Ground Number: 918
Saturday 29th August 2020
Sittingbourne 0-1 Gillingham
SITTINGBOURNE FC - A BRIEF HISTORY
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).