|Full name||Ashford United Football Club|
|Nickname(s)||The Nuts & Bolts|
|Founded||1891 (reformed in 2011)|
|Ground||The Homelands, Kingsnorth|
|Capacity||3,200 (500 seated)|
|Owner||Don Crosbie Denise Peach Derek Pestridge Margaret Pestridge|
|League||Isthmian League South East Division|
|2020–21||Isthmian League South East Division (season curtailed)|
Ashford United F.C. are an English football club based in Ashford, Kent. The 'new' United was formed in 2011 (resurrecting a name used by the town's football club around the advent of the twentieth century). Between 1930 and 2010 the town was represented by Ashford Town FC, before it ultimately went into administration. The current club is therefore a 'phoenix club', rising from the ashes of financial ruin of its predecessor and although not a supporter owned club continues, like most non-league clubs, through the contributions of volunteers and supporters.
Ashford United are currently members of the Isthmian League South East Division following their record-breaking promotion from the Southern Counties East Football League in the 2016/17 season. United are also one of very few semi-professional teams in England to have a synthetic 3G pitch, located at their home 'The Homelands'.
See List of Ashford United F.C. seasons for League and Cup records.
The roots of senior football in Ashford originate in 1881 with the South Eastern Rangers who played at Newtown Green (with dressing rooms in the adjacent Alfred Arms). The club reached the Final of the Kent County Badge competition (the fore-runner of the Kent Senior Cup) in 1886 and 1888 but lost on both occasions to Chatham.
In 1891 the original Ashford United was formed when the South Eastern Rangers amalgamated with Kentish Express FC. Initially their home ground was at the back of the Victoria Hotel. About 700 people yielding gate receipts of £5 were present for 'United's' first match on 19 September 1891, a defeat by the Highland Light Infantry 1–5. Two weeks later the club played their first FA Cup match, an away first round qualifying tie in which they were defeated 6–2 at Crouch End.
In 1893 the team exceeded the exploits of their fore-runners and defeated Chatham in winning the Kent Senior Cup. Ashford had been the beneficiaries of a bye prior to the final – in the semi-final they were due to meet the West Kent Regiment but the West Kent's were shipped out to Ireland before the match took place. Scorers for United in the 2–0 win were Archie Munro and Frank Young. A few months afterwards, in October 1893, in an 1893–94 FA Cup first round qualifying match Ashford United suffered their record defeat: a 12–0 loss to Woolwich Arsenal (and an all-time equaling biggest goal difference win by Arsenal). The tie was not without controversyas before the match it was reported in the Kentish Independent Newspaper that Arsenal, as a team playing at a higher level (they had that season joined the Football League Second Division), expected a one-sided victory and had openly offered Ashford £20 and the promise of a friendly match against their second team in Ashford if they would scratch from the tie: the offer was not accepted.
The club were founder members of the Kent 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.
In early 1900 two Ashford players, Gilbert Godsmark and George Foley were transferred to Second Division club Newton Heath. The former of these players is notable as the first signed for a transfer fee by the clubthat was shortly to become Manchester United. The fee of £40 was payable in two instalments with half paid immediately and the remainder after satisfactory completion of a trial period. However, after scoring four goals in nine matches sadly, early the following year, Godsmark died of disease on army service at the Second Boer War – with Ashford reportedly serving a writ for the remaining £20.
The team appeared again in the Kent Senior Cup Final in two successive years, but were unsuccessful on both occasions. Season 1901–02 saw them lose a replay 1–4 to Sittingbourne (played at Ramsgate), following a 2–2 draw (played at Faversham) when a last minute penalty equaliser for Sittingbourne caused the replay. Then the following season (1902–03) they were defeated by Maidstone 1–2, with the final being played again at Faversham. During the early 1900s in addition to playing in The Kent League the club competed in the Thames & Medway Combination. In the 1903–04 FA Cup the team achieved a then club best in reaching the 4th round qualifying where they were defeated at home 0–2 by old rivals Chatham Town.
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, Ashford Railway Works, was formed"through the instrumentality of Mr Walter Hole and others". 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 red and green quartered colours the team enjoyed considerable success. In 1909–10 they won the Folkestone and District Senior League and were also runners-up in Kent League Division 2: Eastern section. The railwaymen went on to win the latter league in four successive seasons, 1911–12, 1912–13, 1913–14 and 1919–20 (the latter after the break caused by the Great War). In both the 1912–13 and 1913–14 seasons the Railway Works team had finished tied on points with Folkestone Gas and Folkestone respectively but took the Championship by winning a deciding play-off match on each occasion. 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 30 August of the same year at the railway works ground with Canterbury Waverley the visitors. The result was a 4–2 victory.
In 1931 the club moved to Essella Park. Initially the ground was provided rent-free by Fred Norman. He was co-founder and co-owner of Norman Cycles and would go on to become Club President post second war. The rent-free arrangement remained in place until the 1950s at which time the club purchased the freehold for£2,060 and 7s – reputedly the sum Norman had paid for the land many years earlier. The Essella park pitch featured a notable slope with the goal at the Willesborough end being considerably higher than that at the Ashford end.
