Ashford United F.C.

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Ashford United
Ashford United FC badge.jpg
Full name Ashford United Football Club
Nickname(s) The Nuts & Bolts
Founded 1891 (reformed in 2011)
Ground The Homelands, Kingsnorth
Ground Capacity 3200 (500 seated)
Chairman Ernie Warren
Manager Paul Chambers
League Southern Counties East Football League
2012–13 Kent Invicta League, 2nd (promoted)
Home colours
Away colours

Ashford United F.C. are an English football club based in Ashford, Kent. The 'new' United was formed in 2011 (resurrecting a name used by the town's football club around the advent of the twentieth century). Between 1930 and 2010 the town was represented by Ashford Town FC, before it ultimately went into administration. Ashford United are currently members (2013–14) of the Southern Counties East Football League.

History[edit]

Formation and early years[edit]

The roots of senior football in Ashford originate in 1881 with the South Eastern Rangers who played at Newtown Green (with dressing rooms in the adjacent Alfred Arms). The club reached the Final of the Kent County Badge competition (the fore-runner of the Kent Senior Cup) in 1886 and 1888 but lost on both occasions to Chatham.

In 1891 the original Ashford United was formed when the South Eastern Rangers amalgamated with Kentish Express FC. Initially their home ground was at the back of the Victoria Hotel. About 700 people yielding gate receipts of £5 were present for 'United's' first match on 19 September 1891, a defeat by the Highland Light Infantry 1–5. In 1893 the team exceeded the exploits of their fore-runners and defeated Chatham in winning the Kent Senior Cup. Ashford had been the beneficiaries of a bye prior to the final - in the semi-final they were due to meet the West Kent Regiment but the West Kent's were shipped out to Ireland before the match took place. Scorers for United in the 2-0 win were Archie Munro and Frank Young.

The club were founder members of the Kent Premier League in 1894–95 with a reserve side playing in Kent League 2. The club relocated to an enclosed ground with a timber built stand at Godinton Road where the 1899 KCFA Cup Final was staged. Team colours at the time were black and white striped shirts. The team appeared in the Kent Cup Final for two successive years, 1902 and 1903 but were unsuccessful on both occasions: losing a replay 1–4 to Sittingbourne (a last minute penalty equaliser against Ashford causing the replay) and to Maidstone respectively. During the early 1900s in addition to playing in The Kent League the club competed in the Thames & Medway Combination. In 1907 owing to a lack of support at their Godinton Road ground (which being beyond the railway bridge was a fair distance from the town and their previous base in the Newtown area), the club suffering from heavy debts was unable to fulfill its fixtures and ceased playing mid-season.

Shortly afterwards however a new club was formed [1]"through the instrumentality of Mr Walter Hole and others", playing as the Ashford Railway Works. The club's home ground was relocated back to Newtown on land believed to have been provided rent-free[1] by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. Playing in Division Two: Eastern Section of the Kent League and wearing red and green quartered colours, the team enjoyed considerable success winning the League in four successive seasons, 1911–12, 1912–13, 1913–14 and 1919–20 (the latter after the break caused by the Great War). In both the 1912–13 and 1913–14 seasons the Railway Works team had finished tied on points with Folkestone Gas and Folkestone respectively but took the Championship by winning a deciding play-off match on each occasion. It was around this time that the club acquired its nickname of the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ as many of the members were drawn from the ranks of skilled engineers in the railway. The club became more commonly known as 'Ashford' upon the post-war resumption of the Kent League competition. However once more fate took a hand and in 1928 the club folded leaving the Town with no senior club.

The decision to found Ashford Town was taken at a meeting in April 1930 chaired by Sir Charles Iggledon, who was the editor of the Kentish Express. Ashford Town were elected to the Kent League, and played their first match on August 30 of the same year at the railway works ground with Canterbury Waverley the visitors. The result was a 4–2 victory.

In 1931 the club moved to Essella Park. Initially the ground was provided rent-free by Fred Norman. He was co-founder and co-owner of Norman Cycles and would go on to become Club President post second war. The rent-free arrangement remained in place until the 1950s at which time the club purchased the freehold for [2]£2,060 and 7s – reputedly the sum Norman had paid for the land many years earlier. The Essella park pitch featured a notable slope with the goal at the Willesborough end being considerably higher than that at the Ashford end.

In 1931–32, the first season playing at their new ground, the Town were runners-up in the Kent League scoring 115 goals over the 36 match season. They were headed by Northfleet United who at the time were a nursery team[3] for Football League Division 2 team Tottenham Hotspur. Former Sheffield United forward Bert Menlove was player/manager of the Town in the early 1930s.

