The History of Dover Football Club
A History of Football in Dover 1888-1983
The first Dover Association Football Club played a few friendlies in season 1888-89 - I have found mention of five games in various local papers. Around that time, the locally-stationed Highland Light Infantry was making the football headlines in the Dover area. In October 1891 they knocked Millwall out of the F.A.Cup, and at the end of that season they won the Kent Senior Cup, beating Gravesend United 11-0 in the final at Chatham. In October 1891, the first real 'Dover Association Football Club' was formed at a meeting at the Prince Albert Hotel. Friendlies were played at The Danes and at Crabble Meadows, and the club grew in strength. In 1894, the club entered the Second Division of the Kent League, and in 1896 the club turned semi-professional and entered the Kent League Division One, which included Woolwich Arsenal Reserves. The newly laid out Crabble Athletic Ground was ready the following season, and good-sized crowds watched the games. Dover finished second in the league in 1898-99, below Maidstone and above Woolwich Arsenal on goal average. However, the club was in financial trouble, and it went out of business in 1900.
A new club was formed in 1902, and it reverted to amateur status; it entered the East Kent League and the Thames & Medway Combination. The Kent Senior Cup Semi-finals were reached in 1904 and 1905, but with strong local rivals in the National Harbour club, Dover started to struggle and the club was disbanded in 1910.
Military and local football was played in Dover for the next ten years, and in 1913 the Kent Amateur Cup final became an annual fixture at Crabble.
Under the leadership of Mr.H.R.Geddes, Dover United F.C. Was formed in 1920, and the Kent Amateur Cup was won in the first season, with 5,508 fans seeing Bostall Heath beaten in the final at Crabble. A run of successes in the Kent League(Eastern), the Folkestone & District League, and the Dover Charity Cup followed, and in 1929 the club joined Division One of the Kent League. However, competing against professionals as an amateur club was not a good idea, and after three poor seasons Dover United returned to the Folkestone & District League. Financial problems led to the club being wound up in 1933. The first game on the new ground - the present one - was against Maidstone United on the 5th.September, 1931, but it was only used for the odd match for the next twenty years.
After a break of one season, a new Dover Football Club was formed in 1934, and it joined the East Kent Amateur League. Early success was not forthcoming, and crowds were lower than expected, however in the second season the League title was won on goal average from Deal. The next two seasons were very successful, with League championships and local cup wins. The club suffered defeats in the Kent Amateur Cup final in 1937 (lost 1-6 to Bromley at Crabble, gate 6,137), and again in 1938 (lost 1-3 to Aylesford Paper Mills, gate 5,162 at Folkestone). The Kent Senior Cup final was reached in 1938, and after leading by an early goal, Dover lost 1-2 to a last minute goal by Southern Leaguers Northfleet United. The gate at Maidstone was 9,168. Dover joined the Kent League Division Two that year, and the title was won in season 1938-39 by nine points from Ramsgate Grenville.
After the War, Dover played in the Kent League Division One in 1946-47, but as amateurs in a professional league were once again out of their depth. The club was wound up at the end of the season, and the assets were passed on to the newly-formed professional outfit, also called Dover Football Club.
In 1948-49, as 50 years earlier, Dover finished second in the Kent League Division One, behind Ashford and above Ramsgate on goal average. The following season, Dover won the Kent Senior Shield for the only time, beating Ramsgate 4-0 in the final at Margate, which was watched by over 6,000 fans. In April 1951, the top pitch at Crabble became the Club's permanent home, after for years having to play there at the starts and ends of seasons, due to the lower pitches not being available due to cricket. In October 1951, the record attendance for a Dover home game on the top pitch was established when 'just under 7,000' witnessed the F.A.Cup tie against Folkestone. In October 1949, 7,261 fans had seen the F.A.Cup tie with Snowdown C.W., but this was played on the bottom pitch.
The 1951-52 season was particularly successful, with the first team winning the Kent League Division One title and the Kent Senior Cup, beating Southern Leaguers Dartford 2-0 in the final at Gillingham in front of 13,119 spectators. This is the largest crowd that any Dover team has played in front of. Player-manager Fred Durrant scored both goals in that game. The Reserves won the Kent League Division Two title and their Kent League Cup, over 4,000 fans seeing the 3-2 win over Margate Reserves in the final at Crabble. For the rest of the 1950s, Dover was always among the leading clubs in the Kent League, but the only other success was the Kent League Division One Cup in 1956-57, beating Gillingham Reserves 4-0 at Crabble in the final. We had finished runners-up in the league in 1954-55, but a defeat at the hands of amateurs Faversham in our last game handed the title to local rivals Snowdown, who were semi-professionals in the 1950s.
In 1958, many clubs wanted to leave the Kent League for the Southern League, but the K.C.F.A. refused to allow this, so it was not until 1959 that Dover moved up to a greater challenge. Dover struggled in the Southern League First Division for the first few years, but narrowly missed out on promotion in 1962-63. The Kent Senior Cup had been won in 1960, and again in 1962, and a Dover side reached the First Round Proper of the F.A.Cup for the first time in 1960, losing 1-4 at Crabble against Football League new-boys Peterborough United in front of a Crabble crowd of 5,500. Covered terracing was installed at the River End of the ground in the early 1960s, and floodlights were erected in 1961. Chelsea sent their first team to play in the Official Floodlight Opening match, and they won 4-0 in front of 4,312 fans.
1966-67 saw us just pip Margate to the First Division championship, and we beat them 6-0 on aggregate in the two-leg Kent Senior Cup final that year. Dover was now in the top level of non-League football, and we held our own in the Premier Division of the Southern League until relegation in 1977-78. We finished third in 1971-72 behind Chelmsford and Hereford, and again the following season behind Kettering and Yeovil,finishing just two points behind the champions. We won the Kent Senior Cup in 1968, 1971, and 1972, and reached the F.A.Cup First Round in 1971-72 (lost at home to Guildford City in a replay). In 1975-76 we again reached the First Round, drawing 3-3 at Third Division Colchester United, and winning the replay 4-1 after extra time on a most memorable Wednesday evening at Crabble. Colchester have the distinction of being the only Football League side to have been beaten by a Dover team in the F.A.Cup. In the Second Round, we played at Southend United (also from the then Third Division) on a Saturday evening, and we were most unlucky to lose 1-4 in front of 7,696 fans.
Relegation in 1978 saw us down in the First Division (South) and though we won the championship by 15 points, there was no promotion due to reorganisation of the non-League game. We then went slowly downhill until the club was wound up in 1983, owing a lot of money to the Inland Revenue. Dover reached the F.A.Cup First Round in 1981, losing 0-2 to the then Third Division Oxford United at Crabble. The present dressing room complex was opened that year; previously the teams and officials had to use the top floor of the pavilion on the lower ground. The famous 'Northrop Bridge' was therefore made redundant, though it hadn't actually been used for a few years. After referee Charles Northrop had been attacked following a Kent Senior Cup defeat at the hands of Gravesend in 1953, the K.C.F.A. ordered that some way be found to prevent the players and officials having to walk through the crowd to get on and off the pitch. The bridge was the solution to the problem.
The last match played by Dover F.C. was the Kent Senior Cup final at Gillingham in May 1983. We lost 4-0 to Folkestone, with most of their players having previously played for Dover.
Many famous players have worn the white shirts in the past, but probably the most famous was Peter Broadbent, who went on to play for Brentford, Wolves, and England. Other players who progressed to the Football League were: Barry Rowan(Millwall), Tommy Horsfall(Southend), John O'Mara(Blackburn), Bob Bolder(Liverpool), and Ron Fearon(Reading), among others.