Ashford Town played at their old Essella Park ground from their formation in 1930 until 1987, when after two seasons of ground-sharing with Folkestone, they moved to The Homelands Stadium; the ground actually being situated several miles south of Ashford, in the village of Kingsnorth.
Essella Park was very much a traditional town centre ground, surrounded by housing and becoming increasingly decrepit, with little scope for further development. The club had purchased the ground for just £2,000 in the 1950s and therefore it was no surprise that they chose to cash in on the housing development boom, sell up, and move to what was a green field site at Kingsnorth.
The Homelands has its advocates and indeed in my experience often gets the thumbs up from visiting supporters. However, the ground also has it’s detractors.
In his book ‘The History of Non-League Football Grounds’, Kerry Miller describes the ground as “luxurious, but inaccessible and slightly soulless”. Equally, esteemed groundhopper Mike Float in his volume on Kent football grounds, describes The Homelands as “... the worst example of how badly things can go” when clubs move to a purpose-built ground. He concludes with the comment that “A groundhoppers’ worst dream is to be condemned to watch games at just Ashford ... for eternity”! Peter Miles meanwhile describes the Homelands as “totally devoid of character”.
Harsh words, but as an old reactionary I’m inclined to agree.
I have to be honest and say that after several visits now, The Homelands still isn’t a ground that I can warm to and is arguably one of the most inappropriately named venues in football. The ground is approached by a rough track. However, although there is a sign, first time visitors are just as likely to end up at the nine hole Homelands golf course next door as at the football ground.
The principal feature of the ground is the large, and undeniably impressive grandstand, which runs about two-thirds of the way along the near side of the pitch. The stand has around 500 seats offering an unobstructed view. However, at only four rows deep, it’s difficult to obtain a particularly elevated vantage point.
Inside the decor is somewhat disappointing, and the finish can best be described as functional, with white-painted breezeblock. Having said that, the large bar area within is a good refuge from the elements, with large windows overlooking the pitch. If you are able to secure one of the comfy chairs and watch the game from here on a miserable afternoon in November, grab the opportunity with both hands!
The bar area is comfortable enough, and I’m pleased to say on my last visit, stewards appeared to be allowing punters access to have a drink at half-time, instead of asking for £1. If you arrive early however, why not try the Queen’s Head a little bit further down the road? - not a bad pint in there.
Outside, the ground is enclosed by concrete panel fencing. Behind each goal are two identical fairly basic covered structures, albeit with quite large flat roofs providing ample shelter. This is quite welcome, as the wind has been known to whip across the Homelands from the marshlands close by.
Exit the M20 at J10 and follow signs for the A2070 towards Brenzett and Lydd airport. Travel south along the dual carriageway for approximately four miles and turn right (signed Kingsnorth). The ground is about one mile on the right.
Ashford (BR) 4 miles