The most high profile game at Essella Park played in the early years was in 1934–35 with a FA Cup First Round tie with Clapton (now Leyton) Orient of the Football League Third Division South. The match had extra spice as Orient had loaned a couple of young players and had transferred several players to the 'Nuts and Bolts' - the most notably being former Liverpool and England full back Tommy Lucas who had been appointed by Orient[3] as manager. In a match that "lacked nothing in vigour and spirit"[1] in front of 3,000 spectators Ashford fell 4–1 to their visitors. Another notable player appearing for the Town around this time was record Tottenham Hotspur hotshot (and scorer of the only goal in the 1921 FA Cup final) Jimmy Dimmock.

At this time former Margate player Harry Todd was player/coach of the team. The final home game played by the club in 1939 before suspension of matches owing to the second war saw the 'Town' triumph over Bexley Heath to win the Kent League Cup.

Post-War: Kent League[edit]

After the war the club re-formed in 1946 and with Joe Fagg as team manager and former West Ham United defender Charlie Walker as player-coach were Kent League champions in 1948–49. This success was by 'goal average' as three clubs (Ashford, Dover and Ramsgate) all finished the campaign with 52 points from 34 matches. In recognition of the achievement the club presented an engraved fountain pen to each player.[1] The team scored a post-war high of 109 goals in their league campaign (still the highest today). It was almost a double celebration as the reserve side missed out on top spot in the Kent League Division 2 with Folkestone's reserves taking the honours. The Ashford second string were however subsequently successful, taking the Kent League Division 2 title in the 1952–53 and 1955–56 campaigns.

Walker was succeeded in 1951 as player/coach by another ex-Margate man, Ken Horrigan.[4] Other player/coaches from this era were David Nelson and Harry Freeman.

In 1958 a significant appointment for Ashford Town was that of ex-Leyton Orient and Southampton full-back Ted Ballard as manager.In his four years at the club would guide the 'nuts and bolts' to notable cup success.

In the 1958–59 season the club (and for a second time a club representing Ashford) won the Kent Senior Cup. Kent League Ashford beat Southern League Tonbridge in the final at Gillingham. Ron Vigar scored both goals in a 2–1 victory with Tonbridge hitting the post from a penalty.[5]

Also in 1958-59 whilst still playing in the Kent League the team reached the FA Cup First Round proper where they lost 1–0 to Football League opposition, Crystal Palace, in front of an Essella Park ground record of 6,525 spectators. This match was refereed by a youthful Jack Taylor who climaxed his career as referee at the 1974 World Cup Final. This season was the first of four consecutive appearances by Ashford (who remained managed by Ted Ballard throughout this time) in the FA Cup first round proper. For each of these years they would ultimately fall to teams from the Football League.

The Southern League Division 1[edit]

The league competition in which the club played, the Kent League (which had been in existence since 1894), was disbanded in 1959. Together with seven refugees from this League (Folkestone, Ramsgate, Margate, Dover, Bexleyleath and Welling, Tunbridge Wells and Sittingbourne) the club joined the Southern League.

Ashford's 44-year membership of the Southern League commenced in the 1959–60 season as members of the newly formed Division One (the second level of the Southern League) - the league included the rumps of the previous South East and North West Divisions together with two additional new recruits, Hinckley Athletic and Romford. Away matches for the team involved more extensive travelling with trips to amongst others Exeter City Reserves, Merthyr Tydfil, Kidderminster, Burton Albion and Cambridge City to be negotiated. The 'Town's' first match in the new league was 22 August 1959 and was a 8–1 reverse at fellow newcomers Hinckley Athletic. Four days later playing the other newly recruited club Romford in front of a 2,800 crowd at Essella Park Ashford notched their first points courtesy of a 1–0 victory (scorer: Murfet). The season also witnessed the team's second successive appearance in the First round proper of the FA Cup: the result a defeat 5–0 at League club Brentford in front of a crowd of 13,900 – the largest single match crowd to see the 'Town' play. In making this round of the cup once again Ashford Town were awarded full membership of The Football Association, an honour much cherished by the club.

But 1959 was not all about action on the pitch. In this year the club became a Limited Company. But a more visible milestone was appearance of floodlighting at the Essella Road ground. The installation of the 'Do it Yourself' floodlighting was perhaps the best example of voluntary effort at the club. The self designed and installed system comprised eight 40 foot high towers each housing four 2,000 watt lamps. The total output was thus 64 kilowatts and had required an up-rated power supply to be laid to the ground. The overall cost was £1,507.10s.5d.[2] It is reported that only once in their 28 year lifetime did the power fail. The lights were officially switched on with a Grand Opening Floodlight Game on Monday 19 October 1959 with First Division Chelsea the visitors. England forward and football legend Jimmy Greaves bagged four goals in a 7–2 victory for the Londoners, with Ron Vigar and Gordon Burden[6] netting for the home side.

