In deepest Dorset, there lies a town that is an aesthete’s delight – Poundbury, an experiment in surburban development. It’s an attractive place, designed to portray traditional buildings in a modern setting. It’s meant to be tasteful, although some people see it as a little antiseptic. It’s almost part of Dorchester, the county town of Dorset with a population of just under 20,000.
What’s the relevance of this ode to Poundbury? Well, Dorchester Town’s Avenue Stadium would not look out of place in Poundbury. It too has classic overtones and has been designed with the aim of pleasing the eye. And it does. Prince Charles, who dislikes “carbuncles” when it comes to architecture, and had a hand in Poundbury’s “look and feel”, would no doubt approve of Dorchester Town’s fine ground.
Amazingly, it’s been around for well over 20 years, which explains the slightly weathered appearance of the stadium. But it is still avenues ahead of many of the bolt-together football grounds being put up today.
Dorchester were relegated to the Southern League Premier in 2014 after a decade in the Conference South. They have taken their time to adjust to their new surroundings, but in 2014-15, they have been a little distracted by their FA Cup run. On October 25, they will play host to Bristol Rovers in the fourth qualifying round. When Hitchin Town turned up to play the Magpies, the queue for tickets was not for a Southern League fixture between two inconsistent teams, but for an appetising cup-tie.
Dorchester’s form amid their splendid surroundings has not been good. They had lost three of their seven home fixtures in the league before meeting Hitchin. Furthermore, they had lost their last three league games on the road. The FA Cup had provided some blessed relief, however, with wins against Yate, Abingdon and Hendon to set them up with a plum tie with Bristol Rovers.
Hitchin’s early season flourish had given way to a string of setbacks. They were [surprisingly] beaten in the FA Cup by Wingate & Finchley and had also lost their last two league games, and were eliminated from the Red Insure Cup by local rivals Arlesey Town. The club could be forgiven for being distracted from events on the field, though, as the battle over their ground, Top Field, was now in full flow. The latest publicity to emerge from the club was a “pitch invasion” by a hedgehog that has proved more eye-catching than the “Save Hitchin Town” campaign that is in its nascent stages.
There was a touch of irony in Hitchin’s visit to Dorchester. The ground sits alongside Tesco, the very supermarket that is supposed to be up for a move to Hitchin’s dilapidated stadium. Sometimes, it does work! That said, the location of Dorchester’s home is in a much more agreeable location than the racetrack home that is being tabled as Hitchin’s future.
Dorchester included Nick Crittenden in their midfield. He’s a player that has demonstrated great durability in a career that started with Chelsea and continued with the likes of Yeovil, Aldershot, Weymouth and – since 2008 – Dorchester. He was the best player on the pitch, along with Andreas Robinson, also of the home side.
But Hitchin outplayed Dorchester in the first half and should have capitalised on their superiority. They went ahead after Jonny McNamara – shades of Francis Lee circa 1972 – went sprawling in the penalty area and Lewis Rolfe netted from the penalty spot.
Hitchin should have extended their lead when Matt Lench’s half-volley was parried by Dorchester goalkeeper Alan Walker-Harris and Robbie Burns’ follow-up struck the crossbar.
Rolfe was sent-off early in the second half for a second yellow card and from that moment, the game changed direction. In the 53rd minute, a low drive by Jack Odam found the back of the net. Hitchin goalkeeper, Tahj Bell was too slow to get down for the shot and really should have prevented the goal.
Hitchin’s discipline was questionable in the second half. Brett Donnelly was substituted, possibly to prevent another red card but his brother, Callum, lasted around 12 minutes after coming on as substitute before being red-carded for foul and abusive language. Five minutes from the end, a tame header by Sam Lanahan caught out Bell once more and Dorchester were ahead…and winners.
As ragged as it may have seemed at that point, Hitchin could point to a good first half, but as we all know, one half doesn’t make a game. Top Field regulars, even that hedgehog, can expect some changes in the coming weeks if the Canaries’ current form doesn’t improve soon.
Dorchester seemed relieved more than elated. They may have an enticing tie with Bristol Rovers coming up, but they have a lot of ground to make up in the league. Their stadium is deserving of a much bigger stage. Perhaps the income they will pick-up in the FA Cup will help fund that?
** Hitchin have played 13 league games, eight away. Dorchester have played 14, eight at home. Surely a league of the Southern League’s status can come up with a better system for fixture compilation?