Margate Football Club is an English football team based in the seaside resort of Margate, Kent, currently playing in the Isthmian League Premier Division. The club was known for a number of years during the 1980s as Thanet United.
The club was founded in 1896 and joined the Southern Football League in 1933. After a spell in the Kent League after World War II the team returned to the Southern League in 1959 and remained there until 2001 when they gained promotion to the Football Conference, the highest level of English non-league football. Their stay at this level saw the team forced to groundshare with other clubs due to drawn-out and problematic redevelopment work at their Hartsdown Park stadium, and during the three years spent away from their own ground they were expelled from the Conference National and subsequently relegated to the Isthmian League.
The team, nicknamed "The Gate", have to date reached the third round proper of England's premier cup competition, the FA Cup, on two occasions. On the second of these occasions they played Tottenham Hotspur, a First Division team and the reigning UEFA Cup holders.
Margate Football Club was founded in 1896 as an amateur club, playing friendly matches on local school grounds. In the years prior to the First World War the club played in several different amateur leagues, with little success, and played at various grounds in the Margate area before settling on a pitch at what would later become the Dreamland amusement park in 1912. This ground became known as the Hall-by-the-Sea Ground, taking its name from a local dance hall.
From 1934 until 1938 Margate, by now playing in the Southern League, served as the official nursery side for Arsenal. Under this arrangement the London club regularly loaned promising young players to Margate in order for them to gain match experience. Star players such as Eddie Hapgood also turned out for Margate whilst regaining match fitness after injuries. In the second season of this arrangement, 1935–36, Margate reached the third round proper of the FA Cup for the first time, losing 3–1 to Blackpool after defeating Q.P.R. and Crystal Palace in the earlier rounds, but shortly after this the club had to step back down to the Kent League for financial reasons.
In 1959–60 Margate returned to the Southern League after the Kent League folded, and in 1962–63 won the Division One championship and with it promotion to the Premier Division. Two years later the club turned full-time professional but this policy proved financially untenable when the team were relegated back to Division One in 1965–66. Nonetheless, they won promotion at the first attempt and returned to the Premier Division in 1967.
During the 1970s Margate endured severe financial problems and a series of mediocre league seasons, but took part in two famous FA Cup ties. In 1971 the Gate lost 11–0 to Bournemouth, with Ted MacDougall scoring a cup record nine goals. Then, a year later, Margate beat Swansea City and Walton & Hersham to set up a third round tie against First Division Tottenham Hotspur, then UEFA Cup holders. A record crowd of over 14,000 packed into Hartsdown Park for a match which Margate lost 6–0.
On several occasions in the 1970s Margate had discussed a merger with neighbours Ramsgate to form a new team representing the whole Isle of Thanet, which was seen as the solution to the financial problems being experienced by both clubs. The negotiations floundered, however, and Ramsgate ultimately had no involvement in the formation of Thanet United F.C. in 1981, which turned out to be purely a name change for Margate. When Thanet District Council announced that it would not be prepared to put any funding into Thanet United, the two clubs finally completely abandoned the idea of a merger.
The Thanet United era saw a run of generally mediocre seasons in the Southern League Southern Division, with financial problems continuing unabated and a series of managers coming and going. In January 1989 the club came close to relegation to the Kent League and possible total collapse, but in March a new board took over, who reverted the club's name to Margate Football Club for the 1989–90 season and appointed Trevor Ford as manager. Success still eluded the club on the pitch, however, even after the signing of former Football League players such as Mike Flanagan and Mark Weatherly, who later took over as co-manager and led the club to a Kent Senior Cup win, a rare triumph in this era.
The 2001–02 season was Gate's first ever season of Conference football and they finished the season in eighth place. In the 2002–03 season the team began groundsharing at Dover Athletic's Crabble Stadium while redevelopment work took place at Hartsdown Park, but various problems stalled the planned redevelopment. On the pitch, Margate enjoyed more success in the FA Cup when, after defeating Leyton Orient in the first round, they were drawn at home to Cardiff City in the second round, but lost 3–0 at Crabble. The following season, despite finishing sixteenth, the Gate were forcibly relegated one division due to the ongoing delays and problems with the redevelopment plans for Hartsdown Park.
Margate spent the 2004–05 season in the Conference South, now groundsharing at Ashford Town. Amidst ongoing issues with the redevelopment work, which at one point made it seem very likely that the club would fold completely, Margate were again relegated to the Isthmian League Premier Division.
In August 2005, Margate returned to Hartsdown Park after three years in the wilderness. During an indifferent season manager Kinnear was controversially suspended. Robin Trott was placed in temporary charge as player-manager in April 2006 and, after an unbeaten five game run, was given a one-year contract at the end of the season. After Margate narrowly missed out on the play-offs in 2006–07 the club announced that Trott was to be given a new contract for the 2007–08 season. Shortly before the end of the season, however, Trott was sacked.
