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Kent sports review of 2021: The year of lockdown, null and void, Olympic glory, world-class golf, T20 cricket success and a Grand Slam tennis triumph


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It's been another busy year for Kent's most successful athletes. Many started unable to compete at all but one or two ended the year with international success...

January

The year was just four days old when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England. Outdoor grassroots sports were once again put on hold, initially until mid-February, although organised outdoor sport for disabled people was permitted and fishing was allowed to continue after a government U-turn.

With Covid cases soaring, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in January with grassroots sport badly affected. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
With Covid cases soaring, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in January with grassroots sport badly affected. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Elite sport continued - albeit without spectators - so it was business as usual for Gillingham, who began 2021 with two successive defeats in League 1 before a four-game unbeaten run, including a 4-1 thrashing of Crewe who arrived at Priestfield 10 games without loss.

Elite status included the National League and National League South, so Dover, Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Welling were able to play on. However on January 22 the National South season - along with the North - was suspended for two weeks following club feedback over funding proposals for the rest of the campaign.

The season had only started in October after the government agreed £10million of funding would be in place. The second stage of funding was to come via the government’s Sport Winter Survival Package - but as loans rather than grants.

That led the league to offer three options to clubs - loans for clubs, loans to the league who then distribute to clubs, or suspend the season.

Maidstone-born Harvey White, who started out with Cuxton 91 as a six-year-old, was given his full Tottenham debut by Jose Mourinho. The 19-year-old midfielder played 90 minutes in Spurs’ televised 5-0 FA Cup third-round win at part-time Marine.

Dreams do come true! Harvey White as a youngster at Cuxton 91 - he made his Tottenham debut in the FA Cup against Marine
Dreams do come true! Harvey White as a youngster at Cuxton 91 - he made his Tottenham debut in the FA Cup against Marine

Also hitting the national headlines was Alfie May. The former Hythe Town striker was described by England and Manchester City star Phil Foden as “a great player” after putting Cheltenham within nine minutes of knocking out the Premier League champions - only for Pep Guardiola’s superstars to score three late goals.

There was good news for Kent Cricket fans after seamer Matt Milnes signed a new two-year deal, but bad news for Swale bowls star Perry Martin, who had to pull out of his World Indoor Championship quarter-final at Great Yarmouth after a positive coronavirus test.

February

With grants not available to make up for the lack of income caused by playing behind closed doors, National League Dover announced they would not be fulfilling their remaining fixtures and put their playing staff - plus boss Andy Hessenthaler- on furlough.

It was also season over for Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Welling after clubs voted in favour of nulling and voiding the 2020/21 campaign at National League South level. The Isthmian and Southern Counties East leagues followed suit less than a week later.

Like Dover, the Stones and Tonbridge had already put their playing staff on furlough - with Maidstone appealing for replacements to play for free - and were both in favour of null and void. However, Dartford, riding high in the National South table, as well as Ebbsfleet and Welling, wanted to carry on.

Dover chairman Jim Parmenter announced his side would not resume National League fixtures until 'appropriate funding' was in place. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dover chairman Jim Parmenter announced his side would not resume National League fixtures until 'appropriate funding' was in place. Picture: Tony Flashman

Clubs in the National League voted 13-7 in favour of playing on - bad news for Dover, whose chairman, Jim Parmenter was unwilling to take out loans and announced his club would not play again until “appropriate funding is made available”.

Stones co-owner Oliver Ash was so incensed by the funding issue he called for the FA to dismiss the National League board.

Ash was furious with the league’s handling of the distribution of grant payments in October 2020 - claiming the Stones lost out on £100,000 worth of funding - and over the way they managed the 2020/21 season and its early conclusion.

He said: “I think ultimately the FA, who are the governing body, despite the fact that they are embroiled in this mess should dismiss the chairman, the vice-chairman, the entire board of directors and that should be immediate.

“They should supervise the holding of urgent elections for a new board for an interim period of 12 months. (They should) appoint a chairman with an unblemished record of governance of not just football organisations but governance in general and a respect for matters of governance, in fairness and in ethics that have been lacking for the past few months.”

Tributes were paid to former Gillingham manager Glenn Roeder, who died aged 65 after a long battle with a brain tumour. Roeder, who went on to manage Watford, West Ham and Newcastle, kept Gills in the Football League after a dramatic 1992/93 season, where they avoided relegation with victory against Halifax in the penultimate game of the campaign.