The 1960–61 campaign saw the club's FA Cup exploits curtailed once again in the First Round proper with a 1–2 home loss (Town scorer: Joe White) to League club Gillingham. The following season's cup run in the 1961–62 season was the next high-point in Ashford Town's history when the club reached the FA Cup 2nd round proper. After beating (then non-league) Wycombe Wanderers in the First Round (winning a replay at Essella Park) the club lost 0–3 on home turf to Queens Park Rangers - playing for the visitors was Keith Rutter who would subsequently return to Ashford three years later to captain the team.

On the minor cups front in 1961–62 the club won the Kent Floodlight Trophy, beating Tonbridge 2–1 in a second replay, but were losers 1–4 to Dover in the Kent Senior Cup final. In the latter competition after an aggregate draw over two ties the decider for the Senior Cup 1961-62 winner was unusually played at the start of the 1962-63 season (in front of a little over four thousand spectators on neutral territory at Folkestone). The team put this setback behind them and later that same season lifted the Kent Senior Cup for a third time by beating Margate 1–0 in the 1962–63 final played at Gillingham with former England Youth player Brian Dellar notching the decider.[7]

Although the club had for many years played in green and white, for a while in the sixties they adopted tangerine and white for their team colours. By the end of the decade they reverted to their 'traditional' green and white.

In 1965 the club appointed ex-England and Chelsea full back and First Division championship medal holder Peter Sillett as player-manager, replacing the previous incumbent Bert Sibley.

In season 1966–67 by beating Cambridge City in the first round the club once again advanced to the 2nd Round proper of the FA Cup, with a visit to Third Division Swindon Town the prize. The initial tie on the Saturday was postponed owing to frozen pitch at the County Ground. The re-arranged fixture provided no respite however with Ashford falling 5–0 to Swindon.

It wasn't until the end of the sixties though that elusive League success was achieved. Throughout its Southern League tenure Ashford had been a mid/lower table team. Their previous high point was 7th in 1963–64. But this was eclipsed by a fourth placed finish under the managership of Peter Sillett in 1969–70 – a position that was rewarded with promotion to the Southern League Premier Division. This was a big step up for the club and represents their highest placing in the football pyramid. They were only one division below the Football League - indeed the 1969–70 Southern Premier champions, Cambridge United, had been elected to the Football League (there being no automatic promotion at this time).

Ashfords first match in the 1970–71 Premier was a 1–1 draw at home to Weymouth with Ashford equalising through Terry Street with the very last kick of the match. Two days later Ashford (extremely) briefly topped the table courtesy of a 1–3 win at Margate. But with only eight wins all season the club finished 20th (from 22) and were relegated. Notable performances during the campaign came from the men between the posts: The previous seasons keeper David Hills ceased playing early in the season; for several games a temporary replacement, former 1950's Chelsea goalie, Bob Robertson appeared; new custodian Brian Gambrill signed-on for £300 from Canterbury City and conceded seven goals on his home debut (in a 7–1 loss to Worcester City - David Gillingwater hitting the 'Town's' lone marker); mid-season he became injured and for several matches local amateur 'keeper Reg Gorham stepped in (echoing the make-up of the original Ashford United club he worked for the local free-sheet newspaper). The latter back-stopped the club to a 4–2 home win against Hillingdon Borough to snap a 14-game winless run.

The Southern League Division 1 South[edit]

The demotion from the Southern Premier put Ashford in the now regionalised Southern League Division One South for 1971-72 where the 'nuts and bolts' recorded a tenth placed finish. The same season the Reserves reached the final of the Kent League Division One Cup being defeated by Chatham in the final.

The following season, 1972–73, the club had their best ever non-league knock-out cup run when they reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy - just one match from a Wembley final. Alas the dream was not to be: in a match played on neutral turf at Peterborough they lost 1–0 to a disputed second half penalty to Northern Premier League Scarborough (who would themselves go on to win the trophy). Ironically for a club so linked to the railways, supporters travelling on a special train arrived 15 minutes after the kick-off following a delay en route. On the League front Ashford finished third in the 1972–73 Southern League Division One South, one place below the promotion places. Alan Morton set a club record scoring 46 goals in 69 games, which still stands today.

