The Thundercliffe Files: overcoming isolation

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

6 December 2019

Dover Athletic thrive in the conference despite an isolation that makes Town's inconsequentioal. Is there a lesson there for us?

The Thundercliffe Files

Ever since we escaped from the conference, I’ve always been interested in it. Call it survivor’s guilt, call it what you will but I always look for the results, catch the highlights and read around it.

I miss parts: changing ends at away games, good TV coverage, the Non-League Paper. Other parts I don’t miss - Alan Alger, pitiful away support at The BP - but this season it has been particularly macabre viewing.

Of the 10 teams currently in the top 10, only Yeovil have any recent Football League experience, with half of the teams from the division below when Town were last there. Big names languish at the bottom, with Chesterfield and Wrexham currently in the bottom four. Indeed, Wrexham were rock-bottom last Saturday which led to an official apology being issued to all of their supporters. It is an extremely competitive division, with the majority of teams having turned professional. Bigger clubs such as Hartlepool and Notts County are positioned mid-table, 12 points from the top and 10 from the bottom. 

To survive and thrive at that level takes a whole lot of hard work, effort and managing to attract the right players. One team alongside the Magpies and Pools is Dover Athletic, still in and around the top echelons of the conference. Dover’s isolation makes Town’s look inconsequential. The nearest club in their league is Ebbsfleet, nearly 60 miles away, whilst Gillingham, the cloest league club, is an hour to get to. Yet this geographical Achilles' heel hasn’t massively affected them.
They’ve had some good players: Stefan Payne, Ryan Bird, Ricky Miller.

One reason they have overcome their isolation may be the fact that they do not train anywhere near Dover. They used to train in Kings Hill, nearly 50 miles from the Crabble Stadium. This summer they moved to another complex in Kent, just shy of the M20. On a good day it will take you 71 minutes to get to Dover. And that’s the point. By having their training more central, more accessible, players can be attracted. Indeed, Andy Hessenthaler lives nearby so was attracted by that location. It makes sense: the players can travel to Dover only for their 23 games in a season.

Big clubs do it too. Man utd’s traning base is 30 minutes from Old Trafford, crucially situated in south Manchester, a Cantona karate-kick from the Cheshire Belt. Chelsea and Tottenham also train miles from their grounds - 18 in Chelsea’s case - but both are much nearer the M25.

It’s been said for years that town cannot attract the players others can because of location. If Town trained in, say, Doncaster, what difference would it make? Training is training. If a reasonable commute is an hour then you are instantly widening the radius of available talent. There will be those who think players should live in the town to get the Town but if it means a better pedigree of footballer not having to waste their time and money on the M180 surely that’s a better option?