Sunday, 22 July 2018

Stonebridge Road

Ebbsfleet United  2  Gillingham  0


It’s become a bit of a pre-season tradition now.

Book some tickety splits to London early doors for circa twenty quid, and then take my pick from the plethora of friendly games available in and around the Capital, the job is indeed a good-un!

A couple of years ago I saw Leyton Orient take on Gillingham at Brisbane Road, which took in some of the landmark boozers in the East End, including the Blind Beggar, while last season I managed to get to the quite wonderful home of Welling United to watch them play Charlton Athletic.

This time round the game that caught my eye was also in Kent, the fixture between Ebbsfleet United and Gillingham to be played at Stonebridge Road, ground porn at it’s very hardcore!

A Beauty!
It’s a long old day though, especially in the stifling heat we currently have. The 0643 choo-choo from Belper to Derby connected nicely for the Birmingham train and then also the two hours plus journey on the rattler from Brum to Euston. Arrival in London was at 1030, over fours since I left the house, but, it was bloody cheap!

I have a new favourite haunt when it comes to visiting London and that’s the area around London Bridge, which also happens to be an easy journey on the Northern Line from Euston. Once at London Bridge you’ve got the riverside pubs close to the Golden Hinde and Southwark Cathedral, while moments away is the quite brilliant Borough Market and all of the culinary treasures it contains.

After a latch lifter in the Olde Thameside Inn, it was off to the Wheatsheaf and the Market Porter just outside the entrance to Borough Market to watch the World go by for a couple of hours before heading back to London Bridge and the Gravesend bound train.

The New Meets The Old
Taking a route past Millwall’s ground, down through New Eltham, Sidcup and Dartford, the train meanders into Kent and around forty minutes later you’re exiting at Northfleet to embark on a five minute walk to Stonebridge Road.

Before describing the ground, what about the history of Ebbsfleet United? Well prior to 2007 the club were known as Gravesend & Northfleet, this following a post-war merger between Gravesend United and Northfleet United. For many years they were Southern League stalwarts, but with the formation of the Alliance Premier League in 1979-80 they became founder members.

A three year spell in non-league’s top flight came to an end and then they embarked on further long spells in the Southern League and then the Isthmian League before a league title in 2001-02 saw them back in the top flight again.

Seat Conversion
By the time the club changed their name to Ebbsfleet United, they’d completed five seasons in the league, but at the end of 2009-10 they were relegated to the National League South. That lasted one season before they bounced back, only for another relegation to come along in 2013-14. They did finally come back in 2017-18, and indeed surprised many last term by reaching the Play-Offs, only to lose to eventual winners Tranmere Rovers.

The FA Trophy was lifted at Wembley in 2008, while the FA Cup over the years has brought success, notably in 1995-96 when they reached the Third Round only to lose to Aston Villa at Villa Park.

The re-naming of the club in 2007 was principally to form a link with the growing profile of the new town Ebbsfleet Valley on the Thames Gateway. Ebbsfleet International Railway Station had been built to service the HS1 line which links St Pancras with Ashford International and beyond into Europe. Ebbsfleet by the way is actually a river!

But what about Stonebridge Road?

The Vast Terrace
As you wander down the hill from the station a mass of red hits you, alongside the contrast between the old and the modern. Along the Stonebridge  Road side of the ground, a brand new stand incorporating offices and a first floor function suite sits where there was once an old covered terrace. This new facility has had a mixed response from connoisseurs of football stadia but I quite liked its neat lines and modern design. The ground, by the way, is now called the Kuflink Stadium.

Once through the turnstiles that sit alongside the new stand, you essentially enter behind the goal where the old clubhouse remains (I did venture into the new function suite before entering the ground, and very smart it is too). What was a vast covered terrace sits behind the goal, but that has now had seats installed, albeit the seats are a structure in themselves that have been put on top of the terraces, as opposed to seats being bolted to the terrace steps.

Moving round to the side opposite the new stand, sits a fantastic old wooden seated stand, that used to have the dressing rooms underneath, along with a bar and some offices that are still in use. A new portakabin style sponsors lounge sits next to the stand but then as you carry on to behind the West goal you arrive at a vast open terrace that has had new barriers installed.

View From The Terraces
The floodlights are four corner pylons, but the new single pole style as opposed to the more traditional framework design, but with a huge electricity pylons behind the ground they kind of get lost a little in the landscape.

It’s an absolute beauty of a ground, and if ever a non-league ground should encapsulate the heady days of the Sixties and early Seventies, then Stonebridge Road would be it. Ok, so progression and commercialism has seen a very modern facility have to blend in, but I think it achieves that very well. It would however be a shame if the whole ground were to be re-developed as some of the character would undoubtedly be lost.

What about the game? In front of a crowd of just over a thousand, Ebbsfleet edged a close first half and went in one goal to the good thanks to a close range effort from Sean Shields in the 35th minute.
Moments after the second half started it was 2-0 thanks to a simply brilliant strike from Ebou Adams, who with his back to goal managed to somehow produce a back heeled volley from just inside the penalty area following a lofted cross. The effort gave the goalkeeper no chance whatsoever, and was a quite superb piece of improvisation from Adams.

After that the hosts pretty much had the game under control, and deservedly came away with a victory that will give them great confidence for their league campaign which starts with an intriguing fixture against relegated Chesterfield.

The journey back was relatively painless and I managed a couple of swift ones in the Royal George at Euston before embarking on a marathon journey which involved two trains and a bus, but, it was all worthwhile, because there aren’t many grounds left like Stonebridge Road. If you've not been there yet, I strongly suggest you pay it a visit, you won't be disappointed. 

The Wavy Roof Design

No comments:

Post a Comment