There are two other notable events from the 1972–73 the season. Firstly Roy Hodgson, who has since risen to be amongst Europe's foremost managers, played for the Town. Secondly the club took part in European football in the appropriately named Cross Channel Competition. Teams from French towns near the coast (Boulogne, St Omer and Hazebrouck) played similarly positioned English clubs (Ashford, Folkestone and Dover). Despite the 'Nuts and Bolts' fulfilling a couple of away fixtures the competition fizzled out owing to bad weather and power blackouts (caused by industrial disputes in the UK) leading to fixture congestion.

Around the early seventies the club began looking for a new ground. They favoured relocation to a site adjacent to the local authorities leisure complex close to the town centre. But nothing was agreed and the search for new premises wasn't resolved until towards the end of the next decade. Player-wise, goalkeeper Tony Godden signed in 1972. He was later transferred in 1975 (for a very modest £1,500[2]) to the talented West Bromwich Albion team who would, with him playing his part, come close to lifting the Football League League Winners Trophy in 1979.

During the 1973–74 season long-time manager Peter Sillett moved to Folkestone and was replaced by Dennis Hunt who moved in the opposite direction. Dennis had been a member of the Gillingham team that defeated Ashford in the FA cup in 1960–61. He brought with him Trevor Pearce who five years earlier had been plucked form non-league football by Arsenal.

A modicum of progress was made by the Ashford team in reaching the FA Cup First round proper in 1974–75 with a home tie against Division 3 outfit Walsall. The originally scheduled Saturday fixture was postponed owing to a waterlogged pitch and moved to mid-week. As Ashford's floodlights were not deemed of the required standard for an evening game the match was played on the following Wednesday afternoon. In front of an enthusiastic crowd that included many schoolboys allowed the afternoon off from their schools Ashford lost to Walsall 1–3 (Town scorer: John Hold).

The club hit the local press[8] for all the wrong reasons early in 1977 with a story that the club was £23,000 in debt and two weeks from bankruptcy. There followed a drastic re-organisation and effort both on and off the field which, over several years, restored financial equilibrium. Unfortunately one of the adjustments was on the playing front. Manager Dennis Hunt left and player Bobby Nash took on the role. He was replaced in April 1978 by Gordon Burden[6] who assumed the player/manager role. Gordon had first played for the club in 1954–55 and he was in his fourth stint as a 'Town' player. On-field performance suffered as a result of the financial tightening and the team endured a run of lowly finishes. The 1978–79 season was a particular low point as the team scored a post-war record low of 28 league goals from a programme of 40 matches. Overall in all competitions the team scored 35 goals in their total of 46 matches. Dave Clay[9] top-scored with 8 goals and Peter McRobert next highest with 7.[2] Over the next twenty years Peter would go on to make a club record 765 appearances for the 'Nuts and Bolts'.

Southern League Southern Division[edit]

In 1979–80 there was a major reorganisation of non-league football with the creation in of the Alliance Premier League (the forerunner to the Football Conference). This took the top clubs from the Southern and Northern Premier Leagues. The Southern League was reorganised into Southern and Midland Divisions (with no Premier Division).

Ashford Town were placed in the Southern Division. With the club maintaining its stringent financial policies and with stronger former Southern Premier teams (who hadn't made the cut into the Alliance) making up part of the opposition, lowly league finishes continued for the Town team. There was some light however as the team reached the Kent Senior Cup final for two years in succession in 1980–81 and 1981–82. On neither occasion were the boys able to bring home the silverware, losing to Alliance Premier League teams Gravesend & Northfleet and Maidstone United respectively.

For the 1982–83 season the Southern Premier Division was re-introduced with regional-based Southern and Midland leagues below. Ashford Town remained in the Southern Division and although ostensibly staying in the same league this was a slide down the football pyramid – now being in the third level below the Football League. Ashford had not played below at least the second level for 23 years.

The mid to late 1980's saw a run of near misses for the Reserves squad. In the Kent League Reserves Division One they were runners-up for four seasons: 1984-85 (to Sheppey United); 1987-88 (to Fisher Athletic); 1988–89 (to Hythe Town); 1990-91 (to Canterbury City). And were runners-up in the Reserves League Cup to Sittingbourne in 1986–87.

Results for the first team picked up with a couple of 8th-place finishes, but a slump to 19th position in 1984-85 saw the two-year reign of Chris Weller as manager end with the re-appointment of Peter Sillett. The turnaround from 18th position in 1985–86 to League runners-up and promotion in 1986–87 was striking. The promotion was founded on a tight defensive unit who conceded only 32 goals – the fewest in a season since post-war soccer resumed in Ashford in 1946. Sillett was the first manager to pilot the club to promotion since he initially achieved the feat back in 1969–70 season. Assisting him in the role of trainer on both occasions was George Sargeant. The former Irish Cup winner had previously played for the Town, joining from Hastings in 1952 and fulfilled the 'man with the magic wet sponge' role since the 1960s and would continue for a many more years yet!

