Hollands & Blair FC
Ground Number: 838
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Hollands & Blair 2-0 Croydon
HOLLANDS & BLAIR - A BRIEF HISTORY
The club was established in 1970 as H&B United and started out in Division 6 of the Rochester United. Three years later, they merged with Hollands & Blair, the H&B United side acting as their reserve side. The first team folded at the end of the first season and so the reserves carried on under the Hollands & Blair name. They'd remain in local leagues until 2004 when they joined Divison 2 East of the Kent County League. This bought about a great deal of success and within a couple of seasons, they were in the step 7 Premier Division. The success continued and in 2011 they were founder members of the Kent Invicta League which sits at step 6 of the Non-League pyramid. In their four seasons here, they never finished lower than 3rd, winning the league twice, but it wasn't until 2015 with floodlights installed that they could join the SCEFL Premier. Their first season saw an excellent runners-up spot, scoring 108 goals in 36 league games. The following season saw a respectable 8th place finish, whilst last season saw a relegation battle, an 18th place finish, just a couple of points above the drop zone. This season sees them safe by just a point at the time of the game with just Rusthall and tonight's visitors Croydon below them.
Hollands & Blair have been entering FA Competitions for the past few seasons, but have not seen a great deal of success. Their debut season in the FA Cup represented their best progress so far, winning 3-2 at Horsham YMCA before taking Isthmian League side Whyteleafe to a replay, ultimately losing 4-2. They've also twice reached the FA Vase 1st Round, although their only victory in the five games that they've played came against Newhaven in 2017. Local cup wins include the SCEFL Challenge Cup (2016), SCEFL Challange Shield (2017), Kent Invicta Challenge Trophy (2013), Kent Invicta Charity Shield (twice) and the Kent Senior Trophy (2012) as well as a decent amount of cups at lower levels. Records include an attendance of 406 for a March 2016 game against Greenwich Borough, 399 appearances for Mick Moran and 155 goals for Ben Christy.
For the second day of my week off there were barely any options for myself and Chris to do. I fancied a Campion or a cup final at Hanley Town, whilst he fancied a game at Ravenshead. With neither of us fancying each other’s choices, we decided to give it a miss. I already had my backup plan in place, Hollands and Blair near Gillingham was doable on the train, even if it was around a fiver more expensive than driving. I figured it was worth it, as I could have a drink and use the journey to be more productive. I only knew the day before that I was going, so was unable to make any savings on advance tickets. I did try split ticketing and paying part of my journey on TFL but it was too fiddly and would need me to take certain trains. TFL’s £8.20 return to London Bridge was fantastic value, SouthEastern’s near £18 return to Gillingham less so, especially when it was only four miles further. The day of the game came and I’d had a typically poor night’s sleep. After getting ready, I walked down town, four miles in all as I needed some shopping. I got a lift home and had the Chicken Enchiladas that I’d bought for lunch. I finished off researching the club history before leaching later than planned at 2.40. Fifteen minutes later I was at Amersham station and after a 5-minute walk after dumping my car on a side street, I only had a few minutes to wait for my train.
I caught the 3.09 Chiltern Railways train to Harrow on The Hill on which I saw family friend Dave and some of his workers up off to London for a lecture. After a change at Finchley Road, I got to London Bridge at 4.10. After a 10 minute walk, I was at The Miller pub, near Guys Hospital. This was a place I enjoyed, even if it wasn’t as good as The Harp near Trafalgar Square. It didn’t open until 6 though, which meant that my usual point of liquid refreshment when in this neck of the woods was the cider stall at Borough Market. I sampled two new ciders - Hallets Dry and Ascension 'Love Is In The Pear'. The former was by far the best with the latter being some fruit pop that while pleasant, was not cider. I made my way to London Bridge, arriving just after 5. A benefit of buying the more pricier ticket was that my train was quicker by over half an hour, meaning that the 5.14 train had me in Gillingham by 6. Being rush hour, it was standing room only, but I accepted that that was the way of the world at this hour. I got to the station on time and headed straight to the Past and Present Micropub. Advertised as open until 7, they were already calling last orders at 6 pm. I’d been hoping to try a Kent cider, but with only a daft Raspberry Ripple one I opted for half of Gwynt Y Ddraig Black Dragon. Frowned upon by some cider drinkers due to its use of concentrate, it was not ideal, but it was a cider I’d enjoyed many times in the past and my favourite at most Wetherspoons. Kent may be the Garden of England, but Gillingham was not unless that garden had a discarded washing machine and a dumped supermarket trolley. No worse than Wycombe mind and with a plethora of takeaways, I opted for a hot and spicy pizza for a fiver. It was then a half hour walk to the ground, yet more takeaways watching my every move. I got to the ground at 7.20, £7 entry including a decent programme was a fair price. The ground was a lot better than expected, lots to photograph and delightfully ramshackle. It was good to see Dulwich fan Mishi looking good after his recent heart attack, he had come along with a mate for the game.
It was Hollands and Blair that started on the front foot, but they didn’t really trouble the keeper. Croydon rattled the crossbar on the break, but the opening period saw no goals. The second half saw the hosts do better and they took the lead on 47 minutes, Steve Ratcliff with a finish for a scrappy goal. The second arrived on 78 minutes, this time Luis Medina was the scorer with an incisive finish after a good setup. Croydon never looked like getting on the scoresheet from that point, the limited chances falling to the hosts. It was a half hour walk back to Gillingham station so I decided to jog. The trains had dried up by that point and we were on to the last few of the evening. All the entrances to the station were closed by now, with just one route to my platform. It was a very slow train back to Victoria, but at least I’d be getting home. The service was utterly abysmal, something you’d expect in a third world country and it wasn’t until 11.40 that I was back in London. I had to sprint to the underground, changing at Oxford Circus and Marylebone to get the Chiltern Line to Amersham. This was a lot quicker and less than half the price, I was back at Amersham just after half midnight. I headed straight home, getting in at 12.50. I had a bottle while typing my blog, not having to worry about work in the morning.
STAR MEADOW is a great venue, situated a mile and a half from Gillingham centre. Three sides are available to supporters with cover on each of these sides. Along both sides are seated stands with cover for around 200 between them whilst the standing area behind one goal has space for around 100. The rest of tigers ground is open, with the far goal closed to spectators. The tea hut and the clubhouse looked good but I tried neither. There are plenty of places to suit every taste near the ground and in the town anyway. The programme is decent, nothing amazing, but much better than most others at this level, even though some of it had been recycled from the original fixture. I'd definitely recommend coming here, either as a groundhopper or as a Gillingham resident.