Saturday 29 August 2020

Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers - The Taray Group Community Stadium

Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers FC
Taray Group Community Stadium
New Hythe Road
ME20 6PU

Ground Number: 919
Saturday 29th August 2020
Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers 2-4 Eastbourne Town


The club was established in 1976, though it can trace it's origins back further as some of their junior players came from Ditton Minors under 9's. They broke away and formed their own club for players from the area and remained as a junior club up until 1995 when they joined the Kent County League. The team still carried on with their youth activities though and to date, have 34 active teams. They've flitted between Division 1 (step 8 of the non-league pyramid) and Division 3 (step 10) of the Kent County League since then. Their best finish came in 2005 (a 6th place finish in Division 1 West) and the worst in 2019 when they finished 5th in Division 3 Central & East in 2019. However that was good enough for promotion and they spent last season back in Division 2, though the FA's decision to null and void leaves me unable to gauge their progress.

The club is based in Aylesford, the village on the River Medway has a population of 10,660 and is also home to K Sports and Greenways who play at step 5 and step 6. Larkfield has a population of just over 14,000 and is home to the Kent Messenger Newspaper group. New Hythe (not to be confused with Hythe near Folkestone) is a smaller village and was the home of Meridian TV up until 2004 when they moved to Maidstone.


I'd already decided that I was going to go to Sittingbourne v Gillingham for an 11 AM game but I needed to find a 3 PM game. There were several en-route and so I had to filter them out somehow. Corinthian was the first to go, what with them charging £8 for a pre-season friendly which is too much for a step 5 league game in my opinion. They had an FA Vase semi-final coming up and I'd be more than happy to shell out for that. Punjab United was another I decided to save for another day, Gravesend looking a good place for a drink and so, I would do it on the train. The other options were Lordswood, Snodland Town and Bearsted, though in the end, I opted for something further down the non-league pyramid. Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers tweeted about a friendly against Eastbourne Town with free entry and with an impressive setup, my decision was made. It was 16 miles from my first game in Sittingbourne, so with 2 hours to spare, I tried to find something to do in between. In the end, I left Sittingbourne at 12.50 and headed to Morrisons as I needed petrol. I then went in the store. I was hoping for a half-price cafe meal but the queue was horrendous. Instead, I went to the rotisserie and got some chicken and some cheese and chilli bites. I left at 1.15 and had a good journey over, arriving at 2PM and listening to BBC Radio Kent on the way.

As usual, track and trace and hand sanitiser were completed at the gate. As entry was free, I headed to the bar and got a bottle of Bulmers for £3.60. I then sat in the bar and typed some of my blog whilst waiting for kick-off. I went out with five minutes to spare and stood under cover as there was drizzle in the air. The hosts were in blue and white with the visitors in Sky blue. My main camera had run out of battery by now so I had to rely on my phone. The visitors were the better side early on but it was Larkfield that had the first real chance of the game, a well-worked move forcing a good save from the keeper. It was 1-0 to Eastbourne on 29 minutes when #5 headed home from a corner after being left unmarked. The second goal on 37 minutes was great, a curling cross by #3 and a diving header from #6 from six yards out. A number of changes were made at half time and it was the hosts who started the second period on top, having a couple of really good chances early on. I nipped to the toilet and must have missed a goal with Eastbourne further extending their lead. The referee wasn't giving much to the hosts although he was correct in booking their #15 for a late tackle. Meanwhile, Eastbourne made it 4-0 on 68 minutes when a forward broke away and slotted home from just inside the area. After 76 minutes, Larkfield started to stage a comeback, heading home from a corner. With a couple of minutes to go, the hosts #3 went twisting and turning in the area and went down and a penalty was awarded and converted to make the final score 4-2 to the visitors.

The scoreline was probably a fair reflection of an entertaining game, but I'd enjoyed my day. I got back to the car and put the Charity Shield final on the radio. This was my company on the way home and as I was getting in at around 6.05, Arsenal were beating Liverpool on penalties. I had a nice steak and chips for my dinner, as well as a couple of drinks. I then typed up both of my blogs for today, finishing up and going to sleep around 9, hoping to get a good nights sleep before the inevitable slog that Sunday would bring at work.


The TARAY GROUP COMMUNITY STADIUM is a cracking ground for step 9 of the non-league pyramid. Aside from the lack of floodlights, it is good enough for step 5. The pitch is fully railed with hard standing and there are two areas of cover - one with seating for 25 and another with standing for around 40. There's a smart and modern bar at the ground although the drinks choice is quite limited.

