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Whitstable Town FC: Where are the 1950s clubs now?

Article Produced in Conjunction with Ian Johnson

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Introduction

So what happened to the 22 clubs that competed in the old Kent League between 1946 and 1959? Well, here we provide a brief summary in alphabetical order. Along the way, we mention various leagues and, to place these in context, you may wish to note where they stand in relation to the FA's National Pyramid of Leagues . 

For a Kent club, the pyramid now looks like this....

 

FA Pyramid Title League
Step 1 (Level 5) Conference National 
Step 2 (Level 6) Conference South
Step 3 (Level 7) Ryman Isthmian Premier Division 
Step 4 (Level 8) Ryman Isthmian Division 1 South

(NB Division 1 South normally caters for teams south of the Thames and covers Kent Surrey, Sussex. However, on occasions, clubs close to the Dartford Crossing have been asked to switch to Division 1 North where they compete with clubs from Essex and East Anglia. This is done to maintain an equal number of teams in the two divisions) 

Step 5 (Level 9) Kent League
Step 6 (Level 10) Kent Invicta League 

This was a new competition introduced from 2011/12. Prior to 2011, Kent had no Step 6 league and clubs were expected to make the  leap form Step 7 to Step 5. 

Step 7 (Level 11) Kent County League Premier Division

(NB: The Kent County League has a number of lower divisions that are not part of the Pyramid)

  

"Steps" and "Level" numbers are simply different ways of looking at the layers. "Level" numbers start at the FA Premiership (Level 1) and include all clubs from Man Utd downwards. "Step" numbers are only used from The Conference National downward and exclude the Premiership, Championship, League 1 and League 2.

Some of our old readers may be surprised that the above list includes the Isthmian League rather than the Southern League. In bygone days, the Southern League was the normal "semi-professional" progression from the Kent League whilst the Isthmian League was confined to top ranking "amateur" teams. 

After the FA removed the distinction between amateurs and professionals, the Isthmian and Southern Leagues were eventually given equal status in the new FA Pyramid of Leagues and they were used to introduce much needed regionalisation at Levels 8 and 9 from the year 2004. To achieve this, the Southern League's massive catchment was reduced so that it covered an area from Cornwall to Hampshire and included the South Midlands. The Isthmian League assumed sole responsibility for South East England and East Anglia .

 


Ashford Town

Ashford progressed to the prestigious Southern League after the closure of the Kent League in the summer of 1959. Following a revamp of the FA football pyramid and greater regionalisation, they were relocated to the Ryman Isthmian League in 2004/5. 

Financial problems led to the club being suspended from all competition at the end of the 2009/10 season and  it was a notable absentee from the Kent football scene during 2010/11. 

A re-formed club called Ashford United will compete in the new Kent Invicta Football League (Step 6 of the FA Pyramid) during 2011/12. The change of name will help to distinguish it from Ashford Town FC of Essex.

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Aylesford Paper Mills

After struggling at the foot of the table for their four seasons in the Kent League Division 1 (1947/48, 1948/49, 1949/50, 1950/51), they were eventually relegated.

Although we do not know the full history, we do know that a club still exists under the the name APM FC. It is due to compete in the Premier Division of the Kent County League during 2011/12 (Step 7 of the FA Pyramid). 

Recently, I came across photos that suggested that APM may be using the same ground as the 1950s team and that the main stand still exists as a legacy of bygone days..

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Betteshanger Colliery Welfare

Betteshanger were thrown into the wilderness when the Kent League disbanded in 1959 and we have yet to discover where the club opted to compete at that time. 

However, we know that the club fielded a team in the Kent Amateur League (now known as the Kent County League) from, at least,1971 to, at least, 2001. This side topped Division 2 of the league in 1971/72 and lifted the Division 1 title in 1977/78. It also finished as runners up in Division 2 in 2000/2001 and its junior side finished as beaten finalists in the Kent County Junior Cup in the same year.

Sadly, there is no evidence of the club in the Kent County League of today and it may be that it now concentrates on youth football as a team called "Betteshanger Welfare" currently competes in Division 1 of the East Kent County Youth League.

NB Betteshanger pit was the last of the Kent collieries to close - in 1989. The others met their demise in 1969 (Chislet), 1985 (Tilmanstone) and 1987 (Snowdown). By and large, the Colliery Welfare organisations have continued to serve the former mining communities with regard to sports and social activities.

