‘Margate or Folkestone? Mar-gate or Folke-stone?’ Sounds like a quandary happening in living rooms across Hackney by well-off young London couples. Both towns have seen their popularity soar in the last five years with trendy types seeking escape from the big smoke. Both towns offer, or did offer, cheaper house prices, beautiful beaches, galleries galore, and an art-led regeneration that has led both towns to now be deemed ‘cool’. However the question ‘Margate or Folkestone?’ On the first day of 2022 was the subject of who would gain three points in the Isthmian League Premier Division and Kentish bragging rights.
Folkestone sitting second in the table would have fancied their chances, well above the only other Kentish side in the league who sat in eight. However, Margate have shown time and time again this season that Hartsdown Park is very much a 3G fortress, as against the top teams in the league they’ve performed to the best of their abilities, case and point being when top of the table Worthing visited Thanet.
Despite both towns being more famed for their coffee shops, beaches, and art galleries than their football I’d confidently speculate that Hartsdown Park was the subject to more footfall than all the above combined as 867 people made the Kentish Derby a priority on the first day of the new year. It felt busier than that, as queues for the bar were so long that anyone in them was forced to re-consider if it was worth doing a Dry-January after all, at times you did wonder if you’d get your pint before February.
The Premier League may have been plagued with Covid forced absentees but remarkably Margate were unchanged, the absence of Sam Blackman the only notable one. The game got underway on a mild new year’s day, Folkestone attacked with a skillful and strong front two who looked like they were capable of causing any defence in the league headaches. The Margate defensive pair of Knight and Swift were clearly without headaches and hadn’t been out on the sauce the night before as they looked up to the challenge.
“Flat and uneventful” is the only way to describe the first half an hour, if you had to pick a better side from the opening exchanges Folkestone would have edged it as they had created a few chances but failed to convert them and on 36 minutes Ben Greenhalgh did Greenhalgh so often has done this season and found the back of the net. It was the pacy live-wire Bessey-Saldanha who got into the box and crossed to Greenhalgh who dispatched coolly. 1-0.
Margate looked in the ascendancy in the remainder of the first half. The half time break came and before you could say ‘which town has the better transport links to London though?’ the second half was underway and Folkestone came out with intent with a couple of half-chances, which would have certainly resulted in the equaliser if it wasn’t for the defensive qualities of Knight who provided a crucial block. Greenhalgh picked up the ball and looked like the champions league winner he is beating a man with a chip, powering into the final third, he was tactically taken out by the desperate Folkestone defender. The free-kick was awarded by the female referee. It’s 2022 and it’s refreshing to see a female referee.
Greenhalgh stepped up, an expert set piece taker who you always feel confident will at least put it in the mixer. He did one better, whipping a ball into the six-yard box a bounce beating everyone… including the Folkestone keeper. “He’s done it again”. 2-0. Greenhalgh, loving his role here in Margate celebrated by standing stationary lifted his arms into the air and lapped up the applause. You couldn’t help draw similarities to Cantona after his audacious chip against Sunderland, Margate’s kit doesn’t have a collar if it did Ben would have flipped it up with the arrogance of a Frenchman.
“Two nil down on your big day out, two nil out on your big day out” was the confident chant from the Margate faithful who had presumably now finally managed to get a pint or two down them. A clash in the air had left midfield maestro Monty injured on the floor, much to the fury of the Margate bench. In the meantime, Folkestone had managed to craft an opening and pull one back from Kieron McCann. 2-1. A nervy ten-minute period left Margate fans wondering whether the ‘big day out’ chant was ill-timed but that past and Margate hit on the counter. The industrious Godo was set free and the keeper came bounding out towards him, with a sense of calm Godo just placed the ball to the keeper’s right, the ball slowly bobbled towards the gaping goal, the covering defenders raced back but couldn’t do anything about it. 3-1.
‘3-1 down on your big day out’ was sung out with Dutch courage and Kentish pride. A great start to the year, a great advert for local football and an encouraging sign that Margate are still in contention for the playoffs.