Dale Eve’s journey from Bermy to The Brewery
The wind and rain is swirling around The Pure Stadium as the last remaining glimpse of daylight seeps away into the winter sky above Southport.
David Morgan, who has yet to fail from 12 yards for Southport, has the chance to haul his side back into contention after a faultless first-half performance from Spennymoor Town.
Goals from Adam Blakeman and Glen Taylor, both inside the opening 20 minutes, have Jason Ainsley’s side in command and on course for a first clean sheet of the season. It’s a big moment in the game, with a successful spot-kick reigniting a previously inevitable conclusion.
Three points could suddenly become one. Aside from the obvious bigger picture, it was also a huge moment for the man Morgan would be facing.
The season was seven games old for Moors, and, despite an FA Cup exit at the hands of Chester, the outlook in the league was positive after a strong start. The only thing that was missing was a clean sheet; the holy grail for goalkeepers. The holy grail for Dale Eve.
The journey to The Pure Stadium at that moment has been a long one for Moors’ No 1. One that began 3,385 miles away on an island in the North Atlantic Ocean. There is more than meets the eye with Bermuda, with 181 islands and nine parishes piecing together a country that has the unfortunate trait of lying in “Hurricane Alley”. Those prior-mentioned nine parishes — counties, cities, towns and villages — consist of Sandys, Southampton, Warwick, Paget, Devonshire, Smith’s, Hamilton, St George’s and, finally, Pembroke, where Eve’s story begins.
With a population of about 11,000, Pembroke Parish is dwarfed even by Spennymoor’s modest 20,000 total. Covering just 2.3 square miles, it surrounds Bermuda’s capital city, Hamilton, which is home to about 900 people — a staggeringly low total and one of the smallest in the world.
To say Eve grew up in a small community would be an understatement, but the country does have natural beauty with its golden beaches, picturesque palm trees and camera-worthy sunsets. At least, that is the perception from the outside looking in.
Eve recalls a very different place: “Growing up in Bermuda was a ‘war of paradise’. Obviously, it is natural to think of sunny beaches in a pretty paradise when you try to imagine what Bermuda looks like. But, for a local such as myself, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. I was brought up in the ‘back of town’ as we would describe it — or for the lack of better words.
“Deepdale was a family-orientated neighbourhood where neighbours were also considered family. With Bermuda being such a small island, you find that young people tend to grow up really fast. I was a quiet kid with a love for sport like no other. I couldn’t see myself in any other walk of life.”
Football and cricket dominate the sporting landscape in Bermuda, which is largely in part owing to the British influence on the island. Cricket even has its own holiday Cup Match over two days when east and west go head-to-head. From the east, St George’s Cricket Club in pale and dark blue, and from the west, Somerset Cricket Club donning red and navy.
The tradition began in the 1902, with the unique event offering much more than just the sporting action. Camping, boating and swimming make it a festival of fun, which holds a deeper and historically significant meaning. In 1999, Cup Match was renamed Emancipation Day and continued the tradition of remembering the end of slavery. It’s a day that symbolises one of the most significant moments in Bermuda’s history in regards to the abolishment of slavery, and marks a time when the island community come together to reflect, rejoice and plan for the future.
The highest level of football in Bermuda was founded in 1963, with the Premier Division consisting of ten teams from various corners of the island. Four originate in Pembroke — Boulevard Blazers, North Village Rams, Robin Hood and Dandy Town Hornets.
The latter played a big part in Eve’s early development as a player: “Growing up back then, sport wasn’t viewed as a way out, so to speak. If you were good, you were just good. Because we were groomed in the Americanised way of life, the vision for parents was always to finish high school, go off to college to get a degree then return home to work. If you were awarded a scholarship through football, that was just a bonus. To me, that always meant there was a sheer love for the game at heart and us islanders took pride over their local side.
“My first memories of football were with my home-grown team, Dandy Town Hornets. I wasn’t always a goalkeeper, believe it or not; I sprung up at an early age being over 6ft at just 9 years old. That meant my position was pretty much set in stone by all of my coaches. For me, being on one of the top teams on the island, playing in goal was only fun at the end of training when everyone wanted to do shooting practice!”
Dandy Town are indeed one of the best teams on the island of Bermuda, with eight league titles to their name, the last of which came in the 2015-16 season, aided by 15 goals from striker Angelo Simmons. Before that, the Hornets traded top spot with North Village Community Club, Devonshire Cougars and Somerset Trojans; however, the most successful side in the history of the league are PHC Zebras.
