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Whitstable Town FC History: Introduction

Article Produced in Conjunction with Ian Johnson

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Foreword  

   

If you exchange football memories with 'middle age' fans on the terrace of the Gas Works End, I guarantee that  they will nominate the Kent League Division 1 of the 1950s as the golden era of Whitstable Town FC.

It's a strange phenomenon..... because those opinions are not supported by the team's playing record. Nor can anyone point to a bulging 1950s trophy cabinet. In fact, Whitstable's playing record was modest to say the least. They lost more games than they won (152 as opposed to 77), finished no higher than sixth place and spent most seasons struggling in the lower half of the division. To reconcile these seemingly incompatible opinions and statistics, it is necessary to understand the 1950s Kent League itself. 

It was a veritable "who's who" of local football and, in terms of playing standards, it lived just a few short steps down from the Football League . Most matches were local derbies and inter-town pride and rivalry were intense. Whilst Whitstable may not have been capable of winning the overall war, each match presented a battle that carried its own chance of victory over the invading tribes that descended Borstal Hill on a Saturday afternoon. 

The football theme was also superimposed over the social history of the time. Thus, understanding the Kent League of the 1950s is to understand some of the mechanics of Kent in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

So much is said about that footballing era... but very little is written. Now, half a century on, we are about to put that right!......

 

What was The Golden Era?

   

Let's start by defining the era in question. Whitstable fans would probably restrict it to the nine seasons during which the club took part. "The Reds" gained promotion to the Kent League Division 1 for the 1950/51 campaign and continued until the league disbanded at the end of the 1958/59 season.

However, in terms of county football as a whole, the "era" actually began in 1946 when the competition got underway after the enforced break of the wartime years.

 

Why So Different... Why So Golden?

    

So, what was so different about the period 1946-1959? After all, there had been a Kent League pre-1939.... and a "new" Kent League has existed from 1966 to the present day.

Well, trust me.... it was different! Yes... a Kent League had existed before. In fact, it was formed in 1894.... BUT it did NOT include all the top Kent clubs. One of the main reasons for this was that the more powerful outfits had both the resources and the ambition to aim for higher things.... in the shape of the prestigious Southern League. The Southern League was also founded in 1894 and it wasn't intended to plug the gap between the full Football League and competitions such as the Kent League. It was actually created to rival the Football League!

In fact, there was quite a lot of argy-bargy in the late 1890s. The Football League was formed as a professional competition in 1888.... BUT, due to the southern establishment's distaste for professional sport, its membership was confined to clubs from the Midlands and North of England. After much disquiet amongst London clubs who wanted to turn professional (such as Millwall and Arsenal), the Southern League was created to cater for both amateur and professional competitors. It wasn't until 1920 that the two leagues really started to co-operate on a significant scale. At that point, the top Southern League clubs were creamed off and merged into the Football League. This effectively placed the Southern League below the FL and introduced limited (but not automatic) promotion and relegation between the two. 

The sheer status of the Southern League obviously attracted keen interest from the more ambitious Kent Clubs. Some competed wholly in the competition until 1939. Some oscillated between the Southern and Kent Leagues. Others entered teams in both. Thus, the pre-war situation was confused and the Kent League was never able to claim the allegiance of all the top local clubs at any one time.

It was very different in 1946 and the "difference" existed until the league disbanded in 1959. During this period, Kent was a war ravaged county. The local economy was under repair. The employment situation was in turmoil. Transport was disrupted. Much of the male population was still attempting to ease back into civilian life. Football grounds and teams needed to be rebuilt. As a result, the Kent League provided a post-war "convalescent home" for major clubs before they attempted to move back to higher things. It caught the imagination of local communities and local people got behind the enterprise in a big way. 

Although a new Kent League was set up in 1966, it has remained a mere shadow of its 1950s predecessor. Whilst it is true that the competition has provided a home for a handful of the old Kent League competitors, most of the elite are missing and the numbers have been made up by small, poorly supported outfits from the London suburbs. 

In the present day FA pyramid, the current Kent League sits 5 steps below the Football League. If there had been a pyramid during the 1950s, the Kent League would have been just a couple of steps away from full league status. Thus, I would place the old competition on a par with the Ryman Premier Division of today... but with attendances 2 or 3 times the size! 

