Herne Bay 0 Guernsey 1 (10th August 2013)
Just 6 weeks after visiting near neighbours Whitstable, I was back in this part of Kent, heading just few miles further down the A299 to Herne Bay.
An early kick-off and an earlier start out allowed a bit of time to look round the seafront, in all its faded-glory, just a 10 minute walk north of the ground. Time has perhaps not been kind to the place. Most of the pier was destroyed in storms in the 1970s. The shell of the end of the pier was left stranded, several hundred metres out to sea, with the remaining stub containing little more than a collection of sheds masquerading as boutiques, in a valiant attempt to recreate some 1950s style low-tech charm. A burnt-out pub hardly contributed to a seafront suffering from declining tourists, who’d rather visit sunny sandy beaches abroad instead of dashing out onto the shingle when the sun pokes its head from behind the clouds.
Not that the place was empty. There were a fair number of day-trippers, venturing onto the beach or filling the cafes, stoically determined to enjoy their day, despite the cloudy skies laughing in the face of the over-optimistic weather forecasts for the day. A town where the bakeries display gingerbread ladies, as well as men, did still having something to draw people in, it seems.
Few would have come further though than the fans and players of Guernsey FC, one of the latest in a line of aggressively financed clubs, rising rapidly through the lower levels with high crowds and high budgets, hoping the budget will still add up when they get to the higher levels they are aiming for. Crowds averaging 1300 are certainly good enough for a much high standard than the Ryman League South, let alone their prior two years in the Counties League, but travel costs from the island, as well as the difficulty of attracting players to Guernsey, will make it less easy than it might seem. Indeed, for much of the first half, Herne Bay, who only just avoided relegation the previous year, looked the better team.
Herne Bay might have improved, of course. They are one of a few Kent League teams to have moved up the pyramid in recent years, and their ground certainly isn’t out of place. Two old pitched roof stands, one at a side and one behind a goal, hint at bigger crowds in the past. Both, at about 25 yards long apiece, have been modernised. The terrace behind the goal has large high steps of terrace, as well as two unfathomably pointless lateral dividing walls. The seated stand down the side has been fitted out with incredibly flimsy looking plastic seats. I’m sure they work fine, but they look like they’d warp and spill your out onto the floor if you dared lean slightly off from centre.
Other end has a flat roof extending about the width of the penalty box, covering the few steps of terrace at this end. Blue and white panels on the back wall give it a little life. The rest of the original perimeter wall at this end was so low than you only assume the ground was once plagued with free-loading midgets who refused to pay the admission price, as anyone over about 4’6″ would have had a clear view over the top of it. A much higher corrugated steel wall, directly behind, put an end to their free views.
The other side, back onto to long back gardens, contained the club bar, tea bar, and changing rooms, with a flat expanse toward the far end where bored children would play, perhaps envious of the slide in one of the gardens behind.
At times during the first half, a go on the slide was beginning to tempt me too, as both teams displayed an early-season rustiness that would take a whole can of WD-40 to dislodge. A half-time score of 0-0 was no surprise at all.
With the game being filmed and broadcast via satellite link presumably back to the Channel Islands, it was perhaps for the best that Guernsey did pick up in the second half. They showed much more urgency, even if their shooting was about as accurate as the weather forecast for the day had been. Thankfully for them a chance presented itself at close enough a range to allow even the wildest strike to find the target, and the chance that would eventually win the game was tucked in from a few yards out.
It was only after going a goal down that the home side started to seriously threaten, but probably their best chance was a volley from outside the box towards the end, but the power wasn’t matched by accuracy, and it went wide.
So disappointment for Herne Bay, with a crowd of 405 being about 200 lower than expected, but with no fewer than eight local derbies to look forward to this season (and four other games against Kent teams too) it should be an interesting season.