Kent is one of the poorest counties in England when it comes to derbies at the moment. Last season the high point was the first Ebbsfleet United v Dartford derby for over a decade, whilst Ashford Town’s demise meant that the game versus Maidstone United fell by the wayside.
There are teams dotted all around the county but rarely do they pop up in the same league. We’ve been waiting for a juicy “Thanet” derby for a few years now, but Margate have stubbornly refused to go down, or Ramsgate go up so we will have to keep on waiting. But one game that gets the pulses racing in these parts is the Neame derby. The Shepherd Neame derby aka Faversham Town versus Sittingbourne.
The brewers have been based in Faversham since 1698 and are one of Kent’s finest exports today with their Master Brew, Spitfire and Bishop’s Finger beers known the world over. But few outside the county will know where the brewery is, let alone where Faversham is. They should be ashamed of themselves for a town that once could boast to be the capital of England and today is home to England’s oldest person, 112 year old Violet Wood. The town also hit the headlines in November when it was discovered that the copy of the Magna Carta they had turned out not to be a £10,000 replica, but a £20.1million original. The things you find in your attic! Neither town can decide if Sir Bob Geldorf lives close by, although I am not sure if they are embarrassed or trying to brag this one. According to the website, Marlon Brando once dined in a restaurant in Faversham, or at least someone who looked like him. Pass the butter madam.
But we weren’t here to talk about history or celebrities. This was all about football. Ryman League South football to be precise. The teams coming into this derby were separated by just one place and three points. There was more at stake than just points though. This was bragging rights for the whole of Swale. You’re hooked now aren’t you?
Both sides had similar early histories, playing in the Kent Leagues until fairly recently. Faversham moved out of the Kent League in 2009 after years of trying, whilst Sittingbourne had taken a similar route in 2006, although they had previously been as high as the Southern Premier League before a financial crisis had seen the club tumble ingloriously.
So after the excitement of the Double dose of Essex United, I headed back to familiar territory saarf of the river and settled back for the battle of the Men of Kent. A simple drive down the M2 saw me pulling into the car park before kick off. The queue to get in was rather large, but I saw the door that said “Guests, Media and Passes”. Well, I could tick all those three boxes so I opened the door, expecting the third degree. Instead I simply stepped into the ground without challenge – a non league Narnia.
I headed to the bar for a quick pint of Shepherd Neame Smooth and then settled back for the white hot atmosphere in the ground.
Faversham Town 4 Sittingbourne 0 – The Shepherd Neame Stadium – Tuesday 27th December 2011
The teams emerged from what can only be described as a converted stable block. The ground ticks all the boxes at this level. New floodlights, new fences, new goals and plans in place to upgrade the ground as and when needed. The old main stand still does the job although it has he smallest press area in the world (two seats sitting in isolation on a terrace) and the food hatch was producing the biggest pile of chips known to man, which was welcoming on a chilly night.
The Sittingbourne fans had come out in force, creating a real noise behind the goal for the whole ninety minutes. In fact an attendance of 294 was the biggest Salter Lane has seen for many a season thanks to the away following. They sang their hearts out, focusing on the social defects of various parts of the county. They seemed to direct some of their venom at Tottenham Hotspur which seemed strange as I wonder if most Spurs fans actually know where Sittingbourne is, let alone they had a football team.
Anyway, back on the pitch, events were muted. In fact the first chance of the game fell to Faversham’s Adrian Stone who got the wrong side of the Sittingbourne defence and powered the ball home. Thirty seven minutes had passed. It felt like three hundred and seventy.
In the second half after Adrian Quain had powered home a header from close range which essentially ended the fight of the “brickies”. Despite an incident involving a female Cardiff City fan on crutches who had the most grating laugh in the world trying to hit another (related?) fan with her crutch whilst she was in the toilet (I know – it takes a bit to get your head around). Alas, it didn’t inspire the team as two more goals from the two Adrians put a bit of an unfair gloss on the score.
Time to go home I think. Two and half games in one day was a good return, although the actual standard had been poor. But hey-ho it’s Christmas after all – what would I have been doing otherwise? Sitting at home, eating turkey and drinking a beer? Hmm on second thoughts…