Tonbridge Angels

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Tonbridge Angels

Post  White Flag Martyrs on Tue Jan 07, 2014 4:11 am

By Simon Piper and Chris Varney, from

To fully appreciate the good times people really need to have experienced
the bad - and Tonbridge have had plenty of them. Bankruptcy, eviction from
the old Angel Ground, propping up the rest of the Division, relegation to
the Kent League and a takeover by a London sports' "enterprise", have
inflicted misery at various times.

The entrepreneurial label was the company's description. Two decades' later
fans suspect the reality was redevelopment of their beloved ground in some
way. The Angels' new owners in the early 1990s boasted of grand plans for a
kind of centre of sporting excellence which fell at an early, if not the
first hurdle. Looking back it did seem more of an Arthur Daley enterprise
than an Alan Sugar one.

Football supporters in other parts of the UK now either free on Saturday
afternoons or watching a brand new club on the bottom rung of the ladder,
might be familiar with the next bit.

The big idea was a complex on some of the site supposedly generating money
for the football club, to fund a surge up the non-League ladder.

All they needed to do was add a hotel and conference facilities, plus maybe
a night-spot, and you have the stereotypical blueprint that has killed off a
number of clubs. Such plans rarely come to fruition but the significant
costs associated with promotion, design and everything else racks up debt
against football teams. In some cases the individuals involved later
transfer ownership of the land to themselves or others in their entourage,
sometimes justified on the grounds it deals with liabilities. Tonbridge are
fortunate the stadium is owned by the council and that has been a saving

Up and down the country a common feature of the hotel/conference/anything
else to get planning permission projects, is the location, location,
location. Frequently they are put forward in God-forsaken hell-holes; where
people often prefer not to live, led alone choose for an overnight stay! The
likely outcome is a new white elephant, rotting away on the outskirts of

Such schemes can work and the concept of generating income daily at venues
traditionally only used fortnightly is arguably a sound one. But the big
danger is cost, in the realms of millions of Pounds these days, saddling
football clubs with debt. That eventually becomes unsustainable and teams
that have been representing towns for decades disappear into the history
books and liquidators' file.

Projects such as the above are not solely to blame for the deaths of scores
of sides in Britain, some are just very badly run or victims of shark
activity. Ordinary fans, who may have watched their team struggle for years,
are delighted when someone comes along offering hope of a successful future.
But those plans come at a cost.

At Tonbridge some supporters were sceptical but the majority were taken in
because at that time football clubs were not dropping like flies. But what
any fan, particularly of smaller sides, needs to remember is these new
owners are not usually going to spend vast sums from their own bank balances
on their team without something in return. There are good benefactors and
Longmead has been upgraded in recent years, largely courtesy of a
kind-hearted businessman. But sadly that is the exception rather than the

Turning back to the subject of dodgier owners, the "purchase" itself can
become a massive burden, especially if to win over the fans large sums of
money have been "invested" in the team. Eventually, the price will be paid
either through cost cutting and plunge down the Divisions, or the ultimate
one for a football side, death of the club itself.

In the early-1990s, Tonbridge had a lucky escape, well sort of. What really
transpired no-one will ever really know because the proprietors disappeared
fairly swiftly but not without inflicting short-term damage. It is possible
the council made it clear at an early stage re-development plans would not
be supported. Perhaps officials were suspicious, fans had certainly started
to question if the team was part of the proposals. That assertion gained
further credence when the owners suddenly lost interest in the team,
neglecting bills - including some of the more dangerous ones such as tax.
The unscrupulous are well versed in the art of skulduggery whereas ordinary
fans like the Angels' faithful are not. But it is the supporters who pick up
the pieces and keep the devil from the door.

Not for the first time a sizable number of individuals who loved the club
dearly rallied to the cause. The last days at the Angel meant the troops
were familiar with the need for mobilisation and the army of volunteers were
on a war footing again. The Supporters' Association raised funds, paid bills
and pretty much took the club over - in all but name. And the Angels were
also lucky in having a manager in Phil Emblen who also cared about Tonbridge
AFC. He took an active part in fund-raising and made regular contributions,
while also producing competitive teams with next to no money.

The Angels' salvation was, yet again, the result of kind-hearted people
making personal sacrifices and showing great devotion in the interests of
the football club they loved.

Twenty years on, our favourites are competing at their highest level for any
consistent period since the 1950s. There was a brief, ill-fated sortie into
the Southern League Premier Division in the early 1970s, which lasted three
campaigns and ended with liquidation of the old Tonbridge FC in 1976.

Perhaps the most fundamental feature of the modern club is it belongs to the
supporters. It may not be the names of people around the stadium on the
deeds but those in the boardroom are genuine fans. They are businessmen but
supporters first and foremost. That means Tonbridge have risen through the
Leagues with a strategy of sustainable progress. On occasions there have
been budget cuts for the squad but it is important to live within means.
(The board announced recently a move towards community ownership - so fans
will own the club.)

If doubts remain among some over the need for financial prudence, it is
worth looking at the 1993/94 table of two decades ago. Tonbridge had just
climbed back to the Southern after four years trundling around the Kent
League. The Angels finished half-way up the Southern Division, a creditable
achievement in itself. It is worth looking at the fortunes of the opposition
since then, while our favourites compete in Conference South.

The final positions in the table are below, with a summary of current
situation of the opposing sides.

