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Club History

Initially, Ashford Town’s home ground was at the back of the Victoria Hotel on Beaver Road.

The club were founder members of the Kent Premier League in 1894–95 with a reserve side playing in Kent League 2. The club relocated to an enclosed ground with a timber built stand at Godinton Road where the 1899 KCFA Cup Final was staged. Team colours at the time were black and white striped shirts.

The team appeared in the Kent Cup Final for two successive years, 1902 and 1903 but were unsuccessful on both occasions: losing a replay 1–4 to Sittingbourne (a last minute penalty equaliser against Ashford causing the replay) and to Maidstone respectively.

In 1907 owing to a lack of support at their Godinton Road ground (which being beyond the railway bridge was a fair distance from the town and their previous base in the Newtown area), the club suffering from heavy debts was unable to fulfill its fixtures and ceased playing mid-season.

Shortly afterwards however a new club was formed, playing as the Ashford Railway Works. The club’s home ground was relocated back to Newtown on land believed to have been provided rent-free by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. Playing in the Eastern Section of the Kent League and wearing red and green quartered colours, the team enjoyed considerable success winning the League in four successive seasons, 1912, 1913, 1914 & 1920 (the latter after the break caused by the Great War).

It was around this time that the club acquired its nickname of the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ as many of the members were drawn from the ranks of skilled engineers in the railway.

The club became more commonly known as ‘Ashford’ upon the post-war resumption of the Kent League competition. However once more fate took a hand and in 1928 the club folded leaving the Town with no senior club.

The decision to found Ashford Town was taken at a meeting in April 1930 chaired by Sir Charles Iggledon, who was the editor of the Kentish Express. Ashford Town were elected to the Kent League, and played their first match on August 30 of the same year at the railway works ground with Canterbury Waverley the visitors. The result was a 4–2 victory.

The following year, the club moved to Essella Park. It was the sale of this ground in the mid 1980’s that enabled the purchase and development of the present ground at The Homelands, named after the farm that originally occupied the site, 4 miles south of the town centre and with easy access to the M20 Motorway.

Despite being Champions of the Kent League in the 1948-49 season, it was cup football that was to provide the greatest success. Town reached the first round proper of the FA Cup as a Kent League side in 1959-59, losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace in front of a ground record crowd of 6,525. In the 1960’s, Town reached the first round of the FA Cup on 4 occasions, falling to league opposition each time. Further honours arrived with success in the Kent Senior Cup in 1959 and 1963.

In 1972-73, Town reached the semi finals of the FA Trophy, losing to Scarborough by a penalty goal. The following year they finished third in the League when Alan Morton set the club scoring record of 46 goals from 69 games, a record which still stands today and will be extremely difficult to beat.

The club earned promotion to the Premier Division of the Southern League in the 1986-87 season, at a time when the new ground at The Homelands was being constructed. The final game played at Essella Park was a draw with Dorchester, which ensured that both teams were promoted.

The next season saw ground sharing at Folkestone whilst the new Homelands ground was being constructed. Sadly, the first season at The Homelands ended in disappointment when the club was relegated.

During the 1990’s, manager Neil Cugley produced an entertaining and successful side which gained promotion back to the Premier Division in 1995-96 and, as a highlight, drew a first round FA Cup match with Fulham captained by Micky Adams. A capacity crowd of 3,300 packed into The Homelands and Sky TV showed highlights of the game. The result was a creditable 2-2 draw, with a replay at Craven Cottage. Again they impressed their league host and took the game into extra time, eventually losing 5-3.

The following year, Ashford defeated Dagenham & Redbridge in the first round and then drew Watford away in the second round, losing 5-0. The season ended poorly with a finishing position of 18th, with the club only saved from relegation by the resignation of Sudbury from the league.

Several managers then came and went, with varying degrees of success until Don Crosbie and Tony Betteridge took over as owners. Their first appointment as manager was Clive Walker, who was replaced during the season by Steve Lovell.

Following a major falling out at Boardroom level, the club’s future was in the balance in the 2009-10 season. This resulted in several players departing, and manager Steve Lovell was just able to put together a side to keep the club from relegation. This valiant effort was to be in vain, since the Boardroom conflict had reached the courts with Tony Betteridge forcing the winding up of Ashford Town FC. Tony Betteridge succeeded in purchasing the club assets from the Administrator despite enormous protests from Chairman Don Crosbie who managed to receive assurances in the court for Football at the highest possible level to be maintained at least till the legal battle was settled through the courts. Under the new name of Ashford United, the club continued with a Board comprising of local football enthusiasts.

During what transpired to be a short one-season hiatus the club was reformed as Ashford United[28] (harking back to before the Ashford Town days!). The club adopted the same crest as their forerunners, Ashford Town, except of course the word ‘United’ now replaced ‘Town’ and the simple wording ‘Founded 1930’ was expanded to ‘Founded 1891, Reformed 2011’. The home ground for the club remained at ‘Homelands’.