In 1931–32, the first season playing at their new ground, the Town were runners-up in the Kent League scoring an all-time club record 115 goals over the 36 match season. They were headed by Northfleet United who at the time were a nursery teamfor Football League Division 2 team Tottenham Hotspur. Former Crystal Palace and Sheffield United forward Bert Menlove was player-manager of the Town in the early 1930s.
The most high-profile game played at Essella Park in the early years was in 1934–35 with an FA Cup First Round Proper tie with Clapton (now Leyton) Orient of the Football League Third Division South. Town had won away at Kent League powerhouse team Northfleet United in the final qualifying round to reach this stage of the competition. The tie with Orient had extra spice as Ashford were in effect a nursery team for Orient who had loaned a couple of young players and had transferred several players to the 'Nuts and Bolts' – the most notably being former Liverpool and England full back Tommy Lucas who had been appointed by Orientas manager. In a match that "lacked nothing in vigour and spirit" in front of 3,000 spectators Ashford fell 4–1 to their visitors. Another notable player appearing for the Town around this time was record Tottenham Hotspur hotshot (and scorer of the only goal in the 1921 FA Cup final) Jimmy Dimmock.
At this time former Margate player Harry Todd was player-coach of the team. The final home game played by the club in 1939 before suspension of Kent League matches owing to the second world war saw the 'Town' triumph over Bexley Heath to win the Kent League Cup.
After the war the club re-formed in 1946 and with Joe Fagg as team manager and former West Ham United defender Charlie Walker as player-coach were Kent League champions in 1948–49. This success was by 'goal average' as three clubs (Ashford, Dover and Ramsgate) all finished the campaign with 52 points from 34 matches. In recognition of the achievementthe club presented an engraved fountain pen to each player. The team scored 109 goals in their league campaign (second highest ever to the 115 scored in the 1931–32 season). It was almost a double celebration as the reserve side missed out on top spot in the Kent League Division 2 with Folkestone's reserves taking the honours. The Ashford second string were however subsequently successful, taking the Kent League Division 2 title in the 1952–53 and 1955–56 campaigns.
Walker was succeeded in 1951 as player-coach by another ex-Margate man, Ken Horrigan.Other player-coaches from this era were David Nelson and Harry Freeman.
In 1958 a significant appointment for Ashford Town was that of ex-Leyton Orient and Southampton full-back Ted Ballard as manager. In his four years at the club would guide the 'nuts and bolts' to notable cup success.
In the 1958–59 season the club (and for a second time a club representing Ashford) won the Kent Senior Cup. Kent League Ashford beat Southern League Tonbridge in the final at Gillingham. Ron Vigar scored both goals in a 2–1 victory with Tonbridge hitting the post from a penalty.
Also in 1958–59 whilst still playing in the Kent League the team reached the FA Cup First Round proper where they lost 1–0 to Football League opposition, Crystal Palace, in front of an Essella Park ground record of 6,525 spectators. This match was refereed by a youthful Jack Taylor who climaxed his career as referee at the 1974 World Cup Final. This season was the first of four consecutive appearances by Ashford (who remained managed by Ted Ballard throughout this time) in the FA Cup first round proper. For each of these years they would ultimately fall to teams from the Football League.
The league competition in which the club played, the Kent League (which had been in existence since 1894), was disbanded in 1959. Together with seven refugees from this league (Folkestone, Ramsgate, Margate, Dover, Bexleyleath and Welling, Tunbridge Wells and Sittingbourne) the club joined the Southern League.
Ashford's 44-year membership of the Southern League commenced in the 1959–60 season as members of the newly formed Division One (the second level of the Southern League) – the league included the rumps of the previous South East and North West Divisions together with two additional new recruits, Hinckley Athletic and Romford. Away matches for the team involved more extensive travelling with trips to amongst others Exeter City Reserves, Merthyr Tydfil, Kidderminster, Burton Albion and Cambridge City to be negotiated. The 'Town's' first match in the new league was 22 August 1959 and was an 8–1 reverse at fellow newcomers Hinckley Athletic. Four days later playing the other newly recruited club Romford in front of a 2,800 crowd at Essella Park Ashford notched their first points courtesy of a 1–0 victory (scorer: Murfet). The season also witnessed the team's second successive appearance in the First round proper of the FA Cup: the result a defeat 5–0 at League club Brentford in front of a crowd of 13,900 – the largest single match crowd to see the 'Town' play. In making this round of the cup once again Ashford Town were awarded full membership of The Football Association, an honour much cherished by the club.
