The last derby v Dartford drew a Stonebridge Road New Year’s Day record of 2,564 to the ground three years ago as both clubs battled for promotion.
This time around, the attendance figure is an irrelevance but as we usher in 2021, the significance of the North Kent derby is not lost on the Fleet squad.
There are plenty of Kent-based players in the Fleet’s squad and in the few months manager Dennis Kutrieb has lived locally, he’s under no illusions what it means to the many fans he’s spoken to.
Amongst the players, only Michael West has experience of having played in a competitive match v Dartford – he scored the first derby goal in the league for 18 years when the two teams renewed hostilities in 2010 – but that doesn’t mean his teammates don’t get the local importance of a performance against the Darts.
West’s former Eastbourne teammate Tobi Adebayo-Rowling is looking forward to a game he’s heard can get a little ‘tasty’.
“The Kent derby’s big, it really is,” said Adebayo-Rowling. “At Eastbourne we didn’t really have a big derby but I know what this Kent one means, I see a lot of fans talk about it, we’ve talked a lot about it as a group and we’re going to be really up for this one.”
This time last year, Adebayo-Rowling’s festive ‘derby’ games at Eastbourne paired them with Dorking Wanderers – so the local affair this weekend has the full-back contemplating a much more fiercely competitive 90 minutes.
“It’s a massive game, nobody needs to tell us,” he said. “We got back in training the Monday [after the Dagenham game] and after the Trophy defeat, it’s all concentration on the league now. It’s a local derby and January’s big where we need to pick up the wins and what better place to start?”
Since the Dagenham game, Fleet have seen their two Kent derbies at home to Dartford and away at Welling fall by the wayside due to Covid issues in the opposition camps and it has meant another near-fortnight’s break between matches.
Nonetheless, the squad have put in full training hours around the festive season – and even alongside the continued absence of fans in a game that would have pulled in a couple of thousand ordinarily, Kutrieb has drilled into his players what the game at Dartford means for the club’s supporters.
Of course, Dartford will themselves be all too aware of the significance of the game. Keen to re-establish leadership of the division from St Albans City, their Covid-enforced absence hasn’t changed the shape at the top of the table much given the few games played over Christmas.
Hungerford and Hampton have inched nearer to the second-placed Darts but with leaders St Albans out of action, Dartford have the opportunity to go top with three points against the Fleet.
The home side boast a few ex-Fleet faces of course, with Tom Bonner and Craig Braham-Barrett amongst the squad, while Charlie Sheringham is still on loan at Chelmsford City.
Sheringham’s exit comes as manager Steve King has added significantly to the Darts squad in recent months. The newest recruit is wide man Nassim L’Ghoul who joins after a brief stay at Bromley, though he’s better known for his spells with Dover (where he played with Bobby-Joe Taylor) and Welling United.
But Dartford can also call on former Chelmsford striker Chris Dickson and Alfie Pavey, on loan from Barnet, both of whom played against the Fleet in pre-season (Dickson for Hornchurch). Elliott Romain and Jack Barham are further goals options for King but the Darts have a couple of injuries to contend with as well. Former Dover midfielder Ricky Modeste is out as is full-back Jernade Meade.
Dartford and the Fleet are pretty much neck and neck in North Kent derbies – the Darts lead by two wins in all competitions (53 to 51) and by three in league meetings (29 to 26), although Fleet have the edge in New Year’s games.
This will be our sixth visit to Princes Park, with our record there being one win, one draw and three defeats.
The game is being live-streamed by Dartford with purchase available here.