Forget what went before.... remove the confusion that followed.... and you are left with The Golden Era - 1946-1959.

  

But Was it Primarily an East Kent League? 

   

I mentioned that, during the Golden Era, the Kent League attracted the county's biggest clubs and generated massive support. However, this perhaps needs to be qualified.  

My assessment was certainly true of East Kent where, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, clubs could not afford the time and travel costs involved in reaching distant Southern League venues via antiquated "country road" systems. Furthermore, football spectators on the eastern fringes of the county could not easily find time or money for trips to see London's elite clubs playing in the full Football League. Thus, from Ashford to the English Channel, EVERY major town club joined the Kent League and attracted significant attendances. 

It was perhaps not quite the same in the west of the county. Here, proximity to London enabled some clubs to recover more quickly from the war years and provided them with better transport. As a result,  a smattering of West Kent's most influential professional and semi-professional clubs opted for higher competitions - eg Gillingham (Southern League 1946-1950, Football League 1950-1959), Gravesend & Northfleet (Southern League), Dartford (Southern League) and Tonbridge (Southern League). Meanwhile, protective of their status, some elite amateur clubs opted to compete in powerful and prestigious amateur leagues - eg Bromley (Athenian 1945-1952, Isthmian 1952-1959), Dulwich Hamlet (Isthmian), Erith & Belvedere (Corinthian), Maidstone United (Corinthian 1950-1957, Athenian 1957-1959).

This gave the Kent League a slightly lopsided look and the championship was dominated by East Kent Clubs. In fact, during the 13 seasons of competition, the league title never tavelled further west than Ashford and Sittingbourne! (You can check the league tables for all 13 seasons on our page "Kent League Div 1 Tables 1946-59" and assess the success of East Kent clubs on our stats page, "Overall Performance of the Clubs".

However, as an East Kent club, none of this really mattered to Whitstable. Our part of the county was a myriad of eagerly supported local derby matches with fierce inter town rivalry.... and, from 1950, WE were part of it all!

   

The Football Fabric - Amateur and Semi-Pro

   

Even as late as the 1940s and 1950s, there was a clear division between amateur and semi-professional football. In particular, amateur clubs and competitions were fiercely protective of their status - even if money did inadvertently turn up in the boots of some amateur players!

Leagues above the Kent League lived in two quite separate worlds. As I have already pointed out, the Southern League was largely semi-pro while prestigious competitions such as the Isthmian League were strictly amateur. Arguments raged as to which were better in terms of playing standards with many people opting for the safe option of treating them as equal.

The Kent League was a little different in that it accepted both amateur  and semi-pro competitors. However, as time progressed, it was the latter that increasingly dominated the top positions.

The amateur/semi pro division also showed itself in terms of cup matches. Kent League clubs that were primarily amateur (such as Whitstable) competed in the FA Amateur Cup and the Kent Amateur Cup. Meanwhile, the semi pro sides took part in the Kent Senior Cup and Kent Senior Shield.

Amateur players also had the chance to represent the county. In fact, several Whitstable players were chosen to play for Kent even when the club was floundering in the lower reaches of the Kent League. The league's top players were presumably excluded from selection on the grounds of being semi-pro.

It was a strange situation!

 

The Early Makeup of the KL   

   

The Kent League was reformed in 1946 and the membership reflected the social and economic circumstances of the time. The clubs fell into 5 main categories.....

   

1. Key Kent Towns

Nine Kent towns were represented - Margate, Folkestone, Sheppey, Maidstone, Ramsgate, Ashford, Sittingbourne, Dover and Deal. Most had Southern League experience from pre-war days.

2. The Mining Communities

Two teams came from the Kent coalfield - Snowdown Colliery Welfare and Betteshanger Colliery Welfare.

Although linked to the workplace, these teams were not too different from the town sides mentioned above. The Kent coalfield was a major influence on the eastern side of the county. Although the country localities of Snowdown and Betteshanger were both remote and small, the collieries were linked to substantial mining communities that supplied both accomplished participants and loyal support. 

Whilst some of those communities inhabited the nearby towns of Deal and Dover, many resided on dedicated housing estates close to the pits - at locations such as Chislet and Aylesham. In fact, the Aylesham housing development was built by the owners of Snowdown Colliery in the 1920s or 1930s in order to accommodate the families of 650 miners.