But 1959 was not all about action on the pitch. In this year the club became a Limited Company. But a more visible milestone was appearance of floodlighting at the Essella Road ground. The installation of the 'Do it Yourself' floodlighting was perhaps the best example of voluntary effort at the club. The self designed and installed system comprised eight 40-foot high towers each housing four 2,000 watt lamps. The total output was thus 64 kilowatts and had required an up-rated power supply to be laid to the ground. The overall cost was £1,507.10s.5d.It is reported that only once in their 28-year lifetime did the power fail. The lights were officially switched on with a Grand Opening Floodlight Game on Monday 19 October 1959 with First Division Chelsea the visitors. England forward and football legend Jimmy Greaves scored four goals in a 7–2 victory for the Londoners, with Ron Vigar and Gordon Burden netting for the home side.
The 1960–61 campaign saw the club's FA Cup exploits curtailed once again in the First Round proper with a 1–2 home loss (Town scorer: Joe White) to League club Gillingham. On the Gills teamsheet was forward John Shepherd who played for and skippered Ashford the following season. The cup run in that 1961–62 season was the next high-point in Ashford Town's history when the club reached the FA Cup 2nd round proper. After beating (then non-league) Wycombe Wanderers 3–0 (scorers Joe White, Ron Clayton & John Shepherd) in a First Round replay at Essella Park, the club lost 0–3 on home turf to Queens Park Rangers – playing for the visitors was Keith Rutter who would subsequently return to Ashford three years later to captain the team.
On the minor cups front in 1961–62 the club won the Kent Floodlight Trophy, beating Tonbridge 2–1 in a second replay, but were losers 1–4 to Dover in the Kent Senior Cup final. In the latter competition after an aggregate draw over two ties the decider for the Senior Cup 1961–62 winner was unusually played at the start of the 1962–63 season (in front of a little over four thousand spectators on neutral territory at Folkestone). The team put this setback behind them and later that same season lifted the Kent Senior Cup for a third time by beating Margate 1–0 in the 1962–63 final played at Gillingham with former England Youth player Brian Dellar notching the decider.
In February 1964 the team recorded their record Southern League victory, beating Barry 10–1 with John Harris, Laurie Thompson, Bob Walker(2), Malcolm Collins, Paul Nicholas(3), Alec Garden and John Smith scoring the goals.
A further upshot of the disbanding of the Kent League was that the Reserve team had to find another League too. In 1959–60 they were founder members of the Seanglian League (in effect a reserves section of the Aetolian League which itself consisted mostly of disenfranchised former Kent League clubs). The second string team were winners of the 12 team Seanglian League in 1961–62. Two years later in 1963–64 this league morphed into the Metropolitan & District League. In 1966–67 the Kent League reformed and the Reserves joined-up.
Although the club had for many years played in green and white, for a while in the sixties they adopted tangerine and white for their team colours. By the end of the decade they reverted to their 'traditional' green and white.
In 1965 the club appointed ex-England and Chelsea full back and First Division championship medal holder Peter Sillett as player-manager, replacing the previous incumbent Bert Sibley.
In season 1966–67 by beating Cambridge City 4–1 (2 goals each from Tim Soutar & Jim Roberts) in the first round the club once again advanced to the 2nd Round proper of the FA Cup, with a visit to Third Division Swindon Town the prize. The initial tie on the Saturday was postponed owing to frozen pitch at the County Ground. The re-arranged fixture provided no respite however with Ashford falling 5–0 to Swindon.
It wasn't until the end of the sixties though that elusive League success was achieved. Throughout its Southern League tenure Ashford had been a mid/lower table team. Their previous high point was 7th in 1963–64. But this was eclipsed by a fourth-placed finish under the managership of Peter Sillett in 1969–70 – a position that was rewarded with promotion to the Southern League Premier Division. This was a big step up for the club and represents their highest placing in the football pyramid. They were only one division below the Football League – indeed the 1969–70 Southern Premier champions, Cambridge United, had been elected to the Football League (there being no automatic promotion at this time).
Ashfords first match in the 1970–71 Premier was a 1–1 draw at home to Weymouth with Ashford equalising through Terry Street with the very last kick of the match. Two days later Ashford (extremely) briefly topped the table courtesy of a 1–3 win at Margate. But with only eight wins all season the club finished 20th (from 22) and were relegated. Notable performances during the campaign came from the men between the posts: The previous season's keeper David Hills ceased playing early in the season; for several games a temporary replacement, former 1950's Chelsea goalie, Bob Robertson appeared; new custodian Brian Gambrill signed-on for £300 from Canterbury City and conceded seven goals on his home debut (in a 7–1 loss to Worcester City – former Chelsea FA Youth Cup winner David Gillingwater hitting the 'Town's' lone marker); mid-season he became injured and for several matches local amateur 'keeper Reg Gorham stepped in (echoing the make-up of the original Ashford United club he worked for the local free-sheet newspaper). The latter back-stopped the club to a 4–2 home win against Hillingdon Borough to snap a 14-game winless run. Despite the lacklustre league campaign the team progressed to the Kent Senior Cup semi-final where the lost 4–3 away to Dover.
