Gravesend & Northfleet Football Club was born as a merger of two existing neighbouring clubs – Gravesend United and Northfleet United. 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.
In May 1997, the club transferred to the Ryman Premier Division in an effort to cut travelling distances and reduce costs, and after a few seasons in mid-table, came from nowhere under manager Andy Ford to land the Ryman League Championship in 2001-02, following a nervous and titanic struggle with Canvey Island, which saw the two meet at Stonebridge Road in April 2002 in front of an official 4,068 (but probably more like 6,000) fans.
Back in the top-flight of non-league football, the Fleet have been transformed into a fully professional club. After a few narrow brushes with relegation, manager Liam Daish’s side finished in seventh place in 2006-07, their fourth consecutive Conference season.
2007 was the year it all changed for the Fleet. First, in May 2007, 61 years after the formation of Gravesend & Northfleet, the club announced a change of name to Ebbsfleet United to take advantage of the massive regeneration of their locality. Then in November 2007, it was announced that the club was to be taken over by internet venture MyFootballClub.co.uk, a revolutionary idea involving paid members owning the club, voting on decisions and picking the team, a deal that was ratified in February 2008.
On the footballing side of things, the Fleet enjoyed their most memorable moment in more than six decades, clinching victory in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium, a 1-0 win over Torquay United in front of 40,186 proving enough to take home the silverware.
With hopes high for 2008-09 and the club’s highest-ever playing budget voted on by MyFC members, the eventual league position of 14th and flirtation with relegation was disappointing. But the Fleet emerged with heads held high after a truly punishing schedule of 16 games in six weeks saw them climb from 22nd to mid-table. Defence of the FA Trophy fell just short of another trip to Wembley, the Fleet edged out by Stevenage Borough at the semi-final stage.
With the fall in MyFC membership in February 2009, costs needed to be slashed and the Fleet faced an uncertain future, releasing almost their entire first-team squad. Liam Daish remained as manager and rebuilt a squad that almost, heroically, defied the odds but fell to relegation on the final day of the 2009-10 season. The manager was forced to rebuild again in 2010-11 as the club embarked on its first season at a lower level in nearly a decade and once more the manager proved his talent for assembling a squad as Fleet unexpectedly won promotion back to the Premier Division at the first attempt. It came courtesy of a third-place finish in the league and a 4-2 win at Farnborough in the play-off final to cap a truly memorable season that also saw the club progress to the First Round (and get within 30 seconds of winning through to the Second Round) of the FA Cup.
Returning to the Blue Square Bet Premier Division for the 2011-12 season, the club finished a creditable 14th in their first season back in non-league’s top flight.