IT'S a statement of the obvious that Jason Bartlett at full Conference-level fitness would be a welcome addition to a Dover Athletic side that has, to put it mildly, struggled for effective consistency in its left-sided defence.
Jason, whose 520-plus appearances for Dover Athletic is still a club record, spoke to me about his career.
In common with other players in the Whites Legends series Jason said, "My first football was at school.I played at junior school and then at Pent Valley in Folkestone. I went on to play for Kent Schools and Kent Youth before signing schoolboy forms at Gillingham. I was 14 years old. I spent a year there.
"Gerry Summers was manager at Gillingham before Keith Peacock (part of Alan Curbishley's coaching team at Charlton and then West Ham) took over.
"I got on well with Gerry but new managers come in and theyíve got different ways of working and you have to start all over again.
"So, I went to Folkestone and played under-16. Then I moved up to Under-18 and then on to the reserves.
"I played in the reserves quite a bit with a few first team games but I couldnít really get regular first-team football there."
And Jason agreed, as Tim Dixon had done earlier, that, all too often, the line between football success and failure is very thin.
If weíd gone up at the first attempt, we might have gone on to the Football League
Itís about getting on with managers; itís about faces that fit with particular situations; itís about coping with sudden and, sometimes, dramatic changes in coaching and playing styles and about fitting in with a new managerís ways of working.
"I was more ambitious than playing in the reserves," said Jason.
"I felt that I was associated with the reserves and, therefore, breaking into the first team would be even harder.
"Then Dover signed Andy Allon (from Folkestone) and I tagged along. I just went along and took my chances.
"Steve McRae was manager at Crabble at the time and he signed me. Then Chris Kinnear took over and I started to get regular first-team football."
In common with the other players in the Whites Legends series, Jason still feels the disappointment of Dover Athleticís first vain attempt at promotion to the Conference in 1990.
"If weíd gone up at the first attempt," said Jason "I think we might have gone on to the Football League."
We agreed that it was a pity that Kinnearís team never got the chance to fulfil its potential completely by being the first Dover side to bring League football to the town.
"There were some great players in that team," said Jason. "We had the likes of Russell Milton, Tim Dixon and Joe Jackson, just to name a few."
And the mere mention of the late Barry Littleís presence in that side was still potent enough to bring a sudden emotional stop to our conversation for a few seconds.
"Barry was a real character," Jason said. "He was a good lad in the changing room."
And there is no doubt, at least in my mind, that the combination of Kinnear and Little brought a degree of London street wisdom to Dover Athleticís provincial ambience.
Jason Bartlett in action
Jason agreed with my suggestion that Kinnear not only brought talented players together but changed the mentality of the team.
"With Steve McRae in charge," said Jason "we relied on long ball football. And, to a certain extent, it worked with the likes of Lennie Lee and John Young up front.
"But Chris came in and changed things immediately. We started getting the ball down on the ground and playing to feet," he continued. "I was on the left side of a strong defence. I could guarantee that I would get the ball in an attacking run.
"It worked really well," he said and agreed with my suggestion that, in the five years between 1988 and 1993, it was unusual to see a Dover Athletic side losing.
But promotion to the Conference brought a new set of challenges - and this was inevitable.
"It was a tough league," said Jason. "But we made a great start," he said as the team was forced to face up to the realities of playing at the highest level of non-league football.
"There were some quality teams in that league," he said and I remembered our trip to Dagenham and Redbridge in that first season when the proud Whites chants of, "We are top of the league," were treated with some disdain by a Dagenham side that swept to victory that evening.
Set against that was the trip to Yeovil that resulted in an impressive Dover victory from a Whitesí team that was justified in regarding itself as superior on the day to a Yeovil outfit that enjoyed a reputation for non-league achievement that was, in all probability, second to none.
The Dover Athletic side that rode high at the top of the Conference during the early months of its first season at that level finally fell victim to the uncertainties of heavy winter pitches and lack of quality strength in depth.
"Plus," said Jason, with feeling, "the other teams were stronger, quicker and fitter."
