Thursday 14th July 2005

Kite: Princes Park is going to be something very special

Dartford Football Club's plans to build their new stadium were approved by councillors last night, which means they can return to the town after a 13-year exile.

The Southern League club with average gates of 260 is to build a 5,000 capacity stadium, costing £6.5m.

The club has shared Gravesend & Northfleet's Stonebridge Road ground for the past three years, having previously shared with Cray Wanderers, Erith & Belvedere and Purfleet.

The Darts hope to have the stadium open by August 2006.

The Princes Park Community Stadium, being funded by Dartford Borough Council, will also include an artificial pitch for community use, a bar and function rooms and a public plaza and gardens.

The council said the stadium would be one of the most ecologically sound ever built, with timber cladding, its own water recycling system and a grassed roof.

It will be able to hold 5,000 fans, with 1,000 of them seated, but will be built for the potential for conversion into an all-seater stadium in the future.

Last season, Dartford's average home league attendance was 260, by far the highest in the Southern League Division One East.

Dave Skinner, club chairman, said the size of the stadium and the council funding were both bigger than the club had expected.

He told BBC Radio Kent the club had hoped for £1.5m but the council told him it was prepared to spend £6.5m to get the town the best possible stadium.

Mr Skinner said he hoped the non-football use of the stadium would generate money to help strengthen the team, making it more successful and lifting it through the leagues the stage where it attracted far more than 260 fans.

Dartford had to sell its last home ground, Watling Street, after getting heavily into debt through the cost of stadium improvements, which became essential when tenants Maidstone United got promoted to the Football League.

Last night's news has obviously delighted the loyal band of supporters, that have stuck behind their club.

They have posted messages on their website  www.dartfordfootballclub.co.uk

"There was emotion from our supporters (some were fighting back tears - I include myself in that) and we got the decision that we so desperately hoped for.  Now the hard work begins," wrote one.

And one exiled Dartford fan is pleased he will be able to watch the club a couple of times this season at Stonebridge Road, before the club moves into its new stadium.

He wrote: "Unanimous as well - so that means I assume the decision has all party support.

"Brilliant news - the Darts' are coming home - and about time to.

"I know there is still more to be done, but to (councillor) Jeremy Kite I say, well done - and many thanks to you and your colleagues, as well as the Darts board - for getting us this far.

"I have just been looking at the fixture lists for Tranmere and the Darts for this season and I would hope I can get down to at least a couple of fixtures at Stonebridge Road this season - and then the big move!"

Sadly, one fan couldn't make the meeting, but added: "I didn't make the meeting coming from head office in Gloucestershire and arriving after the meeting had started, thanks to the M25, but well done and congratulations to the club, the board, the fans and a very special thanks to Jeremy Kite.  Roll on 2006."

And Jeremy Kite, one of the men behind the move, issued the following statement on that website:

"Thank you for the many kind words and support last night.  I will pass them on to the leader and colleagues inside the Council.

"It happened to be my birthday yesterday and it proved to be one of the most memorable ever.

"Colleagues and I, most especially the Leader and Simon Bull, began this project in 2003 pretty much alone.

"We knew the club had been "teased" quite much a few times before (oddly, just before the local elections!) and although we thought we had the solution this time we wanted to be absolutely sure we could walk the walk before we started to talk to talk.

"Going public in April 2004 was a great moment and we made clear that we wanted to involve the whole club family - managers, directors, supporters, suppliers, players and sponsors in helping us design something really special.

"We have received tremendous support from everyone.  There was great patience during that long "silent" period following the announcement when we got on with the boring stuff like land assembly and negotiations.

"We have also been made very welcome by everyone at Stonebridge Road on matchdays.

"You should also know that we have expanded the family in ways you probably don't even realise.

"We persuaded people like Ian Smith, John Isherwood and Darren Bedford from our Project Managers AYH to fit us in alongside the work they're doing on Arsenal's new stadium and of course, in selecting eco-architects like Roger Sedgley and Mei-Yun Onions we knew we were going to get something pretty special - and unusual.

"There's also an army of people who worked on noise assessments, landscaping, mechanical and engineering, lighting, transport plans and archaeology.

"We have also relied heavily on a whole range of officers inside the Civic Centre.

"I am sure I have forgotten people who have helped get us to this point, which I honestly believe to be the home straight, and if I have I aplogise.

"I happen to believe that Princes Park is going to be something very special.  It is a fun building that will have a real heart.

"Of course, the real work is only just beginning.  The club needs to change and adapt to it's new skin.  

"We need new supporters - thousands of them - and you need to welcome them like old friends.

"We need to get children and young people to rediscover Dartford Football Club and drag their families to the stadium.

"Once they are there, we need to entertain them and make them welcome with attractions above and beyond football.  

"The club needs to be busy, welcoming and generous to visitors.

"It has been a really good journey, and one that my colleagues and I have had the pleasure to replicate with Dartford Judo Club and soon, a roster of new sports.

"Just on Tuesday, I had the pleasure to set the ball rolling with another Dartford sporting club.

"We are supporting sport because that's where a lot of the good people are.

"Sporting teamwork and discipline is one of the antidotes to the "me, me,me" generation and we are determined to introduce a new generation of young people to it."

THANKS: Just a few of the men that have made this dream a reality: Mike Brett-Smith, Dave Skinner, Fred Leach, Councillor Jeremy Kite and Bill Archer

And a statement issued on Pure DFCweb (www.dartfordfootballclub) praising everyone behind the project, said: "We recognise the hard work that you've all put in and tonight was for you, the people who have made this happen."

www.dartfordfootballclub.co.uk  (including photograph)