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011) 

    

Bexleyheath

The club moved up to the Southern League in 1959 where it remained until the 1975/76 season. However, it changed its name to "Bexley United" in the summer of 1963. At one time, it had its sights firmly set on a place in the Football League but a change of playing fortunes and financial problems led to its closure in 1976.

During 1977, the substantial Park View stadium was taken over by an ambitious nearby club - Welling United. After seasons in the London Spartan and Athenian Leagues, the new residents brought Southern League football back to the ground for the 1981/82 season. Since then, Welling have oscillated between the Southern League and the prestigious Conference. They currently compete alongside Dover in the Conference South (Step 2 of the FA Pyramid) and remain one of Kent's most prominent clubs after staving off a threat of bankruptcy during 2010).

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Bowater-Lloyds of Sittingbourne

Although a founder member of the old Kent league, the club left the competition as early as 1953 and we know nothing of its progression. 

A club variously called "Bowaters Sports", "Bower-Scott Sports" and "Scott Sports" appears to have competed in the Kent Amateur League (now known as the Kent County League) during the 1970s through to the 1990s. A team called "Bowaters" currently competes in the Rochester & District League.

It is not known if these more recent clubs have any link to the powerful Kent League club of the 1950s. 

  

Canterbury City

After the closure of the old Kent League, Canterbury City competed in the Metropolitan League for one season (1959/60) before joining other top Kent clubs in the Southern League in 1960.

They remained in the Southern until 1994 when they were relegated to the lesser Kent League of today. Sadly, they lost their Kingsmead Stadium to developers and, despite promises of a new home ground, the club withdrew from the competition after the 2000/2001 season.

Despite having no senior team, dedicated officials and supporters managed to keep dreams alive and the club made a welcome (albeit, lowly) comeback in the Kent County League from 2007/2008. All the hard work was finally repaid when they gained promotion to the Kent League (Step 5 of the FA Pyramid) for the 2011/12 season and became the last Kent club to be allowed to move directly from Step 7 to Step 5. (NB From 2012, all clubs must progress via the new Kent Invicta League at Step 6). 

The club has been "ground sharing" at Herne Bay's Winch's Field ground but, in conjunction with the local council, it is planning to move to a new facility in Canterbury in the foreseeable future.

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Chatham Town

Along with some of the other less successful clubs of the old Kent League, Chatham competed in a newly formed competition (the Aetolian League) from 1959 to 1964. They then moved on to the Metropolitan League (1964-68) before entering the re-formed Kent League in 1968.

Apart from a spell in the Southern League (1983-1988), the club continued as a Kent League competitor until they gained promotion in 2001. They now play in the Ryman Isthmian League Division 1 (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid). As they are close to the Dartford River Crossing they suffer the misfortune of being shunted between Division 1 North and Division 1 South from time to time in order to balance the number of clubs in the two  leagues.  

  

Dover

As one of the top teams in the old Kent League, Dover moved to the Southern League in 1959. However, after many seasons in that competition, the club folded in 1983 as a result of tax demands lodged by the Inland Revenue.

Fortunately, a new club (Dover Athletic) was formed to take over both the Crabble ground and the league position of the old Kent League side. As a result, Athletic competed in the Southern League from 1983 to 1993 and eventually achieved its highest standing - a place in the prestigious Conference. Sadly, they were relegated back to the Southern in 2002 and, following a re-organisation of the FA pyramid, moved to the Ryman Isthmian League in 2004.

Surprisingly, they suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Ryman-Isthmian Premier Division to Division 1 South in 2007 but have since recovered and now compete in the Conference South (Step 2 of the FA Pyramid). They remain one of the county's best supported and most prominent clubs. 

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Deal Town

Deal Town have experienced mixed fortunes since the old Kent League disbanded. Along with other smaller clubs, they moved to a newly formed Aetolian League in the autumn of 1959 but re-joined some of the more powerful outfits in the Southern League from 1963/64 to 1965/66. The promotion didn't work out for them and they dropped into The Greater London League in 1966 before switching to the "new" Kent League in 1968.

They have remained a Kent League club (Step 5 of the FA Pyramid) to this day and have had some very successful seasons. In 1999/2000 they made history by becoming the only Kent club to win the nationwide FA Vase competition. They defeated Chippenham Town 1-0 at the old Wembley Stadium.

   

Faversham Town

Faversham slipped into the Aetolian League in 1959. When that competition folded in 1964, they moved on to the Greater London League before competing in the new Kent League from 1966 to 1971.After a brief spell in the Athenian (1973-1976), they returned to the Kent League but ran into financial problems during the 2002/2003 season. This caused them to resign from the competition with eight matches unplayed.