Southern League, Southern Division final positions in 1993/94
1. Gravesend (now Ebbsfleet): Conference South and recently bought by new
2. Sudbury Town: Dropped to Eastern Counties League after financial
difficulties, merged with another club and renamed AFC Sudbury. Now Ryman
3. Witney Town: The first club folded and the phoenix outfit was liquidated
this year. No longer a club.
4. Salisbury City: Various financial problems but now in Conference Premier.
5. Havant Town: Merged with Waterlooville and in Conference South.
6. Ashford Town: Went bust a few years ago. New club Ashford United started
life in Kent Invicta League and now in Southern Counties East Football
League (Kent League).
7. Baldock Town: Folded in 2001. New club started in 2006 is having to
ground-share with Hitchin and competing in Spartan South Midlands League
Division One.
8. Newport (IOW): Struggled financially and put in administration in 2003/4
after ill-fated spell in Premier Division. Transferred to supporters' trust
in 2008 and now in Wessex League.
9. Margate: Trying to push through major project at Hartsdown Park and
enjoyed a spell in the Conference but now Ryman Premier.
10. Weymouth: Life is a roller-coaster for Weymouth fans with financial
trouble, administration, different owners, stadium redevelopment plans and
other issues. Southern Premier.
11. Tonbridge
12. Buckingham Town: Evicted from ground, courtesy of property developers
who bought it, so playing at the Irish Centre in Milton Keynes. Now in
United Counties League.
13. Braintree Town: Conference Premier.
14. Fareham Town: Moved to Wessex League for financial reasons in 1998.
15. Poole Town: Club were evicted from Poole Stadium, dropped to Wessex
League and are on the rise again in Southern Premier. Due to move to a new
16. Burnham: Effectively swallowed up Hillingdon in a merger in the 1980s to
take the latter's Southern League place. Relegated to Hellenic in mid-1990s
but now in Southern Premier.
17. Fisher Athletic: Original club wound-up in 2009 because of debts. New
outfit has been struggling near the bottom of the Kent League. Also
ground-sharing with Dulwich.
18. Dunstable :Two clubs folded, in 1975 and in 1993/94. Third attempt
launched in 1998, competed in the South Midlands and now Southern League
Division 1 Central.
19. Erith & Belvedere: Lost ground after a fire destroyed the stand and
ground-shared with Welling since. Have been in the Kent League but promoted
to Ryman North.
20. Canterbury City: Folded and lost stadium. Trying to secure new ground
but negotiations are faltering. New club formed in 2007 and started life in
Kent County League. Sharing with Herne Bay and now in Southern Counties East
(Kent League) like the new Ashford.
21. Wealdstone: Playing in Ruislip after original stadium was sold in the
late 1980s and have been trying to move back home ever since. Ryman Premier.
22. Bury Town: Financial difficulties in late 1990s, dropped to Eastern
Counties League and later had spells in the Southern and Ryman Leagues. Now
Ryman Premier.

Only two sides are in a League above Tonbridge, a couple are at the same
level and the rest are below or disappeared completely.

A scan of old League tables will also show a number of names that have gone
for good including Addlestone (Surrey), Hounslow, twice, (Middlesex), St
Leonards (East Sussex), Woodford (Essex), Witney (Oxon) and the short-lived
Ruislip (Middlesex), or merged with others such as Waterlooville (with
Havant) and Hillingdon (with Burnham). Other opponents in the past included
Andover, Trowbridge and Sheppey, places that have all struggled to keep
senior football alive.

The original Folkestone club was replaced by the ex-Kent Amateur League
outfit Invicta in 1990 and the Angels' arch rivals Maidstone started again
during the same decade. The shenanigans surrounding the ultra-ambitious
"Stones" also spelled the end of Southern League football for 100 year-old
Dartford. Darts' fans re-grouped, picked up the pieces and are now thriving
in the Conference Premier. In Sussex, Hastings United was replaced by Town
and since reverted to the original club's name.

It has not been a pretty picture across the non-League game.

Before we pat ourselves on the back too much, it is worth a note of caution.
It is possible the side will suffer relegation, plenty of teams do and it is
part and parcel of sport. But behind the scenes these days the club should
be strong enough to bounce back fairly swiftly. If not, it will be because
risks will not be taken with the long term future, for the sake of a few
years' enjoyment at a higher level. Above all we want to be watching senior
football at Longmead.

The other thing is sometimes issues arise that are beyond the control of the
custodians of non-League outfits. Tonbridge fans have endured many dark days
in the past, so are well aware how quickly events can suddenly change in
sinister fashion.

The most important aspect is that our club continues to be run properly to
avoid the boom and bust that has caused many casualties among the non-League
ranks. And the next time a fan may feel like grumbling about performances on
the field, or the budget, ask this question?

Do we want to end up playing local derbies against Rusthall, Snodland Town
or Hildenborough Athletic on a park pitch? (Not being disrespectful to those
sides it's just crossing swords with Bromley, Dover and Ebbsfleet are
preferred.) The question is rhetorical but one that in Kent has been faced
in varying degrees by followers of Ashford, Canterbury and Sheppey.

And remember fans of Addlestone, Hounslow, Woodford, Witney and Ruislip no
longer have a team to watch.

White Flag Martyrs

Posts : 698
Join date : 2010-12-21

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Re: Tonbridge Angels

Post  Merthyr Imp on Tue Jan 07, 2014 4:38 am

Reading that the name Holloway comes to mind.
Merthyr Imp

Posts : 3491
Join date : 2010-12-19
Location : Penydarren

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