Founded in 1898 along the East Anglian shores of the North Sea, Dorlington Town Football Club continues to be one of the grand old clubs in English football. Nicknamed “The Fleet” for their revolutionary recruitment of local athletics stars in the 1930s, the club have maintained an attacking identity throughout the years, bringing a unique, unreplicable verve to every competition they have graced.
In fact, the identity and ethos of speed and directness are so ingrained that the club crest is the famous three masted English Man-of-War, which was known to reach the unrivaled speed of six knots in its day.
The club were East Anglia’s “everyman’s team” due to the lack of competitive club football in the area. This changed, however, during the 1930s as the club began to recruit sprinters, steeplechasers, and middle distance athletes. The once working class Dorlington Town fan base changed (not for the last time) after the war, becoming the club of the post-War bourgeoisie. Until 1981, Dorlington Town’s ground, Town Ground (now affectionately known as The Yard), had an athletic club feel, complete with an outdoor knoll on which supporters could flaunt their middle-class lifestyles, smoking cigars, drinking gin, and making wagers.
The pre and post-War period was also the beginning of the storied Jack Chance era at the club. A talented 200 meter specialist who only missed out on the 1936 Olympics due to a bout of Chin cough, Chance was a flying winger from 1937-40 and again from 45-48. More famously, however, he ascended to the role of manager in 1949, guiding his boyhood club’s meteoric rise from a non-league status to the old Second Division in 1968. To this day the Old Mast Road entrance leads supporters into the Jack Chance Stand. Over the years, supporters have affectionately joked that those sitting opposite the Chance Stand are in the “Half-Chancers”.
The Fleet’s initial stay in the Second Division was short lived. Jack Chance fell ill while on holiday in Rome in the spring of 1970. He never recovered fully from the pulmonary event, passing away at him home in Norwich January 1, 1972.
His son, Jack Chance Jr., took over and the club descended into chaos. Chance Jr. clashed with his father’s successor, lifelong Fleet supporter and player, Brian Coughington. By the summer of 1973 the pair barely spoke, and rumor has it that when the inevitable happened, Coughington learned of his sacking via telegram while up North, scouting a striker.
Despite having a litany of progressive managers to pick from and lift the spirit around the club, Chance Jr. chose David Pratt, a septuagenarian long-ball proponent famous for being the assistant coach banned from the 1966 World Cup for a skinny dipping incident.
Pratt’s tactics and gruff demeanor flopped with players and supporters alike. Results took a turn and attendance quickly fell off. After one year, and one great escape, in May 1975 the Fleet were relegated back into the Third Division.
Sadly, the fall was not complete, and the out of form club finished the 1976-77 campaign bottom, falling into Division Four. Pratt was finally sacked, but despite the change, the club stagnated, finishing mid-table the next two seasons, cycling through four managers in the process.
Despite the awful results on the pitch, those years did provide a silver lining as Jack Chance Jr. and David Pratt were prosecuted for tax evasion, ending in conviction on May 1, 1979. Supporters still refer to this sentence as the May Day Miracle. After years of mismanagement, the board were able to usurp power from the incompetent Chance Jr.
Immediately, they started their search for a new manager. They found their match in William Blakeshire, a former footballer from north London, hell-bent on instilling his brand of attacking football. Within weeks Blakeshire turned over the roster, even looking to the club’s storied past by signing schoolboy sprinter Nigel Shillings to contract. The good feelings returned to the City by the Sea and Blakeshire’s brand of rock and roll football proved to be too much for their Fourth Division rivals. Dorlington finished the season in first place.
Blakeshire’s masterstrokes continued into the summer transfer window. While looking for experienced professionals to balance the youthful energy he had cultivated, the gaffer reached out to Leon Burnside. The former Kickstonians and Jamaica striker was once one of the most feared goal scorers in Europe, but had suffered through three years of muscular injury. Kickstonians had no use for an oft-injured, 34 year old so he was cut loose. Weeks of negotiations with Blakeshire convinced Burnside to come to the Dorlington project, and the rest is history.
Behind the pulsating runs of Nigel Shillings, the return to form of Leon Burnside, and grit and determination of centre half Steven Shaw, the Fleet found joy in their promotion, but just as interesting was the return of the fans to Town Ground. Years of insipid football had left the 19,000 seat stadium almost empty on match day when Blakeshire arrived. Now, not only were the old fans returning, but new, West Indian football fans were traveling from Luton and Nottingham to see their hero, Leon Burnside, ply his trade.
It was during this time that Burnside famously stated “I’ll always be from Yard, and I owe Kickstonians loads for giving me my chance, but one couldn’t ask for a better second home than Dorlington.” In early January a banner appeared at Town Ground, stating “Welcome to the Yard!” and though nobody can trace when the official switch happened, it has been called by that name ever since.
The club had stabilized nicely and eventually won promotion back into the Second Division in 1986, finishing as high as fifth in 1991.
Unfortunately, with the inception of the Premier League, Dorlington Town has been unable to compete financially, seeing the club become a “yo-yo” between the Championship and League One.
The past two decades have been as full of disappointment and intra-club strife as they have hope, but the club has once again turned its eye towards a progressive young manager, this time an Italian who represents the new “anti-Catenaccio” movement.
