Friday 4th November 2016 ko 19.45
Southern Counties East League-Division One
K SPORTS 4 (Smith 4 40 Russell 7 Norman 73)
ELMSTEAD FC 1 (Babalola 45)
More or less 2 years ago I paid a visit to Kent County League outfit APM Contrast, mainly to gaze upon their wonderfiul pitched roofed stand, a relic from the club’s former guise, Aylesford Paper Mills’ stint in the Kent League, now the Premier Division of the Southern Counties East League. What I and many others who made the journey found was club struggling with the loss of the club’s main source of support, the paper mill and the ground grading realities of regaining their lost status.
Things have moved on since my visit, and the club and ground were taken over by K Sports, a Kent-based organisation with strong links to both education and the community, including a tie-up via Andy Hessenthaler, to Gillingham FC’s youth set-up.
The groundhopper will, like me, mourn the loss of the stand, but I’m sure the club would point out that it was condemned, and the club simply had to find a ground that at the very least would allow them to continue in this league.
So the old ground has gone, with the pitch rotated 90 degrees, and where the stand used to sit will eventually become a new set of changing rooms. The new stadium is a caged 3G pitch with the usual green treble “Arena” stand to give the requisite seats. The lack of space with this configuration means there’s no access behind the far goal. The traditionalists will hate it, the “Is it a new ground” pedants won’t count it, but it gives K Sports everything they and the local community need.
And it must be said the place positively buzzed on the occasion of its very first game. 341 present represents a huge coup for the club, especially when you consider when I visited APM Contrast the crowd numbered just 15. What hadn’t changed in two years was the welcome, the name may have changed, but the spirit hasn’t.
Or putting it another way, during the second half I found myself walking round a caged 3G pitch on a wet evening at a ground I was revisiting with a grin as K Sports won and won well. And if an old cynic like me can enjoy the experience then perhaps that bodes well for K Sports’ future. Either way, I wish them well.