Dartford - Princes Park
11/7/11 Dartford vs Southend United 0-3 (friendly) attendance 778
My first football match since completing the 92 ten weeks ago, so you can say I've had a good long break from football. I had heard some positive reviews about Dartford's Princes Park ground, which has been built as an "eco-friendly" football ground. So when Southend's first pre-season fixture of the season came up, I decided to make the short journey across the Thames to see it for myself .... and see the new signings in action, including former Millwall wonder boy, Neil Harris making his debut for the Blues.
Although it was a 7.30pm kick off, I didn't leave home until half six, due to work commitments. Still it was only a short 25 mile journey along the A13 to the Dartford Crossing. All was going well until we got half way across the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and then we came to a halt, due to the tail end of the rush hour traffic going through the toll booths. Once we got through them it was only about five minutes to the ground.
We turned off the main road and into.... another queue! This time it was for the car park, which was full and the attendant told us to park down the hill on the industrial estate. This we did, which meant by the time we got back up the hill and into the ground the teams had come out and had kicked off.
From the outside the ground looked different than most as the main stand and the west stand had a wooden front. Once inside you really noticed the difference. It has a walkway all round the back of the seats/terracing and then the roof is made of wood and has a grass covering to maintain the heat. There are large glass panels all round the edge to let in light and the ground is sunk two metres below ground level to reduce noise. There are only seats along the main stand, but for tonight at least many people were sitting down in the terraces as well.
The first thing I did was to buy myself a mince and onion pie for £2.50 from the small refreshment area behind the goal, where you come in. By football ground standards this was Premier League stuff! I then made my way to the seats meeting old friends, Warren, Wino and the Hemms in my travels.
For the first half Southend were fielding mainly "trialists" as opposed to first team players. This meant for a pretty even game, with Dartford giving as good as they got, and certainly creating more chances. I noticed Terry Sherringham's son, Charlie, was playing for Dartford. Southend were playing in their new kit, which is still mainly navy blue, but with a white V across the chest. One thing I definitely don't like is the new away kit, which plenty of fans were wearing. Basically it's bright pink, though one fan said to me, "Actually it's cherry!" Cherry my arse!
The only other exciting thing that happened in the first half was I got a text from my son, Peter, who was in another part of the ground. It said that Gareth Bale was in the ground. When I told Wino, the word soon spread around our section of the seats and various fans went over to get their photo with him. I don't know why the Spurs star was there, apart from the fact that he might live near Dartford. Or perhaps he's a mate of Neil Harris??!!
At half time I made my way round the ground, bumping into my mate Pete and getting up close to the tallest fan in the ground. Must be at least ten feet tall! Well actually he's a wooden sculpture, stuck in the middle of the north stand (see photo). Apparently he was formed from an oak tree that had to be cut down to make way for the ground. I think this must be a first for a football ground, but correct me if I'm wrong. At the other end behind the goal, there is something else that is unique in any football ground that I've ever been to. They have a club shop that you access fom inside the ground. Considering Dartford are only in the Blue Square South, they have a good selection of merchandise.
In the second half a virtually different team came out including Neil Harris, who had his fan club here. There were a group of Millwall fans watching the game, plus a couple more wearing Harris 9 T-shirts. I suppose they could be here, as this is where Millwall reserves play their home games. Southend were more up for it and got the first goal when Mohnsi fired in from just a few yards out. Then just a few minutes later, Neil Harris scored his first for Southend with a well taken header from a Gilbert pass. Good as it was, it was overtaken in the brilliance stakes by Leonard, a former Plymouth player, now on Tiverton Town's books, let fly with a superb volley from 30 yards out which went shooting into the back of the net. A contender for goal of the pre-season, and maybe even goal of the season.
By the time the game finished, it was still light, but there was already a queue of cars trying to get out of the car park. We left our parking spot by a different way and managed to avoid the queues. That is my only negative comment about Princes Park - there is only one road into the ground, plus the car park isn't big enough. even for a small game like this. I don't know what happens if they get their full 4,000 capacity.
Main club house and stand at Dartford FC The main stand from inside the ground
All text, photographs and information on the Doing the 92 Plus website are copyright and may not be copied or used by individuals, websites or publications without written permission from the webmaster, Mark Chatterton. Any infringement of copyright will be vigorously defended by legal action.