Ebbsfleet United

 

 

Ground Name: Stonebridge RoadCapacity: 4,098 (Seating 500)Address:Northfleet, Gravesend, Kent DA11 9GNMain Telephone No: 01474 533796Fax No: 01474 324754Team Nickname: The FleetYear Ground Opened: 1905Pitch Size: 112 x 72 yardsHome Kit Colours: Red & WhiteOfficial Web Site: www.ebbsfleetunited.co.uk   About Stonebridge RoadOn one side of the ground is an old looking wooden Main Stand. This single tiered covered stand, is all seated and runs for around half the length of the pitch. This stand has a fair number of supporting pillars running along the front of it, although the seating is raised above pitch level. There is also a tiny terrace in front of this stand. Entrance to the seated Main Stand is gained within the ground, on payment of a transfer fee (£2 per adult, £1 per concession). Opposite is a fair sized terrace, which has a simple rusty looking roof which covers the middle portion of it. One end is known as the Plough End, gaining its name from the pub that is situated just behind it. This is a former covered terrace (to the rear), that was made all seated in 2006. The stand looks quite picturesque with a wooded hill just beyond it. The other end, known as the Swanscombe End, is an open terrace, that is dominated by a huge electricity pylon which sits directly behind it. The Club Shop is located inside the ground. The Club was formed in 1946, following the merger of Northfleet United and Gravesend United. It was renamed Ebbsfleet United in 2007. *Thanks to Duncan Adams’s excellent Conference Grounds Guide for the above information.How to get to Stonebridge RoadThe nearest station to the ground is Northfleet, which is only a few minutes walk away from the ground. The station is served by trains from London Bridge & Charing Cross. Just come straight out of the station and turn left at the top of the road. The ground can be then seen down on the right. If you are drving then the A2 is the nearest main road. Take the exit for Ebbsfleet Station which is about a mile after the exit for Bluewater, and 2 miles east from the M25 junction. Follow the signs for the football ground and park in Car Park C at the new Ebbsfleet station which is a 2 minute walk away and costs £3.How to get a ticket for Stonebridge RoadAll ticket games are about as common as a warm afternoon here and it is nearly pay on the gate. Admission is £15 for Adults and £8 for children. For this you can stand anywhere in the ground or in the seats behind the Plough End goal. If you want to sit on the main stand you will need to pay an extra £2 to transfer.Our last visit -1 February 2013 – Ebbsfleet United 0 Macclesfield Town 4We all know that Non League football is going through a tough time.  At the top end of the pyramid, clubs like Luton Town, Wrexham and Grimsby Town are operating almost as League clubs still, whilst the “upstarts” of Forest Green Rovers and Newport County have wealthy owners who are gambling on the next step.  The crowds are comparable with their Football League cousins as too are the wage bills.  But even in the top division there exists the “have” and “have-nots”.  This season the Blue Square Bet Premier features ten clubs who have Football League experience in the past.  Most of these still retain a Football League business model.  But at the other end of the spectrum the Conference hosts teams such as Braintree Town, Hyde, Nuneaton, Alfreton and Tamworth.  Clubs who survive on crowds as low as 600 in the case of some of these, competing with full-time outfits.  Even in the Premier League the comparison between the likes of Man City and United and Fulham and Wigan Athletic is not so stark.8436784684_1952d040f1_bMany clubs reach the Blue Square Bet Premier, but soon slide back down, with the financial burden simply too much.  The season Lewes spent in the top-level of non league football some five years ago almost cost the club its very existence.  Forced to put in additional turnstiles, segregation and other ground-grading criteria, the clubs fail to see additional fans come through the turnstiles to prop up the other side of the balance sheet.  No investment on the pitch soon sees a season long fight against the drop, and with four going down it is hard to escape.  Some clubs are simply too good for the regional Blue Square Bet North/South but not able to compete in the league above.  One such club is Ebbsfleet United. Last weekend the Chairwomen of the club made a dramatic appeal to the fans:-“In all seriousness and joking aside, now is the time to stand up and be counted. Whether you are MyFC, Fleet Trust, both or one of our loyal supporters who just enjoys watching the Fleet, please lose your pounds now!The unfortunate timing of the weather and home fixtures being cancelled has really left the club strapped for cash and the coffers are bare!LOSE YOUR POUNDS OR LOSE YOUR CLUB!!!!!The Football Club is asking EVERY MyFootballClub member, EVERY Fleet Trust Member and EVERY Supporter near and far to donate a minimum amount of £30.00 or as much as you can afford to save the club.Please do not ignore this plea, it is very real and has been decided as a last resort today here at the club.”Crowds have rarely broken the four figure mark, apart from the two thousand who came to see the long-awaited return of the Dartford “A2” derby.  