About Hartsdown ParkHartsdown Park has been the home of Margate F.C. (known as Thanet United F.C. between 1981 and 1989) since 1929, apart from between 2002 and 2005, when the club was forced to share the grounds of other Kent clubs while protracted redevelopment work occurred. Although the football club was able to return to the stadium in 2005, redevelopment work is still at a very early stage, and many of the ground’s facilities are still of a temporary nature. Nonetheless, the club has extensive plans for the future development of the site. The first ever match at the stadium was a friendly against Folkestone on 31 August 1929 and the first competitive match a Kent League fixture against Dover two weeks later. In 1934 the club entered into an agreement to become a nursery team for Arsenal, and as part of the agreement the Hartsdown pitch was altered to exactly match the size of that at Highbury.Further covered spectator accommodation was erected at the ground in 1935, but this blew down in a storm in 1952 and had to be rebuilt. At around the same time the club added a new terrace next to the main stand, where supporters had previously stood on banked earth. A new covered terrace was installed at the Tivoli Park Avenue end of the ground in the late 1950s, officially named the Cornhill Stand but more usually known to fans as the Coffin End. The club’s first set of floodlights was erected in September 1959 and inaugurated with a friendly match against West Ham United. In 1966 a new clubhouse was built, but there was little further development of the ground, although in the late 1980s the North Stand, which had been condemned by council officials was demolished and the clubhouse extended. In 1982 the club was nearly evicted from the ground by the local council after its name change to Thanet United. A legal loophole was discovered which meant that the lease on the ground was held in the name of Margate F.C. and therefore the renamed club was technically no longer permitted to use the stadium, but this was eventually resolved and the club was allowed to remain. Upon promotion to the Football Conference in 2001 the club spent £175,000 on improvements designed to bring the stadium up to the standard required for that level of football, but soon afterwards launched an ambitious scheme to completely redevelop the site. The club moved out and the old stadium, which was constructed mainly from timber and corrugated iron, was demolished in early 2003, but the local council disputed the plans submitted. Although planned to be completed by August 2003, the redevelopment process lasted for three years, delayed by issues regarding planning permission for the commercial facilities the club wanted to build in addition to the stadium itself.The team ground-shared with other Kent clubs for three seasons, but club officials’ failure to confirm a return date to Hartsdown led to Margate’s expulsion from the Conference National in 2004. In 2005 the club was finally able to return to the ground, albeit with pre-fabricated stands and temporary buildings in place. Five years later, plans for the redevelopment of the north end of the ground, reportedly including the construction of a new terrace, a bar, and a three-storey hotel, were approved. As most of the stadium was demolished and little of the proposed redevelopment work has as yet been carried out at Hartsdown Park, the stadium’s current facilities are limited. On the south side of the pitch, the site of the former main stand, portable buildings are in place behind the dugouts. The opposite side of the ground currently contains two prefabricated seated stands. Behind the goal at the western end of the ground, known as the Hartsdown Road end, the one terrace remaining from before the redevelopment work has been renovated, along with the clubhouse behind it. A plan was reportedly in place for a temporary standing structure at the opposite end of the ground, known as the Tivoli Park Avenue end, but this has yet to come to fruition.How to get to Hartsdown ParkIf you are coming by car then you will invariably be coming from the west down the M2 from M25 (junction 2) or via London on the A2/A20. When you reach the end of the M2 you need to stay on the road where it becomes the A299 Thanet Way. After 16.2 miles on the A299 take the 2nd Exit off the roundabout into the A28. Continue straight into A28 (Canterbury Road Birchington). Follow the signs and road for Margate. A little way after a BP Petrol station you will need to turn right into the B2052 (George V Avenue). Follow the road around the left hand bend. At the end turn Right into Hartsdown Road, and the ground is a little way down on the left hand side There is limited street parking in Hartsdown Road and Tivoli Park Avenue. There may also be some space in the Hartsdown 5’s car park by the main turnstiles but these generally get taken quickly. If you are coming by train then Margate then you need to catch the train down from London Victoria. Journey time is around 75 minutes. When you leave the station you need to take the south exit into Nylands, then turn left into All Saints Avenue and then this becomes Tivoli Park Avenue. Just after the golf course is a pedestrian access to the ground on your right hand side. It takes about 15 minutes walk.Admission to Hartsdown Park Pay on the door for all normal games. Adults are £10, Concessions are £7 and under 16’s are £3. There is a £1 stand transfer and programmes are £2.Our last visit – April 2014“Well I’ve been working hard to reach me sales targetTo earn a few quid for an away trip down to MargateI’m gonna blow my commission tomorrow on all me football familyWe catch the train at eight so don’t be late, were off to see the sea”We are the luckiest fans alive today. Who else wouldn’t want to be spending a day at the sunny British seaside today. It is fair to say