Gianluca Mariano has said all the right things, telling the local media “It is true that the halls may not be full of trophies, but to me, the history here is something you can feel. The ethos, the idea, to attack, to sign local schoolboys, to embrace the Jamaican people who come to us from other communities in the region to be connected; that is something special.”
This is at the core of what it means to be the one and only Dorlington Town.
Unum Sumus Dorlinium
Founded in 1898 along the East Anglian shores of the North Sea, Dorlington Town Football Club continues to be a story of the little club that could. Nicknamed “The Fleet” for the large amount players and supporters who worked in the local ship-building industry, the club have maintained a gritty identity throughout the years, bringing a unique, unreplicable verve to every competition they have graced.
In fact, the identity of the ship builder is so ingrained that the club crest is the famous two masted Galleon, which was one of the iconic ships to be built in those yards.
The club were East Anglia’s “everyman’s team” due to the lack of competitive club football in the area. The group was famous for traveling up and down the coast, playing matches against all comers. The Fleet, as they came to be known, did not have a stadium proper until 1933 when the workers at the shipyards decided their local phenoms needed a home.
Over the course of three months that fall, “The Yard” as it was affectionately named, was built, bordered by the North Sea to the east, and Dorlington Shipyards to the south. Upon seeing it for the first time, newspaperman Charles Dickeringham famously exclaimed that the 4,800 seater “had all the charm of an asylum.”
And indeed, the Yard was no stranger to those who lived life at its edges. Incorrigible characters such as Liam Chutwick, Robert Wiggington, and Irish Seamus O’Brady fill the pages of Dorlington Town’s history book. None perhaps are more famous than Edward Coleshaft, a hard living carpenter during the week, and fearsome header of the ball by weekend.
Legend has it that Coleshaft, prior to Dorlington’s first crack at becoming a League football club in 1954, drank himself into a stupor two nights before the match at the Pasty Priest Pub. If he would’ve stopped there, it would’ve been bad enough. The drunken striker was somehow goaded into an unlicensed, bare-knuckle prizefight behind the pub in which he was knocked unconscious by a Portuguese sailor in the 27th round. He was immediately taken to hospital where he lay in traction for two weeks. Gambling records of this event can be found at the National Museum of Crime in London.
It goes without saying that Dorlington did not earn promotion to the Football League with their star striker eating through a tube, but news of the hard men from East Anglia captured the imagination of a nation. Newspapers from as far as London and Manchester requested interviews with members of the team that refused to behave in this post-War world.
Perhaps the most famous of these pieces was “Dancing with the Devil in Dorlington”, published by Charles Dickeringham for the Manchester Evening News. Chronicling one night out on the town with Irish Seamus O’Brady, Dickeringham told the story of a man who drank 11 pints of ale before instigating, and surviving, a knife fight with a man whom he owed money. The whole sordid affair culminated in the theft of five boxes of whisky from the Pale Horse Pub--which was given to the aforementioned man in place of legal tender.
Dorlington Town was now famous. Sadly, that fame did not translate to success on the pitch. While playing the Fleet was always difficult, the club could never find an attacking threat to push them to League football. Cold weekday matches on the banks of the North Sea failed to convince a long list of flare players to call the Yard home. The club stagnated and eventually began to tumble down the National League year after year.
In 1978, manager Charles Young decided to end the days of playing long ball football and hoping for the best. He started to employ his trickiest wingers that, while unable to beat a man for pace, could earn free kicks more frequently. He also replaced his pacy wingbacks with hulking centre halves. The goal was to grind the game to a halt, win free kicks, and score from set pieces.
This started the tiny club’s improbable rise through the National League ranks. As they climbed, Young instituted a rule that the players abstain from a drink 48 hours before match day. While unpopular upon installation (goalkeeper Mickey Andrews quit!) few could argue with the results. By 1986, little Dorlington Town from the City by the Sea was again playing for promotion to the Football League.
Despite the long wait for redemption, the second chance at promotion proved to be a charm. Buoyed by Robbie Pinkerton’s first half header, the Fleet defeated Brownacre Albion in a classic performance. The famous victory was even celebrated with a parade through town center, the famous banner being held by ecstatic supporters “We are the little team that could! Unique Sumus Dorlinium.”
In the Premier League era of economic disparity amongst the clubs, Dorlington Town continues, against all odds, be a Football League regular. While Premier League dreams are just that, the club have never took the pitch looking for the worldwide acclaim.
Today, the Fleet are lead by rough and tumble Frenchman Jean-Luc Amarieaneaux. Born to a French father and Algerian mother in the port city of Marseille, Amarieaneaux is no stranger to fighting for what he wants. “I was born with my parents love and nothing else. I am proud to be a poor boy from Marseille, that learned to live and play football in those mean streets.”
Despite his foreign accent and lack of public decorum, supporters and players alike rally behind their manager and his embrace of the clubs rugged, often sordid history.
“You can go across Europe, not just England, and never find a club with a heart that beats with the working man and the misfit alike. We may not be the most successful club, but we know who we are and do not lie.”
This is at the core of what it means to be the unique Dorlington Town.
Unique Sumus Dorlinium