The demotion from the Southern Premier put Ashford in the now regionalised Southern League Division One South for 1971–72 where the 'nuts and bolts' recorded a tenth-placed finish. The same season the Reserves reached the final of the Kent League Division One Cup being defeated by Chatham in the final.
The following season, 1972–73, the club had their best ever non-league knock-out cup run when they reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy – just one match from a Wembley final. Alas the dream was not to be: in a match played on neutral turf at Peterborough they lost 1–0 to a disputed second half penalty to Northern Premier League Scarborough (who would themselves go on to win the trophy). Ironically for a club so linked to the railways, supporters travelling on a special train arrived 15 minutes after the kick-off following a delay en route. On the league front Ashford finished third in the 1972–73 Southern League Division One South, one place below the promotion places. Alan Morton set a club record scoring 46 goals in 69 games, which stood for 42 years until broken in the 2014–15 season.
There are two other notable events from the 1972–73 the season. Firstly Roy Hodgson, who has since risen to be amongst Europe's foremost managers, including the England team manager for four years, played for the Town. Secondly the club took part in European football in the appropriately named Cross Channel Competition. Teams from French towns near the coast (Boulogne, St Omer and Hazebrouck) played similarly positioned English clubs (Ashford, Folkestone and Dover). Despite the 'Nuts and Bolts' fulfilling a couple of away fixtures the competition fizzled out owing to bad weather and power blackouts (caused by industrial disputes in the UK) leading to fixture congestion.
Around the early seventies the club began looking for a new ground. They favoured relocation to a site adjacent to the local authorities leisure complex close to the town centre. But nothing was agreed and the search for new premises wasn't resolved until towards the end of the next decade. Player-wise, goalkeeper Tony Godden signed in 1972. He was later transferred in 1975 (for a very modest £1,500) to the talented West Bromwich Albion team who would, with him playing his part, come close to lifting the Football League League Winners Trophy in 1979.
During the 1973–74 season long-time manager Peter Sillett moved to Folkestone and was replaced by Dennis Hunt who moved in the opposite direction. Dennis had been a member of the Gillingham team that defeated Ashford in the FA cup in 1960–61. He brought with him Trevor Pearce who five years earlier had been plucked form non-league football by Arsenal.
A modicum of progress was made by the Ashford team in reaching the FA Cup First round proper in 1974–75 with a home tie against Division 3 outfit Walsall. The originally scheduled Saturday fixture was postponed owing to a waterlogged pitch and moved to mid-week. As Ashford's floodlights were not deemed of the required standard for an evening game the match was played on the following Wednesday afternoon. In front of an enthusiastic crowd that included many schoolboys allowed the afternoon off from their schools Ashford lost to Walsall 1–3 (Town scorer: John Hold).
The club hit the local pressfor all the wrong reasons early in 1977 with a story that the club was £23,000 in debt and two weeks from bankruptcy. There followed a drastic re-organisation and effort both on and off the field which, over several years, restored financial equilibrium. Unfortunately one of the adjustments was on the playing front. Manager Dennis Hunt left and player Bobby Nash took on the role. He was replaced in April 1978 by Gordon Burden who assumed the player-manager role. Gordon had first played for the club in 1954–55 and he was in his fourth stint as a 'Town' player. On-field performance suffered as a result of the financial tightening and the team endured a run of lowly finishes. The 1978–79 season was a particular low point as the Town scored an all-time record low of 28 league goals from a programme of 40 matches. Overall in all competitions the team scored 35 goals in their total of 46 matches. Dave Clay top-scored with 8 goals and Peter McRobert next highest with 7. Over the next twenty years Peter would go on to make a club record 765 appearances for the 'Nuts and Bolts'.
In 1979–80 there was a major reorganisation of non-league football with the creation in of the Alliance Premier League (the forerunner to the Football Conference). This took the top clubs from the Southern and Northern Premier Leagues. The Southern League was reorganised into Southern and Midland Divisions (with no Premier Division).
Ashford Town were placed in the Southern Division. With the club maintaining its stringent financial policies and with stronger former Southern Premier teams (who hadn't made the cut into the Alliance) making up part of the opposition, lowly league finishes continued for the Town team. There was some light however as the team reached the Kent Senior Cup final for two years in succession in 1980–81 and 1981–82. On neither occasion were the boys able to bring home the silverware, losing to Alliance Premier League teams Gravesend & Northfleet and Maidstone United respectively.
For the 1982–83 season the Southern Premier Division was re-introduced with regional-based Southern and Midland leagues below. Ashford Town remained in the Southern Division and although ostensibly staying in the same league this was a slide down the football pyramid – now being in the third level below the Football League. Ashford had not played below at least the second level for 23 years.