The Snowdown and Betteshanger clubs would survive the entire golden era of the Kent League with great credit. There were perhaps two reasons for this.

Mining communities were hot beds of sporting achievement around the UK in general. This was hardly surprising given the physical nature of the work and the need for miners to find relaxation away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the pits in relatively remote locations. This was particularly the case at Snowdown which was the deepest of the Kent mines and one of the most humid in the country. It was known by some as "Dante's Inferno"!

Mining families were also fiercely loyal to their local competitors and produced match day attendances appropriate to senior football. In many ways, the tight knit and partisan nature of the communities stemmed from the shared fears and dangers of the work. I suspect that it was also fuelled by the fact that many miners came to the remote Kent countryside from the North, Midlands and South Wales and there was a sense of having a separate and very distinct identity from that of the surrounding area.

3. Major Employers

The league was supplemented by the teams of major employers - Lloyds of Sittingbourne and Shorts of Rochester. In those days, Kent still had a range of labour-intensive industries. These provided the necessary investment, facilities and personnel to support football teams at a senior level.

Shorts Sports is particularly interesting as it was the well known aircraft manufacturer. Its role included work on sea planes and it would have played a significant part in the war effort just a few years earlier.

4. The Armed Forces

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Kent retained a significant military presence -  including HM Dockyard Chatham and the closely linked Marines base. The Royal Marines were actually organised in three divisions - at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. The football team of the Chatham Division became founder members of the Kent League.

5. Reserve Teams

The numbers were made up by the reserve teams of the county's two strongest clubs - Gillingham and Gravesend & Northfleet.

    

Progression to a "Town-Based" League

   

This mixture of different types of club got the league underway but it did present some problems. Attendances at the grounds of Kent towns grew rapidly in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, "company" teams, reserve sides and organisations such as the Royal Marines were unable to compete in terms of support.

Whilst town teams drew players from a wide catchment area, companies and armed force units relied on what talent existed on their payrolls. Furthermore, progresss on the pitch was closely allied to the fortunes of the organisation off it. Such clubs may have been able to produce a high quality team for a season or two but they struggled to maintain performances over a period of years. During the 1949/50 season, the Royal Marines amassed just four points from 32 games and conceded 155 goals at an average of almost 5 per game. Aylesford Paper Mills were promoted to the Kent League Division 1 in 1947 but, during the 1950/51 season, collected just 6 points from their 32 fixtures! It was hardly surprising that such teams gradually disappeared from the competition. 

Shorts Sports FC was the first to go when, with the return of peacetime, the Shorts aircraft company closed its Medway operations towards the end of 1946. The team merged with another Medway club (Chatham) to form Chatham Town FC for the 1947/48 Kent League season. This merger appears to have suited both clubs. Chatham had built a distinguished pre-war history including spells in the Southern League. However, during the 1946/47 season, it had competed in the Kent Amateur League and was looking for promotion to senior football after lifting the league title. 

The Marines football team pulled out of the league when the Royal Marines group at Chatham was disbanded - presumably as a result of the post-war rationalisation of the armed forces. By 1951, Gillingham Reserves, Gravesend & Northfleet Reserves and Aylseford Paper Mills had also left the competition. They had been replaced by ... Canterbury City (1947), ... Faversham Town (1949)....  Whitstable (1950).... Tunbridge Wells United (1950)....  and Bexleyheath (1951). Only Bowater-Lloyds remained from the world of industry and they finally succumbed in 1953.

The Kent League Division 1 had now become a wholly "town-based league" - supplemented by the well supported colliery teams from the mining communities of Snowdown and Betteshanger. For the 1953/54 season, the league map looked like this.....

   

   

By now, crowds were flocking to the grounds of the top clubs..... particularly for the frequent local derbies in East Kent. Matches between the likes of Ramsgate, Margate, Dover and Folkestone could generate "gates" between 4000 and 7000. (Note: You can get a feel for some of the crowds for big matches by reading our Attendances page).

The East Kent 'picture' was completed in 1957 when Herne Bay gained promotion to the Kent League Divison 1.