that prior to the release of the fixtures back in July, Margate away in either the earlier part of the season or towards the end would have been perfect. In the last two season we had been down to the Isle of Thanet in October and January, so it was time that the fixture computer was kind to us. What better way to celebrate our promotion than a knees up on the golden sands and sewage outflow pipe of the Costa del Thanet. Well, as our big sweaty transatlantic friend still warbles, two out of three ain’t bad. We were going to get our day in the sun in April at Margate, and ‘that’ sign was still warning us about staying away from the pipe carrying ‘stuff’ into the sea, but alas there was to be no promotion party. In fact our recent, and by recent I mean the last half of the season, has been a bit of a mystery. With a third of the season gone we were one place and two points outside the playoffs. However, the harsh weather, which first kicked in in October for us seemed to throw a spanner in the works and since then we have taken on average a point a game. I still get the “sack the board” chants aimed in my general direction by those who still don’t quite get this community club aspect and realise that I can’t be sacked by the fans (voted out in October, indeed) but we will finish the season in a stronger position both on and off the field than last season and can look forward to next season when the regeneration project will commence on The Dripping Pan which will ultimately give us a new viable revenue stream.Our hosts today will also be looking forward to next season. Next chairman Bob Laslett has already shown his intentions by bringing former AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown. Rumours of weekly budgets in excess of £5k will certainly make them the favourites come August, but I hope the club don’t go down the all too familiar road of Non-League boom and bust. Whilst the ambition for the owners may be a rise up the leagues, it has to be sustainable. Redevelopment work continues at Hartsdown Park and that will give them a solid base, but if they do “build it” who will come? Only twice this season has the attendance at home broken the 500 barrier and both of those were due to the sizeable away support of Dulwich and Maidstone. Success on the pitch will bring people through the gate – in their one season in the Conference Premier where they played in Margate (as opposed to the two seasons in Dover) they did get over 1,100 on average, fuelled by away fans making a new ground visit. Today that number has decreased by 66%. With three other Ryman teams almost on their doorstep, plus Gillingham and Dover playing at higher levels close by, it is hard to see where these new supporter will come from.“Along the promenade we spend some moneyAnd Cynical finds a spot on the beach that’s simply sunnyBig Deaksy will enjoy himself digging up the sand, collecting stones and winkle shells to take back home to Dan”But today is all about a bloody good day out. With our final away game on Easter Monday at Harrow Borough not really ticking all of the boxes for a “Jolly Boys Outing”, today was all about a few beers, some sunshine, dare say a couple of giggles and if we were lucky, a Non-League dog or two. Heck, even a long overdue three points would be as good as a Kiss Me Quick hat, a lick of a lolly and memories of the Radio 1 roadshows down here as teenagers….happy days. It is fair to say that the walk from Margate station to the town centre has seen better days. It is a crying shame to see so many places that I remember as a kid boarded up. Dreamland, still home to bits of the UK’s oldest rollercoaster stands desolate, like a Scooby Doo spooky location. There has been years of talk about turning it into an interactive museum of the rollercoaster but that day seems along way off.Thanks to ClubSec Kev’s inside knowledge we bypassed the Pound shops and arrived at The Lifeboat pub, possibly the best secret in the town with its range of over 20 local ales. Lunch consisted of a few pints from the Westerham and Whitstable Breweries, sharing our memories of what we had been doing on the 15th April 1989, the day of the Hillsborough disaster which every club would be respecting today.Margate 1 Lewes 1 – Hartsdown Park – Saturday 12th April 2014One taxi ride later and we were at Hartsdown Park. You can see signs of the foundations being laid for the redevelopment and I’d hope they retain the existing structure at the Hartsdown Road, although essentially it is only a two-sided stadium with nothing at the far end bar the railing around the pitch and portakabins on the right hand side. The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and it was fair to say that reflective atmosphere was adopted by Lewes in the first half as they struggled to make any impact at all on the game. They lacked fight, bite, bustle, hustle and thrust. Margate, with their megabucks budget didn’t really dominate, although they forced over ten corners yet really made little chances in the opening period. In fact their opening goal came direct from a Sunday League style mistake by Malins who perfected an air shot when trying to clear and 31-club (THIRTY ONE!) Jefferson Louis made no mistake from ten yards.Lewes were forced to shuffle the pack once again with an injury to Andy Pearson meaning midfielder Logan had to drop to centre-back and Jack Dixon coming on. Sometimes such events turn games and this is exactly what happened in the second half. Lewes started to believe that they could get something from the game and pushed forward, using Crabb and Wheeler out wide. In the 65th minute the ball found its way to Wheeler on the edge of the box, he shimmied, twisted, turned and dropped his shoulder to confuse the defender, putting him on his arse and then slotting home.Margate were rattled and Cynical Dave smelt victory and told the Margate keeper and centre-backs so. A few minutes later a miss hit shot from Dixon/Malins/Crabb (we can’t remember who exactly) bounced up on the hard surface and into the net. Referee gave the goal but the linesman deemed the retreating Nathan Crabb and Luke Blewden in an “active” offside position despite no appeals from the Margate team. Even the keeper agreed it was a harsh decision. A point apiece was probably a fair result for a game of two halves. The Lewes Lunatic Fringe partied like it was 1999 on the way back to the station. It had been a great away day and our reward was a family size bag of imitation Frazzles and a few bottles of Pedigree whilst we reminisced about the season. Days out like this make the wind, rain, snow, sleet, floodlight failures, abject defending and poor refereeing decisions all worth it.