Saturday, 21 January 2012

Ebbsfleet United - Stonebridge Road


Ebbsfleet United FC
Stonebridge Road
Northfleet
Kent
DA11 9GN

01474 533796
Official Website
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Ground Number: 110
Sunday 28th August 2005
Dartford 1-2 Dorking
FA Cup Preliminary Round






EBBSFLEET UNITED - A BRIEF HISTORY

The club were formed in 1946 as a merger of Gravesend United and Northfleet United. Originally called GRAVESEND & NORTHFLEET, they changed their name to EBBSFLEET UNITED in 2007 in an attempt to appeal to fans from a wider area. Starting in the Southern League, they stayed there for 47 out of the next 50 years, with a three-year break between 1979 and 1982 when they played in the Alliance League. Their first season there still represents their highest ever finish when they finished 5th in the highest tier of non-league football. During their time in the Southern League, they finished as high as 4th in the Premier Division in 1984, but as low as 21st in Division 1 in 1965.

They were transferred to the Isthmian League in 1997 and this brought about another period of success in the club's history. They were Isthmian League champions for the 2001/02, earning promotion to the Conference. They stayed here until 2010, when they were relegated to the Conference South. The club bounced back immediately, finishing in 3rd place and beating Chelmsford City and Farnborough in the end of season playoffs to return to the top tier of non-league football. They spent two more seasons here before being relegated again. Since then they have remained in the Conference South, losing in playoff finals to Kent rivals Dover Athletic in 2014 and Maidstone United in 2016. It looked like another bash at the playoffs again this season - following my latest visit, they sat in 2nd place, 10 points behind leaders Maidenhead United.



In the FA Cup, Gravesend & Northfleet had an incredible run to the 4th Round in 1962/63. After beating Chatham Town, Sutton United, Erith & Belvedere and Lewes in the qualifying rounds they faced football league side Exeter City in the 1st Round. In a ginatkilling act, they won 3-2 at home and went on to face fellow non-leaguers Wycombe Wanderers in the next round. A 3-1 victory was rewarded with a 3rd Round tie at Carlisle United. Again they pulled off a shock, winning 1-0. The run would come to an end in the 4th Round when they went out to Sunderland, but not before a 1-1 draw at home preceded a 5-2 defeat at Roker Park. In more recent times, they reached the 3rd Round in 1996, losing 3-0 to Aston Villa in a run that included a victory over football league side Colchester United.  In their first season as the rebranded Ebbsfleet United, the club won the FA Trophy in 2008, beating Torquay United 1-0 in the final at Wembley Stadium.




VISIT 1: DARTFORD 1-2 DORKING

My first visit to Ebbsfleet United's Stonebridge Road ground came in August 2005, as I was on my mission to see a game in every round of the FA Cup. Dartford were the home side that day, as they did not have a home of their own at that time. The opponents were Sussex side Dorking who at the time were in the now defunct Isthmian Division 2. At the time this sat at step 5 of the non-league pyramid. Opponents Dartford were at a fairly low ebb, playing in the step 4 Southern League Eastern Division, though they would finish in a respectable 7th place at the end of the season. Since then, of course they have risen as high as the Conference Premier, thanks in no small part to having a home of their own


I don't remember much about the day of the game, but I do remember that I drove to the ground and used street parking. I got there quite early and went to a local pub before making my way to the ground. I remember Dartford's shop being excellent, with a great range oif programmes and other stuff that has now been moved to the new ground. However, it didn't go to plan on the pitch for the Darts, as they became a victim of an FA Cup giant-killing. First Lee Smith gave Dorking the lead from the penalty spot. It was all square before half time, Eddie McClements the scorer for Dartford. And despite Dartford having good chances in the 2nd half, it was Dorking who popped up with a 90th-minute winner from Craig Duffell.



The victors would go on to finish 9th in the Isthmian Division 2 that season, transferring to the Combined Counties League the following season. They went out in the next round with a 3-1 home defeat to Kent-based side Deal Town. Interestingly, looking back at the programme (which I obtained at a later date when visiting Dartford's new ground) I noticed that Ryan Hayes was playing, and he would go on to feature for Dartford when I saw them as the away team at Ebbsfleet some eleven and a half years later. After signing from Slade Green in 2005, he has clocked up over 300 appearances for Dartford. Another notable thing was the referee, the wonderfully named Mr I.C Wright, who surely can never be accused of needing glasses.



VISIT 2: EBBSFLEET 1-0 DARTFORD (CONF SOUTH 1/1/16)

I'd wanted to revisit Stonebridge Road for some time. Initially, I only went there as an FA Cup game watcher, but it was well regarded as a football ground, and so I wanted to go back as a hopper and make sure my blog entry did it justice. I also wanted to take some more pictures of the ground and visit it for an Ebbsfleet game. I thought I'd found the ideal opportunity at the end of last season when they played Maidstone United in the playoff final. However, the game was quickly made all ticket and with them not posting out and only selling to people with a certain postcode, I was out of luck. Instead, I had to make do with a game at the Hertfordshire FA ground on that day, although I did listen to BBC Radio Kent's excellent coverage of the game on the way home as it went into extra time. It was an enthralling contest and it went to a penalty shoot-out with Maidstone triumphing to win promotion to the Conference National. I'd been keeping an eye out for chances to visit this season and the ideal opportunity came on the first day of 2017. Again it would be a Kent derby, this time against Dartford.  It was perfect in the fact that there were such a limited choice of games on the day, that there were no new grounds for me to visit, so a revisit was inevitable.



