Last weekend saw Dartford host St Albans City at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park. Manager, Alan Dowson, featured in our matchday programme that day. For those who missed that feature, here is the full article:

Alan Dowson is one of those people that you just can’t help but like and respect. Such is the personality of the man, that he immediately makes you feel at ease, as he welcomes you into his office for a chat.

The twenty minutes or so that we spend together flies by, as we discuss the end of this National League South campaign and the upcoming play-offs. The timing of which feels remarkably as if it’s still the beginning of the season, as 46+ games have flown by in what seems like a matter of weeks, instead of months.

And, as we get comfortable and begin our discussion, Alan’s honesty, humility, and intelligence immediately shine through as he reflects on his first year at the helm of Dartford FC. However, the one thing that literally oozes from him is his positivity, as he instantly tells me… “I won’t talk about if we win the play-offs because, we are going to win!” It’s a positivity that rubs off on you and, yet, he’s also wise and realistic in the way the world of football works. But more on that later.

The timing of our discussion finds him well and in good spirits, “I’m good, we’re good. I’m enjoying my time here. It’s such a great club, the people, everything… it’s all great. All I want to try to do is bring everyone together and bring the club the success it deserves. We’re looking forward to the play-offs, which have obviously been a long time coming…”

It’s no secret that the second-half of the season, in particular, has been a challenging one for Alan and the team. The new year started on a high with the demolition of Ebbsfleet United, as Tom Bonner and Co completed a superb league double over our rivals, “…everyone expected us to go on and win the league after the Ebbsfleet double, then circumstances changed that and everyone assumed we’d easily finish second…!”

However, the National League South is one of the most competitive leagues in the football pyramid, especially when you’re at the top end of the table. Everybody wants to knock you off, and that has been the case with Dartford, as inconsistent results and poor officiating hindered the progress on the pitch. However, as Alan rightly states… “When we’ve needed to win, the players have delivered (except for at Concord Rangers recently) and that’s why I’m confident of success in the play-offs.”

He continues, “When the pressure’s on and we’re playing in front of a big crowd, I believe we’re a good side, so I’m confident.” His confidence is also shared by the Skipper, Tom Bonner, who said in a recent conversation with me that he can’t wait to get started in the play-offs. Like I said earlier, the positivity of Alan Dowson is intoxicating…

And, Alan is quick to praise the Skipper and his defensive unit, for it has been pivotal to Dartford’s success this campaign. Afterall, the team has only conceded fifty goals in 46 games this term, a feat only bettered by Chelmsford (49) and Ebbsfleet (47), which is a remarkable achievement… “Apart from the occasional lapses in concentration, which has cost us results (like Concord Rangers), the defence is one of the best in the league. Tom and Connor (Essam) have been superb, as have younger players like Maxwell (Statham) and Sam (Odaudu). We haven’t lost many games when Sam has been in the side.”

Of course, it’s not all about the defence, as we all know. The entire squad has put in good performances throughout and three are challenging to be this season’s top scorer. Alex Wall currently leads that statistic, but he’s being chased down by Pierre Fonkeu and Samir Carruthers. Alan is quick to praise his players and hopes that both Alex and Charlie Sheringham will be fit enough for the play-offs, as well as his other more experienced squad players… “It’s important for us to have what I believe is my strongest sixteen players fit for the play-offs. We’ve struggled with many injuries this season, but I believe that they’ll be ready for the 7th of May. The goal for the last 3-4 weeks is to have at least twenty players fit for the play-offs because, if we are going to win it, we’ll need our best players on the pitch.”

Having to balance the health and fitness of his players while trying to secure that second place has been a challenge for Alan and his coaching staff, but its a challenge that has been dealt with. Upon asking him what his high and low points of the season (so far) are, he’s quick to agree with his Captain’s views that the early cup exits at the hands of Beckenham Town and Swindon Supermarine were a massive low point… “Honestly Chris, I was on such a downer after the Beckenham game. Coming to a new club and getting knocked out in the first round of the FA Cup by a team that’s in a lower league really got to me. But, Steve Irving (Chairman) came along and said that it’s for the long-term not the short-term. As a manager, his comments gave me confidence, you know? That night I felt I had the support of the Directors, so fair play to them. They’re very strong supporters (of me and the club), so you’ve got to give credit to where it’s due. I really appreciate all they’ve done.”

And has he experienced a high or a favourite moment? “The St Albans result was my most recent high… although, I’d say I was more relieved to be honest. To get the response (from the players) and result after the disappointment at Concord was a huge relief to be honest. Obviously, doing the double over Ebbsfleet was a huge favourite moment of mine, especially the win here at home after everyone had said the big win at their place was a one-off. To do it (win) twice was unbelievable to be honest.”

One of the things that appeals to having Alan at the helm of the club is his support of the other teams under the Dartford FC banner. He’s a firm supporter of the women’s game, often attending and showing his support of Connor Dymond’s Dartford FC Women side, not to mention his words of encouragement and wisdom. He’s also a firm believer in youth and has brought through a few Academy Graduates this season, such as Sam Odaudu, Marvin Herschel, George Whitefield, etc…, not to mention Maxwell Statham, who only arrived at the club last summer. How does he feel the squad has progressed throughout the campaign, as he’s used a mixture of youth and experience within the First Team?

“I’m pleased to be honest. The senior players have done well and I want to get more of the Academy lads involved as well. What’s the point of going down the road and paying a lot of money on a player when you’ve already got them on your doorstep? It means a lot more to them (Academy players) to come into the squad and play. Take George (Whitefield) for example, he’s been at the club since he was seven. If you’ve got someone like that, who comes up through the Academy and into the First Team, it’s a nice story. So, George is a nice story, Marvin is, and so is Sam. It’s great to give the youngsters opportunities and see them take that opportunity… So, yes I want senior players, of course I do, but the Academy players are vital. You have to give these youngsters hope and that’s what I’m trying to do here. I want all our teams to do well here. I also want us to play pretty football, but people must understand that Non-League footballers can’t play pretty football all the time. I want my defenders to clear the danger however they can, then try to play the prettier exciting football further up the pitch where it’s safer to do so.”

It’s no secret that the manager arrived late last summer, a turn of events that left him with little time to not only assess his squad, but also find possible targets. This summer is different and he’s much more relaxed due to the fact that he knows what he has and what he needs. However, like everyone in his position, he holds his cards close to his chest, and rightly so! The only thing preventing him from approaching possibly targets is the fact that we don’t know what league we’ll be playing in next term!

Regardless of what happens though, the future of the club looks to be in good hands, both on and off the pitch. But, the immediate future is still unanswered. As we now turn our attention to the promotion play-offs Alan is aware of what the possibilities are… “I don’t believe that you have to go into the play-offs on a high. It’s how you do on the day, end of. Form goes out the window on the day. Whoever we get will fancy beating us, and we’ll fancy our chances against them. We’ll get our strongest team out and will believe in what we’re doing on the pitch. If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll go on and win it (the league) next year.”

And, as our conversation reaches its end, Alan has a final few words for the Dartford faithful… “They (the fans) are of massive importance to us. If they can get behind the team in the play-offs like they did against Ebbsfleet, it’ll help us massively, it really will. If we get promotion, it’s because of them. The fans are the difference between us going up or staying put. The fans have been fantastic this season, both home and away. We appreciate them very much. We know how much time they spend here and travelling, and we know how much money they spend, we really appreciate them, so thanks very much to all the fans.”

By Chris Palmer