“Down to Margate, you can keep the Costa Brava, I’m telling ya mate I’d rather have a day down Margate with all me Lewes family”Our Last Visit – September 2010
“Well I’ve been working hard to reach me target To earn a few bob for a day trip down to Margate I’m gonna blow the lot tomorrow on all me family We catch the coach at eight so don’t be late, were off to see the sea”Margate – so many memories for the TBIR team. Many a summer we jumped on the train from our north Kent home, and spent the hour or so journey getting on and off the train to avoid the conductor. In the olden days trains used to be in “toast rack” carriages – compartments that could only be entered and exited from the outside and thus no ticket inspector could get you unless they got in at a station, so we simply looked out of the window, jumping into the next carriage when we saw him coming.“Along the promenade we spend some money And we find a spot on the beach that’s simply sunny The kids will all enjoy themselves digging up the sand, collecting stones and winkle shells to take back home to Nan”In the mid 1980’s Margate was all about Bembom Brothers White Knuckle Theme Park aka Dreamland. These were the days when Chessington was simply a zoo, Thorpe Park was a farm and Alton Towers was the derelict stately home of the Earl of Shrewsbury. It was THE premier attraction in the UK, and in 1981 the Looping Star rollercoaster opened, sending the park into meltdown. Add in the BBC Radio 1 Roadshow and you could not get a better day out (especially with a Watney’s Party 7 and 10 Marlboro’s for the journey down).“Down to Margate, don’t forget your buckets and spades and cossies and all Down to Margate, we’ll have a pill of jellied eels at the cockle stall Down to Margate, we’ll go on the pier and we’ll have a beer aside of the sea You can keep the Costa Brava and all that palava, going no farther, me I’d rather have me a day down Margate with all me family”How times have changed. Today the amusement park is closed, with all of the rides now dispersed across the corners of the UK. The Looping Star can be found today in the Loudoun Castle Theme Park in Scotland, but there are plans to transform the site into a heritage site – a theme park for classic rides that other parks no longer want – a sort of Battersea Dogs Home for rollercoasters. Already in place is the Scenic Railway, the UK’s 2nd oldest wooden rollercoaster that was first opened in the park in 1919 (and a replica of the one found on Coney Island in New York). The park is still a few years (and a few thousand pounds in donations) away from opening but when it does it will be a real trip down memory lane.But we weren’t coming down to Margate on a Jolly Boys Outing as Del and Rodney had done in the classic 1989 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special. We were here to experience the magic of the FA Cup with a club who have an amazing cup history. It is rare to find a Non league team feature as heavily in the FA Cup stories as Margate but they have written themselves into the record books in more than one way. 20th November 1971 will be a day that Margate will choose to forget from their history, but it is one of those that they will always hope they don’t. Margate came to visit Dean Court in the first round of the FA Cup. Margate were a Southern League team and had done well to reach the first round. Third division Bournemouth were having a mixed season but over the next 90 minutes they banished all of those worries, scoring ELEVEN times, with Ted McDougall (later to play for West Ham and Manchester United) scoring a English record 9 goals. Fourteen months later the club had fought their way to the 3rd round, beating Swansea City and then Walton & Hersham to set up a game with then UEFA Cup holders Tottenham Hotspur at Hartsdown Park. The club was the real winner on the day despite the 6-0 reverse as over 14,000 crammed into the ground to see the North Londoners turn on the style in a 6-0 win.The Southern League side continued to plod along before some bright spark decided to rename the team Thanet United, looking at a Robert Maxwell-esque idea of creating a “super club” from Ramsgate, Herne Bay and Whistable Town. No doubt Inter would have sat up at this point, with world domination the next step. After all, Milan couldn’t boast a rollercoaster like the Looping Star! The idea died a death a few years later and the club found the Margate FC name in the lost property bin of Dreamland. The FA Cup heritage continued in the 1990’s as the club welcomed Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins, Mohammed Al-Fayed and even Sky TV for a first round game with Fulham. A 2-1 defeat was as close as the score suggested and the word Margate was again on the lips of the footballing nation. All seemed to be going in the right direction for the club, and at the start of the 2001 season the club kicked off in the Nationwide Conference – the highest level they had played at. At the end of the season they finished 8th, just a few points off