It was confirmed the 149th Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s in Sandwich would definitely go ahead.

Originally scheduled for July 2020, organisers announced there would be no postponement for a second year and, if necessary, the major would be held behind closed doors.

In cricket, Kent’s Sam Billings was signed by the Delhi Capitals for £200,000 ahead of the IPL season.

March

Kent cricketer and Charlton and England footballer Derek Ufton died aged 92. Ufton made 149 first-class appearances for Kent and 277 appearances for Charlton during an 11-year period from the 1949/50 season. As a centre-half he also won one England cap, against a Rest of Europe side at Wembley in 1953.

Wicketkeeper Ufton was understudy to Godfrey Evans and scored 3,915 runs at an average of 20.01 and claimed 313 victims (269 caught, 44 stumped). He was also Kent president in 2001.

Derek Ufton, right, with then-club captain Matthew Fleming and Lord Kingsdown, who succeeded him as Kent president in 2002
Derek Ufton, right, with then-club captain Matthew Fleming and Lord Kingsdown, who succeeded him as Kent president in 2002

An independent panel ruled Dover were deemed guilty of four breaches of Rule 8.39 for failing to play matches between February 16 and February 27. They were fined £40,000 and would start the 2021/22 season on minus 12 points. The results of the 15 National League games they had played were expunged.

In League 1, Gillingham lost just once in eight matches, picking up five wins, but boss Steve Evans cooled the play-off talk.

Speaking after one of the highlights of the month - a 3-0 win at third-place Lincoln - Evans said: “We won’t be getting carried away, we won’t be talking about anything. The play-offs are still a big stretch for us. That would be unbelievable, the lowest budget in League 1 gets in the play-offs.”

Gillingham boss Steve Evans enjoyed an impressive run of results in March
Gillingham boss Steve Evans enjoyed an impressive run of results in March

There were World Cup qualifier call-ups for several non-league players.

Dartford pair Jernade Meade and Craig Braham-Barrett were called-up for Montserrat as the island nation prepared to face Antigua and Barbuda and El Salvador. Sevenoaks’ Joey Taylor was also selected, as was Welling’s Kaleem Simon along with Erith Town goalkeeper Nic Taylor.

Ricky Modeste, who played for Dartford in the 2020/21 campaign, was included in the Grenada squad to play El Salvador and the US Virgin Islands.

April

Kent gymnasts took two of the top five places in the men’s vault final at the European Artistic Championships. Giarnni Regini-Moran, from Gravesend, claimed his first major championship medal as a senior after taking bronze while Maidstone’s Courtney Tulloch finished fifth.

Gymnast Giarnni Regini-Moran won his first major medal at the European Artistic Championships. Picture: Lumix UK/Team GB/Sam Mellish
Gymnast Giarnni Regini-Moran won his first major medal at the European Artistic Championships. Picture: Lumix UK/Team GB/Sam Mellish

The return of the County Championship began with a group stage to determine which division teams would be in when the competition resumed in late August. The top two in each group would play in Division 1, the third and fourth-placed teams in Division 2 and the fifth and sixth-placed sides in Division 3.

Kent drew their opening Group 3 match after a snow-hit final day at Northamptonshire and three heavy defeats followed - a 200-run loss to Yorkshire, an innings defeat to Lancashire and a 10-wicket thrashing by Glamorgan.

Speaking after the two-day defeat in Cardiff, Kent coach Matt Walker said: “It was not good enough over the day and three quarters for which the game lasted. It wasn’t an easy pitch to play on and when you look at the batting that was reflected by the scores.

“Regardless of the pitch we have to be better than that and we didn’t find the answer. Some of the boys will look back on good balls which got them out, but we have to better.

“Glamorgan bowled very well. Michael Hogan was outstanding at times. It always looks bad when you lose a game by 10 wickets.

“We haven’t played well in the last three weeks and this result typifies that. Some of our players aren’t performing to the levels they can.”

Kent head coach Matthew Walker had plenty to ponder after his side's losing start to the County Championship. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Kent head coach Matthew Walker had plenty to ponder after his side's losing start to the County Championship. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Gillingham’s play-off bid in League 1 suffered a blow. After boss Steve Evans was named manager-of-the-month for March, and striker Vadaine Oliver was player-of-the-month, the Gills could only win one of their next five games - conceding two-goal leads on successive weekends against Oxford and Northampton. The Oxford result, in particular, would come back to haunt Evans.

