Dartford 2-2 Molesey - Sampson's side open Princes Park (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS)

Monday 21st August 2006

Ryman League Division One South
Monday 21st August 2006
Stephen McCartney reports from Ship Lane

Tommy Sampson is set to make an emotional return to the club he played for and managed, when his Horsham YMCA side open Dartford’s stunning Princes Park Stadium.

Sampson, who is the first team coach at the Gorings Mead outfit, takes his side to the £6.5m, all-covered, 4,100 capacity stadium for the Ryman League Division One South clash on Saturday 11th November.

Dartford announced their new opening date at tonight’s game against Molesey at Ship Lane in Grays, and they can expect to play at Nationwide Conference South club Thurrock for at least eight games before they finally end their 14-year exile.

Plans to open Princes Park against arch-rivals Maidstone United were shelved as the stadium wasn’t going to be ready in time for the 23rd September clash.

But Dartford’s smiling co-chairman Mr Dave Skinner revealed their opening game will be a great occasion.

In an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with www.kentishfootball.co.uk he said: “We’ve waited for this time, although we were due to announce it a few weeks back, everyone’s made sure we can make that date.

“Here’s hoping on that day we get a 4,000 crowd, which we hope to do, and a great day of celebration.”

Mr Skinner, meanwhile, looks forward to welcoming Sampson back to the club.

“It will be nice to see Tommy because he’s always been a friend of mine,” he said.

“Some of the fans took against him towards the end of his reign with us but Tommy always had the club at heart and I’m sure he’ll be pleased for us as much as anything else.”

Mr Skinner revealed what Dartford Borough Council - who should be applauded for bringing such a great club back home - have got planned for the weekend of celebration.

“The council are currently putting the plans together for a weekend’s celebration,” he said.

“The intentions are to have a dinner in the facility on the Friday night and that would be for invited guests and we’ll show them the facility as well.

“Then Saturday is going to be varied events in and around the game. Like an open top bus ride for the team to arrive from various points and other sort of events like singers, a band, and a big firework display after the game.”

There will certainly be plenty of tears shed when skipper Tommy Osborne leads out the side at five minutes to three.

“We’re planning for a crowd of 4,000 even if we have to invite a thousand along,” said Mr Skinner.

“But the idea is to make sure the facility is full in one way or another so we’ll show it off to it’s best interests.

“Attracting 4,000 would be nice every week and obviously the financial director will think it’s nice but if we go on the similar lines to Chelmsford City when they opened Melbourne Park with 3,500 and then were down to 800 by the end of the year I’d be more than happy!”

With so much going on off the pitch, Darts boss Tony Burman, who followed Sampson in the hot-seat, will need to keep his side fully focused.

“I think it will be an emotional, and like you say, an almighty occasion,” he said. “Not just for the players but everyone involved.

“There will be a few tears shed on the day and I just hope it all goes right. I wouldn’t care how well or bad we played on that day - I just like to win it because it will help keep the momentum going.

“There will be a lot of razzmatazz and it’s trying to keep everyone concentrated on what we’re trying to do.”

But Burman wasn’t pleased with his side’s performance on their return to Thurrock’s Ship Lane ground against Molesey tonight.

His side were brought back down to earth after their “superb” 6-1 win at Burgess Hill Town on Saturday, which put the Darts at the top of the table.

A rare goalkeeping error from Kevin Hudson, allowing the ball to bounce over his head as he jumped up for it, allowed Phil Ruggles to open his account for the season after just 15 minutes - against the run of play.

Ruggles, top scorer last season, punished a rare mistake from the experienced goalkeeper to slot home into an empty net.

Before that though, a deep cross from Ryan Briggs was met by Anthony Henry’s header, which deflected into the grateful arms of Moroccan goalkeeper Chuck Martini.

Hudson’s howler did, however, stun the Darts’ faithful, who fought their way through heavy traffic near the tunnel to see their heroes play out-of-sorts.

Hudson did make amends moments later, tipping Steve Brown’s 20-yard shot over the bar.