Since then, they have gradually recuperated. After a short spell in the Kent County League, they made a welcome return to the Kent League for the 2006/2007 season and gained promotion to the Ryman-Isthmian League Divison 1 South for 2010/11 (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid)

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

   

Folkestone Town

As one of the most consistent and powerful clubs in the old Kent League, Folkestone Town progressed to the Southern League where they oscillated between Division 1 and the Premier Division for several years. They also underwent several changes of name and, at various times, were known as "Folkestone" and "Folkestone & Shepway".

In 1990, the club ran into financial trouble. A new club called "Folkestone Town" was formed to take over the Southern League position of the old outfit. Sadly, this flopped after just 17 matches and their record  for the 1990/91 season was expunged by the league authorities. 

Thus, Folkestone Town ceased to exist and ties with the old Kent League disappeared. However, a nearby club called Folkestone Invicta  took over the superb Cheriton Road ground and gained entry to the present day Kent League for the 1992/3 season. Invicta gained promotion to the Southern League in 1998 and, in a revamp of the FA pyramid, transferred to the Ryman Isthmian League during the summer of 2004. 

After a spell in the Ryman-Isthmian Premier Division, the club currently resides in Division 1 South (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid).

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Gillingham Reserves...

The team joined other Football League reserve teams in the Football Combination league for the 1959/60 season - playing in Division 2.

  

Herne Bay 

Along with other former Kent League clubs of similar stature, Herne Bay played in the Aetolian League from 1959 until the competition folded in1964. They then progressed to the Athenian League Divison 2 and gained promotion to Division 1 in the Spring of 1971. They competed at that level until 1974 when they switched to the re-reformed Kent League (Step 5 of the FA Pyramid). They have since lifted the Kent League title on several occasions (1991/2, 1993/4, 1996/7 and 1997/8) and, currently, have their sights set on promotion to the Ryman League.. 

  

Maidstone

Maidstone made an early and surprising exit from the old Kent League in the summer of 1950. In the decades that followed, they became the county's second Football League team and, for a short while, rivalled Gillingham. Unfortunately, it all came to a sad end in 1992.

Their route to the top was a long and tough affair. After playing in the Corinthian League from 1950 to 1957, they progressed to full Football League status in 1989 via the Athenian (1957-1959), Isthmian (1959-1971), Southern (1971-1979), Alliance Premier (1979-1986) and Conference (1986-1989).

They remained in the Football League for just three seasons (1989/90 to 1991/92) before losing their home ground to developers. Despite ground share arrangements, they eventually disbanded in 1992.

Fortunately, local people managed to get the club back on the football map. The reformed team gained promotion to the Kent League Premier division for the 2001/2002 season and progressed to the Ryman-Isthmian League Premier Division. However, they have since slipped back and will compete in Ryman-Isthmian League Division 1 South (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid) during 2011/12. 

Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

 

Margate

Margate were one of the most successful and well supported teams of the old Kent League.... and they have pretty much  retained that status to this day. They moved to the Southern League in 1959 and progressed to their highest positon in 2001 when they were promoted to the Conference. Since then, they have slipped back to the Ryman Isthmian League Premier Division (Step 3 of the FA Pyramid) but remain one of the county's most influential clubs.

  

Ramsgate Athletic

As one of the most powerful and successful of the old Kent League clubs, Ramsgate moved up to the Southern League in 1959 and continued there until 1976. However, they dropped back into the reformed Kent League for the 1976/77 season and remained there until they achieved promotion to the Ryman Isthmian League Division 1 in 2005. After a brief spell in the league's Premier Division, they currently reside in Division 1 South (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid).

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

   

Royal Marines Chatham

The Chatham Division of the Royal Marines was disbanded in August 1950 - presumably as a result of a general post-war rationalisation of the armed forces. Thus, the Kent League team ceased to exist. (Note: The Royal Marines were deployed in three Navy Divisions - at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham). 

   

Sheppey United

This is another sickening story of a famous old Kent club being devastated when their home ground was handed over to developers. 

After the demise of the old Kent League, Sheppey moved to the Aetolian League which also disbanded in 1964. They moved on to play in the Greater London ((1964/65) and the Metropolitan League from 1965 to 1971. A switch to a new Kent League in 1972 saw them make progress and they were promoted to the Southern League in 1984 where they remained until 1990.

