prevent tight-fisted spectators from using the slopes above the grounds at The Danes and Crabble Meadows to see the games without paying.

  “There were a fair number of spectators but a very much larger number watched from outside. This is too bad of them as most could afford to pay the small entrance charge.”

  Dover finished that first season with the creditable record of 14 wins and 1 draw in 23 games, but the grand finale, a much advertised game against the Highland Light Infantry at Crabble Meadows on April 9th., 1892, fell somewhat flat by all accounts:-

  “Unfortunately, some time before the finish, the ball burst and the match had to be abandoned because another was not forthcoming. The score at that period was 3-all.”

  From game to game, however, Dover grew in strength with the seeds of partisanship being sown among the neighbouring clubs. It might almost have been today instead of December 3rd., 1892, that the newspaper report jubilantly declared: “it was a feather in Dover’s cap to beat Folkestone 4-3, seeing Folkestone came over with the intention of wiping Dover out of existence.”

  Ashford beating Chatham in the Kent Senior Cup final that year, had their Town Crier out parading the streets to proclaim the glad news.

  The Dover Club paid 12 rent for Crabble Meadows during the 1893-94 season, won 13 and drew 4 of their 31 games and finished the year showing a loss of 2/4.

  Entering the Second Division of the Kent League the following season they finished 7th. in the table and in 1895-96 – when the Crabble Syndicate were busy having the Athletic Ground laid out as we know it now – they had worked their way up to the League’s fourth position.

  Dover turned semi-professional in 1896-97, entering a team in the Kent League, Division I, which included Woolwich Arsenal. They succeeded in increasing their gate receipts from 53 to 113 and ended the season with a balance of 1/15/7. The new Athletic Ground was ready for them the following year, and although they finished in the bottom half of the league table they were attracting good-sized crowds. Their record for 1897-98 was : - 39 played, 19 won, 5 drawn, and 15 lost. Their team: - Cullen, Ayling, Collins, Reader, McGregor, Armstrong, Campbell, Enfield, Shillinglaw, McLeod, and Swain.

  A behind-the-scenes battle was raging meanwhile between the K.C.F.A., led by its secretary, Mr.S.Albert, and the Southern League, who were trying to strengthen their own ranks at the Kent League’s expense.



  Although football had become increasingly popular with local townsmen since the introduction of a Dover side, enthusiasm reached its top note in the 1898-99 season, and little wonder. Enough to say that it was a year on which the 1948-49 season might have been modelled.

  The Kent League table finished with the top three teams level on points. On the last day of the season Dover were on top with a better goal average than the Arsenal, who were in the second place, both having finished their programmes. Maidstone were two points behind them with a stiff game to play, and they won it with exactly the 6-0 margin that was necessary to displace Dover.

  The Dover team that season was: - Swain, Bowron, Foote, Reader, Stevenson, Fairhead, Enfield, Hammond, H.Moody, Trainer, and J.Moody.



  Although the birth of the Twentieth Century, with the Boer War at its height, brought a cooling-off in the public’s enthusiasm for football, Dover were still keeping the town’s name to the fore, though not apparently on the best of terms with a certain referee. Close to the historic announcement that Mafeking had been relieved came this more sober Press announcement: -

  “Certainly Dover were only swindled out of the championship of the Kent League by a dirty trick – the unfortunate match at Dover with the Arsenal when some terrible blunders by the referee robbed them of the game.”

  In sad financial straits however, their balance sheet showing liabilities of 172 (gate money 324, wages 511), and in even worse trouble with the Football Association following a wages dispute over a player named Harry Reader, the Club was suspended by the F.A. for the first fortnight of the coming season.

  Efforts to revive it were doomed to failure, it sank deeper into the financial mire and was finally dissolved in 1900.



  But let’s not leave Dover’s first seasons without a thought to the referees of those by-gone times. Perhaps there still are referees, even in these more orderly days, who will feel a little sympathetic towards a certain Mr.Adams, from Maidstone, who appeared as the central figure in this inglorious drama, anacted during a Kent Junior Cup tie at the Danes between Dover ‘A’ and Folkestone Harveians: -

  “Field had been deliberately fouled close to the goal-line and Dover expected a penalty kick, but the referee only granted them an ordinary one, which proved fruitless. This caused the spectators to do a little booing which presumable frightened the referee.

  He blew his whistle and ran like a deer to the house. It was Mercer, the groundsman’s cottage, and Mercer being a borough constable allows nothing wrong.

  Escorted by the Dover team he got to safety away from the ground, but in going down the road he was pelted with turf by a number of boys and the crowd joined in. Meeting a load of turnips they appropriated them as ammunition.

  The referee and Dover players were severely handled and had to seek refuge in St.James’s Cemetery, the gates of which were barred. The referee ran like a hunted hind. He was taken over the hill and as they were making for the park, a party of roughs caught up with them and commenced stoning the referee and his escort. We believe Mr.Adams intends confining his refereeing to Maidstone in the future.”

  The Dover side which acted as the escort was: - Long, Gandy, Brown, Voller, O.Jones, Wilks, Field, Harman, Newman, Reader, and Watson.

  Referring to a Folkestone newspaper’s comments on the scenes the “Dover Express” hit back with gusto: -  “One Folkestone paper had the impudence to say all grounds except Military ones in Dover should be shut for three years . . . .  The writer ought to be sent to that nice little house just beyond Canterbury.”

  The scenes received national Press mention and the “Daily Telegraph,  in a leading article over a column long, traced the disturbance to the influence of professionalism.

The above was taken from the DOVER SOCCER THROUGH 59 YEARS book, which was published in 1950.