Dover announced they would go part-time for 2021/22 - but boss Andy Hessenthaler confirmed he would stay on.

“I wasn’t going to walk away - I just had to check he [chairman Jim Parmenter] wanted me to stay” said the 55-year-old.

“We had a good meeting and we are certainly going to have to approach it a different way and go back to how they have approached it before, really, being part-time. So we are going to have to go part-time, in a full-time league.”

In snooker, Ditton’s Barry Hawkins, a world championship finalist in 2013, was knocked out in the second round at the Crucible, losing to Kyren Wilson 13-10.

May

Spectators were allowed back inside St Lawrence for the first time since September 2019 and they saw a batting masterclass from Kent’s Darren Stevens, who scored 190, including 15 sixes, in the County Championship draw against Glamorgan.

Darren Stevens hit 190 on the second day of the County Championship match against Glamorgan. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Darren Stevens hit 190 on the second day of the County Championship match against Glamorgan. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Gillingham’s League 1 campaign ended with a 10th-place finish, seven points behind Oxford United who snatched the final play-off spot, leaving boss Steve Evans thinking what might have been.

“Over the season we weren’t good enough to get ahead of Oxford but I wish them, Blackpool, Sunderland and Lincoln every success,” he said.

“The play-offs are magical and I am very envious, but it is very difficult to get in them and we learned a hard lesson over 10 minutes in both games (against Oxford and Northampton), that has cost us.”

There was disappointment, too, for Gillingham’s youth team who were beaten 3-0 by Rochdale in the Youth Alliance League Cup National Final at Priestfield.

Ebbsfleet’s hopes of a return to the National League were also dashed. With only 23 clubs for the 2021-22 season, they failed to convince the FA they should be the 24th club, based on their points-per-game relegation in 2019-20.

In motorsport, scores of spectators returned to Brands Hatch for the first time in seven months as up to 4,000 fans attended the opening round of the British GT Championship.

Kent was the first county in the country to receive an England Athletics licence after the pandemic and the best youngsters went head-to-head in the Kent County Track & Field Championships at Julie Rose Stadium.

June

Former Gravesend Grammar School pupil Fikayo Tomori joined AC Milan on a permanent deal from Chelsea for £25million.

The defender had been on loan at the San Siro since January after struggling to make an impact during Frank Lampard’s spell in charge.

Gravesend Grammar School headteacher Mr Moaby with former pupil and AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori. Picture: Gravesend Grammar School
Gravesend Grammar School headteacher Mr Moaby with former pupil and AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori. Picture: Gravesend Grammar School

A familiar face returned to Priestfield after a year away. Defender and ex-skipper Max Ehmer re-signed for Gillingham from Bristol Rovers after falling out of favour with boss Joey Barton. Ehmer was joined at Priestfield by Olly Lee, Ben Reeves and David Tutonda, although keeper Jack Bonham left for Championship Stoke City.

Another Gillingham favourite hung up his boots, however, with winger Matt Jarvis announcing his retirement after an 18-year career. As well as Gills, Jarvis played for Wolves and West Ham and was capped by England.

National League Dover also welcomed a returning hero as striker Ricky Miller moved back to Crabble from Aldershot. Miller had left the club for League 1 Peterborough after scoring an incredible 42 goals in the 2016/17 campaign.

Miller’s return was the one piece of good news after Dover lost their appeal against a £40,000 fine and 12-point deduction. The club were punished for failure to fulfil four fixtures between February 16 and 27.

Kent switched their focus from the County Championship to the T20 Blast, and enjoyed a record-breaking score of 236-3 in their victory against Essex Eagles - one of six wins in June.

July

There was plenty of Kent interest in three of the world’s greatest sporting events, with the Olympic Games, Open Golf Championship and Wimbledon taking centre stage.

In the Tokyo Games, there was disappointment for 200m world champion Dina Asher-Smith. The Blackheath & Bromley Harriers sprinter failed to make the 100m final and was then forced to pull out of the 200m with a hamstring injury. She did, however, confirm she would run the 4x100m relay.