1983–84 was a decent season with the club finishing in 8th position, whilst also reaching the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, before losing 0–3 at Barking. Ashford also got to the semi-final of the Courage Eastern Floodlit Cup, eventually losing to Stansted 2–3 on a penalty shoot-out after the sides had drawn a two legged semi-final 3–3. This was no disgrace a just a couple of weeks later Stansted lifted the FA Vase with a 3–2 win over Stamford.
A slump to 19th position in 1984–85 saw the two-year reign of Chris Weller as manager end with the re-appointment of Peter Sillett. The turnaround from 18th position in 1985–86 to League runners-up and promotion in 1986–87 was striking. The promotion was founded on a tight defensive unit who conceded only 32 goals – the fewest in any season by Ashford Town. Sillett was the first manager to pilot the club to promotion since he initially achieved the feat back in 1969–70 season. Assisting him in the role of trainer on both occasions was George Sargeant. The former Irish Cup winner had previously played for the Town, joining from Hastings in 1952 and fulfilled the 'man with the magic wet sponge' role since the 1960s and would continue for many more years yet!
But the 1986–87 season wasn't all about promotion. It marked the season when the club would bid farewell to Essella Park as their home after 56 years. The final game on 2 May 1987 was in fact a title decider with Dorchester Town. The 0–0 result meant the Dorset club pipped Ashford to the league title by one point. As noted previously the club had been looking to relocate away from the ground which was in a residential district and hemmed in by houses. Over 15 years they had looked at 17 sites. The directors had now purchased a plot of land for £80,000a few miles beyond the immediate boundaries of the town in Kingsnorth. The directors felt that this was "not the ideal site" but could find nothing within the Town boundary. The project looked to echo the actions of Ashford United who collapsed in 1907 after they re-located too far from its core supporters. The club anticipated the seventy-acre site would be developed over time, but, at the time of the final fixture at Essella Park, they still awaited planning permission for the new 'Homelands' stadium – and the chairman of the directors was critical of "constant delays" by an "unhelpful" Ashford Council. The club were therefore without a home stadium and agreed a ground-share at neighbours and longtime rivals Folkestone for the next two years.
Following the 1986–87 promotion the club moved-up to the Southern Premier League – now sponsored by Beazer Homes. Manager Peter Sillett left for Poole Town immediately following the promotion and his assistant Nicky Sparks took up the reins for the following two seasons now playing at Folkestone. The 1989–90 season saw the team return to Ashford with the opening of the newly built Homelands facility. The stadium boasted a capacity of 3,300 with 500 seated. But it wasn't an auspicious inaugural season – the team, managed by former incumbent Chris Weller (Nicky Sparks had joined his former boss Peter Sillett now at Hastings), finished 19th of 22 teams and were relegated back to the Southern Division.
The mid to late 1980s saw a run of near misses for the Reserves squad. In the Kent League Reserves Division One they were runners-up for four seasons: 1984–85 (to Sheppey United); 1987–88 (to Fisher Athletic); 1988–89 (to Hythe Town); 1990–91 (to Canterbury City). And were runners-up in the Reserves League Cup to Sittingbourne in 1986–87.
In the early 1990s there were several big-money and new record transfers: Just before Christmas 1990 the club sold forward partnership Jeff Ross and Dave Arter to Hythe Town for a combined fee of £25,000 – a club record single receipt. Three years later in 1993 a single player record of £20,000 was received from Sittingbourne for Lee McRobert. And the following year a record of £7,000 was paid by Ashford to Sittingbourne to bring Jeff Ross and Dave Arter back to Ashford. Arter holds the career club record for goal scoring with 197 goals scored.
For the 1990–91 season in the Southern Division the 'Town' came under player-manager Neil Cugleywho came in from Herne Bay. For his first five seasons of Cugley's tenure the fans saw a series of comfortable top ten league finishes. During this period the old cup spirit of the Southern League South Division 'Nuts and Bolts' stirred as they lifted the 1992–93 Kent Senior Cup beating Isthmian Premier League Bromley 3–2 with Andy Pearson and Lee McRobert (2) netting. This was followed two seasons later with the appearance of Ashford Town in the First Round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in 20 years – Neil had been a non-playing member of Ashfords squad in their last appearance in the First Round in 1974–75. This was the start of a run of three years reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup.
1993–94 the side finished a creditable sixth place in the Southern Division, this was a great achievement losing only once in 22 matches from 8 February to the season end. The Nuts & Bolts also reached the semi-final of the Eastern Floodlit Cup, but were soundly beaten at Braintree 2–6 paying the price for the heavy toll of fixtures at the climax of the season.
The 1994–95 FA Cup match was at home to Fulham and watched by a Homelands record crowd of 3,363, Neil Cugley's side achieved a more than creditable draw 2–2 against their Third Division opponents. On a heavy waterlogged pitch in front of Sky TV Ashford took a two-goal lead (through Jeff Ross and Dave Arter) before two late controversial penalties both converted by Micky Adamsrescued the league team. The Town succumbed 5–3 after extra time at Craven Cottage in the replay. The season also marked only the second time in post-war football that Ashford scored in excess of 100 league goals – their 106 was second only to the 109 scored by the 1948–49 Kent League winning team.
