You can keep the Costa Brava, we're telling you – we'd rather have a day down Margate with Stevenage FC. At least, we think so...
Photo: BBC

You can keep the Costa Brava, we’re telling you – we’d rather have a day down Margate with Stevenage FC. Or, at least, we think we do. It’s not unlike football to get in the way of a good away day. And what can possibly beat a nice sunny day out at the seaside? Down on the Kent riviera with our buckets and spades and cossies and all? Luvvly jubbly! Of course, it’s also not unusual for us to get these trips on a cold Tuesday night in the middle of winter.

And then we do need the football to come to the rescue. So, let’s take a look back to see how fun it was to play the Gate after going on the pier and we’ll have a beer aside the sea.

Who are Margate?

To get to the start of the Gate’s tale, we must go a long way back. In 2021, the club marks its 125-year birthday. But this achievement ain’t without its question marks. Back at the start, they were called Margate Town; playing in the Kent League ’til 1923. Due to financial woes, however, the competition suspended them and the club folded. This happened twice during the 1920s. So, technically, this is the third incarnation of the Gate – right?

Anyway, let’s move on – we’ve got… nowhere to go right now. Blimmin’ lockdown.

The Gate moved to the Southern League in 1933 and, for the next four years, seem to have been Arsenal’s official nursery side. Not for the first time, a Margate side ran into a spot of bother on the financial side of things. In 1937, the club went back to the Kent League. It’d be 1959 when they returned to the Southern League. After promotion to the Premier Division in 1962, the club went full-time in 1964.

But cash worries were never far away and that full-time status couldn’t be sustained with relegation back to Division One – even though they secured an immediate return. Into the 1970s and the financial issues continued. With this in mind, there was talk of the Gate merging with Ramsgate to form a Thanet-wide side. The local council said it wasn’t going to put any funding into the idea, however, and the merger idea was dropped.

Why do we know Margate?

After ditching the name change, the Gate trotted along in the Southern League Southern Division until promotion in 1999. Now in the Premier Division under the direction of Chris Kinnear, the club were looking up. And the 2000-1 campaign was shaping up to be quite a good one for them in the league; the Conference was in sight. To test out their credentials, however, the FA Trophy Round Four put them up against old hands at that level. Us.

What is our record against the Gate?

The Gate made us work for it – but we avoided defeat to lower-league oppostion; coming out on top 2-1 at Broadhall Way. But we wouldn’t be kept apart for long. As that season’s champions of the Southern League, the club broke new ground with promotion up to the Conference. It’d be just a month until our first-ever league encounter at Hartsdown Park. With us not in much form at all at that point, the Gate recorded their first win against us.

We did win the return fixture, however.

For the 2002-3 campaign, the Gate had the luxury of playing us twice before boss Wayne Turner got the chop. By now, they were sharing Dover Athletic‘s Crabble Athletic Ground while their own gaff got tarted up. Our 1-1 draw at ‘their’ place in September 2002 isn’t all that remarkable. But the Gate’s 3-1 win at ours two months later pummeled a big ol’nail in Turner’s coffin as Boro’ boss. On the plus side, it did introduce us to George Boyd.

Is it also weird that Jean-Michel Sigere played (and scored) for us in that match – and then moved to the Gate a week later?

As a Conference side, Margate were no mugs. But they came up against a completely new Boro’ side during the 2003-4 season. After a summer of rebuilding under Graham Westley, an awesome performance by Gary Holloway inspired us to a comfortable 4-1 win down at the Crabble; the redevelopment of Hartsdown Park dragging its heels at this point. We’d complete the league double over the Gate in April 2004 with a 2-1 home win.

Margate: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 7 — W 4 — D 1 — L 2 — F 14 — A 10 — Pts 10 — WR 57%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 2-1 Margate, 12 April 2004

What happened to them?

Amid fears the Gate could fold if they couldn’t get back into Hartsdown Park, the ground redevelopment project was going nowhere fast by the end of the 2003-4 season. They’d ended the campaign in 16th. But the Conference said no to plans for them to continue at Dover’s ground, and booted down a division into Conference South. The 2004-5 season brought even more despair. The administrators were called in; 10 points lopped off as an inevitable punishment.

The 10-point deduction was neither here nor there in the end. Their dire campaign on the pitch meant they were down to the Isthmian League either way. If it ranks as a silver lining, they did return to Hartsdown Park that summer. Still, the storm clouds wouldn’t do one. Kinnear was suspended after a bang-average 2005-6 season; replaced by Boro’ icon Robin Trott on a temporary basis that ended up lasting two seasons.

Trotty did get them into the 2006-7 playoffs as a rare (and relative) highlight at that time – but it wasn’t long before the ride got bumpier. HMRC chased them for debts in November 2008 and got their cash at the 11th hour. At the end of that season, they ended inside the relegation zone – only to be spared by other clubs going under.

And that happened again one season later.

The 2014-5 season can be seen as another rare high point for the Gate in recent times. In winning the Ryman League playoffs, the club secured a place in Conference South for the first time in more than a decade. Of course, it didn’t last. After two seasons of struggle, the Gate were going back down in Isthmian League. While the 2017-8 campaign saw them just miss out on the playoffs by two points, they now seem to have settled back into mid-table..

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Margate club profile

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