  

Whitstable's KL Status... and Legacy

   

Such was the status of the Kent League that "making it" into Division 1 was a part the folklore and history of a town. When Whitstable gained promotion by winning the Second Division title in 1950, the club marked the occasion with a special celebration booklet that detailed the work that had gone into preparing the Belmont for senior football. (Note: If anyone has a copy, we would love to see it!).

In fact, there was quite a bit to report in that booklet. Like other Kent outfits, the club needed to recover from the war years. However, there was an added problem. Whitstable had never played in a competition of such standing before and a totally new infrastructure needed to be established. Thus, the period 1945-1950 was a busy time. 

A wooden stand (incorporating changing rooms) had been demolished in the lead into wartime and this left the ground as little more than a field in 1945. Nevertheless, by the early 1950s, it had all been transformed into a venue that looked something like the plan below....

   

 

  

It included a new brick stand on the south side of the pitch and a very distinctive changing 'hut' on the northern touchline. I have heard suggestions that the hut was relocated from Tankerton sea front. I am not sure whether this story is factual or just a part of Belmont folklore... but the building did have a curious and quite unnecessary door/porch facing the perimeter wall! This might suggest that it's design was not originally intended for the football ground!  

A committee room was added on the North West corner of the site and this was definitely created with the Belmont in mind. It  was a "raised" structure that provided the public address announcer with a view over spectators to the pitch.

Other utility buildings included a toilet block (shared with the adjacent cricket club in the North West corner ), a substantial refreshment kiosk (near the South West corner flag) and a curious little stand alongside the changing rooms (used by club officials). Within a few years, the popular covered terrace was added behind the western goalmouth - beneath the towering shapes of the two nearby gasometers. The buildings and facilities were linked by cinder pathways and this rough surfacing also extended along the access path from Belmont Road.. 

Whilst we do not have a photo of the ground in the 1950s, we do have a shot from a few years later. This was kindly donated by Barbara Wardle and it was snapped from the upper floor of one of the houses in Belmont Road in the early 1960s.....

        

   

The scene shows that curious porch on the northern side of the changing rooms.

The redevelopment of the Belmont was matched by progress on the pitch. The photo below shows the Whitstable team towards the end of the 1948/49 season - approximately twelve months before promotion was achieved to the Kent League Division 1.  

   

   

Back Row (L to R): 1. Les Shinglestone (Secretary); 2. W. Amos (Committee); 3. Carlo Vassallo; 4. Ferguson; 5. Royal; 6. F Turner; 7. Paddy Maher; 8. Ron Letley; 9. George Banks (Trainer); 10: E Venning (Committee).
Front Row:

11. Len Frid; 12. Billy West; 13. Frank Appleton; 14. Aitchison; 15. Keith Allen.

Mascot:  R. Sayer

   

The photograph was kindly passed to Simply Whitstable by Pam Porter and the names of the players have since been added by  Bob Banks and Dave Hurdman. However, there is a fascinating story attached to the photograph as Pam explains...

  

We met Keith Allen (player, front right of picture) quite by accident whilst on holiday in Lake Garda in October 2006. 

One conversation led to another and I learnt that he was an apprentice at Chatham Dockyard in the late 40s early 50s. Although not from Whitstable, he lived at the time in Gillingham and played for Whitstable Town Football Team. 

Pam Porter
Whitstable

  

One of the great things about the Kent League was that it attracted substantial crowds and generated  intense inter-town rivalries with local pride at stake. Opponents came with colours and players that we recognised, respected and even feared. There was the gold and black strip of Folkestone, the green of Canterbury, the red and white stripes of Sheppey and the white and black of Dover.

To all this, Whitstable Town FC added their red and white strip and, with a bit of photographic trickery, we have recreated it below using the photo of Keith Allen...    

  

 

   

The enthusiasm wasn't restricted to the terraces. It extended to the players and, each season, there were some titanic personal battles between individual gladiators. One example involved Whitstable's John Conley and John Sutton of Deal Town (see our page John Conley - Most Celebrated )  

Many of the buildings remain at the Belmont to this day and they have provided a basis for the clubs promotion to the Ryman Isthmian League in 2007 - the club's highest standing since the Golden Era of the 1950s. We discuss this inheritance in our page The 1950's Legacy.