Over the course of the season, which saw 5th place attained in the league, the side scored an overall total of 151 goals in all competitive matches, with hot shot Dave Arter banging in 45. This total included four league hat-tricks and in a pulsating home weekend season finale, Arter scored four in a 6–1 win v Bashley (Sat 29 April 1994), then the following day (Sun 30 April 1994) hit a treble versus Weymouth in a 6–0 victory. Then just for good measure he added four in the final match of the season which was a 5–2 victory at Witney Town on 6 May 1994. The league season ended in fine style with the side establishing a new club league record winning run of seven matches.
Fast-paced winger Mark Stanton could well have matched Arter's total of 45 had he not missed the season end through injury after scoring 35 times in 46 appearances. His total included an Ashford Town record of five in a game during a 6–1 Southern League Cup victory at Erith & Belvedere on 18 October 1994, whilst also scoring nine times in the magical FA Cup run.
For the 1995–96 season the first round draw saw Ashford paired with non-league Bognor Regis Town, with the tie at Bognor. Ashford did the hard work, achieving a 1–1 draw on the south coast but lost 0–1 at home in the replay. The match a complete anti-climax and after being delayed by a power cut, Carlton Wynter then hit the post in the opening minute, the hosts just knew it just wasn't going to be their night. It was also the first time the club had been knocked out in the 'proper' rounds of the cup by a fellow non-league team. Perhaps the team were trying to save the supporters the trauma of a trip to Peterborough (the scene of the 1972–73 FA Trophy semi-final defeat) who awaited them in the next round.
In addition to the national cup competition highlight the 1995–96 was a successful campaign elsewhere. On the local cup front the club won the Kent Senior Cup beating Charlton 3–0 in the final. And on the league front Ashford gained promotion to the Southern League Premier Division as a result of the team's second-placed finish to Sittingbourne in the Southern Division.
For the third cup run, in the 1996–97 season, the first round tie saw Ashford once again meet non-league opposition in the form of Dagenham And Redbridge. Following a 2–2 draw on home turf Ashford visited the 'Daggers' for the replay: the match ended 1–1 but Ashford progressed to the second round by winning 4–3 on penalties, with the vital penalty scored by Paul Chambers, who would later become Ashford United Manager. In the second Round Ashford were drawn away at Watford and they more than matched their higher ranked opponents in a goalless first-half, but eventually the Vicarage Road side ran out 5–0 winners, with substitute David Connolly grabbing a late hat-trick to guide the hosts to victory.
In the league for 1996–97 their return season to the Southern League Premier Division (now with the sponsor Dr Martens) was disappointing. With a finishing position of 19th the club was only saved from relegation by the resignation of Sudbury Town. This precipitated the end of Neil Cugley's seven year managerial reign (he moved on to Folkestone) and he was replaced by Nigel Donn who had joined the playing staff the previous season from Dover Athletic. The results for the 1997–98 campaign did not improve and relegation couldn't be evaded as 21st place saw the Town return to the Southern Division.
But the big news for 1998 was not the relegation but rather the news of a take-over of the indebted club by a consortium headed by former England forward Rodney Marsh. They would not only clear the club debts but planned a development of the Homelands site. The deal ultimately collapsed but the ownership of the freehold of Homelands was now separated from the football operation. As a safeguard a trust of former club directors placed a covenant on the ground which stipulated that a new stadium had to be built if the Homelands site was sold for development. Along came another consortium fronted by John Gurney but they were unable to continue financing the club. The football club survived when Tim Thorogood acquired the football club in 2001 and struck a lease arrangement with the owners of the Homelands freehold.
During all this ownership upheaval there was a merry-go-round of managers over the next few years. The club appointed George Wakeling from Bromley early in 1999. He persuaded former England international Paul Parkerto take on the role of director of football.
The league engaged in another reorganising and renaming exercise for 1999–2000 and Ashford now competed as a Southern League, Division One Eastern team. Wakeling had the team topping the league table in the autumn of 1999 as the side lost just once in 18 league matches. This unbeaten run included an Ashford Town record of eight straight league wins from 16 October 1999 to 13 November 1999, scoring 21 goals, whilst conceding only four. This winning streak equalled a previous run of wins under Neil Cugley, however the Cugley run was over two seasons, after the side won the opening game of season 1995–96, having won the last seven at the end of season 1994–95. Things then took a nosedive for Messrs Wakeling & Parker, amidst all the turmoil of the takeover and after a run of just one win in seven and the pair were duly sacked on 10 January 2000. They were replaced by Tony Reynolds and he was replaced a year later by Tommy Sampson (who had taken Deal Town to victory in the FA vase final the previous season). The team achieved a run of mid-table league finishes at this time.
