Sheppey United FC – Holm Park
Result: Sheppey United 3-2 Chatham Town
Competition: Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Date: 28th August 2021
The first of my Late Summer Bank Holiday games brought me to the Isle of Sheppey to see Sheppey United of the Southern Counties East Football League, Step 5, as they welcomed Chatham Town to the Total Power Stadium. The Ites had won 3 of their opening four games, with wins over Tunbridge Wells, Fisher and Punjab United while they drew with Kennington and were set to face a tough test against a side that had won their opening two games, with victory over Canterbury Town and Bearsted.
I hadn’t intended to make the trip to Kent so soon, but after the family decided to spend a weekend on the Kent coast and after checking the SCEFL fixtures to see Sheppey at home in a huge game against Chatham, it was a no-brainer to tag along on their caravan holiday just to see the Ites.
The ground itself is conveniently situated for those living in Queensborough or Sheerness with the ground located just 1.3 miles and 1.9 miles away respectively while its a lot easier to get across the Island with a car, making it just a 15 minute drive from Leysdown-On-Sea, on the other side of the Isle which is not bad when considered.
Sheppey had been founded in 1890, but had moved into their current ground in 2013. Botany Road, Salters Lane, Kingsmead Stadium, Central Park, Holm Place and the Oasis Academy were home for the Ites before they returned to opposite Holm Place into their current place. While the ground had been used by a number of Sheppey Sunday League sides, including Canning Town and Sheerness Steel, the ground hadn’t been used by 2010 and needed significant renovations. While the pitch was brought up to Kent County League standard following the club’s withdrawal from the league in 2012/13, major works on the stadium facilities begun with the original dugouts replaced by new, modern dugouts, hard standing was laid on all four sides, new pitchside fencing installed to meet ground grading while the clubhouse was completely renovated, a players tunnel installed before the 2017/18 season and floodlights installed in the ground in early 2015.
Immediately on entry to the ground, it’s clear to see the facilities aren’t lacking. The club have a Spitfires Bar upstairs in the main club house as well as an additional bar directly opposite the turnstiles and a tea bar selling hot and cold food and drink options. Although the toilets being on the first floor on the clubhouse make it difficult for those to struggle to get around.
From what I’ve seen at Step 5, Holm Park is one of the nicest grounds I’ve been to. A clever idea sees the seated stand to the east of the stadium situated on a bank, giving those watching on a great view of the action while the other three areas surrounded the pitch at ground level. With red walls all around the stadium, it’s a nice little ground. The hard standing surfaces around the stadium is far better than concrete seen at many other grounds as it doesn’t allow for any tripping hazards while the areas around the pitch give plenty of room for the 200-300 supporters usually seen at the Ites game. It was the first time I had seen an electronic scoreline at a game at this level and I also loved the artwork on the bar wall which showed several pop culture references, with the Sheppey United twist of characters wearing the famous red and white stripes.
The game is the focal point of the visit and that certainly didn’t disappoint. Chatham found themselves on the front foot from kick-off and got their reward for the dominance as they took the lead in the 8th-minute. Danny Smith had given away a needless penalty with Evan stepping up and slotting it beyond the keeper. Sheppey had looked to try and get forward themselves, but with little openings, the Ites had found themselves 2-0 down just before half-time as a corner ball was fired in and headed in off the bar by Charlie Dickens.
The second half saw a change in proceedings as Sheppey United dominated large parts of the second period. It had taken the hosts a while to see their pressure pay off as they pulled one back in the 70th-minute. A ball was floated into the box and headed in by Jack Midson, with the keeper not quite being able to claw it off the line. With just 7-minutes left to play, the game was level as Sheppey had scored their second of the half. A cross had been swung in by Michael Hagan with fellow substitute Ben Wilson sliding in at the far post and somehow squeezing the ball through the smallest of gaps between the keeper and the post from the tightest of angles. Sensing a winner, the Ites continued to come forward and in the 88th-minute sealed the win. The Chats keeper had made an initial good save before the loose ball was smashed onto the post and fired into the roof of the net on the third attempt by Michael Hagan.
The atmosphere from both sides was also the best I’ve seen. While Chatham were the loudest in the first half, Sheppey United gave as good as they got in the second half, adding to the experience, the back-and-forth in chanting as well as the wild celebrations after the goals, especially as the hosts scored the winner, make for a great atmosphere at Holm Park.
I had intended to have a drink and food at the game, getting the full experience, but after grabbing a cider from the bar at half-time, by the time I had got over to the tea bar, the hot food had sold out. That was disappointing seeing as I expected the club to be extra stocked with food for a game that was expecting around 1,000 spectators. The drink provided great refreshment at the break, but without food to have with it, it certainly marked down the experience.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience of watching football on the Isle of Sheppey and would love to visit again. It will be interesting to see if the atmosphere is the same in any game throughout the season, but although opponent may be key to enjoying the football, I will definitely be visiting again.