On the day of the game, I woke at 9am following a good nights sleep. I got ready nad freshened up before completing my blog from the previous days game at Bridgnorth. It was whilst doing my research for the game that I noticed that the game would be my 1900th of all time. I got my things together, leaving at 12.10. I listened to the Two Mikes podcast on the way, which involved a lengthy trip around the M25. That would strike fear into the most patient of drivers, which is the complete opposite to me. However, on this occasion, it was issue free, and I was parked up on the main road near the ground at 1.30. I'd seen a couple of food places outside the ground, though as it was going to be a busy game I decided to eat and drink inside the ground instead. As I was going in I saw my Dulwich supporting friend Mishi and we had a brief chat before going our separate ways. Once I'd paid a fairly standard for this level £12 to get in, I made my way to the bar and had a pint of Strongbow for £3.50 while I caught up with some messages on my phone. I then went and got myself a portion of chips for £2 before going and getting some updated pictures of the ground.



I was pleasantly surprised to see that this big derby was unsegregated, as mixing with opposing fans is something that should be encouraged, even in the league. The fact that segregation is enforced at most games in the top 5 levels in England turns me off of going to see league games, especially when you are considered some kind of pariah and criminal if you want to stand next to your mate in the 'wrong' end. One thing that was a bit disappointing on a rainy day like this, was the lack of covered terracing. Three sides of the ground are pretty much all-seater and when I tried to stand in what looked like a covered terrace in the new stand, I was informed by a friendly steward that this was just where the seats had not been put in yet and that I couldn't use the area. In terms of team news. former Wycombe player Dave Winfield started, with other former Wanderers Marvin McCoy and Stuart Lewis were on the bench. The latter was probably the best of the three during his time with the Chairboys, being a low-key signing from Dagenham, but being a real revolution and lynchpin in midfield for some time. Sadly it didn't last as long as I'd have liked and he was released following a loss of form, though he never gave less than 100%.



Back to today's game, and it was going to go either of two ways. Either an exciting, open contest or a cagey and tense local derby. Sadly the latter prevailed, and although it's far from the worst game I have ever seen, it was no classic either. Dartford had the better of the opening exchanges, pinning Ebbsfleet back in the early stages, but it didn't seem to get their fans going vocally, Ebbsfleet United supporters, by contrast, really roared their team on and they were rewarded on 40 minutes when their team scored the only goal of the game. On 40 minutes a low cross was put in and home striker Bradley Bubb was in the right place at the right time, finishing from inside the six-yard area.

I moved to the other side of the ground at half time, as the rain had been blowing in the new stand. Half chances came and went, but there were no serious efforts for either keeper to save. I made my way bacl to the car, leaving just before 5. I was a tad disappointed to see the BBC Radio Ken's coverage of the game stopped at 5PM, as they are usually really good to listen to post match. Instead, I had to do with TalkSPORT. It was another easy journey home, with me getting in at 6.30. With work at 4am in the morning, it was going to be a quiet one with me having dinner, going online and watching TV before going to bed at 10.30.



THE GROUND

STONEBRIDGE ROAD is situated between the towns of Northfleet and Swanscombe, both of which have some interesting looking pubs and no doubt takeaways, though I haven't had time to visit on either of the times I have been to the ground. Immediately opposite the ground are a kebab shop and cafe, and these may be worth a visit if you fancy a meal. Inside the ground the food is OK - your typical football ground fare - more pricey than normal places, but does the job. There is a bar, and this does local real ales, though no Kentish cider - you are restricted to Strongbow and bottles such as Bulmers and Old Mout. Prices are in line with normal pubs. The club shop does a decent range of merchandise and current season programmes.







Originally, the only seated stand at the ground was the MAIN STAND as was the case for my 2005 visit. This has a capacity of around 600 and is attractively designed. Legroom is as a bit tight and there are supporting pillars, but it's a rare wooden stand at this level. To one side of this is a small area of uncovered terracing.



The end where the home turnstiles are located is known as the PLOUGH END. When I visited in 2005, this was a covered terrace. However, on my later visit, the roof had been refurbished and seats had been added with a capacity of around 800. The core of the Ebbsfleet United support is based here and on the time I saw them as the host team, they were in good voice.



The other end that has remained virtually unchanged is the SWANSCOMBE END. This is an uncovered terrace which has a capacity of 1000. Should it be needed, this is the designated away end in the event of segregation being in place. Plans are afoot to add cover to this end at some point in the future.




The end that has seen the biggest change since my last visit is the LIAM DAISH STAND. This was originally a cavernous covered terrace, however on my second visit it had been 'upgraded' to a new seated stand. Leg room here is decent and sightlines are excellent. It looks like there are plans to add executive facilities in the future, though the lack of covered terracing is a disappointment.

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