As you can imagine, the lads are all looking forward to playing at the Priestfield Stadium, says Long Lane under 18s manager Joe Ford
LONG LANE take to the hallowed turf at Priestfield Stadium as they go in search of a treble on Thursday night.
The Kent County League outfit send their highly-rated under 18s to Gillingham to play their Margate counterparts in the KitToFit Kent Youth League Under 18 Challenge Cup Final.
Long Lane’s first team ply their trade in the NRG Gym Kent County League Division One West – which is six levels lower than National League South club Margate.
But at under 18 level, both sides are evenly matched.
Margate have won the Kent Youth League Premier Division One title, having won 14, drawn one and lost two of their league games. They are five points clear of Folkestone Invicta with one league outing remaining.
Kidbrooke based outfit Long Lane are unbeaten in 11 of their Central Division games, winning 10 of them and will claim the title with at least a point against second-placed Rusthall on Sunday.
Long Lane are managed by a familiar pairing of Joe and Martin Ford, recently departing Southern Counties East Football League side Erith Town and being replaced by new joint-managers Ian Jenkins and Ricky Bennett.
Joe Ford, 25, who lives in Bexley and runs his own football coaching company for a living, manages the side while his dad Martin is assistant.
Joe Ford says his players are relishing their night on the big stage at League One club Gillingham.
“As you can imagine, the lads are all looking forward to playing at the Priestfield Stadium, home of Gillingham FC on Thursday evening,” he said.
“We will be taking on Margate FC who go into the game having achieved a league and cup double of their own this year already.
“I’ve been to watch them and they are a very good solid side. Paul Robinson, their manager, has them organised and I’m sure it will be a great game.
“It is a fantastic achievement for Long Lane to get a side into a final of this magnitude. We have beaten some big clubs on the way through to including Welling United and Dover Athletic in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and now we meet another big club in Margate FC in the final.
“One thing is for sure, it will be a great experience for both sides regardless of the result.
“A special mention must go to the Kent Youth League for arranging such a terrific venue.
Ford says playing at Priestfield Stadium will be a shop window for many of his players, who will be playing men’s football next season.
“These youngsters have had a terrific season so far. Up until now they remain unbeaten in all competitions this season, which itself is an achievement,” he said.
“We won the London Cup back in February and currently also sit top of their league, with one game to go in which a point against second-placed Rusthall would secure the league title.
“In effect both teams on Thursday evening have a possible treble to win, so that just goes to show the quality both sides possess.
“It would be great to get a decent crowd there for the game as well. We have sold a fair few tickets ourselves and I’m sure that Margate will do the same. Hopefully we will get a few neutrals there too as there will be a lot of talent on show.
“I know that a number of our lads have played in the Southern Counties East Football League regularly this season just gone under myself and Martin at Erith Town as well as the Ryman and again although I don’t know for definite I’m sure the Margate lads have stepped up too.
“All of our boys are second year under 18s apart from one so they will all be looking to step up into men’s football permanently next season and this is a great shop window for all of them.”
Joe Ford was asked about his departure from Erith Town after 15 months in joint-charge.
“There isn’t really too much to say on our exit from Erith Town in truth,” he said.
“Myself and Martin leave there with our heads held high after doing what we were asked to – firstly keeping them up against all odds and then securing a safe finish in our first full season in charge whilst bringing through a number of youngsters in the process.
“Of course, we are a little disappointed as we felt the squad we finished the season with along with a couple of extras would challenge, however, that’s football and we move on.
“We both wish Ian Jenkins and Ricky Bennett all the best at Erith Town and hopefully they can take the club on.
“In terms of the future there are no immediate plans in place. I don’t know for sure what my dad will do, as I know his work commitments are getting more and more now but I certainly will look to get back into it when the time’s right.
“I loved every minute of my time at Erith Town and learnt a lot in the process which will only help me going forward.
“As it stands I am actually looking forward to being able to go and watch different games and players next season and hopefully also see these terrific under 18s come through to represent a number of different clubs in non-league at various standards to and if that’s the case we can be proud of the fact that we have given them every chance to progress up the ladder, which is ultimately what it’s all about.”
Visit Long Lane’s website: http://www.longlanejfc.co.uk/
Long Lane v Margate
Kent Youth League Under 18 Kit To Fit Challenge Cup Final
Thursday 12th May 2016
Kick Off 7:30pm
At Priestfield Stadium, Redfern Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 4DD