There but for the grace of the footballing gods go us, right? It’s almost interesting (“Almost”. Ed.) to see what became of sides we used to spar with regularly with during our Conference days. For each Crawley, there is a Kiddy; with each Morecambe, there is an Altrincham. For the few to make it up, an equal and opposite number (if not more) went the other way. And Ebbsfleet United are one of those you can count in with the latter.
Of course, we call them Ebbsfleet. To most of you, they’re Gravesend and Northfleet in old money. The artists formerly known as Gravesend and Northfleet, if you want. Like Purfleet becoming Thurrock, the Kent side are rare enough in changing their name in situ. And what better reason for changing name than for a new railway station; part of a 2007 sponsorship agreement that also saw Eurostar become kit sponsors for three years.
Ebbsfleet United: Who Are They?
A leopard doesn’t change its spots, however. And a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. As sweet as a post-industrial landscape by the River Thames can smell, anyway. Ebbsfleet United were born Gravesend and Northfleet in 1946; the outcome of a merger between – wait for it – Gravesend United and Northfleet United. How do they think these ones up? From the word ‘go’, the Fleet would be members of the Southern League.
It took just 11 years for Fleet to be crowned kings of the Southern League; scoring 109 times en-route to the 1957-8 title. After that, success dried up. In the same 1962-3 season as their best-ever FA Cup run, reaching a Fourth Round replay with Sunderland, they were relegated from the Southern League Premier Division. They returned in 1971 (for one season) and again in 1975 for slightly longer, however.
In 1979, Fleet were founder members of the Alliance Premier League and held out with the non-league elite for three terms before being relegated back to the Southern League. The 80s and 90s were, quite literally, a definite up-and-down period for the club; swapping the Premier Division for the Southern Division (and vice-versa, obvs.) on four occasions. In 1997, however, it was time for them to join the Isthmian League instead…
Us And Them…
In hindsight, that decision gave them a springboard from which to reach the Conference. It took four seasons before they were back in the top flight of non-league football after a 20-year absence. By the time they came up, however, our first meeting had already taken place; before they’d even joined the Isthmian League, in fact. As reigning Conference champions, we won 5-1 in the 1996-7 FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round at their place.
Our first league encounter came early in the 2002-3 campaign. We defeated the Fleet 1-0 in that match-up, but they had their revenge in the return; our last league defeat before the arrival of Graham Westley Mk I.
The next season, our home league match ended in pure drama; Anthony Elding scoring late on and running the length the pitch topless to celebrate. It wouldn’t look so bad had Fleet not gone straight down our end and equalised. After that, however, we’d go on to win seven of the next nine encounters as Boro’ started to assert themselves against their Kentish counterparts. And then it was time for GW Mk II to come to the Lamex.
By this point, we were now playing ‘Ebbsfleet United’ – and they’d succeeded us as FA Trophy holders too. The start of GW’s second spell at Boro’ saw the Fleet trounce us twice, albeit once in the Setanta Shield so it don’t really count. Later that season and what does count was the FA Trophy semi-finals; the current holders (them) paired against their predecessors (us). We edged it over two legs and went onto claim the Trophy back.
And Then What?
A change of name also coincided with the MyFootballClub adventure; Ebbsfleet United owned by subscribers. But the novelty soon wore off and, by February 2009, and had to release most of their first-team squad to balance the books. The squad was rebuilt and, the next season, Fleet stunned us at Stonebridge Road; coming from behind to inflict only one of five league defeats for Boro’ that term on a cold December evening.
And it is here that we part ways. Up we went as champions, down Fleet went after being relegated on the final day. They came back first time round, however, and had two more seasons in the Conference before relegation again; this time, for a longer stretch. Cash fears continued, meanwhile, and the threat of closure or falling further down was real. Fortunately, salvation came as Kuwaiti-based KEH Sport took over the club in May 2013.
Ebbsfleet United: Boro’s Record
P22 W15 D2 L5 F39 A22 – League Points: 32, Cup Meetings: 6, Win Rate: 68%
• BoroGuide’s Ebbsfleet United club profile – for old time’s sake…