Sadly, it was downhill from there. They rejoined the Kent League but eventually had their substantial Botany Road ground (Sheerness) taken from them. Ground share arrangements with Canterbury, Faversham and Sittingbourne kept the club going for a few seasons but they were forced to resign from the league in 2000/2001 after playing just 21 matches. Their record for that season was expunged by the KL authorities and the club dropped into the wilderness. It now plays in the Kent County League (formerly known as the Kent Amateur League) where it occupies a place in Division 1. Division 1 is not officially part of the FA Pyramid. 

Hopefully, it will return to senior football but it is now a long road back.

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Shorts Sports

Shorts Sports was a founder member of the post-war Kent League but competed in the competition for just one season (1946/47). In January 1947, the club merged with another Medway Club (Chatham) to form Chatham Town FC. The new club replaced Shorts Sports in the Kent League Divison 1 for the 1947/48 season. (See the entry for Chatham Town for details after 1947).

The merger was convenient for both clubs. We suspect  that Shorts Sports FC represented the well known Shorts aircraft company. This enterprise produced sea planes and was particularly prominent in Kent during the war years. However, with peacetime operations resuming, it closed its Medway operations at the end of 1946 and left the football team seeking ways of securing its sporting future.

Chatham was a club with a long and distinguished history stretching back to 1882 and including Southern League experience. However, in recovering from wartime, it had competed in the Kent Amateur League during the 1946/47 season and was looking to regain its senior status.

   

Sittingbourne

Sittingbourne moved to the Southern League in 1959 where they competed for several seasons before being relegated to the reformed Kent League in 1967. Their new Kent League career extended to 1991 when they regained Southern League status. Following the recent reorganisation of the FA Pyramid, they are now members of the Ryman Isthmian League Division 1 South (ie Step 4 of the Pyramid)

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Snowdown Colliery Welfare

Despite being one of the most consistent performers in the old Kent League, Snowdown CW have experienced one of the biggest descents short of actually folding. The club's progress was not helped by the closure of the Snowdown pit in 1987 and the complete demise of the Kent coalfield by 1989.

We do not know the full history but the club joined the Aetolian League in 1959 and completed several seasons in that competition before moving on to the Greater London League for the 1964/65 season. They later played in a reformed Kent League from 1966 to 1971 and from 1972 to 1979. At that stage, they voluntarily accepted demotion to Division 2 where they would have played against a multitude of reserve teams.

The club eventually left the KL altogether but we have come across some evidence that it may have played in the eastern section of the British Energy County League some time between 1995 and 2003. A club called Snowdown Colliery Welfare currently competes in the Canterbury & District League and, in recent years lifted the Joe French Trophy at Herne Bay's Winch's Field ground.

  

Tunbridge Wells United

Despite having a torrid time in the early years of the old Kent League, the club made progress and finished strongly in the final years of the competition. As a result, they progressed to the Southern League in 1959 and changed their name to Tunbridge Wells Rangers in 1963. However, they ran into problems and the club folded in the mid-1960s.

A new club (Tunbridge Wells) was formed at Culverden Stadium and this entered the 'new' Kent League in 1968. The club continues to compete in that competition (at Step 5 of the FA Pyramid)

(Editors note: Info updated June 2011)

  

Whitstable

Whitstable joined the Aetolian League in 1959 along with a collection of other former Kent League clubs - namely  Deal Town, Faversham Town, Chatham Town, Snowdon CW,  Herne Bay and Sheppey United. However, the competition also included teams from the Greater London area (ie Willesden, Cray Wanderers, Ford United, Crockenhill, Charlton Athletic "A" and Eton Manor).

Sadly, the the Reds experienced a disastrous season both on and off the pitch. The team finished in bottom place with the following playing record...

 

Aetolian 1959/60

P W D L F POI

Whitstable

26 5 4 17 29 73 14

 

This included an embarrassing 0-9 defeat at the hands of "mid-table" Cray Wanderers. 

The club also ended the season with losses of some 200.... due to low attendances and the high cost of travel to away matches in the London area. This was reported in a London newspaper circa 1960. Take a look at this clip carefully preserved by Ian Johnson.....  

  

  

The team resigned from the league, thereby losing "senior" status temporarily.... and there was a real danger that it would have to drop into a local junior league. Fortunately, the fighting spirit of Reg Baxter, Les Shinglestone and their fellow committee members preserved the club for future generations. Sufficient funds were raised to enter a side in the Kent Amateur League for the 1960/61 season. 

