Saturday 12th April 2014
Margate 1-1 Lewes
As soon as I knew regular hopper Anwar would be off to Newport County v Wycombe Wanderers this day, I started making alternative plans. A Folkestone Invicta fan that I knew, Tom, fancied a meet and so I started checking around Kent for games. Armed with a fixture list and my CAMRA Good Beer Guide App I eventually settled on Margate v Lewes, owing to the fact that it had an excellent looking establishment called the Lifeboat Ale and Cider House. The plan was to get there early and park up at the ground, walk into town, a few pints, food and then a look round the town before heading back to see the game. Before I looked further, all I knew about Margate was that it was the topic of a Chas and Dave song from the early 1980's.
Margate were managed by former AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown, with his assistant Stuart Cash, who was a former Wycombe player, having left the season before I started watching them. A more familiar face would be that of goalkeeper Nikki Bull who played for Wycombe for 2 and a half seasons, but left the club in 2012 after becoming fed up of playing football. He was a great keeper for his first season in League 2 and looked as if he could become the clubs greatest ever keeper. But things declined rapidly after that. Conceding nearly 100 goals in our relegation season in League 1 took it's toll on him and he was never the same after that, being at fault for quite a few goals, especially susceptible to letting in some goals from distance that should have been saved. He left under a bit of a cloud, being released from his contract early and it was a shame for someone who had been so popular with the fans to depart the club in this manner.
The club were formed in 1896 and have had the same name for the whole of their history, apart from an 8 year spell in the 1980's when they changed their name to Thanet United. They have spent most of the time in the Southern and Kent Leagues, although they had 3 successful seasons in the Conference in the early 2000s. They gained their best ever position of 8th in the 2001/02 season and despite finishing 16th in 2003-04, they were demoted to the Conference South following ground grading issues. The club had spent a few seasons away from their home, playing at Dover and Ashford but delays in the ground improvements almost resulted in the club folding. Their one and only season at Ashford resulted in another relegation, this time from the Conference South and they have spent ever since in the Isthmian Premier, finishing 9th last season. In the 1972-73 season they reached the FA Cup 3rd Round and met Tottenham Hotspur in front of over 14000 fans at their own ground, before going onto lose 6-0. Their most recent appearance in the 1st Round came in the mid 1990's when they narrowly lost 2-1 to Fulham despite taking the lead. A famous face was involved in the club at the time, that of Bad Manners frontman Buster Bloodvessel who was on the board for a short time. As for the FA Trophy, they made the Quarter Final in 2001/02 before losing to Morecambe. The club have a well maintained Wikipedia page if you want to know more. Margate were 16th in the Ryman Premier before the midweek games had been played.
Lewes were a team I had visited in 2007 and it really is a delightful town and ground. My short blog here does not really do it justice, but I couldn't afford too much time on it as I was catching up with 168 previous groundhops when I started the site. The club were formed in 1885 and play at the wonderfully named Dripping Pan. They were a place below in 16th before the midweek fixtures. They spent much of their history in the Sussex Leagues before joining the Isthmian League in 1997. They had a few successful seasons in the early 2000's, going from the Ryman Division 1 South (despite a 4-2 defeat to Dulwich that I witnessed in their promotion season) They reached the pinnacle and made it into the Conference in 2008-09 but finished bottom of the league. Financial issues led to a further relegation to the Ryman Premier. Step forward a supporters buyout of the club, which included the bloke who does the sarcastic voiceovers on Channel 4 show 'Come Dine with me' It's been a mixed bag since, finishing 6th and 19th in the seasons since, but at least they are now owned by those who have the clubs best interests at heart. The club have reached the first round of the FA Cup on 3 occasions, all since the turn of the century. They have been defeated on each occasion - by Mansfield, Stoke and Darlington. As for the FA Trophy they have reached the 3rd round on 2 occasions, most notably when they lost an 8-5 thriller to Weymouth. The club's story is serialised in the excellent book 'Ripping Yarns' which is available from all good booksellers, and a few rubbish ones too.
