The History of Dover Football Club

The Grounds

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The first Dover Association Football Club played its home matches at the Cricket Ground, which was just off Beaconsfield Road. This was in the 1888-89 season, and mention is made in the local paper of  “playing towards the Beaconsfield Road end”. The Dover Cricket Club was ejected from the ground, as it was needed for building purposes, and Millais Road and Leighton Road were built on the site soon afterwards.


The second Dover A.F.C. was formed in 1891, soon after The Danes was opened. The first matches on the ground were on Saturday, 3rd.October, 1891, and the Highland Light Infantry Reserves beat the Northumberland Fusiliers 3-2, and the Dover Football Club (which played Rugby) lost to the Border Regiment by 2 tries to nil. By the end of December, however, the playing areas were in such a state, that Dover A.F.C. moved to the new football ground at Crabble Meadows. A disagreement over rent led to The Danes being used from 1894-97, and then after that the odd reserve match was played there if Crabble was unavailable. The Danes has probably changed very little in over 100 years. The road up to the ground has improved somewhat since those early days, as apparently some Margate supporters came over in cars and couldn’t get them up the muddy slope, having to park them in Barton Road.


Before the building of the railway embankment, Crabble Meadows was an area of green pastures beside the River Dour. It was a favourite rural spot on the outskirts of the town, and cricket was played on the lower meadow in the early nineteenth century, and football was played on the upper meadow. There was a problem collecting gate money, as the less committed fans could watch from the hillside above the ground. Crabble Meadows was used by Dover A.F.C. from January 1892 until the end of the 1893-94 season, and for the odd match after that. The first match played on the newly-opened Crabble Meadow football ground was Dover’s Reserve team against Dover Albion, a 1-1 draw on 2nd.January, 1892. Our first team’s first match there was on the 23rd,January, an 11-0 win against Wingham.


Crabble very soon after it was laid out in 1897.
Picture by kind permission of Dover Museum.


With the Cricket Club being without a home after 1895, it was proposed to build a new sports ground at Crabble Meadows. It had long been considered that this was needed, and this had been hastened by the closure of the Cricket Ground. In 1896 a syndicate was formed, consisting of Messrs. Henry Hayward, Frederick Finnis, James Stilwell, and Alfred Leney, and these gentlemen succeeded in purchasing 14 acres of forest and grazing land in Crabble meadows extending from Bunkers Hill to Crabble Bridge near the junction of the London Chatham and Dover, and Dover and Deal railway lines. The Dover Athletic Ground Ltd. was formed, with these four gentlemen as directors, and the authorised capital available was 12,000. The levelling of the ground was a very costly project, as 38,000 cubic yards of chalk had to be dug out of the hillside, and were thrown forward to provide a level ground.

On Whit Monday, 1897, the Crabble Athletic Ground was opened by the local M.P., George Wyndham, with a “grand race meeting” under the management of the Dover Cycling Club. 6,000 spectators were in attendance. The ground had been laid out for cricket, football, lawn tennis, hockey, and cycling. The main centre cricket pitch was to be of first-class standard, but there was room for subsidiary wickets. There was room for a full size football pitch on each side, without touching the cricket square. The cycling track with its banked ends was 20 yards wide and a lap was 640 yards, and was regarded as being of international standard.


The pavilion and terracing in 1899.
Picture by courtesy of Dover Museum.

The pavilion was set into the terraced hillside, and had changing rooms on the ground and top floors, and a dining room and bar on the middle floor. It was redeveloped in 1984 to its present layout.

The company running the ground found that the venture was not as profitable as had been hoped, and in 1902, the Dover Corporation bought the ground for 5,000, half the cost of its construction. 

There was a small wooden grandstand beside the main pitch on the south side of the ground, but this did not survive the Second World War. There was a rope around the pitch, and duckboards were provided to stand on. The terraces are still there, but the roof covering them on the south side of the pavilion disappeared in the 1980s.

Sometimes, the first team and reserves played at home at the same time, and spectators drifted between the games, depending on how the games were going. On the 6th.March, 1926, Folkestone played Dartford on no.1 pitch in the Kent Senior Cup semi-final, and Dover played on no.2 pitch against the King’s Own Regiment in a Folkestone & District League match. The attendance for the semi-final was almost 4,000, but how they separated the crowds I don’t know.