a play off place. Could they make that next step? Well not without significant work for Hartsdown Park so the club moved down the coast to share with Dover Athletic’s Crabble Ground. The FA Cup again provided the highlight with a win in the first round against Leyton Orient before a 3-1 defeat at “home” to a strong Cardiff City.However, the Conference were getting impatient with the lack of development at Hartsdown, and after the club missed the deadline for completion, they were relegated from the league despite finishing in 16th. The club appeared to be in free fall and the following season, this time sharing with Ashford Town saw them relegated again into the Isthmian Premier League where they have remained ever since. A few famous names have been in the managerial hot seat, trying to lift the club back up. Gabby Logan’s Dad, Terry Yorath (amazing she is now probably more famous in football than her Dad who won the lot in Revie’s Leeds team) and Neville Southall have had a go with no success. So what of the club now? Well this season they have started well. Sitting just outside the playoff spots with a game in hand has given the fans something to cheer about, especially as coming into this game the club had been on a run of four wins. The visitors, Kingstonian had come so club to winning the Rymans League play off at the end of last season, losing out in a dark day for football at Boreham Wood.We weren’t going to be on our ow. Our host with the most was Jeremy Jacobs, “Mr Margate FC” . Not to be confused by his namesake who owns the Boston Bruins Ice Hockey team and ranked as the world’s 476th richest man (according to Forbes). No, we were meeting up with public speaker, event presenter and general all round top chap. And as it was an FA Cup who should also be there was our friends from The Real FA Cup – it was certainly shaping up to be a top afternoon. The man everyone was talking about in the build up to the game wasn’t only Margator, the excellently named mascot but Sierra Leone International Foday Ishmail Kamara, a man who was going to be in the view finder, snapping away at the Kingstonian players and hoping to expose his talent to us (do you see what I am doing there?)…anyway let’s move on!Margate 1 Kingstonian 1 – Hartsdown Park – Saturday 25th SeptemberTime alters memories and so when I pulled up in a parking space on the seafront I was saddened to see the decay in what was once a prime location. The once famous buildings were now either boarded up or looked like they should be. However, the beach was still as inviting as ever, and on a sunny day it would have been a crime not to have a little walk on the sand. That was until I saw a sign advising me “not to play near the pipe at the end of the pier”…well at least they are honest!One portion of excellent fish and chips later and I was on my way to Hartsdown Park. It was sure to be a good day when a parking space literally outside the turnstiles opened up and I slotted in. Literally seconds later I was through the magic door and within seconds in the bar with a pint of Tuborg, eating a hot dog and watching the Man City game. A real home from home. Hartsdown Park is in the middle of a major redevelopment. Well, in terms of work and not time. Two sides of the ground have been cleared, and there are plans almost in place to build a hotel and a new stand that will augment the small temporary structures. The dressing rooms were brightly painted blue portakabins on the edge of the pitch. So that begs the question – if you are sent off then can you just watch the game from the doorway of the portakabin and thus get a better view than the dugouts? The oldest part of the ground is the structure at the Hartsdown Road end of the ground. A decent bar, the club shop and a covered terrace provided the right acoustics for the crowd to actually make a decent noise for once. In fact the 400+ crowd generated more atmosphere than I have heard at many a Premier League game.Both teams started cautiously. They had met a few weeks ago with Kingstonian winning 1-0 and the visitors defensive approach seemed to suggest that they would be happy for a draw. Margate grew in confidence during the first twenty minutes and when Welford headed narrowly wide you could sense a goal coming. I think I have a sixth sense in terms of predicting these things and so when a corner was floated in I was camera poised to capture Pinnock diverting a Robinson flick into the net. Such events always fill me with pride and in the process of showing off my fine work to the fans around me I missed Kingstonian going up the other end and equalising. Bugger. Cup games featuring teams who are occupying the same league space are rarely edge of the seat stuff, and this was no exception. There was a temptation from Damon and myself to star in the bar, watching Jeff Stelling but we are professionals and had a job to do so we took up our spot on the terrace (careful not to use foul and abuse langauge which may lead to ejection if you have already been warned).Margate continued to push for a winner and they thought that had it on 87 minutes when Cloke turned in a cross but the linesman’s flag was already in the air. Kingstonian then had a chance of their own when Dali had his moment of Salvadoration in hitting a fantastic shot from the edge of the box which struck the crossbar and bounce to safety. So the teams will have to do it all again on Monday to decide who moves one step closer to Wembley. Our trip down memory lane had just made us sad. Oh to be able to go back to that beach in 1984 with my bottle of Diamond White, my 10 Marlboro reds and a girl on each arm listening to Bruno Brooks. Hmm, on second thoughts I’ll stick with a curry and Skins on DVD. More photos from our day out at the seaside can be found at our Flickr stream here.
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