With Charlton Athletic back in the Championship and still running their coach travel from Gravesend, as well as the High Speed rail line to St Pancreas, and thus almost on Arsenal’s doorstep, fans are choosing alternative Saturday afternoon destinations.  The bad weather had caused postponements, which means the club, like many others, has no income to pay the expenditure of club wages and other bills.  Will such stark appeals work?  In most cases no.  Fans already feel they contribute enough by attending games and buying a beer, or a pie.  The emotional attachment in non league football simply isn’t as strong as we like to think, especially if at £15 for entry when economic times are still tough, other entertainment options are more appealing. Despite trying various tactics to get Brighton fans along to Lewes this year, our crowds have fallen slightly.  Fans, whilst they may have an “affection” to a non league club, their hearts lie elsewhere.  A short-term cash injection may starve off the wolves today, but unless a club fundamentally changes the way it runs, they will be back,, hungrier than ever in a few months time.  One aspect that has helped boost attendances has been the kids go free scheme.  I still find it amazing to see the amount some clubs in the Non Leagues charge for the next generation of football fan – Borehamwood charge a whopping £6 for an under 12 for instance.8435699769_04e7b6d2e9_bA Friday night game was a different approach.  The visitors were going to be Macclesfield Town, a club who have got their share of back page headlines this year for their remarkable FA Cup run.  Of course there was a common interest for me.  Town’s manager was none other than Steve King, who up until a year ago was in the hotseat at Lewes.  Since parting ways, King has changed virtually the whole squad at The Moss Rose in an attempt to get them back in the league at the first attempt.  Whilst their league form has been patchy to say the least, his cup exploits have kept the detractors off his back.  Despite the rallying call from the club, there appeared to be little effort to try to get more people through the gate.  No special promotions, no “kids go free”, no “Premier League/Football League Season Ticket Holders get 50% off”.  Whilst this would reduce the revenue per head, it would increase the total revenue as more people who come through the gates.  Logical? This game couldn’t have been more perfect for me.  My weeks now end with a trip to our French office.  Whilst it’s not Copenhagen, with its fine food, fine location and even finer local scenery, Paris is growing on me.  Eurostar is a civilised way to travel and with my train arriving into Ebbsfleet at 7:15pm it would have been very rude not to walk across the car park and pay my £15 to watch the game against Macclesfield Town.  Unlike the fools at South Eastern railways I could rely on Eurostar to deliver me on time, which they did, and even allowed me to park free (technically not free but a football match loophole meant I didn’t have to pay to park for the whole day).Ebbsfleet United 0 Macclesfield Town 4 – Stonebridge Road – Friday 1st February 2013Shall we start with the positives? The club had done well to get the game on, especially with the wet weather in these parts in the last few days.  The pitch looked good although was wearing badly by the end.  The official attendance of 799 (which seemed high compared to eyeballing the crowd) couldn’t complain they didn’t see any action although apart from the 50 or so Macclesfield Town fans they wouldn’t have been best pleased at where it all came. I’d only just walked through the turnstiles before Town took the lead.  Kieran Murtagh lined up a free kick on the edge of the box and drilled the ball through the wall and into the net.  A big sigh went around Stonebridge Road and the regulars in the Liam Diash Stand though “here we go again”.  But to give them credit Ebbsfleet battled in the first half, and could have equalised had the ball been played into the box earlier.8435706945_7cd57ebe10_b (1)Just before the break I bumped into “Game a Day” John.  You can be sure if there is a game on any midweek night around London, John will be there.  He say’s it’s all about research (he works for one of the High Street betting companies) but I have a sneaky feeling he is addicted to football.  Always pleasant to chat to him though and we discussed the major issues of the day whilst Macclesfield flattened Ebbsfleet in the second half with some powerful counter attacking.  First Fairhurst scored from close range in an almighty scrap and then Mackreth finished a fine move with a Messi-esque finish.  The fourth, almost on the final whistle again summed up the difference between the two sides in attacking abilities, again scored by Mackreth. So what can we take away from this game?  Ebbsfleet do seem to be in that state of limbo.  Probably too good, and dare I say it, too big for the Blue Square Bet South, but not quite able to cut it in the Premier.  Travelling costs, as Lewes found, in the Conference National are massive – away trips to far-flung places such as Barrow, Gateshead and Hyde are not cheap days out.  