They boast 11 titles along with 11 FA Cup victories: “It’s a very small country so we all pretty much grew together in football being rivals of either school, club or neighbourhood teams. I mixed it up, playing in and out of goal up until I was about 15, before I made the move to the UK.
“It wasn’t a football-related choice. I had begun hanging out in the streets a lot and getting into trouble for this and that, as I grew up in Pembroke. During my first year of high school, one of my best mates and his family decided they were going to move away to the UK to start over. My mother jumped on the opportunity to get me away from the company I was keeping, and the next thing I knew, I was off to a country I had never been to before with my mate, his two sisters and their mother.”
Eve’s destination was Nottingham, where he began a new chapter of his life. Soon, he would meet David Jervis, managing director of Premier Football UK. Jervis’s business aimed to create opportunities for players across the globe between the ages of 7 and 21. A quick search on Premier Football’s site leads to a small text on Eve when he was a 20-year-old success story: “Dale came to England with no prior goalkeeping coaching at 15 years old. He also didn’t know what position he was. Within six months he was offered a two-year scholarship at Stoke City and is now a professional and the youngest-ever full international in the club’s history.”
Eve added: “Before we actually settled into Nottingham and started school, we’d be so bored on days off that we’d go on runs and just kick a ball around. One of our good friends we knew from back home met David [Jervis], whose business was taking young kids around to different clubs for trials.
“For us it was something completely new. We were literally fresh into the country and now we were off with a strange man into football clubs of all levels being offered scholarships. We travelled long days and nights going from team to team until we settled on Derby County. There was an offer to train there for six weeks, and, although I never fully understood it, I loved it! To us it was just more training and we didn’t see it as an avenue which would lead to the chance of a lifetime. We simply loved playing football.
“Once the six weeks were up, I had a decision to make. Around the same time, Stoke came and knocked on the door. At the time they were a Premier League side, so it was a pretty easy choice. Pen hit paper and the lifestyle of a footballer began.”
Eve’s journey to that point had been rapid, going from a raw talent who didn’t know his best position, to signing a professional contract with a Premier League club within a year of moving to the UK. Soon after signing for the Potters, Eve found out that the life of a pro is much more than how to apply yourself on the pitch.
“My time at Stoke was a mix of ups and downs. On the pitch, it was the best time of my life. Stoke were an established top-flight team, so the facilities and training ground were amazing. There were players in the squad such as Eidur Gudjohnsen, Ricardo Fuller and Robert Huth, who I would see leave the building on a daily basis.
“Once a football is at my feet, life makes sense to me and I have no worries or pressures. When I signed my contract, the expectation was that I would make it to the first team. Going out on loan was a great way for me to gain some experience, get some games and build a profile for myself.”
Three years of loan spells soon followed. Eve spent time at five different clubs: Fleetwood Town, where he didn’t make an appearance; Nuneaton Town, where he played twice; three games for Northern Premier League Division One East side Newcastle Town; and ten displays for Congleton Town before a fruitless spell with Forest Green Rovers.
It proved to be a difficult time in Eve’s footballing and personal life.
“The biggest thing for me was figuring out what it meant to be a footballer player off the pitch. I feel I had always struggled with grasping precisely what the whole footballer lifestyle was or was meant to be. For us, we could play football in our sleep. It’s all we knew. It took me far too long to actually understand that it’s a lot more to it than going out on the pitch.
“Being in a foreign country and living with just my sister at the time was extremely challenging. We were always homesick. It wasn’t just a case of missing our parents or the small things. The cultural differences between life back in Bermuda and the UK were drastic. We had to learn in what felt like a different world for us. Our dad passed away in 2013 and we took that really hard. The worst part of the whole thing was only being given two weeks to go home, grieve and be back for training. I was only 18 at the time and I was never really right after it happened. After my sister finished university, she moved back home, and it was me on my own.”
After the initial whirlwind of excitement upon his arrival to the UK as an eager and wide-eyed 15-year-old, the harsh reality of the game away from the field had gripped Eve shortly after returning to Stoke City from his loan stint at Forest Green Rovers.
“The trouble began for me soon after my sister returned to Bermuda. I couldn’t really cope with being on my own, so I was always going to see friends in other cities, which led to me always being out. To cut a long story short, I had just finished my loan spell with Forest Green Rovers and went back to Stoke. After a night out with another player, I was silly enough to drive back home after drinking. I was pulled over and arrested. The news got back to the people at Stoke and we mutually agreed to end my contract. I was beyond disappointed and had really let myself down.”
