Monday, April 17, 2006

End of an Era

It's been nearly a fortnight since Margate Football Club parted company with their manager Chris Kinnear. It was after the home draw on April 4th, against Windsor & Eton, when the Board decided to bring to his 10 - year tenure at Hartsdown Park to an end. Three of those seasons were "on the road" as the Club had to groundshare at Dover and more recently, Ashford Town. One can sympathise with CK as he, and his right-hand man Kevin Raines, along with physio "Griffo", were shown the door. CK had taken Margate from an average Southern League Eastern Division club ( as it was in 1996 ) to a powerful force in the highest level of "non-league" football, The Conference.
Owing to the financial pressure on the Club because of the Hartsdown Park redevelopment debacle, Margate FC was forced to relinquish its Conference status after only three seasons and move down to the newly-formed Conference South for the 2004-2005 season. One of the last "home" games in the Conference was an excellent 3-1 victory over Accrington Stanley*. With this enforced "relegation" many outstanding players left the Club including the brilliant Sam Sodje, now Brentford's best player. He may possibly become the first Margate player since Tommy Jenkins, to enter the top flight of English football. Jake LeBerl, Graham Porter, Rocky Baptiste and the very talented Jean-Michel Sigere all went to pastures new. Baptiste and Sigere have scored a hatful of goals between them this season for Havant & Waterlooville and Lewes respectively.
The Conference South campaign was a disaster. Financial and other restraints meant Chris Kinnear had to patch together a side throughout much of the season. It was with some "relief" that the Club entered administration and had 10 points deducted. This sealed the Club's fate and a second consecutive relegation ensued. Margate would now be playing teams they have never faced before in the Ryman Premier League. There was, however, some excellent news. New backers had been found at the beginning of 2004 and their financial input resulted in the Club returning to Hartsdown Park for the new season, albeit at a temporary stadium. Despite this, other good players had decided to ply their trade elsewhere. The outstanding Adrian Clarke went to Welling. He was joined by the talented left-back, Mark Green, who went to Park View Road after just a few games. The 2005-2006 season has not been a success at all. Over 40 players have been used and although there have been some encouraging signs, I hate to think what lies ahead. I don't understand the timing of CK's sacking but one must look forward. The new player-manager is Robin Trott and after two games under his stewardship, Margate has yet to concede a goal and secured an excellent win at Hampton & Richmond Borough.
It seemed only yesterday that I was on the road reporting for the BBC and others on great Margate victories at such far-flung places as Southport, Scarborough, Yeovil, Halifax and the mighty Chester City. The 1-1 draw, played in 98 degrees of heat, at Shrewsbury in August 2003 was a real milestone. A goal down at half-time from a header by the ubiquitous Steve Watts; Warren Patmore equalised with a few minutes to go in front of 4500 at Gay Meadow to send the 100 or so Margate travelling supporters wild with delight. Despite being relegated from the Football League that year, Shrewsbury had ended Everton's FA Cup involvement in January 2003. The biggest Cup upset in recent times.
One could argue that the 3 Conference years was Margate's 6th successful period in their history. The Kent League years from 1929 to 1934 saw tremendous progress - then the huge change. Four outstanding years as the Club seemed to win everything as they had become Arsenal's nursery club. Charlie Walker's post-war side took the Kent League title twice before "Mr Margate", the late great Almer Hall, made Margate into one of the most respected sides in English non-league football. After his departure in 1970 and the short tenure of Gerry Baker at the helm, Les Riggs took control. His stint until 1978 brought some success but also a relegation! My years as a regular fan ceased after the Woking FA Cup defeat in 1978. The "Thanet United" years which followed shortly thereafter, as far as I am concerned were a black-hole. Stability at the re-named MFC in the early 90's paved the way for the introduction of CK in 1996. In Saturday's programme for the game against Worthing, CK's overall stats were published:

Played 520
Won 245
Drew 112
Lost 163
Goals For 837
Goals Against 626

Success rate 54.29%

Under Chris Kinnears stewardship, Margate won the Kent Senior Cup on 4 occasions. The Southern League Cup once, Southern League Championship game once and Chris guided Margate to two promotions. Once as Southern League Champions in 2001.

*Accrington Stanley gained promotion to the Football League on Saturday. The original club went out of existence in 1962. The only time a Football League Club could not fulfil its fixtures during a season. Re-formed in 1968, the new club has slowly moved up the ranks. Margate has played Stanley twice. The "home" victory is mentioned above. The reverse fixture in 2003 saw Margate take the lead but eventually lost 3-2.

The photo above shows Chris Kinnear with Geoff Pay outside the Drectors Box at Dover's ground. The groundshares at Dover and Ashford haven't been the first time the club has had a nomadic existence. Jeff Trice's excellent Margate history site details the history of the various grounds in and around the Margate area. At one time, the Club played at the Dreamland amusement park. Some of the terracing is still there. The Club's nickname in those days was the "Dreamlanders" - I still dream of a Football League place!!

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