But the 1986–87 season wasn't all about promotion. It marked the season when the club would bid farewell to Essella Park as their home after 56 years. The final game on May 2, 1987 was in fact a title decider with Dorchester Town. The 0–0 result meant the Dorset club pipped Ashford to the League title by one point. As noted previously the club had been looking to relocate away from the ground which was in a residential district and hemmed in by houses. Over 15 years they had looked at 17 sites. The directors had now purchased a plot of land for £80,000[2] a few miles beyond the immediate boundaries of the town in Kingsnorth. The Directors felt that this was "not the ideal site"[2] but could find nothing within the Town boundary. The project looked to echo the actions of Ashford United who collapsed in 1907 after they re-located too far from its core supporters. The club anticipated the seventy acre site would be developed over time but at the time of the final fixture at Essella Park they still awaited planning permission for the new 'Homelands' stadium - and the Chairman of the Directors was critical of "constant delays" by an "unhelpful" Ashford Council.[2] The club were therefore without a home stadium and agreed a ground-share at neighbours and longtime rivals Folkestone for the next two years.

Following the 1986-87 promotion the club moved-up to the Southern Premier League - now sponsored by Beazer Homes. Manager Peter Sillett left for Poole Town immediately following the promotion and his assistant Nicky Sparks took up the reins for the following two seasons now playing at Folkestone. The 1989-90 season saw the team return to Ashford with the opening of the newly built Homelands facility. The stadium boasted a capacity of 3,300 with 500 seated. But it wasn't an auspicious inaugural season - the team, managed by former incumbent Chris Weller (Nicky Sparks had joined his former boss Peter Sillett now at Hastings), finished 19th of 22 teams and were relegated back to the Southern Division.

In the early 1990s there were several big-money and new record transfers: Just before Christmas 1990 the club sold forward partnership Jeff Ross and Dave Arter to Hythe Town for a combined fee of £25,000 – a club record single receipt. Three years later in 1993 a single player record of £20,000 was received from Sittingbourne for Lee McRobert. And the following year a record of £7,000 was paid by Ashford to Sittingbourne to bring Jeff Ross and Dave Arter back to Ashford. Arter holds the career club record for goal scoring with 197 goals scored.

For the 1990-91 season in the Southern Division the 'Town' came under the player/managership of Neil Cugley[10] who came in from Herne Bay. For his first five seasons of Cugley's tenure the fans saw a series of comfortable top ten league finishes. During this period the old cup spirit of the Southern League South Division 'Nuts and Bolts' stirred as they lifted the 1992–93 Kent Senior Cup beating Isthmian Premier League Bromley 3-2 with Andy Pearson and Lee McRobert (2) netting. This was followed two seasons later with the appearance of Ashford Town in the First Round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in 20 years - Neil had been a non-playing member of Ashfords squad in their last appearance in the First Round in 1974–75. This was the start of a run of three years reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup.

The 1994–95 match was at home to Fulham and watched by a Homelands record crowd of 3,363. Neil Cugley's side achieved a more than creditable draw 2–2 against their Third Division opponents. On a heavy waterlogged pitch Ashford took a two goal lead (through Jeff Ross and Dave Arter) before two late controversial penalties[11] rescued the League team. The Town succumbed 5–3 after extra time at Craven Cottage in the replay. The season also marked only the second time in post-war football that Ashford scored in excess of 100 league goals – their 106 was second only to the 109 scored by the 1948–49 Kent League winning team.

For the 1995-96 season the first round draw saw Ashford paired with non-league Bognor Regis Town, with the tie at Bognor. Ashford did the hard work, achieving a 1–1 draw on the south coast but lost 0–1 at home in the replay. It was the first time the club had been knocked out in the 'proper' rounds of the cup by a fellow non-league team. Perhaps the team were trying to save the supporters the trauma of a trip to Peterborough (the scene of the 1972–73 FA Trophy semi-final defeat) who awaited them in the next round.

In addition to the national cup competition highlight the 1995–96 was a successful campaign elsewhere. On the local cup front the club won the Kent Senior Cup beating Charlton 3–0 in the final. And on the League front Ashford gained promotion to the Southern League Premier Division as a result of the teams' second placed finish to Sittingbourne in the Southern Division.

For the third cup run, in the 1996–97 season, the first round tie saw Ashford once again meet non-league opposition in the form of Dagenham And Redbridge. Following a 2–2 draw on home turf Ashford visited the 'Daggers' for the replay: the match ended 1–1 but Ashford progressed to the second round by winning 4–3 on penalties. In the second Round Ashford were drawn away at Watford. The result echoed previous away ties to league clubs for Ashford, a 5–0 defeat.

