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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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

Margate FC

Hartsdown Park, Hartsdown Road, Margate, Kent CT9 5QZ
Telephone: 01843 221769
Nickname: The Gate
Isthmian League

Note Margate Town FC was founded in 1896 as an amateur club, playing friendly matches on school grounds, with the club colours being black & white. The club moved around the Margate area and played at various grounds including Northdown Corner in Cliftonville, before moving to the Lower Pitch at a local seaside attraction named The Hall By The Sea in 1912.

After the Great War the club moved to a new ground at Canterbury Road, Westbrook on the outskirts of the town in 1920 and by the autumn a wooden 700-seat grandstand was completed. It wasn’t to last however as the club’s ambitions outstripped its finances and the club folded at the end of the 1922/23 season.

The following year the club once again reformed and, after a few games at Canterbury Road, moved back to The Hall By The Sea, which by this time had been transformed into the Dreamland amusement park. The ground had no cover, and despite pleas from fans to relocate the Canterbury Road stand, the latter was not actually owned by the club and stayed where it was in Westbrook. After just four years at Dreamland, financial problems resurfaced, and the club folded for the second time in five years in 1928.

In 1929 a new club – Margate FC – was formed, and it is rather ironic given recent problems, that the local council played a major part in its re-birth. The new club had new colours: amber and black; and more importantly, a new home. The Margate Corporation had purchased the Hartsdown House estate for sporting purposes, and arranged to build a ground for the club for an annual rent of £200.

In late December a compact wooden grandstand on the south side of the ground, with a capacity of around 500 on wooden benches, was completed at a cost of £640. The ground was a hive of activity and within five years the town council had agreed to commence work behind the stand on new dressing rooms and, with the club becoming the Nursery side for the mighty Arsenal in 1934, the pitch dimensions were altered to match those at Highbury. This fertile period also saw banking built up around the ground and in 1931 an additional stand was erected on the north side: the Hartsdown House side. Although originally intended purely as a covered enclosure, the centre portion was fitted with seats. The main stand was also improved that summer, with extensions to the ends and the roof giving it its distinctive shape.

In 1935 saw the erection of further cover at the ground, this time over the newly created banking at the Hartsdown Road end. The Nursery agreement collapsed in the immediate pre-war years and with it came another downturn in the club’s fortunes. The club closed down in 1938 and reformed a year later just as WW2 forced another period of inactivity for a further six years.

In 1949/50 the Club changed its playing colours to the present blue & white, as the new decade saw further developments at Hartsdown Park. The first of these however, was not planned, with the Hartsdown Road cover having to be rebuilt after being blown down in a storm in 1952. The club also took the opportunity to replace the earth banking with concrete terracing, with a further terrace constructed next to the main stand.

At the one remaining end of the ground that was still undeveloped, a new covered terrace was erected at the Tivoli Park Avenue end of the ground in 1958, the cost of £2,000 having been financed by the Supporters’ Club. Floodlights were used for the first time at Hartsdown Park on 23 September 1959 and officially opened with a commemorative game against West Ham United in front of 4,216 spectators.

The club become a Limited Company in 1981 and its name to Thanet United FC. However, this was reversed back to Margate Football Club in 1989/90 when the club was taken over by Keith Piper & Gordon Wallis. Meanwhile, part of the Hartsdown Road end cover was filled in to allow the 1966-vintage clubhouse to be extended, and in 1989 what remained of the deteriorating north stand was pulled down.

The club won promotion to the Conference in 2000/01 and set out a five-year multi-million pound plan to develop the site with conferencing and banqueting facilities, as well as a casino and hotel. Unfortunately the club became tied down in negotiations with Thanet District Council that was to ultimately cost Margate a place at Non League’s highest level.

The second season of Conference football, 2002-03, saw the club ground-sharing at Dover Athletic FC, having secured planning permission for the redevelopment of Hartsdown Park. Despite playing all their games ‘away from home’ the Club finished the league in a respectable 10th position. The beginning of the 2003-04 season saw a second season at The Crabble due to the delays on the redevelopment project, and at the end of the season the club was demoted due to the ongoing delays and problems with the redevelopment plans.

Now in Conference South, Margate played the 2004/5 season ground-sharing at Ashford Town FC and, following continued issues with the redevelopment of Hartsdown Park, were again relegated to the Isthmian League despite a promising start to the season. Fortunately, issues with the Council were resolved sufficiently for the club to begin the 2005/06 season back ‘home’, albeit with a lot of temporary arrangements in place following major demolition works, including that of the main stand.

As an interim measure portable buildings have been erected on the touchline where the old stand previously stood, along with new dugouts; whilst the north side of the pitch – the Hartsdown House side – now boasts two prefabricated stands, and further temporary buildings.

Although it was reported that a temporary standing structure with a capacity of 2,000 was to be erected at the far Tivoli Park Avenue end of the ground, there was no sign of any development at the time of my visit or throughout the 2005/06 season. Meanwhile, the one surviving covered terrace and clubhouse at the Hartsdown Road end has been renovated; a new pitch laid; and new floodlights erected – the fourth set of pylons at the ground.

With impressive plans for the site available at
http://stadium.margate-fc.com one can only hope that these will finally come to fruition, and that the club will soon retain its place in the Conference that it worked so hard to achieve previously. DB

Archive photographs of Hartsdown Park,
courtesy of Bob Lilliman and Vince Taylor

Below: The same view from the Hartsdown Road terrace, showing the old main stand

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Archive photographs of Hartsdown Park,
courtesy of Bob Lilliman and Vince Taylor