Sittingbourne - Woodstock Park

Sittingbourne FC
Woodstock Park
Broadoak Road

01795 410777

Ground Number: 918
Saturday 29th August 2020
Sittingbourne 0-1 Gillingham


Though there was a Sittingbourne United established in 1881, the current club was established five years later, swallowing up the old club in the process. They were founder members of the Kent League in 1894 and were champions in 1903 but two years later left to join the South-Eastern League. Sittingbourne returned to the Kent League in 1909 and stayed there until 1927 when they joined the Southern League Eastern section. An 8th place finish in their debut season was the best they could muster in three attempts before they once more returned to the Kent League. Sittingbourne were champions twice in a row in 1958 and 1959 and this prompted them to rejoin the Southern League. They remained in its second tier for the entirety of their second spell here and despite an encouraging start, including a 5th place finish in 1961, results soon tailed off. After finishing bottom, they returned to the Kent League in 1967. The club were champions in 1984 and 1991, with them opting to once again rejoin the Southern League. This time, they were a lot more successful and were Southern League Southern Division champions in 1993. An 8th place finish in the Southern Premier in 1994 (at that time step 2 of the non-league pyramid) was the best in the club's history, however, financial issues saw them relegated in 1995. They bounced back immediately as champions and matched their best-ever finish in 1997 but once more, financial issues dogged them and this time it was very nearly terminal. Though they survived, finishes were poor and they effectively dropped a step in 2004 with the establishment of the Conference North & South. Geographical boundaries saw Sittingbourne switch from the Southern League D1 East to the Isthmian D1 South in 2006. Results picked up and they enjoyed a 6th place finish in 2009, their best in the Isthmian League to date. Results have not been the best in recent years - before the abandonment of the league last season, Sittingbourne sat in 16th place.


Sittingbourne have twice reached the FA Cup 2nd Round, firstly in 1925 when they lost 7-0 Swindon Town and then again in 1928 when they travelled to Walsall and came away with a more respectable 2-1 defeat. In more modern times, the club reached the 4th Qualifying Round in 1997/98 - beating Molesey, Purfleet and Langney Sports. They then took former Football League side Hereford United to a replay with a 2-2 draw before losing 3-0 away from home. Their furthest progress in the FA Trophy is the 2nd Round, though this was in 1998 when they fell at the first hurdle to Crawley Town. Sittingbourne reached the FA Vase 4th Round in 2004 - beating Langney Sports, Camberley Town, Chertsey Town and Malden Vale before losing 4-1 at Peacehaven & Telscombe. Local honours include the Kent Senior Cup (1902 & 2010), the Kent Senior Trophy (1990), the Kent Senior Shield (1926, 1927 & 1954), the Thames & Medway Cup (1956), the Chatham Charity Cup (1904, 1920, 1929 & 1930, the Kent League Cup (1926), the Kent League Division 2 Cup (1955, 1976, 1981, 1984 & 1988), the Kent League Division 1 Cup (1959, 1974, 1976 & 1981) and finally, the Kent League Hurst Electrical Midweek Cup (1991 & 1992). Well-known players to play for the club include Jimmy Case, Nathan Elder, Steve Lovell and Sean Raggett whilst former Leeds United keeper Mark Beeney was manager between 2001 & 2004.

The club has played at a number of grounds during their history. After short-term stays at the Sittingbourne Recreation Ground and Gore Court, Sittingbourne played at The Bull Ground form 1892 until 1990. During their 100-year stay, they enjoyed a record attendance of 5,583 for an FA Cup game against Gravesend in 1961. The modest venue was on prime town centre land and so it was sold to supermarket giant Sainsburys in 1990. With the funds from the sale, they moved to Central Park, a stadium just under two miles north-east of the town centre. The impressive development had a 2000 seater stand as well as a further covered terrace and executive box, bar and restaurant facilities. However, it turned out the club had spent an extra £1m on top of what they got for The Bull Ground and so the council had to step in to help, purchasing the stadium. 5,951 turned out to watch the friendly against Tottenham Hotspur in 1993 but even so, with the rumoured electricity bill of £1,000 a month, it was unsustainable. The club was locked out of the ground by the council, owing them £35,000 and it was only through a greyhound racing firm stepping in that they were allowed back in. Further friendlies against Millwall and a star-studded Arsenal side in 1997 kept the wolves from the door a bit longer. With greyhound racing now moved to Saturday afternoons, the club moved onto their training pitch in 2002, signing a lease with the council to play for ten years at the newly-named and refurbished Bourne Park. The ground is now used by Kent County League side, Gillingham Town. Sittingbourne moved four miles south (two miles from town) to Woodstock Park, home of Kent Invicta League side Woodstock Sports who folded in 2015 after financial difficulties.

