THE CHANGING FACE OF THE KENT LEAGUE
Iíve been watching Kent League football for 20 years now, if my team Bromley arenít playing the KL is the most likely place Iíll turn to see a game. With the demise of Faversham and the arrival of Sevenoaks Town & Sporting Bengal United it made me think back to just how many teams have gone during the last two decades and how much the make up of the league has changed.
When I first made my way to Oxford Road to see my Dadís team Cray Wanderers play, Snowdon Colliery Welfare were just coming to the end of their time in the top division and they are still plying in the County League, but other teams who featured then have in recent times dropped out of senior football completely. Kent Police were one of the first to go along with Met Police 4 Area who played at The Warren in Hayes, then sadly other local teams to me started to fold in the mid-90ís including former champions Alma Swanley & Darenth Heathside. Darenth was a really nice ground to visit just down from Farningham Road station, near Horton Kirby fishing lakes in a nice piece of West Kent countryside. I once saw them play Alma there when all other games in the county had been called off due to rain. I was coming back from Gillingham on the train, after their game had been postponed late, and just happened to look out to my left as we went past and saw the teams running out. My luck was in as the train stopped at the station and I ran down the hill, laughing at my good fortune, the game finished 2-2 in front of a much larger crowd than usual and was great value. Almaís near neighbours and former Kent League rivals Swanley Town have also fallen into junior football, their St.Maryís Road ground would now be totally un-suitable for the stricter ground gradings.
With the introduction of the floodlight rule in 1998 many more local teams dropped out of the Kent Premier Division, but continued in Division One or the Kent County League. It was still a shame to lose somewhere as special and unique as Crockenhill along with former champions Swanley Furness, formerly Danson who had moved from Crook Log to share with Alma, and although they did have lights Corinthian also went. They have now started again in Division One, but it wasnít long ago they were playing in the Southern League! The Crocks shared for a while with Erith & Belvedere before taking the drop, Cray of course came to Bromley and VCD Athletic went to Thamesmead.
Another Ex-Southern League side Canterbury City finally left the senior footballing world in 2001, after losing their dog track ground they struggled on sharing with Faversham, but in their final season they were a shadow of their former selves. I saw them play their final game at Beckenham, when they let in a lat minute goal finishing the season without a win! Sheppey United also paid the price for losing their Botany Road ground and after playing at Sittingbourneís Eurolink Park in front of only 24 people they also called it a day.
The most recent casualty is of course Faversham Town, who after a couple of difficult seasons finally had to resign from the Kent League. I really liked their Salters Road ground, it was a great old football ground in a nice setting and I saw a great 1-1 draw with Cray their a while back. Itís a shame to see so many of the real characteristic grounds go, but itís all about ground grading criteria these days and function is more important to the authorities than what is pleasing to the eye and pleasant for the fan.
Coming into the League have been clubs like VCD & Lordswood from the Kent County League, Thamesmead & Erith (then Woolwich) Town from the Spartan and of course the re-born big clubs Dartford, Folkestone & Maidstone. Clubs such as Chatham Town, Erith & Belvedere, Sittingbourne have won the title and gone on to establish themselves in the Doc Martens. And now in the coming season we have Sevenoaks who have worked their way up from the county league and invested in their ground and Sporting Bengal of Tower Hamlets from the London County League, possibly the first team from north of the Thames to play in the KL? The future status of this level of football may be un-clear with the proposed FA restructuring of non-league football, but it will no doubt thrive in some form and keep on changingÖ
Colin Head Ė Editor of the Independent Bromley FC Fanzine - Two Footed Tackle.