Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Game 4: Sittingbourne 1, Dartford 5

1st Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday 18th September 2007

Kick Off 7:45pm

Attendance: 303
Weather: Chilly but dry

Distance travelled: 131 miles

There is something extra special about a midweek football game under floodlights. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of watching cup games on TV, midweek games played out in front of packed (standing) crowds. The teams would be illuminated from all four corners of the ground, with the players being followed around the pitch by their surreal four bodied shadows. And some classic games always spring to mind. Without giving my age away too much, I remember my Dad letting me stay up to watch the great European nights. I never forget the Liverpool versus St. Etienne European Cup quarter-final. The red of Liverpool, the green of St. Etienne, the ginger of David Fairclough. Super-sub Fairclough coming on and scoring that late, late spectacular winning goal. The roar from the floodlit kop that night could be heard three miles away. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

And I'm not even a Liverpool fan.

Sittingbourne had their lights on for last night's replay against Dartford and as soon as I arrived, spying the illuminated ground in the distance, my childhood memories came flooding back. I've been to hundreds of evening games, and its always the same. From Leeds to Luton, Preston to Peterborough. Always that sense of excitement at watching a game under floodlights. Superb.

There seemed to be a buzz around the ground as well, over 100 additional paying customers compared to my last visit to Bourne Park. There was a sizable contingent from Dartford, not surprising for the Kent neighbours.

Have I mentioned that this was my third trip to Kent...? I think I'm getting a bit paranoid about this.

A friend joined me for this trip, and he was befriended in the Gents by one of the stewards before the game, who seemed keen to provide details of how to make a quick exit from the vicinity after the game. Maybe the steward sensed it was going to be a tough game for the home team. I don't recall ever watching such a one sided encounter. By half-time, Dartford were 4-0 up and the game was over. As the fourth goal hit the back of the net, the Sittingbourne keeper fell to ground and stayed down. He quickly realised that it was game over (for both him and his team); it later transpired he had broken a small bone in his knee.

Sittingbourne did not get a shot on target until the dying minutes of the game, when they were awarded a dubious penalty. Dartford totally dominated, and were stronger than their hosts in every department. A wonderful hat-trick from Brendan Cass (27, 44, 68 mins), plus goals from Adam Flanagan (23 mins) and Eddie McClements (36 mins) proved Dartford's superiority. It could quite easily have been more. The consolation goal from Bradley Spice arrived on 85 minutes.

As we were leaving after the game, I felt a little downhearted. I have seen Sittingbourne play three times in this cup run, and visited Bourne Park twice, within the space of a few weeks. And I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed their company. I got another mention on the tannoy last night, and the match programme offered up a full page spread on my blog. The encouragement and support I have received from Sittingbourne will stay with me for some time.

A huge thank-you to Peter Pitts and I wish the club and the fans of Sittingbourne every success for the rest of the season.

It's now time for Darftord to pick up the baton on this Road to Wembley and it's an exit from this season's FA Cup for Sittingbourne. Could the last one out please switch off the floodlights.

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