In the League for 1996-97 their return season to the Southern League Premier Division (now with the sponsor Dr Martens) was disappointing. With a finishing position of 19th the club was only saved from relegation by the resignation of Sudbury Town. This precipitated the end of Neil Cugley's seven year managerial reign (he moved on to Folkestone) and he was replaced by Nigel Donn who had joined the playing staff the previous season from Dover. The results for the 1997–98 campaign did not improve and relegation couldn't be evaded as 21st place saw the Town return to the Southern Division.

But the big news for 1998 was not the relegation but rather the news of a take-over of the indebted club by a consortium headed by former England forward Rodney Marsh. They would not only clear the club debts but planned a development of the Homelands site. The deal ultimately collapsed but the ownership of the freehold of Homelands was now separated from the football operation. As a safeguard a Trust of former club directors placed a covenant on the ground which stipulated that a new stadium had to be built if the Homelands site was sold for development. Along came another consortium fronted by John Gurney but they were unable to continue financing the club. The football club survived when Tim Thorogood acquired the football club in 2001 and struck a lease arrangement with the owners of the Homelands freehold.

During all this ownership upheaval there was a merry-go-round of managers over the next few years. The club appointed George Wakeling from Bromley early in 1999. He persuaded former England international Paul Parker[12] to take on the role of Director of football.

The league engaged in another reorganising and renaming exercise for 1999–2000 and Ashford now competed as a Southern League, Division One Eastern team. Wakeling had the team topping the league table in the autumn of 2000 but amidst all the turmoil of the takeover and after a run of one win in seven he and Parker were sacked in January 2000. They were replaced by Tony Reynolds and he was replaced a year later by Tommy Sampson (who had taken Deal Town to victory in the FA vase final the previous season). The team achieved a run of mid-table league finishes at this time.

For the 2000-01 season in order to differentiate it from the similarly named team from Middlesex, the club became known as Ashford Town (Kent) and known as this the team advanced to the 4th round of the FA trophy. They were defeated in Weymouth 1–3 to end 'Towns' best run in the competition since 1972–73.

With the takeover of the club ownership by Tim Thorogood in 2001 he assumed team management. There followed a period of relative stability with the 'nuts and bolts' recording mid table finishes for the final few years in the Division 1 Eastern of the Southern League: 2003–2004 marked Ashford's last as a Southern League club after 44 years under their umbrella – there was more reorganisation afoot of the non-league scene.

Isthmian League[edit]

The 2004–05 season reorganisation was brought about by the introduction of a North and South regional Conference leagues below the Premier. There was also the establishment of boundaries between the Southern and Isthmian League (which hitherto had overlapped). After it was all done and dusted Ashford Town found themselves in the Ryman sponsored Isthmian League Division One. This was a further demotion down the non-league structure for the club who were now in what was referred to as 'step 4' of non-league football (i.e. four levels below the Football League).

For 2004-05 the team moved away from their green and white strip and played in lime green shirts and blue shorts. In October 2004 owner/manager Tim Thorogood appointed former England player Terry Fenwick as manager. After a run of poor results he quit three months later.[13] The team finished the season 20th of 22 teams.

Supporters concerns for the existence of the club were raised by a carry-over from the ground ownership saga when it was claimed the club had not paid rent (of £2,500pa) for three years and had £10,000 unpaid arrears with the Inland Revenue.[14] The issues however were all resolved, Thorogood remained in control and the team continued in the Isthmian League. But performance in the league in 2005-06 continued in a poor vein (21 out of 23).

For the following season the league split into two regional divisions with 'Nuts and Bolts' in the Southern division for 2006-07. There was a further change in team control in October when John Cumberbatch was appointed sole manager[15] from the role of joint-manager he had held for a season. The league finish was poor but the back-room staff led by Elaine Osbourne won an award for the best club match day programme in the division.

March 2007 saw further changes in ownership of the club. Tim Thorogood sold ownership to a new joint-ownership team of Tony Betteridge and Don Crosbie. They had acquired the freehold interest in the Homelands site in 2006 and thus this transaction reunited the club with ownership of the stadium. They also announced that Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright was to become Director of Football Strategy at the club.[16]

The start of the 2007-08 season saw former Northampton Town and Dover manager Clive Walker[17] appointed as manager. The directors reported they had spent half a million pounds in refurbishing the homelands facilities[18] and the team returned to a green and white strip. Walker didn't last long as manager and at the end of October he was replaced[19] by former Wales International Steve Lovell.