Gymnasts James Hall, from Maidstone, and Giarnni Regini-Moran, from Gravesend, finished fourth in the men’s team final, with Regini-Moran recording Team GB’s highest score on any apparatus in the final with 15.166 on the parallel bars.

“I was just proud of myself,” said 22-year-old Regini-Moran. “My aim was I wanted to go out there and just give it my all. I was like ‘Right, just control the nerves and just enjoy the process’ because this is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Gravesend heavyweight boxer Cheavon Clarke lost in the last 16 to Brazil’s Abner Teixeira and Pembury’s Emily Craig missed out on bronze by just 0.01sec alongside partner Imogen Grant in the lightweight women’s double sculls final.

Collin Morikawa got his hands on the Claret Jug at Royal St George's. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Collin Morikawa got his hands on the Claret Jug at Royal St George's. Picture: Barry Goodwin

The world’s oldest golf tournament returned to the county as the 149th Open Championship took place at Royal St George’s in Sandwich.

Last held in Kent in 2011, there were no locals to root for this year after the county’s best players narrowly failed to qualify. However superstars Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm were in town and among the favourites for the title and a winner’s purse of more than £1.5million. However after four rounds it was America’s Collin Morikawa who got his hands on the Claret Jug for his second major.

At Wimbledon, Orpington’s Emma Raducanu made the last 16 of the women’s singles on her first visit to SW19. However the 18-year-old wildcard was the centre of a media storm after retiring from her fourth-round match against Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic. Trailing 3-0 in the second set, after losing the first, Raducanu needed attention for breathing difficulties and retired on medical advice.

TV personality Piers Morgan took to Twitter to accuse Raducanu of lacking mental toughness. However, there were plenty of famous supporters, too, with Gary Lineker, Andy Murray and Marcus Rashford among those who sprang to her defence.

With the football season less than a month away Gillingham were placed on a transfer embargo relating to the late filing of accounts with Companies House and the terms of a monitored loan agreement. They could, however, sign free agents and loanees, securing the signatures of goalkeeper Aaron Chapman, defender Rhys Bennett and midfielder Danny Lloyd. When the accounts up to May 31, 2020 were submitted, they showed an operating loss of almost £100,000.

Also making a loss were Ebbsfleet. They reported a loss of £1.6million up to May 30, 2020 - following losses of around £2.6m in each of the two previous campaigns.

In cricket, Kent’s T20 Blast squad were forced into self-isolation after one member tested positive for Covid-19.

The Spitfires had secured their quarter-final place with a nine-wicket win at The Oval against Surrey. But, following a PCR test the following day, Kent confirmed the positive case and the whole squad had to self-isolate for 10 days.

Margate-born bowler Ollie Robinson was banned for eight Test matches by the ECB - five of them suspended for two years - after historical racist and sexist tweets from 2012 and 2013 emerged while he was making his debut for England against New Zealand at Lord’s.

There was sad news with the death of former BDO World Darts champion Andy Fordham. The former Dartford publican, who won the title in 2004, was just 59.

August

Meopham’s Kate French and Orpington’s Joe Choong made Olympics history.

The duo won gold in the women’s and men’s modern pentathlon - the first time any country has won both men’s and women’s events at the same Games.

French, already a World Cup gold and silver medallist in 2021, dominated the last of five events - the 3,200m laser run - to win by 15 seconds and claim the biggest title of them all.

Meopham's Kate French wins modern pentathlon gold for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: UPIM Media
Meopham's Kate French wins modern pentathlon gold for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: UPIM Media

She was flirting with the medal positions for much of the day after the swim, fencing and an impressive show jump - her strongest suit.

But her laser-run finale, where athletes complete four laps of an 800m circuit and stop to hit a target five times with a pistol at the end of each one, was a breathtaking display of speed and composure.

“Winning Olympic gold has been on my mind for a long time," French said. “It has always been a dream and I cannot believe it has come true.

“I just thought I cannot believe I have done it when I crossed the line.

“I really tried to stick to my plan and stay focused. I knew I could be in contention but I tried not to think too much about getting a medal.”

Choong’s gold was the first time Team GB have triumphed in the men’s modern pentathlon with a personal-best 1,482 points a day after French’s triumph.

Bromley & Blackheath Harriers’ Dina-Asher Smith was fit enough to help Team GB win bronze in the 4x100m relay, but Dartford’s Adam Gemili saw his Olympics end in the 200m heats when he pulled up with a hamstring injury.

