The Solihull Moors striker Andrew Dallas achieved a personal best on Saturday when he scored all the goals in the 5-0 victory over Dover Athletic. While being on the receiving end of such a feat was painful for Dover, the club could soon register an even less desirable landmark. Failure to beat Eastleigh at home on Tuesday would mean the National League’s bottom side will have gone a full year without winning a match.
Actually, make that nearly two years. Because Dover’s 3-1 victory over Barnet on 26 January 2021 was expunged, along with all their other results from last season, meaning that, officially, their most recent win was the 5-1 triumph over Fylde on 22 February 2020. An amusing piece of trivia, perhaps, but Dover’s woes are no laughing matter. This is a club which had made great progress until the pandemic struck. The table only hints at how things have gone awry: four draws and 20 defeats from 24 matches this season have left them with a points tally of -8.
They began their campaign on -12 points as punishment for not fulfilling fixtures last season, when their chairman, Jim Parmenter, refused to take out a loan to enable his team to play on. Parmenter, who had presided over three promotions since taking over his hometown club in 2005, maintains that, once it became clear that National Lottery grants would only cover the first two months of last season, the responsible course of action would have been for the whole National League to stop until crowds returned. But as a majority of clubs (13) voted to continue, Dover were ordered to toe the line.
“Last season I said I’m not going to put the club in hock for half a million to a million pounds to play games in a nothing season with no crowds and no community activity,” says Parmenter, who argued that the league’s stance was hypocritical after years of encouraging clubs to be financially prudent.
“I took the club over in 2005 when it was half a million in debt and about to go out of business and had suffered two relegations. I sorted all that out and got the club back into the National League. I said at the time I’m never going to put the club back into debt because it’s a road to ruin.
“So last season I said I’m going to put all the people on furlough so that they’re still earning money because I can’t afford to pay them and we’ll sit tight until we’re allowed crowds back in. And for that I was punished with a 12-point deduction and £40,000 fine. How does that help the good of football?”
He resigned from the league’s board in the wake of that decision. Parmenter also objected to suggestions he should have stumped up the money if he did not want to take out loans. “One of the written reasons [from the league] was that I didn’t tell them enough about my personal financial situation to justify what I did,” he says. “The football club is a limited company; why would I tell them about my personal financial situation? They were basically saying I should sell my house and pay for the football club. I’ve probably put £5m into the club since 2005 so I think I’ve done my bit.”
Parmenter, who has retired from the grocery business he used to run, still bankrolls a portion of Dover’s annual budget, which he says is between £1m and £1.2m. He is looking for investors.
“The good thing is we’ll get to the end of this season with no debt and then we’ll be in a position to push on next season,” he says. “We’ll be relegated – probably – but without the loans that the two other clubs who go down will probably have taken and I think that’s what prudent management should be.”
Dover lost most of their players after their premature end to last season and began this campaign with an almost entirely new squad. “We had to go from full-time to part-time overnight because we couldn’t afford full-time wages,” Parmenter says. “We’re now training two nights a week instead of four days and, therefore, you have a different type of player. We can’t afford to compete with the multimillion-pound budgets in this league. We played Stockport County and I think two of their players were earning more than our entire squad.”
Yet Dover have not looked completely out of their depth. Their home games attract between 700 and 800 spectators, about 30% down on pre-Covid levels. “I think what most football fans want to see is competitive matches and, funny as it sounds, I still go to the ground thinking: ‘We have a chance of winning today,’” says Paul Harrison, who has been watching Dover for nearly two decades.
“Apart from four or five matches we’ve been in every game. You can still see the players’ effort and drive. Maybe when things go against them, like conceding a goal, it’s harder to get the oomph to fight back.” Harrison says he and his family will be in attendance on Tuesday. “Whenever we get that win, I hope it’s at home so that we can have a quick drink afterwards.”