Many clubs are now taking the full-time plunge and that means the opportunity for clubs like Ebbsfleet to make a challenge towards the top of the table is very limited indeed.  They must be looking on with envious eyes at the progress local rivals Dartford are making. Thumbs up for the Friday night football, but perhaps a few more incentives to get more floating fans through the gates wouldn’t go amiss in future.  1 January 2011 – Ebbsfleet United 1 Lewes 0Now if you are reading this it means that for once Easyjet actually managed to fly one of the those airplane things from Copenhagen to London Stansted on time (and if not you have somehow broken my tough password for the admin area of my blog).  That may sound easy but in the last few weeks they have failed to do that on a number of occasions, often simply leaving passengers holding their boarding cards at 1am in a strange airport as they announce the flight is cancelled.  Personally I have voted with my feet, so to speak, changing my weekly commute to BA, but on this occasion as the whole family were flying back from our New Year revelries in Denmark, it was Hobson’s choice. And of course assuming they did get me back on time it was dependent on our loveable Border Control people at Britain’s least favourite airport, Stansted (I refuse to use the moniker London for an airport two counties away from the capital) realising that they need to have appropriate numbers of staff to cope with the number of airplanes landing. Oooh – bitter aren’t I, and 2011 is just a few hours old as well.  Once a grumpy old man, always a grumpy old man as my dear Nan used to say.So, assuming everything was on time then at 2.30pm I would be walking through the turnstiles of Stonebridge Road, home of Ebbsfleet United ready to watch Lewes try and claw their way out of relegation trouble.  This was always be a game that the Rooks would have marked up as a zero return one.  Ebbsfleet had surprisingly been relegated on the last day of the season from the Conference National last season, and few would have backed against them making an immediate return.  With their games in hand due to the poor weather, the club would have been within a point of Braintree Town at the top of the table, whilst Lewes would have been bottom if Borehamwood and St Albans City would have played all of their games.So virtual top versus virtual bottom was not the start that Lewes probably wanted to 2011.  2010 had been a bit of a nightmare to say the least, starting and ending the year with defeats away to Dover Athletic. In between quite a few bits that the fans would want to forget, although there is still a sense of optimism about what the club is trying to achieve on and off the pitch. Due to the weather, this was to be our first Lewes game in five weeks.  In that people they had played just one league game (versus Dover on Tuesday) so you could understand some of the rustiness the team will have felt.  It also has an impact on the fans too, with double handbag winner Deaksy (he won them both in the Lewes Christmas draw if you believe him although why he has to now take them to all away games “just to tell people” is baffling) and Cynical making their second trip to Kent in just a few days.My first “hats off” award for the New Year goes to Ebbsfleet for charging just £5 for adults and £1 for children for this game.  Coming off the back of the bumper attendance for the “keenly fought” local derby with Dartford where the crowd was well over 2,000, they could have been complacent and kept admission the same, but instead they slashed in.  The club are still groaning along under the control of Myfootballclub.  The internet fad that had started off with such a bang back in 2008 had lost its way in recent months and it was clear from standing in the bar pre-match with signs placed on the wall that every penny counts now, and the club is absolutely desperate to get back into the Blue Square Premier.Ebbsfleet United 1 Lewes 0 – Stonebridge Road – Saturday 1st January 2011After the goal in the first minute at Dover Athletic on Tuesday the travelling dozen or so fans breathed a sigh of relief when the big hand passed the sixty second mark.  O’Shea had put out an attacking side with George Porter and Paul Olima up front, and David Wheeler back in his favourite advanced right midfield role.  And despite the gap in points and league position, Lewes took the game to Ebbsfleet, pushing them onto the back foot as the ball pinged around a wet midfield.  The highlight of the opening ten minutes had to be my very tasty jacket potato with chilli from the food cabin – a highly unusual combination to be found at a football ground, and served by a girl who was talking on her mobile throughout the transaction.  Was it wrong of me to wish she would drop her Blackberry into the steaming hot pot of chilli?Lolly was not impressed and decided she wanted chips and went across to the other side of the ground to queue there, as too did the Rooks2 (Patrick and Charlie on duty today) who didn’t like the rain.  The first bit of excitement came when Deaksy found his hot sausage roll was actually frozen in the middle.  