Eastbourne Borough slipped to a 2-1 National South defeat under the lights at Dartford’s Princes Park – on a night when the last three minutes of stoppage time threatened to eclipse the previous ninety.
The Sports had dominated the opening exchanges, and Leone Gravata’s single early goal was actually rather poor reward for their dominance. The home side equalised before half time and then won the match with a goal on the hour, and Borough did not quite have enough momentum to respond.
But sadly, as the game entered added time, racist insults of the foullest kind from the midst of the home crowd sparked understandable anger and scenes which – thankfully – stopped just short of serious violence. Those events have been recorded elsewhere, and the two clubs are as one in their condemnation of all offensive behaviour, but above all, of racism. We stand united.
Back to the football. Not quite a game of two halves, but certainly one that could have been decided by half-time – in Borough’s favour. They started on the front foot, with the Darts defence struggling to cope with their smart interpassing, especially on the left flank, where Leone Gravata was like a skateboarder swerving between the mobility scooters.
Kai Innocent was also finding space and with the two Jameses, Hammond and Vaughan, combining just as smartly, the Dartford half was being sliced up with more triangles than a GCSE Maths lesson.
The inevitable goal came on 14 minutes. After a yellow-card foul on Gravata, Hammond swung in a long free-kick from the left touchline, which Brad Barry knocked back from beyond the back post and Leone smashed it triumphantly into the net.
Then a Gravata interception in midfield sent Kai racing clear, via crisp passes by Vaughan and Jaden Perez, and the full-back’s sweeping cross was met by Shiloh Remy, who could not quite direct it into goal.
The home side, short of anything constructive, were resorting to spoiling tactics, Marvin Herschel conceding four fouls in the first twenty minutes, while Connor Essam earned a caution for a foul on the rampant Jake Hutchinson.
But Dartford ratcheted their way back into the game and were level just before the half-hour. A misdirected header from the Sports centre-backs was snapped up by Samir Carruthers and the Darts midfielder – their best player by a country mile – wrong-footed a defender and sent a low shot scudding just beyond Lee Worgan’s right hand and into the bottom corner.
Referee Daniel Lamport seemed to be misreading some challenges – but then, it’s always easier from the press benches – and more than once a home player bought a free-kick with a feigned foul. The first half had belonged to Borough, and the Darts must have breathed with relief when, right on the half-time whistle, Leone slipped through their back line and only a frantic smothering save by keeper Joe Young kept the scores level.
The second half was a different script. The Sports looked less coherent, while Dartford played with more purpose and directness. With their best move of the night, former Sport Kristian Campbell was cleverly played into the penalty area by Carruthers, shimmied inside and laid a perfect ball for Luke Allen to smash in his shot from 15 yards.
Was there a way back for Borough? They came mighty close, the excellent Brad Barry setting Shiloh away down the right, for the winger to play in James Vaughan – whose killer ball across the six-yard line was cleared to Hammond. And in one of Mr Lamport’s more forgettable moments, our referee awarded a goal-kick from Hammo’s clearly deflected shot.
But whatever decisions the man in black gave, the men in yellow did not quite have the guile or the legs to open up a resolute home defence. No discredit to Borough, and on another day they would have earned at least a point.
As the match entered stoppage time, a smouldering atmosphere ignited. From somewhere in a volatile section of crowd directly behind the Eastbourne technical area, language was used which has no place in any football ground, or anywhere else in a decent and civilised society. Although, fortunately, serious violence was averted, the damage had aready been done.
Non-league football is rooted in respect, dignity and sportsmanship. Our friendship with Dartford Football Club is unshaken and, if anything, strengthened.
Borough: Worgan; Scarlett (Mbonkwi 73), Barry, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond, Vaughan; Remy, Perez, Gravata; Hutchinson (Luer 65).
Unused subs: Bull, Pinto, Holter.
Borough MoM: Leone Gravata