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MAGPIES' REVIEW: A year of change for Dorchester
HOW do you sum up Dorchester Town’s 2013?
Well, the fact they started the year in the Skrill South relegation zone and have finished it there too says a lot about the club’s fortunes on the pitch over the past 12 months.
When you throw into the mix all the changes at boardroom level and the seemingly never ending cycle of players coming and going, the old rollercoaster cliché immediately springs to mind.
By January, the memories of the famous FA Cup win against Plymouth just weeks earlier were being overtaken by the Magpies’ worrying league position.
Conceding an injury-time equaliser at home to bottom club Truro on New Year’s Day didn’t do much to help lift the post-cup hangover.
And when you consider that only three of the starting line-up on that day still play for the club, you can see that continuity certainly wasn’t a word to describe Dorchester’s 2013 – and that applies to matters off the field too.
The team really felt the wrath of manager Phil Simkin five days after the draw with Truro when they let slip a 2-0 lead inside the last 10 minutes against Hayes & Yeading.
A 4-0 thumping at home by Bromley followed 48 hours later, a performance Simkin rated as probably the worst he had overseen as a manager.
But as was the case so often during the 2012/13 season, in the face of adversity the Magpies managed to pull a result out of the bag and beating high-flyers Dover signalled a change in fortunes.
Midway through January came an announcement that chairman Shaun Hearn would be handing over his majority shareholding in the club to the Community Trust – more on that later.
While the team was looking to climb the table, it was the winter weather and growing list of injuries that were causing problems.
But goals from Jake Smeeton and Ben Watson saw leaders Salisbury humbled 2-1 at the Avenue and four more victories in February followed.
They coincided with the signing of Kieffer Moore from Truro, whose potency in front of goal would see him move to Yeovil in the summer after a brief but memorable stint at Dorchester.
A 6-1 thrashing of Billericay represented the Magpies’ biggest league win of the season and, as March arrived, things looked a lot brighter for Simkin’s men.
Benjamin Buchel’s loan move from Bournemouth was over almost as soon as it began when he badly injured a knee at Bromley, while suspensions and rearranged games mounted.
Steve Walker scored on his debut in a 2-0 home win over Farnborough in a match that saw Alan Walker-Harris help out in goal after being released the previous month.
April produced five wins from the Magpies’ last seven matches of the season and even though they didn’t quite make it into the play-offs, the team finished the campaign on 65 points – a club record at Conference South level.
The month also saw new plans for the long-term ownership of the club revealed.
Rather than hand over all of his majority shareholding to the trust, Hearn would give them half, making the organisation joint majority shareholders with a view towards full community ownership further down the line.
Those proposals went through in mid-May and not long after the team’s playing budget was slashed by £1,000 as part of a cost- cutting exercise.
New joint chairman Neal Butterworth backed the manager to deal with the cuts and assured fans that they were in the club’s best interests in the long-term.
The fallout from the reduced budget began at the end of the month when influential midfielder Ashley Nicholls left for Bromley.
The previous season’s FA Cup exploits brought an unexpected bonus of just over £11,000 at the start of June, but it wouldn’t be heading for the playing bud- get.
Simkin committed himself to the club for another year despite the financial situation, while striker Ben Watson penned a new two-year deal.
Lewis Morgan signed a 12-month contract extension, Jamie Symes and Jason Matthews left for Weymouth, while new keeper Tim Sandercombe arrived at the Avenue.
Dorchester players, plus a few new faces, returned for pre-season training in early July with Simkin holding talks with Tim Sills over a possible move to the county town.
Meanwhile, the speculation linking Kieffer Moore with a move away ended when he was snapped up by Yeovil Town.
With pre-season getting into full swing there was the inevitable talk about who else might be coming and going with Elliot Ward in the manager’s plans and a possible return for Rico Wilson.
Both featured in the Magpies’ first summer friendly, a 2-0 win at Poole, where it was revealed Nick Crittenden would be signing a new deal. Jamie Beasley joined the club in a bid to re-launch his career.
August began with the Bob Lucas Trophy match at the Avenue – Dorchester and Wey-mouth drew 0-0 – as the Magpies’ continued their friendlies ahead of the new season.
On the eve of the 2013/14 campaign, Dorchester captain Mark Jermyn stated how much changes at the club over the summer months had galvanised the squad.
Despite the loan signing of Bournemouth striker Brandon Goodship, there was to be no winning start to the season.
In fact, the team picked up a solitary point, away at Gosport, from their first five games. The 6-2 thrashing by Whitehawk stunned everyone.
The club was left reeling in the first week of September when Charlie Clough put in a transfer request – he would later sign for Sutton.
However, after defeats to Concord and Bishop’s Stortford, during which Simkin was sent to the stands, the team’s first league win arrived when Chelmsford were beaten 2-0 at the Avenue.
That game saw Mark Jermyn break the club’s all-time appearances record, but a week later and after such a memorable run 12 months previously, the Magpies crashed out of the FA Cup to lower league Shortwood United.
And while former manager Ashley Vickers made a shock return for that tie, Shaun Hearn announced he would be stepping down from the club board in October.
To compound the woeful start to the season, the playing budget was cut again, prompting a raft of players to leave the club, including Ben Watson, Arran Pugh and Lewis Morgan.
Club legend Eddie Belt was back on the board in October and that preceded the maiden away victory at Maidenhead where Goodship was on target twice.
Supporters were told at a fans’ forum that the club’s historic debt had been reduced by two-thirds since May and the month ended with a 4-0 loss to Basingstoke.
November witnessed two more players leaving – Danny Green and Neil Martin – but after defeats to Bromley and Bath, and Gosport in the FA Trophy, there was a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
A single-goal success at Sutton came as a surprise to everyone, Simkin included, and seven days later the Magpies made it successive games without defeat when they drew with Eastbourne.
Off the pitch, the month saw the club reject an offer of financial investment from a party fronted by businessman Chris Steadman – an offer from another group had also been turned down during the summer.
December began with a 5-1 thrashing at Havant & Water-looville but teenager Dan Munday proved to be the hero against Tonbridge when his late winner sealed all three points.
Former Bournemouth products Clive Makoni and Ryan Case signed non-contract forms, and Fraser Colmer arrived on loan from Southampton as Simkin readied his squad for the busy festive period.
However, defeats to Eastleigh and Weston-super-Mare, where three Magpies were sent off, ensured there was to be no happy ending to a tumultuous 12 months at the Avenue.
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