For the 2000–01 season in order to differentiate it from the similarly named team from Middlesex, the club became known as Ashford Town (Kent) and known as this the team advanced to the 4th round (the last 32) of the FA trophy. They were defeated in Weymouth 1–3 to end 'Towns' best run in the competition since 1972–73.
With the takeover of the club ownership by Tim Thorogood in 2001 he assumed team management. The team reached the semi-final of the Kent Senior Cup where they were on the wrong end of a heavy 5–0 defeat at Football Conference club Margate. There followed a period of relative stability with the 'nuts and bolts' recording mid table finishes for the final few years in the Division 1 Eastern of the Southern League: 2003–2004 marked Ashford's last as a Southern League club after 44 years under their umbrella – there was more reorganisation afoot of the non-league scene.
The 2004–05 season reorganisation was brought about by the introduction of a North and South regional Conference leagues below the Premier. There was also the establishment of boundaries between the Southern and Isthmian League (which hitherto had overlapped). After it was all done and dusted Ashford Town found themselves in the Ryman sponsored Isthmian League Division One. This was a further demotion down the non-league structure for the club who were now in what was referred to as 'step 4' of non-league football (i.e. four levels below the Football League).
For 2004–05 the team moved away from their green and white strip and played in lime green shirts and blue shorts. In October 2004 owner/manager Tim Thorogood appointed former England player Terry Fenwick as manager. After a run of poor results he quit three months later.The team finished the season 20th of 22 teams.
Supporters concerns for the existence of the club were raised by a carry-over from the ground ownership saga when it was claimed the club had not paid rent (of £2,500pa) for three years and had £10,000 unpaid arrears with the Inland Revenue.The issues however were all resolved, Thorogood remained in control and the team continued in the Isthmian League. But performance in the league in 2005–06 continued in a poor vein (21 out of 23).
For the following season the league split into two regional divisions with 'Nuts and Bolts' in the Southern division for 2006–07. There was a further change in team control in October when John Cumberbatch was appointed sole managerfrom the role of joint-manager he had held for a season. The league finish was poor but the back-room staff led by Elaine Osbourne won an award for the best club match day programme in the division.
March 2007 saw further changes in ownership of the club. Tim Thorogood sold ownership to a new joint-ownership team of Tony Betteridge and Don Crosbie. They had acquired the freehold interest in the Homelands site in 2006 and thus this transaction reunited the club with ownership of the stadium. They also announced that Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright was to become director of football strategy at the club.
The start of the 2007–08 season saw former Northampton Town and Dover manager Clive Walkerappointed as manager. The directors reported they had spent half a million pounds in refurbishing the homelands facilities and the team returned to a green and white strip. Walker didn't last long as manager and at the end of October he was replaced by former Wales International Steve Lovell.
There was minor triumph for the club in 2007–08 with the Reserve team winning the Kent Reserves League Cup (defeating Dartford) and finishing as runners-up (to Dover) in the Kent League Reserves Division 2.
Although Lovell managed the club to respectable upper-mid table finishes most of the action over the next couple of years seasons took place off the field. In the summer of 2008 Director Crosbie announced plans for a Sports Village at Homelands.But within a year the relationship between the joint-owners turned sour A year later the boardroom dispute escalated. The split in the boardroom affected the on-field performance and the club barely clung to their Division One status in 2009–10 – only by beating Chatham in their final game.
At the end of the season, with an impasse at boardroom level, the club had an unpaid debt to Ebbsfleet Unitedand under Football Association rules whilst this remained unpaid they were suspended from competition. In the courts the row between Betteridge and Crosbie was finally resolved with administration for the club and Betteridge buying the club from the administrator. However the settlement came too late for the club to compete in the 2010–11 season.
The summer of 2010 therefore marked the end of Ashford Town FC after a history of 80 years. During this time they had won only one League championship – the Kent league in 1948–49 but had enjoyed a few promotions and cup exploits along the way. Although relegation had usually followed shortly after the promotions the post war record of the team was that they had never for any season finished bottom of their League – albeit it was close on more than one occasion!
During what transpired to be a short one-season hiatus the club was reformed as Ashford United(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.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 Betteridgethat 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 September 2013 to 18 February 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.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 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 November 2014 to 27 December 2014. Overall, he also found the net in 11 consecutive league appearances (18 Oct 2014 to 28 February 2015), as well as scoring 28 goals in 11 consecutive away games, a run started on 18 October 2014 which ended with his one-man seven goal show at Lingfield on 24 March 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 investmentand 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 via court proceedings to V Bar; then in February news broke of a disputed winding-up petition being filed against the football club company – which was indeed overturned by the court. Owing to the financial situation the league levied a 10 point deduction. The football club owners continue to dispute and legally challenge 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 chargefollowing a heavy 1–5 loss in the FA Cup to fellow SCEFL side Cray Valley PM on 15 August 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 contributetowards 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 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 and the owners Minotaur 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 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 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 for the 2017–18 season. 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 Lyeand 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 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 club's 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.
