In twenty years time my grandchildren will ask me about this day I am sure. The day that a new football club was reborn. And I can say I was there when history was made. This was no Liverpool/Everton Anfield situation, nor was it as ground shaking as how Internazionale came to be wearing the Nerazzuri instead of the Rossoneri. Oh no, in Kent we like to do things a little bit more discreet or without fuss. After all this is the Garden of England and too much noise will upset the neighbours. So in June 2011 when Norton Sports decided to become Woodstock Sports there was just a simple “Jolly good show old bean”, a pat on the back and jugs of Pimms all round.
Norton Sports had been playing in the Kent Premier League for a couple seasons after making the long transition from the local leagues. Forced to play their home games down the A2 at Herne Bay they had sort of reached a plateau. They wanted to come “home” to Sittingbourne, but their ground was not deemed adequate by the powers that be.
After they finished in ninth last season, their highest ever league finish, the embarked on the final stage of their transformation by changing their name to Woodstock Sports. The development work at their spiritual home in Sittingbourne was complete with the installation of floodlights, thanks to W E Manin and they were ready to go home.
So that is why I was standing by the side of the pitch waiting for kick off on this historical day. The club had renamed the ground in a rather grand fashion to the W E Manin Stadium as Woodstock Sports went through their warm up paces for the first time. Unfortunately, as with the beauty of Non League football someone had forgot to tie the nets up properly. No worries – the centre back jumped on the back of the keeper with some Gaffa tape and we were ready.
The visitors couldn’t have been more perfect. Maidstone United could empathise completely with Woodstock. Forced out of the Football League twenty years ago, and still homeless, the club were hit by a huge blow last season as they were relegated from the Ryman Premier League on the last day of the season. The Stones fans had come out in force doubling the gate that Woodstock would normally get for a league game. They had started their pre-season last week and were coming into the game with two wins already under their belt, and speaking to the fans, with confidence high for a swift return to step 3 on the non league ladder.
I should add at this point that the game was kicking off at 1pm, thus enabling me (and a fair few others) to take in a second game later on. Pre-season kick off times see to be completely random these days, and whilst I assumed it may have been set at 1pm so that it didn’t clash with Gillingham v Millwall, Faversham Town v Herne Bay or even Lordswood v Chatham Town, I got my answer when I went into the very pleasant bar to get a pint of Kent’s finest Shepherds Neame Ale. At 3pm the club was hosting the wedding of “Karl and Kerry” and they needed to use the bar, and the pitch for some pictures. And that is why you have to love non league football.
Woodstock Sports 1 Maidstone United 7 – Woodstock Park – Saturday 23rd July 2011
Without a teamsheet I cannot really do justice to the game. Suffice to say that Maidstone ran out clear winners, scoring four without reply in the first half, helped by some calamitous defending and an own goal, and then three more in the second half. The star of the show was their right midfielder Ellis Green who had a hand in five of the goals and appeared to score one himself (although some felt it was an own goal). For the second week in a row I had seen a wide player who was not scared to take on the full back and cut inside with pace. More of the same please.
A final comment has to be levelled at the Woodstock Sports centre back in the first half. If you are going to berate your full back for not tracking back so loudly and using an impressive seven “Fucks” in just two sentences, best not to:-
1. Do it in front of your kids who then say “did you hear Daddy just say Fuck”
2. Then let the man you are supposed to be marking get behind you and score….TWICE
3. Expect the away fans will not keep reminding you as the goals pile up of your outburst
Woodstock is a perfect little venue, great clubhouse and nice people. Nothing above their station and ambition in moderation. A picture paints a thousand words, so here are 19,000 on the day history was made in a small part of a small town in a small county.