Gravesend & Northfleet Football Club was born as a merger of two existing neighbouring clubs – Gravesend United and Northfleet United (pictured above in 1920). Both had been playing football in the area since the 1890s, with Northfleet in particular notable as a Tottenham nursery side in the 1930s.
The newly merged club formed in April 1946, moving into Northfleet’s superior facilities at their Stonebridge Road ground, with most of the directors coming from Gravesend United. The Fleet played their first ever game on 31 August 1946, against Hereford United, and ran out 3-0 winners in front of over 5,000 fans.
Despite lofty ambitions and full-time investment, the Fleet teams of the Forties and early Fifties yielded only two Kent Senior Cups and it was not until 1957-58 that the club tasted league success, with manager Lionel Smith’s star-studded and attacking side claiming the Southern League title and scoring 135 league and cup goals along the way.
But the success did not last, and financial concerns meant that the Sixties were a torrid time for Fleet fans. Nevertheless, during this period the club enjoyed their best ever FA Cup run when they reached a Fourth Round replay at Sunderland, setting an existing record of five months as the longest cup run of any team in the long history of the competition.
Relegation and promotion seasons came and went, notably in 1967 when the entire Board resigned en masse, leaving the club with nothing but a ground and considerable debts. Things picked up after Tony Sitford’s appointment as manager in 1974, and the Fleet duly won the Southern Division title in 1974-75.
Despite a hoped-for Premier Division title challenge over the next few years, consolidation instead followed. A brief title challenge was mounted in 1976-77, but the Fleet did take home the Southern League Cup that season, following victory over Weymouth in the final.
Fleet’s decent showing over the next two season meant they qualified as founder members of the newly created Alliance Premier League (later Conference) in 1979-80, finishing an excellent fifth in its inaugural season.
But the Eighties spelled more hard times for the club and relegation followed in 1981, and a further relegation to the Southern Division in 1985-86 meant Fleet were back in the doldrums of non-league football. Having almost gone to the wall as financial problems beleaguered the club, a group of directors under new chairman Lionel Ball rescued the Fleet and were rewarded with a promotion back to the Premier Division in 1988-89 and a best-ever FA Trophy run, with two Conference scalps claimed along the way.
Following relegation once again in the early Nineties, the Fleet won the Southern Division by a country mile in 1993-94, with hot-shot goalscorer Steve Portway netting goals for fun.
Another cup run followed in 1995-96, Fleet playing 10 games to reach Round 3 and lose out 3-0 to Aston Villa at Villa Park.
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