I woke up naturally after 5 hours sleep on the morning of the game, which was annoying as I wanted to get a lie in. I watched last nights Corrie before getting up and checking out some stuff on the internet, leaving at 9, the same time as my Dad was leaving for Newport County v Wycombe Wanderers, travelling on the independent supporters coach.
To be honest, had I not committed to going to Margate, I would have changed my plans to go to the Worthing v Guernsey game at 12.45 and then the Worthing United game at 3. It would have been 2 games in one day, and a shorter distance as well. But I am a man of my word and wouldn't let anyone down. That's why I like ground hopping with Anwar, he is a man of his word and won't say he will do something if he can't fully commit to it. It's important as I rely on getting help with travel costs for a lot of my trips, and also I write up some of my blog in advance. On this occasion, he was off to Newport though, and what with trips on my own next week, it was proving to be an expensive time.
It was a pretty easy trip, if a long one at 123 miles. I saw delays on the other side of the M25 where a car had caught fire and everyone had slowed down to have a gawp, but I was lucky in that respect. I got to Margate at 11.15, parked up at the ground and walked into town. I went to Morrisons to kill time as the pub was not yet open and I got some Easter Cakes to fill a hole until I got lunch later. The town looked very run down and dirty to be honest, and could do with a bit of renovation, though I only saw a small part of it in fairness.
The pub that I targeted was called The Lifeboat. It was reputed to have 10 real ciders and I was not left disappointed. I had not had any of them, nor would I be able to get anywhere near to trying all of them due to having to drive later. But I did get 3 done with judicious use of half pints. The best one was the Lemon cider, and I was glad that that was the one I opted to have a pint of. It was a bit pricey at £4.50 a pint, plus the others were £4 pint but to be honest I am happy to pay that for something special as it's not often that I find somewhere as epic as this. The people were friendly too, and it even had people coming across from France to visit it, so it must have a good reputation.
By now it was 1.15 and so I headed off to find something to eat> Having had a couple of pints or so, I was not that fussed, so I went into the first place that I saw - KFC. I was hoping for something more nutritious and different, but old habits die hard. I was still hungry as I got nearer the ground and so got a sausage and chips from another place, before getting to the ground at 2.10.
I had agreed to meet Tom, who had found me via my blog if I recall correctly. He had complications when he was born which meant he had to spend his life in a wheelchair, but he was very upbeat about life and didn't let it get him down. He turned up with his Uncle and Granddad who were good to chat to and liked football as much as me. He's quite well known around the clubs in Kent and lives in and supports Folkestone. He's aiming to become Britain's first wheelchair bound football manager at whatever level it takes, and although that is a long shot I wish him luck as he's a decent lad and anyone that reads my blog gets my best wishes.
The game was not the greatest but at least I saw a couple of goals. The journey home was OK, though it did have miles and miles of roadworks on the M25 with a 50MPH limit. Driving such a dull road at what felt like a snail's pace was tiring, and so I pulled over into Clackett Lane services for a rest and to go to the toilet. I was back on the road within 15 minutes and listened to the Arsenal v Wigan Athletic FA Cup Semi Final on the radio. I got back in just in time for the penalty shoot-out which Arsenal won convincingly.
Next up is Alsager Town with an overnight stop before visiting the set Coronation Street on Tuesday morning. On the way home I will be going to Sheffield FC and there is a possibility of another game before Wycombe's Good Friday clash with Northampton. After today's results we are level on points with the Cobblers, with only goal difference keeping us out of the relegation zone. It's getting very tense now, especially as I heard it was a dire performance today in Wales.
HARTSDOWN PARK was knocked down and rebuilt and as a consequence is typical of the newer non league grounds in that it has quite bland styling. The best part was behind the goal which also housed all the club facilities. One side had a stand, holding around 400 while the other 2 sides were open standing.
I didn't use the tea bar or bar but they seemed OK. The town is around a mile away and has some decent places to eat and drink, the pick of which is the Lifeboat pub.