  

Decline? 

   

In terms of attendances and fervour, the Kent League probably reached its high point between 1947 and 1955. By the late '50s, things were taking a down turn. As the county and country repaired the damage of wartime, a far wider range of entertainments became available and wages started to rise to increase opportunities outside of football. TV was also arriving and, with it, it brought Arsenal, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United into our living rooms. 

We do not have any global figures for Kent League attendances but we can get some idea of the situation by taking a look at the crowd sizes for the popular Dover v Folkestone matches. These are listed on the Dover Athletic web site as follows....

     

1946/47 Dover.... 1 Folkestone.... 1 1,700
1947/48 Dover.... 3 Folkestone.... 3 5,062
1948/49 Dover.... 5 Folkestone.... 1 4,500+
1949/50 Dover.... 1 Folkestone.... 1 3,947
1950/51 Dover.... 1 Folkestone.... 1 Not known
1951/52 Dover.... 2 Folkestone.... 1 6,000
1952/53 Dover.... 0 Folkestone.... 0 4,169
1953/54 Dover.... 1 Folkestone.... 1 5,427
1954/55 Dover....  0 Folkestone.... 0  5,402
1955/56 Dover....  1 Folkestone.... 4  3,907
1956/57 Dover.... 3 Folkestone.... 2 2,886
1957/58 Dover....  Folkestone....  Not Known
1958/59 Dover....  1 Folkestone.... 2 3,000


Note: All figures reproduced with kind permission of Justin Allen at the Dover Athletic web site... http://www.doverathletic.com/ 

   

Obviously, care needs to be taken with these figures as attendances would have been affected by relative league positions, timing of matches and weather conditions. However, Folkestone and Dover were two of the most consistent sides in the competition and that graph actually matches my own recollections of the falling attendances during the latter part of the 1950s.

As you can see, the graph shows a rapid increase in attendances at the start of the Kent League.... a high period between 1947 and 1955.... and a gradual decline from 1957 to 1959.

   

End of the Golden Era...

   

I have yet to come across any real explanation of  the break up of the Kent League. However, I will have a stab at some reasons based on my own memories, a few facts..... and a bit of logic.

To some extent, things may have been dictated from above. For the 1959/60 season, the Southern League was revamped into a Premier Division and First Division - possibly in an attempt to establish a passage that could lead to entry to the Football League. I suspect that Kent's top clubs saw this as the natural progression now that they had redeveloped their organisational structures and revamped their ground facilities in the aftermath of World War II. The  country's economic climate was also improving and a better transport system was becoming available.

Another aspect may have been a natural one. As the Kent League progressed through the 1950s, a significant gap had grown between the Kent League's elite teams (who had become increasingly professional) and the lesser sides (who, in part, still embraced the world of the amateur footballer). Clubs such as Whitstable, Herne Bay, Faversham and Sheppey were finding it difficult to compete in terms of both finance and playing standards. Meanwhile, the top clubs were overlapping the Southern League and were quite capable of taking on and defeating teams from the higher competition. As a result, many people saw a parting of the ways as inevitable.

There may also have been a touch of desperation about it all. As we have said, attendances were falling all round... but the biggest dips were caused by the lesser clubs such as Whitstable where, by the end of the decade, crowds were merely counted in hundreds. The top clubs could still achieve four figure attendances and  derby games against other big clubs could attract 3000 plus. So, some may have thought that entering a bigger competition packed with other big clubs would solve the situation. Furthermore, if the top Kent clubs moved en masse, the best of the money-spinning derby matches would continue.

Irrespective of how questionable some of these arguments may have been, the break up occurred at the end of the 1958/59 season. The table below shows the Kent League clubs in the order in which they finished at the end of the year and specifies their progression route......

       

Kent League Clubs  1959

Progressed to...

1 Sittingbourne Southern League Div 1
2 Folkestone Southern League Div 1
3 Tunbridge Wells Utd Southern League Div 1
4 Bexleyheath Southern League Div 1
5 Margate Southern League Div 1
6 Canterbury City Metropolitan League
7 Dover Southern League Div 1
8 Gillingham Reserves Football Combination Div 2
9 Ashford Southern League Div 1
10 Snowdown Colliery Welfare Aetolian League
11 Ramsgate Southern League Div 1
12 Herne Bay Aetolian league
13 Betteshanger Colliery Welfare Not Known
14 Chatham Aetolian League
15 Faversham Aetolian League
16 Sheppey Aetolian League
17 Whitstable Aetolian League
18 Deal Aetolian League

   

As you can see, the lesser teams fell into a brand new league (the Aetolian) where they merged with a range of clubs from London.

