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Saturday 29th June 2013 ko 13.00

Pre-Season Friendly

FAVERSHAM TOWN 2 (Wilson 11 Rowland 74)

GILLINGHAM 4 (Millbank 15 Dack 25 Birchall 65 76)

Att c500

Entry £8

No Programme, old copy free (some others were charged £1)

Badge £3

It was less than 3 weeks since I finished off last season in Sweden on a joyous Swedish hop, but in that time I can honestly say I lost my edge. I know it seems daft, all I do is show up at a game, watch it and take a few pictures! But even during the planning of this one I felt I wasn’t on top form. I’d agreed to meet the undoubted star of the Swedish adventure Martin Bamforth, at the old Andover FC ground to do the Sealand game at Thamesmead, but we changed plans just as soon as we worked out you can get from Faversham to Whitstable in 15 minutes flat, making an unlikely double possible.

That feeling of unease was still there when we reached Salters Lane, I didn’t slide into my normal habits of knowing instinctively where to obtain the line-ups, über-hopper Peter Miles helped me out what that one. I even had to think about my camera angles!

Eventually everything fell into place and I began to appreciate my surroundings and the entertainment on offer. It just shows how easy it is to lose that state of unconscious competence!

There was a lot to enjoy too, the Kentish town is the cradle of the UK’s explosives industry. The first gunpowder factory was established in the 16th century, probably with investment from Faversham Abbey. At that time the monasteries were deriving good profits from their estates and were keen to invest in promising technology.

The town was the perfect location as it had a stream which could be dammed at intervals to provide power for watermills. On its outskirts were low-lying areas ideal for the culture of alder and willow to provide charcoal, one of the three key gunpowder ingredients. The stream fed into a tidal Creek where sulphur, another key ingredient, could be imported, and the finished product could be  loaded for dispatch to Thames-side magazines. The port allowed the finished product to be shipped to mainland Europe for use with minimum effort.

The explosives industry lasted until 1934 when owner ICI realised that war with Germany was likely, and that Faversham was in a vulnerable location to bombing so moved production to Ayrshire.

These days the town is a quiet market town, and the football ground hides itself amongst the trees midway down Salters Lane. Its a good example of the classic Isthmian League-style ground (the club lost in the Division 1 South playoffs) with the asbestos roofed main stand typical of many in London and its hinterlands. The burger bar was swamped with custom as the visitors, freshly promoted to League 1 brought a bumper crowd. They’d split their squad, with half going to Ashford United at 3, giving their more intrepid supporters a tougher job than Martin and I at the final whistle if they wanted to make kick off.

The hosts made an error in not doing a programme. Even if only half the crowd had bought one at say, £2 there’s £500 the club could have made, and it gave the impression that the club was better run on the pitch than off it.

Even though Gillingham had the luxury of changing the entire team at half time, no bad thing in the heat, Faversham gave the visitors a thorough test, and Wayne Wilson’s 11th minute free-kick was worthy of any stage. The Gills however, always had experience where it mattered, and it was no coincidence that 3 out of the 4 goals were scored by Bradley Dack, and Adam Birchall, both regular first teamers.

But of course these fixtures aren’t about the result, more about fitness, and assessing what works best. It was a decent spectacle, Faversham’s endeavours ensured that, but the last 5 minutes were memorable for arguably the best version of a phenomenon you only ever see when a reasonable number of groundhoppers attend a game.

I call it groundhopper’s itch, when with about 5 minutes left the hoppers slowly make their way to the exit, and hover by the gate. When the final whistle blows, off they scuttle, even if there isn’t another game to go to! On this occasion there was, and yes, I was there too, hovering by the exit with Martin already outside, in the car revved up and ready for the next adventure. That was a neat metaphor for the day, the season to come, and the hobby in general. Its good to be back!