In 1935, there was a schoolboys international between England and Wales played at Crabble, and with Leslie Lines, a pupil at the Duke Of York’s Royal Military School in the England team, there was considerable local interest. Nearly 10,000 fans turned up, and this is the largest crowd to watch a football match here. The record crowd for a Dover match was the 7,261 that saw the F.A.Cup tie against Snowdown C.W. on 1st.October, 1949.

Dover Rugby Club started to play on the ground in 1952, a year after Dover F.C. moved permanently to the present ground, and by 1976 the outfield was in such an indifferent state that the ground was declared unfit for first class cricket.


In the 1920s, the relationship between Dover United and the Dover Corporation came under strain when concerns were raised about the state of the playing surface. Dover cricket week was in August, and cricket took preference from the middle of April until at least the middle of September. This meant Dover usually started and ended the season with a run of away matches, or games had to be played at The Danes. The Dover Corporation announced plans to build a new football ground on the hillside behind the pavilion, and with hundreds of local men out of work because of The Depression, the Corporation took advantage of a government scheme to provide work for those made idle. The bill for digging out the new ground came to 11,000, 10,000 of which was provided by the Unemployed Grants Committee. By 1931, the probably less-than-enthusiastic workforce had shovelled out and almost levelled the new football pitch. There was a small stand erected in 1932 – the centre section of the stand which was redeveloped in 1990 – and there were earth embankments behind each goal. The first match played at “Crabble Top” was on 5th.September, 1931, and 1,000 fans saw Dover United lose a Kent League match 6-1 to Maidstone United.

For the next twenty years, the football club used the top ground at the beginnings and ends of seasons, and the bottom pitch outside the cricket season. On a few occasions, the first team was at home on the bottom pitch, and the reserves played at the same time on the top pitch.

With large crowds flocking to watch football after the War, Dover came to an agreement to move to the top pitch on a permanent basis. With building materials in limited supply, left-over Anderson shelters were used for the roof of the extended main stand, which now had 1,000 seats. The banking behind the goals was concreted, and the Dover End was covered. The River End was not covered until the early 1960s.


The present ground - probably in the 1950s.

The last match played by Dover on the lower pitch was against Sittingbourne on Monday, 26th.March, 1951, and the first on the now permanent home on the upper ground was a friendly against a Fulham XI on Saturday, 7th.April, 1951. The stand was not actually completed by then due a shortage of bolts. It was officially opened on Saturday, 25th.August that year, when we played Folkestone. Just under 6,000 spectators saw that match. The ground record was established on 13th.October that year, when just under 7,000 saw us lose to Folkestone in the F.A.Cup.

By the early 1960s, clubs such as Gravesend and Folkestone had installed floodlights, and Dover followed suit. The present four pylons were erected with four lamps on each, and later in the 1960s, another four pylons – inside the fence around the pitch – were added. The floodlight opening match took place on Monday, 2nd.October, 1961, and Chelsea’s first team beat us 4-0 in front of a crowd of 4,312. Included in the Chelsea side was England under-23 international Mike Harrison, who played for Dover in 1970-72. Various sets of lights have replaced the original ones, and the four central pylons were sold to the Rugby Club for training lights, and they are still at the south end of the lower ground. One set of lights was bought by Deal Town.

The teams continued to change in the dressing rooms on the top floor of the pavilion until the 1981-82 season, when the present changing/office block was opened. Due to crowd problems after a defeat by Gravesend in the Kent Senior Cup in  February 1953, the “Northrop Bridge” was installed so that the teams and match officials would not have to walk through the crowd.

In 1990, due to ground-grading problems with the Conference, the three covered sides of the ground were completely redeveloped, and the ground was then up to Football League standard. The pitch was made more level in the summer of 1994, and the Family Stand was built in the 1993-94 season. The Centre Spot was opened as a social club in about 1970; there had been a supporters hut – about half the size of the present one – there for many years. There was a moveable partition, with the Directors’ area separate from the main bar, until the Boardroom was first moved into the dressing rooms building, and then on to the top of the stand.


The lower ground in 1981.


The foundations of the Family Stand - December 1993.


Three views of the pitch-levelling operation in the summer of 1994.