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Could this be the last season for Elliot Bradbrook, Ryan Hayes, Lee Noble and Danny Harris at Dartford FC?

By Steve Tervet

Nothing is certain except for death and taxes, the famous quote goes.

But what Benjamin Franklin forgot to say was that Ryan Hayes, Lee Noble, Elliot Bradbrook and Danny Harris will always be lining up for Dartford when the first weekend in August comes around.

It’s been that way ever since 2010 and here we are again, with the four players collectively known as ‘the core’ ready to pull on their white shirts and start another season together.

The core: Danny Harris, Lee Noble, Ryan Hayes and Elliot Bradbrook Picture: Andy Payton
The core: Danny Harris, Lee Noble, Ryan Hayes and Elliot Bradbrook Picture: Andy Payton

It’s hard to imagine a Darts team without them – but that time is coming.

Bradbrook and Hayes are both 32, Harris 31 and Noble 29.

"It’s hard keeping up with the youngsters at times," admits Harris, for whom this will be his ninth season at Princes Park.

"Tony Burman has been good with us but if we weren’t performing, he would let us know and we’d part company on a mutual basis. That’s why we’ve always got to raise our game.

"If he’s bringing in new blood, younger players, it makes you want to still improve and compete against players who are a lot younger, faster and fitter."

But it’s not just that the sands of time are catching up with the core.

They’re all chasing a promotion this season which would see the group break up for other reasons.

Going full-time in the National League simply wouldn’t make sense for city worker Bradbrook, nor Harris.

He said: "If the club did get promoted, it would be bittersweet because I’d have to leave due to work commitments.

"But it would be for the best for the club to progress. You’d like to stay with the club for as long as you can and probably retire at the club but if they did get promoted, it would have to be my last year.

"It’s strange to think of that. It just feels like the norm at the moment but we’re not in a comfort zone at all. We have to try to improve and impress the boss.

"It will feel weird on a Saturday when I’m having to go down Lakeside or Bluewater and I won’t be playing football at Princes Park."

But those shopping trips can wait for now. Dartford are still searching for that money-can’t-buy feeling they haven’t had since 2012, when they went up via the Conference South play-offs.

Harris said: "The ultimate aim is to get promoted, not just to make up the numbers in the league.

"Last season was good and the top two teams deservedly went up but it was gutting that we didn’t reach the final of the play-offs.

"We’re one of the favourites to go up now so the pressure is on to perform. We’ve kept a good core of players from last year so I think we’ve got a good chance."

Danny Harris has made 360 appearances for Dartford since 2009 Picture: Andy Payton
Danny Harris has made 360 appearances for Dartford since 2009 Picture: Andy Payton

Harris is set to continue at right-back, where he spent the majority of last season, underlining his value to manager Burman as someone prepared to play just about anywhere.

He said: "I think I did pretty well there. I still need to improve my positioning because it doesn’t come naturally but I’m a threat going forward.

"I’ve got a good relationship with Ryan on the wing. He’s one of those workhorses," Harris added with tongue firmly in cheek.

"I try to put their winger on the back foot, make him go back and if they’re having to defend, they’re not getting forward."

All four players will be remembered as Dartford greats when they do call it a day. It will be sad and strange in equal measure but a new generation is emerging.

Harris said: "Slowly but surely, there’s more youngsters training with us. There were maybe one or two at the beginning – now there’s five or six.

"It’s difficult to throw them in at the deep end but that’s the only way they’re going to learn.

"They’ve all got ability so the future’s looking bright for Dartford."

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