There was minor triumph for the club in 2007–08 with the Reserve team winning the Kent Reserves League Cup (defeating Dartford) and finishing as runners-up (to Dover) in the Kent League Reserves Division 2.

Although Lovell managed the club to respectable upper-mid table finishes most of the action over the next couple of years seasons took place off the field. In the summer of 2008 Director Crosbie announced plans for a Sports Village at Homelands.[20] But within a year the relationship between the joint-owners turned sour[21] A year later the boardroom dispute escalated.[22] The split in the boardroom affected the on-field performance and the club barely clung to their Division One status in 2009-10 - only by beating Chatham in their final game.

At the end of the season, with an impasse at boardroom level, the club had an unpaid debt to Ebbsfleet United[23] and under Football Association rules whilst this remained unpaid they were suspended from competition. In the courts the row between Betteridge and Crosbie was finally resolved with administration for the club and Betteridge buying the club from the Administrator.[24] However the settlement came too late for the club to compete in the 2010–11 season.

The summer of 2010 therefore marked the end of Ashford Town FC after a history of 80 years. During this time they had won only one League championship – the Kent league in 1948–49 but had enjoyed a few promotions and cup exploits along the way. Although relegation had usually followed shortly after the promotions the post war record of the team was that they had never for any season finished bottom of their League – albeit it was close on more than one occasion![25]

Kent Invicta League[edit]

During what transpired to be a short one season hiatus the club was reformed as Ashford United[26] (harking back to before the Ashford Town days!). The club adopted the same crest as their forerunners, Ashford Town, except of course the word 'United' now replaced 'Town' and the simple wording 'Founded 1930' was expanded to 'Founded 1891, Reformed 2011'. The home ground for the club remained at 'Homelands'.

Under FA rules the 'new' Ashford United were not permitted to re-join the league where their predecessors had left-off: for their inaugural season of 2011–12 they were placed into 'step 6' football in the newly formed Kent Invicta League.

Initially the club appointed former manager Tony Reynolds as manager for the 2011–12 season but owing to personal commitments he stepped aside and Paul Chambers took up the reins.[27] After an indifferent start to their first season results improved over the second half and the team finished in fifth position.

Their finishing position improved two places in the 2012–13 season to third. At the start of that campaign the team broke a record established back in the Ashford Town days with six straight league victories (and were unbeaten in their first twelve league games). An individual player record was also established with forward Mo Takalo (Takalobighashi) scoring in each of these six matches. Although only the teams finishing in the top two positions were eligible for automatic promotion to the Kent League, Ashford United were awarded promotion instead of the second placed club Hollands & Blair, as Ashford had the facilities and ground grading in place in order to take the promotion.

During the close season the Kent League renamed itself as the Southern Counties East Football League. The names of opposing clubs were more familiar to long-time Ashford supporters than in the previous league with clubs from Canterbury, Deal and Tunbridge Wells as opponents.

After a positive start on the pitch to the 2013-14 season it was announced in November 2013 by owner Tony Betteridge[28] that he had sold his ownership of the club and the Homelands freehold to a company whose Director was the wife of Don Crosbie - the director he had fought for ownership of the club back in 2010.

In the 2013–14 season's cup competitions the team reached the last 32 of the FA Vase competition and reached the Final of the Kent Senior Trophy played at Tonbridge, where they lost 0–4 to Beckenham Town.

Players[edit]

Current squad[edit]

Goalkeepers

  • Joe Mant
  • Jon Sparks

Defenders

  • Jordan Miller
  • Luke Cuthbert
  • Ian Wallace
  • Gary Clarke
  • Ben Jordan

Midfield

  • Liam Whiting
  • Ollie Finch Boy
  • Adam Cuthbert
  • Sam Fisher
  • Dan Morrison

Forwards

  • James Dryden
  • Tom Scorer
  • Sam Conlon
  • Gary Mickelborough
  • Michael Smissen
  • Kieran Byrne
  • Ira Jackson

Ground[edit]

The Homelands
Full name The Homelands Stadium
Location Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Kent, TN26 1NJ
Coordinates 51°6′18″N, 0°51′21.51″E
Built 1989
Surface Grass
Capacity 3,200 (500 seated)
Tenants
Ashford Town 1989–2010
Margate 2004–05
Maidstone United 2009–2011
Ashford United 2011–

Ashford have played at the Homelands Stadium since it was built in 1989 - returning to the town after a two year-ground share at Folkestone. The record attendance at the ground is 3,363 for a match against Fulham in the first round of the 1994–95 FA Cup.

