FA Cup First Round match, first time in over 20 years that Dartford have played in the first round, and the Darts were clear underdogs against high-flying Port Vale.
Well, it was a sell-out match. I have never seen so many fans, it was an almost 4000 capacity crowd. There was a smallish contingent from Port Vale, the organisers decided to keep them segregated down one end of the pitch, and made the Dartford supporters enter from the other end. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, really quite perfect with no wind, just a hint of an autumn chill in the air. In the lead up to the match the Dartford supporters were in fine voice, leaving the small Port Vale contingent in no doubt that despite the odds, Dartford had the crowd behind them.
Dartford played towards the sun in the first half, not sure if they lost the toss, but that’s not their usual choice. Still, apart from having to race to the other end of the pitch as the match started, it was all good. There was a huge press contingent, some Nationals like BBC and Sky I believe, as well as the local press photographers. Each corner was bristling with lenses and chaps sitting on boxes. I managed to find a space, settled down with my 70-200mm and waited for the action. We were not disappointed. Dartford scored in the first half, and Port Vale did not look like an NPOWER League Two side. In fact, in the half time there was much joshing about “has anyone seen the League Two side arrive yet?”.
There was a dodgy tackle by Vale midfielder Gary Roberts on Dartford’s Michael Shinn which sparked a huge melee on the pitch with pretty well every player from both sides involved, each with an opinion. The ref looked out of his depth. Eventually it all got sorted with a yellow card. Just the one, mind you. Might have been a few more if tempers had flared.
According the Port Vale website, the team blamed their lacklustre performance on “a less than perfect playing surface”. Hey, it was the same for both teams and actually, in pretty good nick. Gotta find something to blame. I could hear the Port Vale supports moaning that their trip hadn’t been “worth the money”. I have to agree. In the half time we could hear the Port Vale manger, Micky Adams giving his team hell in the changing rooms. Micky Adams’ quote to Radio Kent summed it up:
“I’m amazed because we’re second in League Two and you wouldn’t have thought that playing like we did today. We were out-battled, out-passed, out-fought, the desire wasn’t there from our point of view and that’s really disappointing from a team I manage.”
Towards the end of the second half, there was a bit of trouble down the Dartford goal end of the pitch. Kent Police’s finest were there, but typically not in the right place. The club’s security had to try and separate some angry female from an unpleasant looking Port Vale man making lewd hand gestures. It was all rather handbags in the car park stuff, soon over and calmed down. Tony Burman, Dartford manager summed it up:
“I think they deserved more – I’m pleased we’re in the hat but really we should have won the game.”
The final score was 1-1, so Dartford have to try to do it all over again. The replay will be on Tuesday 16 November 2010 at Vale Park, known as the ‘Wembley of the North’ when it was built in the fifties. I shan’t be going for that, although the idea is quite tempting. My feeling is Dartford should have clinched the match with a second goal, which Carl Rook had an opportunity to do but failed. Got some good shots, on the Dartford FC website.