He took it back and waited for another for a few minutes, before one of the girls actually asked him if he wanted a replacement, or was he just there as a public service announcement that frozen pork is not good for the stomach (Charlie says, for those old enough to remember). But back to the football.  Ebbsfleet came close to opening the scoring on 12 minutes when Anthony Barness had to clear off the line, and then huffed and puffed for the rest of the half.  Apart from a shot from distance by Nathan Green in the dying seconds of the half it was relatively tame…for tame read dull.  And for those amongst you questioning my parental responsibilities, I didn’t just leave Lolly queuing up for 35 minutes on her own in the rain, I did go to the bar and get her a Coke (and then went back into the bar myself).The second half started much the same as the first really.  Ebbsfleet tried to push forward but Lewes’s defence, bolstered by new signing Stephenson seemed to be able to cope with their approach.  Fleet managed Daish made changes on the hour mark, bringing on Scott Ginty whilst ToSH had to take off the injured Porter, replacing him with live wire Tom Murphy. Lewes seemed to have done enough to get a point as the game entered the final few minutes.  However, they were to leave empty handed as for the seventh away league game this season (out of eleven) they were to lose by a single goal.An uncharacteristic mistake from Hutchinson allowed a cross from the right to evade him and grateful sub Scott Ginty was able to capitalize and turn the ball past Winterton, much to the delight of the whole team with even Edwards running half the pitch to join in the wild celebrations. Ironically, Lewes made the most of the closing moments. Substitute Tom Murphy was just beaten to a long ball by keeper Edwards, but in the next attack, a hopeful punt upfield found its way to Murphy again but his clever angled near-post header was pushed away by Edwards to preserve all three points for the  hosts. Lewes’s rotten away form in the Garden of England continues.  It is now almost three years since the Rooks won in Kent, and with three defeats out of three so far this season, with only Dartford still to face the hopes are not high to stop that run. So my mammoth 643 mile trip to a football match was over, and it was the train back home for me.  Easyjet had been on time.  Stansted airport had treated me well.  The M11/M25 had been as calm as a mill pond now could SouthEastern deliver for once on a cold wet night?  Amazingly they could.  A perfect day apart from the three points we all so badly needed. More pictures from the day can be found at our Flickr stream here.Our Last Visit – Ebbsfleet United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0 – 17th January 2009 Let’s get one things straight….It’s not Ebbsfleet, it’s Gravesend & Northfleet. Money may be able to alter the future but the past is past and the club now owned by a million people around the globe who sold out so spectacularly last year still represent my home growing up, and the venue of legends for a player in the Gravesend Under 12 league. You see having been poached at such an early age by Milton & Denton I enjoyed years of success through boys and then youth football and the cumulation of most seasons was the Cup Final which was played at Stonebridge Road, home of Gravesend & Northfleet.The club at the time bounced around the Alliance Premier League as it was called then, playing local derbies against Dartford in front of crowds of 4-5,000. Then football changed and “the fleet” found themselves in the Southern League trying desperately to get back to the big time. It took a bold move in switching divisions to the Rymans Premier League to get them back on track as with non-league legend Steve Portway scoring hatricks for fun in between cashing cheques still for NatWest. In 2002 the club eventually returned to the Conference league after winning the Ryman’s league, holding off a strong challenge from Aldershot Town. Since 2002 the club have sat firmly in lower middle table, not threatening anyone. And then came three life altering events. In the summer of 2007 Eurostar surprised the footballing world that they had agreed a sponsorship deal with the Fleet in recognition of the opening of the new Ebbsfleet station less than half a mile away from Stonebridge Road. In return for a few first class tickets to Lille at Christmas, the club changed their name at the drop of a hat to Ebbsfleet United. Six months later the club, with their fancy new name hit the footballing headlines around the world when they became the first ever club to be taken over by Myfootballclub.com, a consortium of football fans around the world who had clubbed together on the internet and raised just over a £1m by paying £35 each in exchange for a say in team affairs. The original plan was to get all 3,000 members to vote on team selection, transfers and tactics but this has not happened, fortunately – the lunatics have not taken over this asylum YET! As if the whole story was being covered by Boys Own Magazine or a story featuring Roy Race the club went onto to reach the FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium where they beat Torquay United 1-0.I’d been a regular