Another medal hopeful, Tonbridge AC’s Tom Bosworth, finished 25th in the men’s 20km walk. He was sixth in 2016, but finished five minutes down on his Rio time.

Canterbury’s Susannah Townsend added a bronze to her Rio 2016 gold alongside clubmate Grace Balsdon as the women’s hockey team beat India 4-3. Balsdon scored the winner, a drag flick from a penalty corner.

Maidstone’s James Hall was eighth in the men’s gymnastics all-round final, swimmer-turned-rower Sara Parfett, from Rochester, narrowly missed out on qualifying as part of the women’s eight repechage with fifth place after finishing fourth in the heats, and in canoeing, Tunbridge Wells’ Emily Lewis was denied a semi-final spot. Fourth in her 500m sprint quarter-final, she was a place away in the 200m sprint, missing the semis after finishing third.

Farnborough’s Emily Muskett, Britain’s first European Senior Weightlifting champion in 26 years, finished seventh in the women’s 76kg with a total lift of 222kg. She competed under her maiden name of Godley.

Gillingham’s League 1 season began with a 1-1 draw at home to Lincoln. They were spot-on three days later in the Carabao Cup, teenage defender Harvey Lintott scoring the winning kick on his first senior appearance as Gills progressed 10-9 on penalties.

Danny Lloyd celebrates scoring Gillingham's first goal of the new season in the 1-1 draw against Lincoln. Picture: Andy Jones
Danny Lloyd celebrates scoring Gillingham's first goal of the new season in the 1-1 draw against Lincoln. Picture: Andy Jones

Dover’s pandemic troubles continued. Already hit with a 12-point deduction for failing to fulfil fixtures in February, their opener at home to Solihull Moors was postponed due to a Covid outbreak within Whites’ squad.

Kent booked their place at T20 Blast Finals Day for the first time since 2008 with a quarter-final win over Birmingham.

A sellout crowd of 4,000 roared the Spitfires to victory at Canterbury after half-centuries from Daniel Bell-Drummond and skipper Sam Billings set them on their way to a 21-run win.

The Paralympics got under way in Tokyo with a medal for Tunbridge Wells’ Will Bayley. Bayley, a gold medallist in 2016, won table tennis class 7 individual silver.

September

Emma Raducanu made tennis history when she pulled off one of the greatest sporting achievements of modern times with victory in the US Open women’s singles final.

In only her second major, the Orpington teenager became the first qualifier In the Open era to win a grand slam title and the first British woman to triumph since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977 after a 6-4, 6-3 win over Leylah Fernandez of Canada.

Emma Raducanu hugs the US Open championship trophy after her sensational victory over Leylah Fernandez. Picture: Elise Amendola/AP/PA Wire
Emma Raducanu hugs the US Open championship trophy after her sensational victory over Leylah Fernandez. Picture: Elise Amendola/AP/PA Wire

Playing with the assurance of a veteran, Raducanu, ranked 150 going into the event, didn’t drop a set throughout her three weeks in New York en route to the title and £1.8million in prize money, although there was late drama when serving for the match she fell awkwardly, cutting her knee and requiring treatment.

Despite facing two break points Raducanu held her nerve in front of more than 20,000 fans and fittingly secured the title with an ace.

She said: “I’m still so shocked, I can’t believe I came through that last service game. It means everything to hold this trophy and I don’t want to let go now.

“When I came out on court I felt at home, business as usual, and I was focused on one point at a time. I had to fight really hard to cling on to that first set and keep my nose in front in the second.

“I don’t think I served as well as I have through the tournament but it helped in the key moments.”

Kent Spitfires celebrate with the T20 Blast trophy after beating Somerset in the final at Edgbaston. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Images
Kent Spitfires celebrate with the T20 Blast trophy after beating Somerset in the final at Edgbaston. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Images

Jordan Cox went from zero to hero at Edgbaston as Kent triumphed at T20 Blast Finals Day for their first win in the competition for 14 years.

Cox was out for a golden duck in the semi-final win over Sussex Sharks but he hit a crucial half-century in the final before a brilliant fielding display helped Kent defeat Somerset by 25 runs under the lights.

