Didn’t Ebbsfleet do something similar?? …
Unfancied Fleet came from pretty much nowhere to land the Ryman League Championship in 2001/02, following a nervous and titanic struggle with Canvey Island, which saw the two meet at Stonebridge Road in April 2002 in front of an official 4,068 (but probably more like 6,000) fans. Jimmy Jackson lifted the Ryman shield at Bedford Town, a fitting moment for a player who would become the club’s record appearance holder a few years later. Ford’s side also ran Huddersfield Town close on their own patch in the FA Cup, before succumbing to an injury-time winner.
Back in the top-flight of non-league football, the Fleet had a few narrow brushes with relegation, with Ford – then the longest-serving manager in the club’s history – stepping down in January 2005. New manager Liam Daish (who would eventually take over the mantle of longest-serving boss from Ford) oversaw a move to full-time football and made slow but steady progress with the capture of signings like striker Charlie MacDonald.
2007 was the year it all changed for the Fleet. First, in May 2007, 61 years after the formation of Gravesend & Northfleet, the club announced a change of name to Ebbsfleet United to take advantage of the massive regeneration of their locality. Then in November 2007, it was announced that the club was to be taken over by internet venture MyFootballClub.co.uk, a revolutionary idea involving paid members owning the club, voting on decisions and picking the team, a deal that was ratified in February 2008.
On the footballing side of things, the Fleet enjoyed their most memorable moment in more than six decades, clinching victory in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium, a 1-0 win over Torquay United in front of 40,186 (28,000 from Kent and/or the MyFC membership) proving enough to take home the silverware. With hopes high for 2008/09 and the club’s then highest-ever playing budget voted on by MyFC members, the eventual league position of 14th and flirtation with relegation was disappointing. Defence of the FA Trophy fell just short of another trip to Wembley, the Fleet edged out by Stevenage at the semi-final stage.
With the fall in MyFC membership in February 2009, Fleet faced an uncertain future, releasing almost their entire first-team squad. Daish remained as manager and rebuilt a squad that almost, heroically, defied the odds but fell to relegation on the final day of the 2009/10 season. The manager was forced to rebuild again in 2010/11 as the club embarked on its first season at a lower level in nearly a decade and once more the manager proved his talent for assembling a squad as Fleet unexpectedly won promotion back to the Premier Division at the first attempt. It came courtesy of a third-place finish in the league and a 4-2 win at Farnborough in the play-off final to cap a truly memorable season that also saw the club progress to the First Round (and get within 30 seconds of winning through to the Second Round) of the FA Cup.
Returning to the Conference for the 2011/12 season, the club finished a creditable 14th in their first season back in non-league’s top flight. The following season, however – despite much initial optimism – saw the Fleet struggle to compete and a relegation that looked inevitable from early on was confirmed in April 2013, Fleet finishing second bottom of the division, a long way adrift of safety. Off-field matters dominated, with several appeals for investment throughout the season until fans were faced with the very real threat of the club closing or taking voluntary demotion down the non-league Pyramid. As the season ended, the club faced the prospect of going to the wall, perhaps as close to extinction as at any time in the past.
Then they had to do this …
In May 2013, a purchase proposal from Kuwaiti company, KEH Sports Ltd, was accepted by MyFC and the the club pulled back from the brink of closure. KEH – under benefactor Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi and with former Charlton CEO Peter Varney as vice chair – began an immediate ground restoration programme, with the long overdue replacement of two roofs at Stonebridge Road and refurbishment of the entire stadium.
Ex-Charlton defender Steve Brown replaced Liam Daish, his record-breaking eight-year term ended by mutual consent, with ex-Charlton manager Steve Gritt as assistant, while KEH promised a competitive transfer budget. Fleet were just pipped to promotion by Dover Athletic, losing the promotion final 1-0. With promotion a target for the next season, 2014/15 didn’t go quite so well and Brown was relieved of his duties in November 2014 to be replaced by former Welling United boss Jamie Day. His considerable shake-up of the squad in mid-season didn’t quite produce the desired effect and although Fleet reached the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy, they dropped away badly in the league, Day paying the price after only five months in the job.
Former club skipper Daryl McMahon was handed the manager’s reins in time for the 2015/16 season with Fleet once more determined to go all-out for a place in the National League.Ten wins from the opening 11 games put Fleet in prime position for the title but a record-breaking run by Sutton United clinched first spot from us. Just 22 seconds from promotion in the subsequent play-off final v Maidstone United, Fleet were pegged back in the last minute and lost the promotion decider on penalties.
McMahon made no mistake the following season and though Fleet began 2016/17 slowly, a club-record winning streak in 2017 saw the side finish second once more, Maidenhead United pipping the Fleet to the title by two points. Ten-man Fleet came from behind to win the promotion final against Chelmsford and were back in the National League after a four-year gap. That season also saw the opening of the new £5m Main Stand, which replaced the Stonebridge Road stand that had stood from 1959 until it was demolished in 2016.
That first season back was a superb one. Fleet went 32 games unbeaten in the calendar year of 2017 and though they had a wobble midway through the 2017/18 campaign, another fine run saw only one defeat in 14 games to clinch a sixth-place finish and a first-ever play-off spot at the top level. Fleet came back from the dead twice in a nail-biting penalties victory over Aldershot Town and came to within one game of Wembley… but the play-off semi-final at Tranmere was just a step too far, as Rovers won 4-2 after extra-time against an exhausted, depleted Fleet.
You really need RICH fans