Playing at this "intermediate" level was still a low point in the club's history but it represented survival without suffering the ignominy of dropping into the junior ranks of the Canterbury & District League!!! Even 50 years on, the town still owes Reg, Les and their colleagues a considerable debt. 

We are not entirely sure what happened next. We know that the club soon switched to a competition known as Seanglian League but, as yet, we do not know the date involved. It certainly competed in that league during 1962/63.... but 1960/61 remains something of  mystery. Did it compete in the Kent Amateur League or the Seanglian that year? If you have the answer, we would be grateful to hear from you!!!!

The Seanglian League is something of a mystery all round as very few records of it still exist. However, from personal memory, I recall that it primarily contained the reserve teams of Southern League outfits. This ensured that there were local fixtures against the likes of Canterbury City Reserves and reduced the amount of travel to away matches.

By the summer of 1963, Whitstable had recuperated and, with renewed ambition, rejoined the Aetolian League for the 1963/64 season where they competed against Faversham Town, Chatham Town, Snowdon CW,  Herne Bay, Sheppey United, Cray Wanderers, Ford United, Crockenhill, Eton Manor,  Beckenham Town and  East Ham United

However, they found it tough... finishing eleventh in a competition comprising just twelve clubs. Their playing records was as follows......

 

Aetolian 1963/64

P W D L F POI

Whitstable

22 5 2 15 38 76 12

  

During the summer of 1964, the Aetolian League merged with the London League to form the Greater London League. Whitstable simply went with the flow and spent three years in the new competition. 

For its inaugural season (1964/65), the Greater London League was regionalised. Whitstable competed in Division B alongside a diminishing group of former Kent League clubs (Sheppey United, Faversham Town, Snowdown CW, Tunbridge Wells Rangers) and an increasing number of London clubs (Cray Wanderers, Crockenhill, Beckenham, Woolwich Polytechnic, Ulysses, Slade Green Athletic and R.O.F.S.A aka Royal Arsenal Sports). The club finished tenth in a competition of 12 clubs. Their playing record was as  follows.....

  

Greater London Div B 1964/65

P W D L F POI

Whitstable

22 5 2 15 38 76 12

  

It was a curious set up that year. The Greater London League Championship title was decided in a play off match between the winners of Divisions A and B. Eton Manor (from Division A) drew the play off with Sheppey United (from Division B) and the trophy was shared. Penalty shoot outs and the modern requirement to have a "winner" were concepts unknown to the football world of 1965!!!

The Greater London League was revamped for the following season and Whitstable competed in a new Division One - finishing fourth in 1965/66 and seventh in 1966/67.

Things were obviously improving on the pitch but there was still considerable cost in travelling to away matches in the capital. Fortunately, help was at hand... with the re-formation of a Kent League for the 1967/68 campaign. Whitstable joined but, as we have explained elsewhere, it was not the all powerful Kent League of the Golden 1950s. It was made up mainly of reserve teams from the big Southern League outfits interspersed with a few smaller clubs drawn from rural Kent and London boroughs that fell within the county boundary.

As the years progressed, the Kent League authority set about improving the status of the competition. It eventually created a second division to accommodate reserve sides and restricted the top division to first teams such as Whitstable. It also gradually imposed ever higher standards for grounds. Whitstable grew with the League in terms of both status and facilities. Of course, it had a head start over some clubs because it had the wonderful Belmont legacy from Golden Years of the 1950s.

Playing standards also improved when, after experiencing financial problems, a number of big name clubs dropped into the Kent League from the Southern League.

Perhaps the League gained its biggest boost when it was granted Step 5 (aka Level 9) status in the new FA Pyramid of Leagues. This meant that a club could gain promotion to a higher league by becoming Kent League Champions.  

Whitstable competed in the reformed Kent League for some 40 years. However, whilst they achieved some success in the Kent League Cup and Kent Senior Trophy "knock out" competitions, league success eluded them and they remained primarily a mid-table club. 

The club's fortunes changed dramatically during the 2006/2007 season when, finally, it lifted the Kent League title and gained promotion to the Ryman-Isthmian League Division 1 South (Step 4 of the FA Pyramid). By so doing, it achieved its highest standing since the Golden Era of the 1950s Kent League.

Note: We have now collected more detailed information on the clubs record between 1959 and 2007 and will soon create a separate page to tell the story.    


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