With Gary Alexander in position as manager the 2018–19 season started well with three wins. This though was followed by a league run of five defeats and two draws and early exit from FA Cup and Trophy competitions. Three successive wins in November looked to have got the team back on track and seventh in the table but the manager was sacked (via a Saturday evening text message)at the end of November. He was immediately replaced by Tommy Warrilow who had become available following the early season demise of Thamesmead Town. Warrilow had been a former Ashford Town player in the mid-nineties and had a solid non-league management record at Tonbridge Angels and Cray Wanderers.
Under the new manager the team won fifteen and drew three of the remaining twenty-three matches of the season. With the league second fewest goals conceded and second highest goal difference the team achieved a fourth-placed finish in the league and a promotion play-off spot. Danny Parish was top scorer over the league campaign with 24 goals from the 26 games he played, with Sam Corne second with 15. In the play-off semi-final the Nuts and Bolts played on a Monday night in front of 1,123 spectators at Hastings United and ran-out 3–2 victors; twice coming from a goal behind with strikes from Jay May and Sam Corne and the latter additionally converted a penalty one minute from the end of extra time for the deciding goal. In the promotion final Ashford lost 2–1 after extra-time away at Horsham although even had they won, owing to the arrangement of the 'step four' play-off scheme (with only five promotion spots available for the seven league play-off winners – derived from regular season league points per game basis), they would not have not been promoted.Behind the scenes in the spring of 2019 there were changes concerning Denise Peach: she ceased to be a Director but made a loan to the club (secured against the club’s property) of £210,291.
The 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with both seasons fore-shortened and no promotion or relegation. The club rode high in the table during the 2019-20 the season and at suspension of the league in March 2020 with thirty of their scheduled thirty-eight fixtures completed the team were second in the table (albeit only fifth on a points per game basis). The teams’ away record was the best in the league with eleven wins, one draw and four losses from sixteen matches but home form with eight wins, one draw and five defeats from fourteen was not up to the standard of the other leading clubs. With 75 goals scored the Nuts and Bolts were the league’s leading scorers with David Smith notching 20 and Aaron Condon 14 of these. Following a six month close season the 2020-21 season hardly happened at all with only six league matches completed before curtailment at the end of October 2020 – with the team showing a disappointing return of three defeats from their four home league matches. There was little cup success in either campaign with FA cup first qualifying round exits in both seasons and first and second qualifying exits respectively in the FA Trophy. Off the field, in September 2020 Director Derek Pestridge made his second secured (against property) loan to the football club company of £213,435.50,and the club welcomed back as a Director Paul Bowden-Brown in June 2021, he had previously been a Director at the football club in 2011.
United's traditional rivals remain as Folkestone Invicta, Maidstone United & Hythe Town, whereas in recent years the likes of Sevenoaks Town, Greenwich Borough & Beckenham Town are also considered rivals.
United fans also endure friendly rivalries with Tunbridge Wells, Sheppey United and Fisher, as in recent years they were the only other teams United played against at Southern Counties level that also had vocal supporters.
United have since 2011 boasted higher attendances than around 80% of other English teams at Step 8 & 9 level. The supporter's independent social media network is one of the largest in non-league below the National League. The vocal section renamed itself the FAMOUS NUTS AND BOLTS in 2018 and again claim to be one of the largest in Kent at this level.
United fans became famous across the Football network in early 2018 as they took around 90 fans to an away game in Guernseya feat that was almost triple the previous record held by Hastings United when they took 31 a year prior.
|Full name||The Homelands Stadium|
|Location||Ashford Road, Kingsnorth, Kent, TN26 1NJ|
|Capacity||3,200 (500 seated)|
|Surface||Synthetic turf 3G (FIFA 2 rated)|
|Ashford Town 1989–2010|
Maidstone United 2009–2011
Ashford United 2011–
Canterbury City 2014–2017
Ashford have played at the Homelands Stadium since it was built in 1989 – returning to the town after a two year-ground share at Folkestone. The record attendance at the ground is 3,363 for a match against Fulham in the first round of the 1994–95 FA Cup.
Many teams have ground-shared at the Homelands: In 2004 Conference South club Margate spent a season sharing the ground while they tried to bring their Hartsdown Park stadium up to standard; from 2009 Maidstone United played at the stadium for two seasons whilst their Gallagher Stadium ground was built; Between 2014 and 2017 fellow SCEFL club Canterbury City were tenants – they were a nomad club without their own home ground and had previously played at Herne Bay and moved on to Faversham. As of the start of the 2018–19 season, Ashford's second team Kennington will play at the Homelands in order to compete in the Southern Counties East Football League Division Two.
Over the years the poor drainage and wear of the pitch at the Homelands had caused matches to be postponed. At the conclusion of the 2014–15 season the club began installing a new state of the art synthetic 3G pitch of a FIFA 2 rated standard for use the following season, albeit construction was delayed and it was not available until shortly after the commencement of the 2015–16 season.
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