Several teams have ground-shared at the Homelands: In 2004 Conference South club Margate spent a season sharing the ground while they tried to bring their Hartsdown Park stadium up to standard; from 2009 Maidstone United played at the stadium for two seasons whilst they tried to build their James Whatman Way ground.

Honours[edit]

  • Kent League: Division 2, Eastern Section
    • Champions: (As Ashford Railway Works) 1911-12, 1912–13, 1913–14, 1919-20
  • Kent League
    • Champions: 1948–49
    • Runners-up: 1931-32
    • League Cup Winners: 1938-39
  • Southern League: Southern Division
    • Runners-up: 1986-87, 1995–96
  • Kent County Badge
    • Runners-up: (as South-Eastern Rangers) 1886, 1888
  • Kent Cup Final
    • Runners-up: 1902, 1903
  • Kent Senior Cup
    • Winners: 1892–93; 1958–59, 1962–63, 1992–93, 1995–96
    • Runners-up: 1961-62, 1980–81, 1981–82
  • Kent Floodlight Trophy
    • Winners:1961-62
  • Kent Senior Trophy
    • Runners-up: 2013-14

Club records[edit]

  • Record attendance
  • Highest goal scorer: Dave Arter 197
  • Most appearances: Peter McRobert, 765
  • Record Win : 10–1 v Barry Town, February 1964
  • Record Defeat : 0–8 v Crawley Town, November 1964
  • Highest transfer fee paid: £7,000 to Sittingbourne for J Ross and D Arter, 1994
  • Highest transfer fee received: £20,000 from Sittingbourne for Lee McRobert
  • FA Trophy best performance: Semi-final, 1972–73
  • FA Cup best performance: Second round proper, three occasions

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ashford Football Club: Kent League Winners Souvenir Programme. 1949. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ashford Football Club: Farewell to Essella Park Souvenir Programme. 2 May 1987. 
  3. ^ a b Kent's nursery clubs Retrieved 16 April 2014
  4. ^ "Ken Horrigan Profile". Jeff Trice's Margate History Website: margatefchistory.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Ashford Win Kent Senior Cup". Tuesday Express newspaper. March 31, 1959. 
  6. ^ a b "Gordon Burden Profile". Jeff Trice's Margate History Website: margatefchistory.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  7. ^ "1963 Kent Senior Cup Final report". Jeff Trice's Margate History Website: margatefchistory.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Final Whistle for Town". Tuesday Express newspaper. January 11, 1977. 
  9. ^ "Dave Clay Profile". Jeff Trice's Margate History Website: margatefchistory.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Neil Cugley Profile". Jeff Trice's Margate History Website: margatefchistory.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Dream win denied by late penalties". Kentish Express newspaper. November 17, 1994. 
  12. ^ Paul Parker & Pat Symes (2013). Tackles Like a Ferret – Autobiography of Paul Parker. Pitch Publishing. p. 119. ISBN 978-1909178434. 
  13. ^ Brian Cumming (January 4, 2005). "Fenwick Quits struggling Ashford". Kent Online. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  14. ^ Paul Foster (June 20, 2005). "Ashford Row Rumbles on". Non-League Today.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  15. ^ Stephen McCartney (November 22, 2006). "Thorogood Steps aside". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  16. ^ Stephen McCartney (March 12, 2007). "Ashford Town are made of the Wright stuff". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  17. ^ _ (May 15, 2007). "Ex-Dover boss takes Homelands hotseat". Kent Online. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  18. ^ Stephen McCartney (August 4, 2007). "New owners plough in half a million quid into Conference bound Ashford Town". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  19. ^ Tony Hudd (October 31, 2007). "Shock as Lovell takes over as Ashford boss". Kent Online. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  20. ^ Stephen McCartney (June 27, 2008). "Crosbie: Ashford will produce sporting champions". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  21. ^ Stephen McCartney (March 25, 2009). "Ashford Town face uncertain future". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  22. ^ Alex Hoad (June 9, 2010). "Boardroom battle puts Ashford Town's future at risk". Kent Online. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  23. ^ Alex Hoad (June 30, 2010). "Ashford Town Football Club placed under suspension by the FA". Kentish Express. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  24. ^ Stephen McCartney (August 1, 2010). "Former chairman Mark Jenner insists football will continue at Homelands". Kentishfootball.com. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  25. ^ Football Club History Database: Ashford Town stats.
  26. ^ We are United Ashford United FC
  27. ^ Kevin Redsull (July 21, 2011). "Tony Reynolds leaves Ashford United". Kent Online. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Tony Betteridge Announcement". Ashford United Forum. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°6′18″N 0°51′21.51″E / 51.10500°N 0.8559750°E / 51.10500; 0.8559750