The club's current crest is a simplified version of the coat of arms of the town of Margate, incorporating a lion conjoined to a ship's hull (a reference to the arms of the Cinque Ports) and the white horse emblem of Kent. Previous crests have included the full town arms, the letters "M.F.C." above a lighthouse, and the letters "M.F.C." superimposed on a football.
Margate's shirts have borne various sponsors' logos but the most notable was that of the pop group Bad Manners, whose name appeared on the team's kit as part of a sponsorship deal with their record label in the late 1990s. Lead singer Buster Bloodvessel was running a hotel in Margate at the time and actually joined the football club's board of directors.
The stadium in Hartsdown Park has been Margate's home since 1929, the same year the park itself opened to the public. Little development of the stadium took place until 2002, when the club launched an ambitious scheme to completely redevelop the site. The club moved out and the old stadium, which was constructed mainly from timber and corrugated iron, was demolished in early 2003, but the local council disputed the plans submitted. Although planned to be completed by August 2003, the redevelopment dragged on for three years, mired in issues regarding planning permission for the commercial facilities the club wanted to build in addition to the stadium itself. The team spent three years ground-sharing with other Kent clubs, but club officials' failure to confirm a return date to Hartsdown led to Margate's expulsion from the Conference National in 2004. In 2005 the club was finally able to return to the ground, albeit with pre-fabricated stands and temporary buildings in place.
The club's ultimate plan involves a stadium with a capacity of 5,000 forming part of a complex incorporating a hotel, fitness centre, conference centre, all-weather pitch and ten 5-a-side pitches. Although it was announced that work on the 5-a-side pitch complex was to begin in May 2007, ground was not in fact broken for a further four months. The Hartsdown Football 5s officially opened on 9 December 2007, with a 32 team tournament. Former Premier League players Paul Merson, Ray Parlour, Kenny Sansom, Kerry Dixon, Neville Southall, Clayton Blackmore, Mark Bright, and Steve Sedgley were guests as the centre opened. The Hartsdown Football 5s will see an income stream to the football club, as well as a community use scheme which gives access to the centre for local schools.
The club has an active independent supporters' association and the fans took an active part in getting the stadium ready for the club's return in 2005.
The club's official mascot is Margator, a seven-foot green and yellow alligator. The mascot was introduced to the club for the home game against Maidstone United on 17 November 2007. Margator can be seen at all first team home games and was the brainchild of director Terry Painter.
The club's biggest ever winning margin in a single match was 12–1, a score they have achieved twice, firstly against Deal Cinque Ports in an FA Cup First Qualifying Round match in 1919–20 and again against Erith & Belvedere in the Kent League in 1927–28.
The highest recorded attendance at Hartsdown Park was 14,169 for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup in 1972–73. This figure is unlikely to be broken in the foreseeable future, as even after its planned redevelopment is completed, the ground will hold less than half this number of fans.
N.B. The Isthmian League does not use a squad numbering system
The club also fields a reserve team in the Kent League Division One and has a youth section running teams in every age range from under-7 to under-18.
The club's all-time top goalscorer is Martin Buglione, who scored 158 goals during the 1990s. Three other players have reached the 100-goal mark for the club, namely Alan Blackburn (121), Peter Vandepeer (119) and Phil Amato (107).
|First Team Manager||Barry Ashby|
|First Team Coach||Paul Smith|
|Director of Football||Terry Yorath|
|Football Development Officer||Neville Southall|
|Football Community Officer||Mark Weatherly|
|Directors||Colin Page, Keith Piper|
|Administration Manager||Victoria Bush|
|Club Secretary||Ken Tomlinson|
|Kit Manager||Roy Lawrence|
Premier Division champions
Division One champions
First Division (South) champions
Central Section champions
Eastern Section champions
Midweek Section champions
|Southern League Cup winners||1967–68, 1997–98|
|Kent League champions||1932–33, 1937–38, 1946–47, 1947–48|
|Kent League Cup winners||1947–48, 1953–54|
|Kent Senior Cup winners||1935–36, 1936–37, 1973–74, 1993–94,|
1997–98, 2002–03, 2003–04, 2004–05
Another of Margate's rivals is Dover Athletic. Despite meeting rarely in competitive games over recent years, both teams were in the Conference in the 2001–02 season. In that season, the last season the two teams were in the same division, the two games between Margate and Dover were watched by a combined total of over 6,000 spectators. The game played at Margate's Hartsdown Park stadium drew a crowd of 3,676, and 2,325 were in attendance for the game at Dover's Crabble stadium.