Just 45 minutes south of London by train on the slender banks of the River Medway sits the Kentish market town of Tonbridge. Famed for its excellent schools and Norman Castle, the local Ryman League Premier Division team Tonbridge Angels also put the town on the map. We popped down to Angel’s Longmead Stadium.
Tonbridge Angels is a relatively young football club. Founded in 1947 following prompting from a local businessman, Tonbridge Football Club later added the name ‘Angels’ in a 1970s reboot after the Angel Ground that it leased.
It entered the Southern League in 1948 and probably its most famous player was Malcolm MacDonald, then a full-back who converted very successfully into a striker for Arsenal and Newcastle United in the 1970s. World Cup winner George Cohen also managed Angels for a period too.
While the Angel Ground was plum in the middle of town next to the station, the site’s development into commercial property meant the club had to move to the north of the town, to Longmead Stadium, where it has been since 1980.
Longmead is a fairly open ground with a main seated stand on one side, bar and directors’ box on the other, and two sheds at either end. Tonbridge Angels play in blue shirts and white shorts, and attracts pretty strong crowds for non-league football.
There was a good turnout of 1,112 for the visit of Hereford FC, the phoenix club of the former Hereford United, in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup.
“Where is Hereford, Mark?” was a question I overheard. I doubt many of the travelling hundred or so Hereford FC fans could have pointed to Tonbridge on a map either prior to planning their journey down.
I live about a 20-minute drive from the Longmead Stadium, so it is fairly easy reach and parking at the ground is free. Yet I hadn’t visited for five years. Shameful. In that time though, the atmosphere has markedly changed.
The visitors that day on a dank December day years ago were Billericay Town and I remember the atmosphere being chatty but not songful.
I have written before about the improving atmospheres at many non-league grounds, and those Angels’ supporters who swapped ends to be behind the goal their team were shooting towards (as did Hereford’s) kept the songs coming non-stop. There were witticisms about the town itself, the opponents, the usual snipe at local Medway rivals Maidstone United, there were drums and even blue smoke from the Jack Maddams stand after the third Angels goal went in.
Hereford FC also brought drums and kept singing enthusiastically, despite being a goal down inside just two minutes. Angels played a very high standard of football and were clearly the superior side, eventually running out 4-2 victors, and that score flattered Hereford FC.
How to get to Longmead Stadium, home of Tonbridge Angels
The Longmead Stadium is in North Tonbridge, around 2km north of the town centre. It has ample parking but is a bit of a hike from the station.