The top clubs moved to the Southern League Division 1.... with the exception of Canterbury City who opted for the Metropolitan League before joining the Southern League twelve months later.

  

So.... Were They Right?

   

The theories may have worked for a while but I suspect that there were some fundamental flaws in the planning of the football authorities back in 1959... and some clubs were destined to suffer a few years later.

The first concerned the assessment of falling attendances. Crowds weren't dipping just because competitions like the Kent League contained lesser clubs. They were dipping all round under pressure from TV and the many competing interests that were developing as the country returned to some sort of affluence. The working classes may have become more affluent but that affluence was being pointed in new directions. Smaller clubs may have been the first to see their crowds drop into the lower hundreds.... but many of the bigger outfits would follow suit as time progressed. 

The assessment of playing standards was probably right. The gulf between the bigger and smaller clubs needed to be addessed but the solution on offer was never going to be a satisfactory long term solution because the monolithic Southern League was not properly regionalised. Thus, Kent Clubs were compelled to travel to South Wales, the West Country and up into the Midlands. Local derby matches did continue for a few years but subsequent promotions, relegations and revamps of the league pyramid led to the Kent clubs becoming separated and fragmented. Supporters  weren't going to follow their teams to Merthyr Tydfil or Nuneaton on a Saturday afternoon when a new Ten Pin Bowling Alley was available down the road.... and they certainly weren't going to travel to Worcester on a wet wind Tuesday night in January when Steptoe and Son was on the telly. 

The whole Southern League experience seemed to me to be a case of  separating playing standards and status from finance and balance sheets in a forlorn attempt to buy a way out of trouble. Costs spiralled whilst attendances declined.... and that was a recipe for disaster. 

The smaller clubs (including Whitstable) also hit problems. The Aetolian League was a nightmare of mistakes as it too failed to recognise the need for regionalisation  and attempted to unite Kent League clubs with teams from various parts of London. If clubs like Whitstable had struggled to survive amongst the elite clubs in the confines of the county, what chance had they got of surviving in a contest that took them beyond the county boundary to play against 'unknown' clubs of a lesser status? In fact, for financial reasons, Whitstable dropped out of the Aetolian League for a couple of seasons and played in the wilderness of the Kent Amateur League.

As clubs became less influential in their local communities, developers eventually eyed up their grounds - many of which were occupying large and valuable town centre plots.

As a result of all these problems, a number of the Kent League clubs ran into problems and some failed to survive in senior football. On our "Where are they now page", we trace the detailed progress of 22 of the 24 clubs. A brief summary (as at June 2011) is given below in order of current status....

    

Old Kent League Clubs  

Outcome as at June 2011....

Dover A tax demand caused the club's closure in 1983 but a new club, Dover Athletic, was formed to take over both the Crabble ground and the old club's league position. 

The team now competes in the Conference South (Level 6 of the FA Pyramid) and remains one of the county's biggest clubs.

Bexleyheath Folded in 1976. 

A nearby club, Welling United, took over the Park View ground in 1977 and now plays in the Conference South (Level 6 of the FA Pyramid)

Despite experiencing financial problems that almost led to its demise in 2010, Welling United  remains one of the county's leading teams.

Margate Ryman Isthmian Prem Division (Level 7 of the FA Pyramid).
Folkestone Town Folded in 1991.

A nearby club, Folkestone Invicta, took over the Cheriton Road ground and now plays in the Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid).

Maidstone United Progressed to full Football League status in 1989 but lost its ground to developers and closed in 1992. 

A newly formed club has since made its way up to the Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid).

Ramsgate Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid).
Chatham Town Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid).
Sittingbourne Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid).
Faversham Hit problems in 2003 when it was forced to drop into the Kent County League from the Kent League and lost its senior status temporarily.