Eve’s first journey in the UK ended, as he returned to Bermuda soon after leaving Stoke City. It was a chance to hit the restart button as he signed for his boyhood club, Dandy Town, but, the goalkeeper was always aware that he needed to return to fulfil his ambitions and evident potential.
“I knew living at home wasn’t going to help me do what I loved. I was always looking for the next agent or club to kick-start my career again. I participated in trials in America and Canada, but the football world in those countries is totally different to what I was used to. I was now made to play in the UK.”
After several unsuccessful spells and trials at a number of lower-league clubs, a golden chance was about to present itself to Eve after Bermuda created history by qualifying for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. It made the island nation the smallest outside of Oceania to ever compete in a senior men’s confederation championship. With a population less than one fifth of Iceland and a surface area smaller than Manhattan, the odds were firmly stacked against coach Kyle Lightbourne’s team.
As well as being a landmark moment in the nation’s footballing history, it was a chance for Eve, along with his team-mates, to catapult themselves on to the global stage and attract the interest of clubs from far and wide.
Bermuda benefited from the expansion of the Gold Cup schedule, with an increase of four teams from 12 to 16, sealing their spot in group B along with Haiti, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Bermuda came in as the lowest-ranked side of the four and the odds were firmly stacked against them. However, they led in their opening clash with Haiti, courtesy of a Danté Leverock goal in first-half stoppage time.
Two second-half goals from Frantzdy Pierrot turned the game around, but, with Eve in goal, the signs were positive despite their undeniable underdogs tag. Next up were 2014 World Cup quarter-Finalists Costa Rica in Texas, led by established names such as Joel Campbell, Bryan Oviedo and Christian Gamboa. A second-half penalty from Bristol City striker Nahki Wells wasn’t enough to claim a point in a 2-1 defeat, meaning Bermuda’s final group game with Nicaragua was a dead rubber.
Goals from Lejuan Simmons and Wells at the Red Bull Arena four days later marked the country’s first-ever Gold Cup win, sparking an emotional press conference from Lightbourne after the game.
“The emotion is real right now. It was important for us to get the win and get that off our backs. We performed in every game. We will go back to Bermuda in a different light as a team and as a unit. I now have to go back to work on Thursday!”
Eve’s performances in all three group games caught the eye, with his distribution and host of stunning saves showcasing why Premier League clubs were once interested in his early days in the UK. He single-handedly kept Bermuda in the lead against Haiti during a second-half blitz of his goal, before pulling off a stunning one-handed save from a Celso Borges free kick in the next game against Costa Rica.
“The Gold Cup and Nations League were good platforms for me to be seen by more people and build a strong CV to grab the right attention. I found an agent I could trust and it made sense given my previous amazing relationship with him, and he took me on board in November 2019 after Bermuda’s game with Mexico.
“By December, I was back in England and trialling with clubs. I loved it. John Woolnough, someone who once lived in Bermuda and knew Spennymoor were on the lookout for a new goalkeeper, alerted me of the possibility and the four-hour drive north began.
“It immediately felt like home. It’s a lovely area of the country. The lads were all very welcoming and Jason [Ainsley, the manager] is a great guy who looks after everyone the best he can. All of these factors made the move here extremely comfortable for me. I’m slowly getting to know all of the lads here and I’m looking forward to the future at the club.”
After a short trial period, Eve signed for the club in February 2020. However, because of the performances of previous No 1 Matt Gould, he had to wait until March 14 for his full league debut. Eve kept a clean sheet in a dominant 4-0 win over Hereford at The Brewery Field, providing fans with an early glimpse of his ability.
Of course, that date now holds greater significance given it was the final game before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but, for Eve, it was an important moment in his career. After Gould’s departure over the summer, Jason Ainsley awarded the Bermudian the No 1 shirt — or No 13 in Eve’s case.
Back at The Pure Stadium, the referee is about to blow his whistle as Eve faces Morgan’s penalty. After a short run-up, the Southport midfielder opts for power, with his shot taking a slight leftward trajectory. This is read by the Moors goalkeeper, who gets his body behind the shot, preventing a way back into the game for the home side, and, in the process, securing a first shutout of the season.
Eve’s journey to Spennymoor Town was far from straightforward, but, despite numerous setbacks and false dawns, the goalkeeper is now settled and looking ahead to life as No 1 at the club. With his career at a low after his exit at Stoke, the 25-year-old has bounced back and continues to represent his country, along with Moors.
• This edited version of the article that first featured on the Spennymoor Town website on January 11 has been reproduced with the kind permission of Spennymoor Town FC