Published: 06:00, 27 October 2020
There is something rather magical about a non-league football ground - so often a theatre of chips rather than dreams.
Perhaps it's the aroma - a subtle blend of fried onions and Deep Heat muscle rub which seeps from the changing rooms; maybe it's the fact when you shout at a player you can be pretty sure they heard it.
But primarily it's the no-frills, football as it should be, aspect.
For decades, these venues have played host to clubs which truly represent the towns in which we live . They become a refuge for the fans who can't afford the ticket prices demanded of the Premier League big boys.
"I think it's the fact you can turn up and stand anywhere you like around the ground," says Mike Floate, a man who knows a thing or two about the venues in which teams battle for mere survival with the same frequency as they do promotion.
"Plus, if you're stood next to someone who's annoying, you can move and stand somewhere else."
At 65, he has just published his latest book - Football Grounds in Kent: A Visual History - which provides a fascinating glimpse of how the arenas in which the county's non-league clubs ply their trade have changed over the years.
Tapping into a fascinating archive of photographs - many taken by Bob Lilliman who captured the grounds in the early 1970s through to the 80s - many provide rare glimpses of the venues once held so dear.
"Bob would rock up at these grounds," explains the author, "and take pictures; some of which are the only records we have left."
While many images of the action on the pitch were recorded, the actual structures which were once so familiar can be harder to find – something his new book aims to rectify. It isn’t so much a trip down memory lane, as a stroll back on to the terraces of it.
"You'd go to a ground and take maybe a maximum of three or four pictures as you'd have a film camera and any more was an expense," adds Mike. This was, after all, an era before we all had digital cameras in our pockets.
"You never know what you're taking at the time, but suddenly it's a real treasure.
"My intention in putting this book together is to present a visual history in the form of photos, maps and drawings.
"The aim was never to write a full history but to present a book to be looked at and considered."
The result is a book teeming with images dating back more than 100 years.
It charts the earliest origins of the homes of many clubs as they evolved over the years into what we recognise today.
In addition to the non-league clubs, there is a section on Gillingham too and the changing face of Priestfield.
Of course, Kent has had plenty of drama when it comes to its football clubs over the years.
Few need reminding of Maidstone United's rise up the non-league pyramid and promotion to the Football League in the 1980s - only for the dream to disintegrate after selling their London Road stadium in a financial collapse which also took down Dartford's Watling Street with whom they were groundsharing.
Today, a number of the roads on the housing site bear the name of some of the Darts' former players.
Reborn, Maidstone had something of a nomadic existence for many years sharing with other Kent clubs before they finally returned to the county town and the Gallagher Stadium.
Sittingbourne moved from the Bull Ground to the splendour of Central Park in 1990 as they positioned themselves as the 'Manchester United of non-league' only for money woes to see the dream fade and them forced to move out. The Bull Ground is now home to a Sainsbury's supermarket.
Ashford once called Essella Park in the heavily populated Willesborough home - it's now houses - before moving to the Homelands in remote Kingsnorth.
Tonbridge traded up The Angel in the heart of the town centre - now Sainsbury's - to move to the outskirts. Sheppey United left its long time home of Botany Road after more than 100 years in 1992.
And Canterbury never really got behind its club which once played within the confines of the greyhound and speedway circuit at Kingsmead before decamping elsewhere.
But for many, their ground has long been their castle. Dover has played at the Crabble since the late 19th century - first sharing the cricket pitch before moving up the road in the 1930s to where it remains today.
After many years living in Crockenhill, near Sevenoaks, author Mike Floate has moved to Whitby in North Yorkshire.
"I moved as a teenager to Swansea so followed them for many years," he explains, "but when we came to London I watched Welling and Cray Wanderers.
"But in 1983 I went to see them play Crockenhill and the next year moved there as a result of seeing what a great place it was.
"I got involved in the club and was everything from photographer to secretary, gate man to programme editor, so they became my club.
"People feel a real affinity with their local clubs. Even those playing in the Kent County League are doing alright and developing their facilities and there is real hope at grassroots level.
"Why the fascination in football grounds? I think it's getting to different towns, having a wander around. Visiting the club shop. It's a little bit underground and a minority interest - you're finding things most people don't go to."
Football Grounds in Kent: A Visual History by Mike Floate is on sale now via https://footballgroundsfrenzy.onlineweb.shop/ and is priced at £19.95.