But stunned Dartford went close from their third corner of the game on the half-hour mark when Brendon Cass, who scored a hat-trick at Burgess Hill Town on Saturday, headed Briggs’ corner over from six-yards.

Richard Avery squandered an excellent chance for the Kent side when he headed across goal but agonisingly wide of the far post.


But a stunning 12-yard volley from former Tonbridge Angels’ striker Jay May brought the Darts on level terms after 34 minutes.

Martini had no chance as May connected with Steve Hafner’s cross from the right to see his shot crash into the top left hand corer to score his third goal of the season.

“I don’t think we played well tonight,” confessed a disappointed Burman. “We didn’t get our passing going at all really other than we scored our first goal.

“I felt we had enough chances in the first half possibly to go into the lead but we’ve come back from being 1-0 down, which is obviously a goalkeeping error.

“But we came back. Jay May’s scored a great goal and in the second half we didn’t play very well tonight.”

Dartford’s right-sided midfielder Steve Hafner gave his side the lead after 63 minutes, looping a 25-yard shot into the top far corner after Martini palmed the ball out after a gutsy challenge from Cass.

But what concerned Burman was that Molesey levelled within two minutes when Warren Burton fired home to deny the Kent side their second win of the season.

“We didn’t play very well but we took the lead and we’ve got to try and keep them leads,” Burman said. “We can’t just give them away a minute after we scored. Then we’re on the back foot again. We got a point but the performance wasn’t as good as it should have been.”

But Burman did admit he was expecting the Moles to bounce back, after losing 3-0 to Dover Athletic on Saturday.

“I was expecting a reaction from them, and we got it!” he said. “I don’t think they’re a poor side, I think we’re going to come up against teams with a never-say-die attitude in this league and I think it told tonight.”

Kingstonian are the second visitors to Ship Lane on Saturday, and Burman expects a “difficult” game against Stuart McIntyre’s side.

He said: “Kingstonian I presume are one of the favourites for the league and we’ll have to perform better than we did tonight and I’m sure we will do.

“A few of the players were off-sorts tonight and we have to do better than we did.

“I mean Saturday they were absolutely superb, Burgess Hill wasn’t a poor side, we were just superb.”

Assistant Graeme Ions was held up before the game, which meant the game kicked off, after a minutes silence to pay tribute to two Darts’ fans who died over the summer, at 8pm.

“We had a delay in the game tonight because the linesman hadn’t arrived on time. He didn’t actually know the game was actually tonight,” Burman revealed.

“But I don’t want to use excuses, on the day it’s the same for both sides and you get games like it when we just didn’t perform.”

But after the euphoria of Saturday, Mr Skinner knows not every game will be as easy, adding: “I think after today it may have been a slight false dawn on Saturday but tonight’s game for me is more like what this league’s all about.

“It’s going to be quite tough. There’s going to be teams competing for the whole ninety minutes.”

* If Dartford are successful in the FA Cup this season, Princes Park could stage a FA Cup first round tie as it’s showpiece opening game instead.

Dartford: Kevin Hudson, Tommy Osborne, John Farley, Anthony Henry, Richard Avery, Steve Hafner (Ryan Hayes 76), Ryan Briggs (Brad Potter 69), Jay May, Brendon Cass, Eddie McClements Dave Martin.
Subs: Glenn Billenness, Ted Ansell, Tommy Olson.

Goals: Jay May 34, Steve Hafner 63

Molesey: Chuck Martini, Chris Wales, Phil Caughter, Aaron Nowacki, John Murphy, Youssef Metwali, Steve Brown (Steve Beeks 55), Sam Lampard, Warren Burton (Jamie Lee Smithers 90), Phil Ruggles, Jay Richardson.
Subs: Jerome Elroy, Paul Malone, Clark Gooding.

Goals: Phil Ruggles 15, Warren Burton 65

Attendance: 263
Referee: Mr Ian Gosling (Sittingbourne)
Assistants: Mr N Wilde (Rochester) & Mr G Ions (Maidstone)