Crisis, what crisis? Ashford United is a football club that from the outside can look like that they’re always lurching from one crisis to the next. Despite a Championship and promotion-winning campaign in 2016/17, just two games into the current campaign, Danny Lye, the manager who led them to the title last season, was gone along with some of his backroom staff, which included the club’s record goal scorer, Shaun Welford. Lye had been charge at Homelands for almost two years and his departure came as a surprise to many having only signed a new two-year contract extension in the summer. The 36-year-old manager had led the club back to Isthmian League Division One South seven years after Ashford Town had resigned from the same position in the pyramid (Step 8). The name change from Town to United took place in 2011 when the club began again from scratch in the Kent Invicta League (step 10).
However, whilst the 2016/17 season ended in celebration on the pitch for the club and its long-suffering supporters, off the pitch the club had to overcome another crisis which had emerged at Homelands during the campaign. The club’s 3G Pitch, laid in the summer of 2015, was suddenly deemed unsuitable having failed to meet the Football Association’s requirements for approved playing surfaces, and the Kent club who are based in the Kingsnorth area of the town, were given a deadline of May 31st, 2017 to bring the surface up to standard. The club was given special dispensation to continue to play games on the pitch whilst the work was carried out. The irregularity issue with the pitch was with the sub fame foundations that had not been laid properly. A pitch consultant firm had found 81 “unacceptable undulations” which the FA said should be no greater than 10mm.
The issue of the 3G pitch nevertheless seemed a minor crisis in the grand scheme of things, as the club were in a bitter legal battle to regain control of their Homelands ground, a battle that has been ongoing since November 2015. The battle between Ashford United and V.Bar Limited who are part of the Minotaur Group was eventually settled in March 2017 which gave ownership of the Homelands back to Ashford United. It was a timely boost to the club who were in a battle for the Southern Counties East League(SCEL) title with Crowborough Athletic. However, a missed November 2016 deadline to be considered for promotion from the SCEL to the Isthmian League, meant another battle had to be won this time with the FA. The club won the appeal in the same month the ground legal battle had been resolved which meant everyone involved in the football club could breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The title battle with Crowborough Athletic eventually went down right down to the wire, with Ashford United eventually triumphing on the final day of the season with a thumping 7-0 win over Rochester United to give the Nuts and Bolts the Championship on goal difference.
After seven years away, the club was back in the Isthmian League set up.
A club with the name Ashford United were founder members of the Kent League in 1894. However, in 1907 the club resigned from the league and their record was expunged. The Kentish Express Newspaper, which had helped form the club, pushed hard for a new club to play in the town, and they got their wish when the South Eastern and Chatham Railway company joined the league and played under the name of Ashford Railway Works. The Railway Works team were extremely successful between 1911 and 1914, winning the Kent League Division Two East Championship three years in a row. Another title was won by the Railway Works in their first season (1919/20) after the First World War, but that was the last time the club were to taste Championship success until 1928 when they won the Division Two East Championship for the final time before their departure from the Kent League set up. A new club under the name of Ashford Town joined re-organised Kent League for the 1930/31 season and finished 6th. The club’s first title success didn’t arrive however until 1948/49 season when they pipped both Dover & Ramsgate Athletic to the Kent League title on goal average. A 0-0 draw with Gillingham reserves in their final game clinched the Championship.
In 1959 Ashford Town moved across to the Southern League set up and began life in the First Division. A first promotion was achieved to the Premier Section in 1970 with a Fourth-place finish in the First Division, but the club lasted just one season in the Premier before dropping in the Southern League First Division South section. In 1979 the Southern League re-organised into a Midland and Southern section and Ashford found themselves placed in the expanded Southern section. A premier section was introduced alongside the Southern and Midlands sections for the start of the 1982/83 season, and by the 1987/88 season, Ashford had gained promotion to the Premier section after finishing runners-up to Dorchester Town. Another relegation at the end of the 1989/90 campaign dropped the club back to the Southern Section before a third promotion to the Premier section was achieved with another second-place finish at the end of the 1995/96 season. A two-season stay at the level came to an end in 1998, before another re-organisation placed them in the Eastern Section of the Southern League. The club then moved across to the Isthmian League set up in 2004 and continued in the 1st Division section until the club eventually quit the league in 2010.