Since then, it has steadily climbed back and now competes in the Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid)

Whitstable Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South (Level 8 of the FA Pyramid)
Deal Town 'New' Kent League Prem Division (Level 9 of the FA Pyramid).
Herne Bay 'New' Kent League Prem Division (Level 9 of the FA Pyramid).
Tunbridge Wells Utd Folded in mid-1960s

A new club, 'Tunbridge Wells', was formed in 1967 and now plays in the 'New' Kent League Prem Division (Level 9 of the FA Pyramid).

Canterbury City After some years in the Metropolitan and Southern Leagues, the club dropped into the 'new' Kent League and disappeared from 'senior' football altogether in 2000/2001 after losing its Kingsmead Stadium ground to developers. 

In 2007, the club fielded a team in the Kent County League (formerly the Kent Amateur League) and this gained promotion to the Kent League Prem Division (Level 9 of the FA Pyramid) for the 2011/2012 season

Ashford Town Bounced around the Southern, Kent and Ryman-Isthmian Leagues for many years.

However, at the end of the 2009/10 season, it was suspended from the Ryman-Isthmian Division 1 South for financial reasons and was unable to compete in any competition during 2010/11.

A new club, Ashford United, was formed and entered into the new Kent Invicta League (Level 10 of the FA Pyramid) for 2011/12  

Aylesford Paper Mills Relegated from the old Kent League Div 1 in 1951. 

A team called "APM" now competes in the Kent County League Premier Division (Level 11 of the FA Pyramid)

Sheppey United Eventually dropped into the 'new' Kent League but disappeared from 'senior' football midway through the 2000/2001 season when it lost its impressive Botany Road ground to developers. It had played just 21 matches  and its record for that season was expunged from the league table.

It now competes in the Kent County League Divison 1 and is therefore no longer officially ranked in the FA Pyramid of Leagues..

Betteshanger CW Disappeared from 'senior' football and we have found little evidence of its history since 1959.

It may have competed in the Kent County League (formerly Kent Amateur League) for some years. 

A team called Betteshanger Welfare now has a youth team competing in Division 1 of the East Kent County Youth League.

Snowdown CW Gradually sank down through the leagues and out of senior football. 

We believe a club of that name now competes in the Canterbury & District League 

Bowater-Lloyds Relegated from the old Kent League Division 1 in 1953. Current status not known.
Royal Marines Chatham Left the old Kent League in the summer of 1950 when, with the return of peace time, the Chatham Division of the Marines was disbanded.
Shorts Sports The Shorts aircraft company closed its Medway operations at the end of 1946 but, in January 1947, the sports club merged with Chatham FC of the Kent Amateur League to form Chatham Town FC . The 'new' club continued in the Kent League and now competes in the Ryman Isthmian League Division 1 South- see the entry for Chatham Town above. 

Notes:

  • The term 'new Kent League' refers to the competition established in 1966. Initially, it comprised some of the lesser clubs from the old Kent League together with the reserve teams of the bigger Kent clubs. Eventually, reserve teams were removed and placed in a second division. To this day, the league's Premier Division contains a smattering of clubs from the old Kent League mixed with small clubs from the SE London area. 

  

As you can see, the clubs are now fragmented across a wide range of leagues and divisions, thereby reducing the number of local derby matches. 

The upside is that the competitions now form part of an organised FA Pyramid of Leagues. This provides  automatic promotion and relegation.... and reduces costs by regionalising leagues at the lower end of the pyramid. Thus, the football authorities have learned from some of the mistakes of 1959. (There are still some fundamental flaws in their approach.... but I will save those for some future date!).

As at June 2011, the section of the pyramid relevant to Kent clubs looks like this....

         

  

Notice that the scope and power of the Southern League has been clipped and the competition now merely caters for clubs in the central southern counties, the west country and the southern reaches of the Midlands. As such, it no longer has any real relevance to our area. Kent clubs now progress via the far more regionalised Ryman Isthmian League and there are many more steps to negotiate before a club can reach full Football League status (ie the Coca Cola League 2).  

It's an improvement on the mess that followed the carnage of 1959. However, whilst some individual clubs have prospered in terms of status since the closure of the old Kent League, the big question remains. Has Kent football  ever experienced a more fervent, better supported or more exciting period than those far off golden years of 1946-1959? 

    


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