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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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BuiltWithNOF

Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Gravesend & Northfleet FC

Stonebridge Road
Northfleet
Kent
DA11 9GN

Telephone: 01474 533796

Gravesend & Northfleet website
Nickname: The Fleet
 

Main stand

Stonebridge Road End

Covered terrace

View towards the Swanscombe Road End

Update (January 2007) Since this review was written Gravesend & Northfleet FC were forced to close the Northfleet Terrace at the far end of the ground on the advice of the emergency services. The estimated cost of rebuilding the terrace was estimated at around £75,000 but further negotiations resulted in a compromise being reached. Rather than replace the crumbling terracing, 558 seats have been installed on a raised metal platform, with the terracing surrounding this remaining out of bounds. The club is currently looking to sell its historic ground in order to fund the development of a new modern stadium elsewhere but let’s hope that Stonebridge Road remains with us for a little while longer yet.

Stonebridge Road is another of those ‘classic’ Non League venues that requires little introduction to grounds enthusiasts and ‘hoppers’. In his 1998 guide, Mike Floate described the ground as the ‘Jewel in the Crown of Kent’s football grounds’ adding that there ‘... are few better grounds in the entire country’. So does Stonebridge Road live up to such high praise?  Well, of course it does ...

Until the planners and football beaurocrats get hold of it, Stonebridge Road will remain a fine example of a ‘tradiitional’ footballing venue: with it’s timber stand, large terraces, and imposing floodlights standing out in the heart of the local community ... where, despite pragmatic arguments to the contrary, football grounds ought to be.

Indeed, it is something of a minor miracle that Stonebridge Road has survived, not only the various grading requirements and post-Taylor regulations; but also, given its location, two World Wars as well!

The ground was first home to Northfleet United in 1905, when they moved to what was evidently described as a ‘nice little plot of level ground at the bottom of Stonebridge Road’. Changing rooms, a seven foot fence, tea bar, and a small shelter were all in place for the opening game against East Ham Athletic on 2 September.

A small stand went up in 1908 on the Stonebridge Road side of the ground; followed in 1914 by the wonderful main stand opposite. The structure is still in pretty good condition today, with its numerous wooden supports holding up a rather uneven-looking pitched roof. The interior is painted white and in recent years some 500 red seats have been added to the wooden benches that previously sufficed. Yes, the view is obstructed but I’d much rather have to peer around a pillar from time to time than watch from a bland metal-cladded cantilever substitute.

Northfleet United, like many other clubs did not survive WW2, but fortunately despite countless enemy air raids, Stonebridge Road did! The ground was taken over by a new club Gravesend & Northfleet FC, formed following the amalgamation of Northfleet FC and Gravesend United FC. In 1962/63 the club reached the 4th Round of the FA Cup and held Sunderland to a 1-1 draw, in front of a 12,036 crowd at Stonebridge Road - a gate that is unlikely ever to be repeated.

The next addition to the ground came in 1952 when the large covered terrace that stands behind the goal at the Stonebridge Road End was erected. There are no crush barriers which limits its capacity and would no doubt give many a grounds inspector a sleepless night.  The imposing shelter that extends along the far touchline was added seven years later, replacing the earlier stand on that side, that had been removed a few years earlier when the terracing was first laid.

The final major development came in 1980, when the Swanscombe End was re-terraced to meet safety requirements. This end remains open to the elements, but does have crush barriers, unlike its older brother at the opposite end.

Dartford FC have shared the facilities at Stonebridge Road since the beginning of the 2001/02 season. The Darts’ sadly nomadic existence dates from 1992 when they lost a classic ground of their own, at Watling Street, ironically largely as a consequence of an ill-fated groundshare with Maidstone United.

Since then Dartford have shared a number of venues in the area, including the now defunct homes of Cray Wanderers and Erith & Belvedere; as well as Welling United and prior to Stonebridge Road, Purfleet (now Thurrock FC). Finally however, it looks as though the end may be in site, with plans for a new Conference standard ground within the confines of the Princes Golf Course in the town. It is hoped that the new stadium will be ready in 2006.

Ground details
Capacity: 4,184
Seats: 500
Floodlights: Yes

Directions
From the A2 take the Northfleet/Southfleet exit (B262). Follow to Northfleet then take the B2175 (Springhead Road) to the junction with the A226. Turn left (The Hill, Northfleet) and the road becomes Stonebridge Road. The ground is on the right, at the bottom of a steep hill after one mile. Parking for 400-500 cars.

By rail
Northfleet (BR): 2 minutes.