The town of Sittingbourne has a population of 62,500. The town was initially famous for brickmaking, although this died down in the mid-1900s. Even so, it lent the club the nickname of 'The Brickies'. Other industries include paper mills and barge making.  The town is twinned with Ypres in Belgium and was the place where the former archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket died in 1170.

For a more in-depth history of Sittingbourne FC, see HERE. Other sources used - FCHD, Wikipedia. Picture of the Bull Ground from 'The Non-League Football Grounds Of Great Britain (1990). Others from my own collection (taken 2013).


Around a week or so before the game, I found out that Sittingbourne were at home to Gillingham U23's at 11 am, lending itself to a possible double. Tickets were available online for the bargain price of a fiver, so there was always a good chance that I'd head here. I tried to persuade fellow hopper Anwar to come, but he had endured an expensive time recently, so counted himself out. Even so, it was heading south which would have meant me going back on myself if I took him and so I was happy to go on my own, purchasing my ticket on Wednesday afternoon. I'd already been to all three of Sittingbourne's grounds that are still standing - back in 2013 when I did another Kent pre-season double at Faversham and Whitstable. I was pleased to see that Joseph from YouTube channel 'Groundhopping FC' would be in attendance as it would give me a second chance to see the goals when I got home. The ticket booking process was simple enough - sending a fiver via Paypal, though the manual process was open to errors. I first got two tickets for the price of one and got told a kick-off of 3PM. Then in the correction email, I was told the correct time but they addressed me as 'Samantha'. I smiled at the error and saluted the hard-working volunteers who have no doubt been handed extra duties with the Covid situation.

It had been a busy week at work and I could have gone to any number of games on Friday, but instead, I went down town for a couple of pints at my favourite local, The Rose and Crown. I'd still not decided my second game for the day once I'd got back, with nothing leaping out at me as a 'must-visit'. In the end, over a few cans when I got home - opting for Larkfield & New Hythe Wanderers v Eastbourne Town. I went to sleep around 10.30 and had a decent nights sleep, eventually getting out of bed at 6.30. I had a busy morning, scanning in a couple of old programmes before I sold them on eBay. I then had a bath and got dressed before getting my things together and leaving at 8.40. The journey over was good, though it was typical British Bank Holiday weather with grey skies and wind, but thankfully, no rain. I was at the ground by 10:25 and was directed to a parking space.

Entry was efficient and friendly with temperature check, ticket scan and hand sanitiser. I met a couple of hoppers - Sandhurst Bee off of the Non-League Matters forum and Joseph. The latter told me that tickets for the FA Vase semi-final had gone on sale for next week - Corinthian v Hebburn. The home end had already sold out, so we both got them from the North East side. It didn't bother me as there are few places I feel more at home than in that area - though it will probably be full of neutrals like me. The ticket was a bargain £7.50, strangely 50p less than they were asking for today's friendly against Lewes. Before kick-off, I bought myself a very decent portion of chips for £1.50, the tea bar was one of the better I've been to this season. The 167 fans were treated to a dull game, though the wind wouldn't have helped. Even so, the home fans were in good voice and sang throughout. It was a physical game with the Gillingham's George Baker-Moran especially keen to make his presence felt. Sittingbourne had the ball in the net on 33 minutes but it was ruled out for a foul. Both sides missed chances before the eventual winner on 80 minutes. Toby Bancroft advanced into the area down the right-hand side and finished low into the goal. The Sittingbourne fans serenaded the youngster with the song 'Come back when your balls have dropped!'. The game finished without much more incident and I was away to my next game by 12.50.


WOODSTOCK PARK is one of the more basic venues at step 4, though it is set in a pleasant area. Only three sides are accessible to fans with the dugout side being closed off. The rest is a mixture of open standing and small stands. There's probably around 150 seats in total with around the same amount in covered standing. The tea bar is excellent, a decent choice, well cooked and well priced. The club shop looked to have a good range but wasn't open when I visited. The bar has a reasonable range and is spacious with Sky TV. The ground is a bit isolated, around 2 miles from Sittingbourne town centre. Some of my photos were lost, so the ones of the turnstiles & entrance are from 2013.