Under FA rules the ‘new’ Ashford United were not permitted to re-join the league where their predecessors had left-off: for their inaugural season of 2011–12 they were placed into ‘step 6’ football in the newly formed Kent Invicta League.

Initially the club appointed former manager Tony Reynolds as manager for the 2011–12 season but owing to personal commitments he stepped aside and Paul Chambers took up the reins.[29] After an indifferent start to their first season results improved over the second half and the team finished in fifth position.

Their finishing position improved two places in the 2012–13 season to third, with the new “United” setting a record with six straight league victories, which was just two less than the eight match winning streak twice achieved by Ashford Town, the side actually went unbeaten in their first twelve league games. An individual player record as United was also established with forward Mo Takalo (Takalobighashi) scoring in each of these six matches. Although only the teams finishing in the top two positions were eligible for automatic promotion to the Kent League, Ashford United were awarded promotion instead of the second placed club Hollands & Blair, as Ashford had the facilities and ground grading in place in order to take the promotion.

During the close season the Kent League renamed itself as the Southern Counties East Football League. The names of opposing clubs were more familiar to long-time Ashford supporters than in the previous league with clubs from Canterbury, Deal and Tunbridge Wells as opponents.

After a positive start on the pitch to the 2013-14 season it was announced in November 2013 by owner Tony Betteridge[30] that he had relinquished his ownership of the club and the Homelands freehold to a company whose Director was the wife of Don Crosbie – the director he had fought for ownership of the club back in 2010.

In the 2013–14 season’s cup competitions the team reached the last 32 of the FA Vase competition and reached the Final of the Kent Senior Trophy played at Tonbridge, where they lost 0–4 to Beckenham Town. During a good campaign Ashford went on a 10 match winning league run from 14 Sep 2013 to 18 Feb 2014 and United topped their league around Christmas 2013. However fixture congestion due to their cup exploits saw a slight dip in form with the team having to play three games a week in the closing weeks of the season and they finished in second position.

The following season was in some ways a re-run of the previous one with a last 32 appearance in the FA Vase and a runners-up finish in the league. A return including seven draws and two defeats in the first sixteen league matches meant the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ were always playing catch-up to eventual 2014-15 league winners Phoenix Sports. The team did though put together a run of thirteen successive victories and were the only club to record a league victory over the league champions, but in the end Phoenix proved worthy champions by an eight-point margin.

A noteworthy occurrence of the season was the breaking of the Ashford club post-war single season goalscoring record by Stuart Zanone (who signed seven competitive games into the season) with 47 goals in 35 appearances.[31] Stuart was also the winner of the league Golden Boot award for the season. Included in his record haul was a club record all seven goals[32] in a 7-0 victory over Lingfield. The previous club season goalscorer record had been established by Alan Morton playing for Ashford Town forty-two years previously.

The incredible goalscoring season by Zanone was a dream for a football statistician, as not only did he surpass Morton’s 46 goal haul, he also beat Mo Takalo’s new “United” record by scoring in seven successive appearances from 8 Nov 2014 to 27 Dec 2014. Overall, he also found the net in 11 consecutive league appearances (18 Oct 2014 to 28 Feb 2015), as well as scoring 28 goals in 11 consecutive away games, a run started on 18 Oct 2014 which ended with his one-man seven goal show at Lingfield on 24 Mar 2015.

As the 2014-15 season ended the club announced that the natural grass pitch at the Homelands (which had a history of poor drainage leading to postponed fixtures) was to be replaced during the close season with a synthetic 3G playing surface – this mooted as being the first stage of a sports village redevelopment plan to ensure a steady source of income for the club owners.

The installation of the new pitch was delayed owing in part to Operation Stack which caused the delay in delivery of materials required for construction of the pitch. As a result, several early 2015-16 season home fixtures for both United and tenants Canterbury City were postponed. This though was only the start of events sparked by the pitch installation: in November 2015 the company who had financed the installation (V Bar Limited via its lending arm of Minotaur) claimed not all financial matters had been disclosed at the time of the investment[33] and demanded repayment of the loan. This was disputed by the club owners but they couldn’t prevent the ownership of the Homelands ground being transferred[33] via court proceedings to V Bar; then in February news broke[34] of a disputed[35] winding-up petition being filed against the football club company – which was indeed overturned[36] by the court. Owing to the financial situation the League levied a 10 point[37][38] deduction. The football club owners continue to dispute and legally challenge[39] matters.

These on-going disputes detracted from an otherwise more than satisfactory 2015-16 season on the pitch – albeit it was without silverware. It actually started inauspiciously when after just two games of the season,the manager Paul Chambers was relieved of his duties after four years and 171 matches in charge[40] following a heavy 1-5 loss in the FA Cup to fellow SCEFL side Cray Valley PM on 15 Aug 2015. Former Ashford Town defender Danny Lye – who had returned to the Homelands as a player in December 2014 – was duly appointed as player-manager until the end of the season.