It's a shame the bubble burst after all the work to get into the Conference
We agreed that teams competing at the top of the Conference probably needed to be full-time professional now.
"Thatís definitely the way itís going," said Jason.
"It was a pity the bubble burst," he said with some feeling.
"All that work to get up to the Conference," he said ruefully.
"I should have played another season after leaving Dover," he continued and remembered in alarming detail the torn anterior cruciate ligament injury that, effectively, ended his career.
But, then, Jason reminded me, in a rushed moment of memory, of his England non-league cap.
"I nearly forgot," he said, modestly. "Talking to you is bringing a lot of things back."
And we laughed out loud at the near omission.
"I was in the team that played Guernsey," he said, "along with Dave Leworthy, Russell Milton and Corey Browne.
Jason, second from left, with David Leworthy, Corey Browne and Russell Milton in England colours
"We won 2-1 over there," he told me ďand I was selected for the next game but couldnít play because, Fiona, my wife at the time, was giving birth to our daughter, Nicole.
And it was Fiona who was the prime mover in organising Jasonís testimonial match against Arsenal at Crabble.
"The match clashed with Tony Adamsís testimonial," he said "but they sent a good side down and there was a crowd of 1,600 at Crabble which included Barry Little. He had the guts to come down when his hair was falling out and he hardly knew where he was with chemotherapy.
"I left in 1995," he said. "Iíd been out recovering from the cruciate injury for a year and a half.
"I played a bit of local league for Bishopsbourne and then had two seasons with Snowdown. But Chris Kinnear wanted me to join Margate at that time. He tried to sign me but I knew I wasnít as sharp as I used to be but, maybe, I could have taken another year."
Of the many memorable occasions at Crabble, Jason and I nominated the Beazer Homes night in the early 1990s when Dover hosted promotion rivals Bromsgrove as one of the most significant.
About the attendance that evening of 4,036, packed tight into a Crabble ground that seemed to have shrunk out of all proportion to the size of the crowd, Jason said: "That was unbelievable. The place was packed out. That absolutely did for me that night. Iíd never seen anything like it."
And I remembered the burst of firecrackers that illuminated the back of the Port of Dover Stand, the rhythmic swaying of the crowd at the River End which started at one end of the terrace and radiated, like a tidal wave, before hitting the wall at the other end and re-bounding back to its origin; the wave of hysteria that engulfed the ground when the Bromsgrove own goal that gave Dover a 2-1 lead in the match and which looked, in that instant, as though it would turn out to be the promotion goal that was followed, a little later, by the blank disappointment of Bromsgroveís equaliser.
I left the ground that night shaking with pent up excitement and, from Jasonís recollection of the tie, so did most of the players.
Along with the other players who have appeared and will appear in the Whites Legends series, Jason is a symbol of the most successful Dover Athletic side yet to have been assembled by, arguably, the most able manager Whites have yet known.
"I want you to include in the article," Jason told me, quite insistently, "my comments about Chris Kinnear. He was a great manager. I want to extend my thanks, also, to John and Alan Husk. They worked really hard for the club and they led a great board of directors."
Jason, who is now divorced from Fiona, lives in Folkestone with his two daughters, Nicole, who is 12, and Chloe, 10.
He still supports Arsenal but "I havenít been to the Emirates Stadium yet," he said.
"I go up to watch Charlton quite a bit," he added.
"They run a bus trip that picks up in Folkestone, drops you at the ground and then takes you back to Folkestone."
But Jason has no football management ambitions.
"I did my coaching badge about 10 years ago," he said "but managementís too stressful."
"I do a little bit of coaching every now and again," he said.
Jason works as a Maintenance Engineer at a school in New Romney, which is about a 20-minute drive from his home in Sandgate.
He is, very obviously and justifiably, proud of his achievements with Dover Athletic.
Like most of us who supported the team through those Conference years many of the matches played at that time are still fresh in the memory.
I suspect, like most of us, he is keen for the club to re-establish itself not only at the highest level of non-league football but to take the long overdue plunge into the Football League.
And, from a personal point of view, I hope weíll see him, from time to time, offering the benefit of his playing experience to the DAFC Radio commentary team
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