Again, much like the previous Ashford clubs had done during the nineteenth century, another club was quickly reformed after a previous one had disbanded, and Ashford United took up a place in the Kent Invicta League for the start of the 2011/12 season. A first promotion was achieved to Southern Counties East League at the end of the 2012/13 season after ground grading rules cost another club’s promotion, and their first season (2013/14) in the SCEL was immediately rewarded with a second-place finish. Another second-place finish the following season (2014/15) was followed up a 3rd place finish at the end of the 2015/16 season, but it was bittersweet as a 10-point deduction had cost the club another second-place finish. Then finally after all the off-field crisis during the 2016/17 campaign, the Nuts and Bolts stopped being the bridesmaids and won the league on goal difference on the final day.
In the 2001 population census, the town of the town of Ashford and it’s neighbouring boroughs had a population of 102,661, and Ashford Borough council predicts that total will rise to 141,100 by 2021. The introduction of England’s first ever High-Speed train service to the town in 2009 has brought many new inhabitants to the area and the football club has the potential to tap into this growth and help grow its fanbase. A quick internet search shows that towns such as Dover, Havant, Chorley, Crawley and Mansfield all having lower populations than Ashford but with football clubs much higher up the pyramid and with greater levels of support. However, Ashford United, much like many clubs based in the County of Kent, suffers from having London right on its doorstep and many football supporters can be seen using the High-Speed rail link to catch the train to London to follow the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham United every weekend.
Saturday 23rd September 2017 – Bostik Isthmian League Division 1 South – Ashford United v Guernsey – Homelands – Att: 258
The departure of manager Danny Lye just two games into the new season had come on the back of a tough start to the new season with the club losing their first two games, the second of which ended in a 5-0 hammering against South Park FC. However, an FA Cup win over Redhill lifted spirits with youth team manager Jason Whitmore taking up the reigns after Lye’s sudden departure. The league form continued to disappoint with two more defeats after the Redhill cup game, but a 0-0 draw against Sittingbourne was the club’s first point of the new season to get them up and running. Another heavy 6-0 defeat in the next round of the FA Cup at Horsham was the third time the team had conceded 5 or more goals in a game already. A first win of the season was finally achieved against Kent neighbours Ramsgate with a 1-0 win at Homelands on September 12th before the midweek defeat against local rivals Hythe Town.
After the club picked up twelve red cards during the promotion-winning campaign last season, a red card in the first game of the season against Carshalton and two red cards in the second game against South Park was a concern for the club’s hierarchy who wanted the club to improve its discipline. The yellow card count was also high after the first two games and after a meeting between the club’s owner Don Crosbie and manager Danny Lye, the matter was brought to a head. Lye decided after the meeting to walk away from the club and with him went assistant manager Shaun Welford and two players from the first team. In an interview between Lye and the local newspaper after his departure, the former manager and player mentioned that there was more to his departure that the team’s on-field discipline but leaves having achieved what he set out to do which was get the club back to the Isthmian League.
The visitors to Homelands for this game were Guernsey who hadn’t exactly started the season very well themselves having won just one game at home and lost all four games away from home. A 1pm kick off meant an early start for both clubs, but it was the away side who seemed to have woken up the quicker. However, they were wasteful in front of goal which would cost them once Ashford United got going themselves in the second period. The home team had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the game as made numerous saves to keep the away side at bay, the best being coming when he turned a curling shot away that looked to be heading into the net from Guernsey’s Matt Loaring.
The second half was a completely different story altogether, as the home side took their chances and turned the game on its head with a fast start that saw them score twice in a mad five-minute spell. Tyrell Richardson-Brown opened the scoring for the Nuts and Bolts as he volleyed in from the edge of the area in the 48th minute.
Then just a minute later it was two-nil as the Guernsey players switched off from a decision that went against them. The resulting free-kick was lofted into the box and Ashford’s Matthew Day stuck the ball into the corner to the delight of the noisy home support behind the goal Ashford were attacking. The killer third goal came with ten minutes remaining as sub George Humber played a lovely one two to set himself up and he ran through to place the ball beyond the reach of the Guernsey keeper. It was the icing on the cake for the home side, who must have been given the hairdryer treatment at half-time after a poor first-half display.
A decent crowd of 258 had come through the turnstiles, their second highest attendance in the league, and a crowd size very much on par with many clubs in the Isthmian Division One South. It remains to be seen if the football club can grow its fanbase and climb back to a similar level it once reached playing as Ashford Town. For now, the club and its hardcore will hope they can get through this season crisis-free and with the card count somewhat lower than the previous campaign.
To view the full picture set from this game then click here – Picture Gallery