visitor in the past but not since the takeover in February 2007. The last time I visited was when Barnet were the opposition, managed by Martin Allen in a 2-2 draw. What amazed me at the time was the poor state of repair of the ground which was without doubt one of the ugliest in the top levels of English football. It must have been one of the only grounds in the country that has power lines draping between two huge pylons across the ground. There was no real main stand, just one covered seating area with 7 rows of seats, but even that nearly lost part of the roof when a ball landed on it. So with West Ham playing on Sunday this week I took the opportunity of a short drive down to Gravesend to watch the game versus one of the most hated teams in Non-League football still, Rushen & Diamonds. I’m not going into the whole history of Rushden’s formation but safe to say that the excessive investments made by Max Greggs and his Doc Martens company literally bought them the league and their passage into the Football League structure. Promotion to the third tier soon followed, but as soon as Sugar Daddy Greggs pulled the plug on his investment the club slid down the league and two consecutive relegations saw them back in the non-leagues. They may have the best stadium in the non-leagues nowadays but with crowds half of what they saw in the Football League the future for the club is bleak to say the least.As I parked in the shadow of the new Ebbsfleet Eurostar stadium I was amazed by the fact that the outside of the ground still looked exactly the same as when I used to cycle past on my way up the hill to Swanscombe. Oh, there was a small sign on the side of the roof proclaiming their Wembley victory in May 2008. Paying my £13 took me into the ground and it was as if I was back at the Milton & Denton versus Riverview United in the Under 10’s Cup Final. The small house that had been converted into the toilets were still there, as too was the catering hut, now selling Chilli and Chips and Jacket potatoes as well as the standard football fayre. Nothing had changed. The club shop was stocked to the brim of smart Nike made Ebbsfleet merchandise complete with Eurostar and AustrianAirlines logos but it was still the same old ground. This is your traditional non-league stadium, although it was disappointing to see the Plough End had been converted into seats. Both teams came into the game firmly rooted in mid table in the Conference. The home side needed the win more than the visitors, as they were sailing a little close to the bottom four of the league for the liking of the owners who were due to vote on whether they renewed their £35 per annum subscription in a few weeks time. You got the impression when the two teams emerged onto the pitch that Rushden weren’t popular. Whether that was because of the past histrionix between the two teams or the simple fact that the way they reached the Football League last time went against all that non-League teams stand for. What was noticable though was that for a club that regularly had crowds of 5,000 plus a few years ago they had brought just 127 fans (I counted them twice to make sure – once in each half). Where had all the fans gone? Football in the south eastern midlands has hardly had a good time in the past few years and it was now a hot bed of Conference rivalries with Kettering, Cambridge and Histon playing local derbies against Diamonds. The game was hardly a classic as both teams seemed intent on playing the ball long. Ebbsfleet at least tried to pass their way around the pitch with Stacey Long and Luke Moore providing some width at times. The one and only real chance of the half was at least converted as Long managed to beat the Rushden full back and his low cross was turned in by Neil Barratt in the 41st minute.After the break Ebbsfleet pushed forward to try and get a second and somehow Michael Gash managed to hit the ball straight at the goalkeeper from three yards out in a chance that would have been easier to convert than miss. After Rushen failed to take a few half chances the game exploded in the 83rd minute when Rushden fullback Simon Downer delivered a very late and high challenge on Ebbsfleet’s Simon Moore just in front of the benches. Chaos ensued as the coaches, substitutes and one of the mascots piled onto the pitch to join in. Stweards ran (well waddled) from both ends to try and restore order and it was clear that the referee had completely lost control. He retreated to the centre circle with both linesmen and the fourth official before marching back over to the touchline and sent both coaches plus a couple of substitutes to the stand. Great idea, but as I have already mentioned the Main Stand has all of 7 rows meaning these sinners ended up sitting some 10 yards from where they were previous. Downer was of course red carded in the mayhem and can have no complaints. Despite seven minutes of injury time played neither team could create a chance and with the wind gathering strength for a night of gales in south eastern England I headed off back to the car. The win was much needed for their league form, but who could rule out a return to Wembley in May again

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