After a run of four defeats and two draws over his first ten league matches whilst he re-fashioned his squad Lye saw only two more league defeats and 18 victories in the remaining 25 league matches to see the team finish third in the table (which would have been second, nine points behind winners Greenwich Borough had it not been for the ten points deduction). The club went two rounds better than previously in the FA Vase: after a replay win away in the north-east at Gateshead based Northern League Dunston UTS they reached the last eight before being eliminated by former Southern League rival Salisbury. It was heartbreak once again in the Kent Senior Trophy final though where the ‘nuts and bolts’ lost out in a penalty shoot-out 6-7 to Sheppey United in the final.

The previous season’s top scorer Stuart Zanone left early in the season but his record of scoring in seven consecutive matches was eclipsed by veteran forward Shaun Welford who had been brought in as player-assistant manager from Hythe Town). He strung together a run of scoring in nine consecutive matches, which was last achieved in Ashford colours by Lee McRobert for the former Town side during season 1999-2000. Welford also finished as club top scorer, netting on 37 occasions: 31 league plus six cup goals.

The club began the 2016-17 season with the legal dispute from the previous campaign unresolved. Against this backdrop the returning player coach Danny Lye put together a strong squad with many players returning from the previous campaign and with several strong additions – although the club asked the supporters to contribute[41] towards the playing budget. Off-pitch matters continued to feature: December brought news that, despite being in top spot in the league table, the club had not registered with the FA for acceptance for promotion. The club stated their application had not been received by the FA[42] and in light of this mitigating circumstance the club appealed and in mid-February the FA accepted the application. Whilst this played-out news came that the teams’ league organisation had deemed the 3G pitch at the Homelands as unsuitable for matches[43] and the owners Minotuar stating £220,000 remedial work would be required. They however gained a temporary dispensation from the FA against the league decision which allowed matches to continue to be played on the pitch. Mid-March brought an announcement that the legal dispute between the club and ground owners had been settled[44] and ownership of the Homelands had been transferred back to the football club. Subsequently, the pitch and facilities passed ground grading requirements. Amongst all this a new Director, Derek Pestridge, was appointed and a legal charge over the ground was established in his favour[45] against an interest-free £500,000 loan made to the club company.

On the pitch the team challenged all season at the top of the SCEFL Premier Division. In a pivotal match at the Homelands at the start of April they defeated their closest rivals in the table Crowborough Athletic. It was the only defeat the Crows suffered all season on their travels and although they had established a one-nil lead, a hat-trick from Rory Hill saw the Nuts and Bolts triumph. It put the clubs level on points but crucially Ashford had a superior goal difference and victories in the remaining five matches of the campaign meant they clinched the SCEFL Premier League title and promotion to Division One South of the Isthmian League. It was a season of records: most league wins (30 out of 38 games); most league points (92); highest Homelands league attendance for Ashford United of 807; and in scoring 119 goals, the club record of 115 scored by Ashford Town in the Kent League of 1931-32 was eclipsed. There was also success in the Kent Senior Trophy where after twice in previous years being runners-up United lifted the trophy with a 2-1 win (both goals from Shaun Welford) over Cray Valley PM on neutral turf at Maidstone. There was too a personal record for Shaun Welford (who with a hat-trick in the season’s last match) notched 48 goals in all matches (with 37 and the Golden Boot in league matches) beating Start Zanone’s record of 47 from two seasons previously.

With the legal/stadium disputes settled and promotion achieved the close of the 2016-17 season saw the team return to where their forerunners Ashford Town had been when they ceased existence seven years previously.

Ashford returned to the IsthmianLeague (sponsored by Bostik) for the 2017-18. Any thoughts of a successful season were quickly extinguished with defeats in the first two games which led to the club parting company with manager Danny Lye [46] and subsequent departure of experienced players. Youth team coach Jason Whitmore was appointed manager but having to rebuild the squad – and in the interim fielding inexperienced youth team players – led to a continued run of poor results including an autumn run of 12 league matches without a win (10 losses; 2 draws). During January the club appointed experienced former manager of Greenwich Borough Gary Alexander[47] as Whitmore’s assistant with a plan for the former to take over as manager the following season.

There was a significant turnover of players with 78 players donning the clubs jersey over the season; the highest appearance by any player was 32 (Jonathan Difford and Pat Kingwell); 31 players played in 3 or fewer matches; there were 21 goalscorers with Max Watters topping the list with 8 (from 27 appearances). The previous season had been one of positive records this one featured negatives: in conceding a record 111 goals over the league campaign it was the first time that in excess of over 100 had been conceded by either Town or United; the goal difference of negative 51 was similarly an unwanted record; the 28 league losses was the worst since the record 29 in the 1997-98 campaign; the Nuts and Bolts 9-1 defeat at Cray Wanderers was the record league-wide scoring/winning margin match of the season. The team finished 21st from 24 clubs in the league and thus maintained their league status.

Ready for the 2018/2019 season, Gary Alexander at the helm has brought in his own backroom staff in his former Greenwich Borough assistant, John Mackie, and physiotherapist Huseyin Torgut, along with a few new names on the field.