After being put into bat, Kent made 167-7. Somerset were 94-6 in the 14th over of the chase when Kent made one of the best catches in a T20 final. Lewis Gregory thought he’d put Darren Stevens away for a six over deep mid-wicket, but Cox brilliantly jumped over the boundary and tipped the ball back into the hands of Matt Milnes to take the catch.

Kent captain Sam Billings, who had been named in England’s preliminary squad for the T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman a week earlier, said: “I can’t really put it into words. It’s been a phenomenal team effort, all year. The whole squad to a man have been incredibly impressive.

“It’s for the fans as much as us, it’s been a long time coming and we’ve been threatening to do it for a while. Over the last few years, we’ve been one of the best sides in the country.”

Kent added another trophy to the cabinet when they wrapped up the County Championship Division 3 title less than a week later with a two-wicket win over Middlesex.

September was a barren month for Gills, with Steve Evans’ side winning just one league game in five, and off the field there were problems, too, with chairman Paul Scally hitting out at those fans he claimed were attacking him with ’defamatory and derogatory’ abuse.

Scally said the situation had got so bad his family were missing Gills games for fear of more bile.

He said: “I don’t have time to correct all the wrongs and the false accusations. I was stunned at Shrewsbury when at 1-0 up there was a small section of supporters singing ‘we want Scally out’.

“Personally it is unpleasant, it is hurtful, it is not necessary, it is unfair and unreasonable and I suspect I know who started it.

“My children won’t come to football anymore because they are so upset with some of the stuff they see on social media and once it starts to effect my family then rest assured I am going to come after the people who are the perpetrators of some of this filth.”

In National League South Dartford’s 100% start to the season ended at the hands of Tonbridge Angels. Steve King’s side were going for their sixth straight win, but had to settle for a point. They were back in top form a week later as King claimed his first FA Cup victory as Darts boss with a 5-1 thrashing of Hythe.

Former Gillingham, Leicester and one-time England boss Peter Taylor returned to football after almost two years out of the game to take over at Welling.

Table tennis player Will Bayley won another Paralympics medal with silver in Tokyo. Picture: onEdition Media/sportsbeat
Table tennis player Will Bayley won another Paralympics medal with silver in Tokyo. Picture: onEdition Media/sportsbeat

In Tokyo, Tunbridge Wells’ Will Bayley became the most successful British Paralympic table tennis player in the modern era, despite defeat by China in the 6-7 class doubles final alongside Paul Karabardak.

Ross Wilson, from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, and partner Aaron McKibbin were beaten 2-0 by China and came away with table tennis bronze in the Class 8 team event.

Gravesend’s wheelchair racer JohnBoy Smith finished 10th on his Paralympic debut in the T54 marathon, one of the final events of the Games, in a season’s-best time of 1hr32min25sec.

Rugby returned after the 2020-21 season for clubs at National League level and below was cancelled due to the pandemic.

October

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally announced his intention to issue temporary bans to supporters under investigation over trouble during the 2-1 home defeat to Sunderland.

A number of fans critical of Mr Scally’s stewardship made their feelings clear by arranging for a banner to be flown over Priestfield. The ‘Time for Change Scally Out’ banner was flown over the ground during the first half and there were protests throughout the match. One fan was arrested after trouble inside the club’s Factory Bar at half-time and there were anti-Scally chants heard in the Rainham End. The chairman was defiant, however, and insisted he would not quit the club.

Some of those not in favour of Gillingham chairman Paul Scally's stewardship of the club made their feelings known during the first half of the game against Sunderland. Picture: Andy Jones
Some of those not in favour of Gillingham chairman Paul Scally's stewardship of the club made their feelings known during the first half of the game against Sunderland. Picture: Andy Jones

“This was organised thuggery to the extent that these people only came to the stadium for trouble,” he said.

“They came here with the intent of disrupting people’s enjoyment of the game. They were behaving worse than animals in some instances and those that were and that we could were ejected from the ground. They upset a huge number of true supporters...including players and of course the staff. I saw women and children crying.”

Graham Perry, a fan named by Mr Scally as being partly responsible for the disorder, revealed he did pay towards the cost of the banner, but insisted he had nothing to do with the disorder inside the ground.

The romance of the FA Cup was alive and well at the BuildBase Stadium as Isthmian League Folkestone knocked out National League North Gloucester City in the third qualifying round. Ade Yusuff got the only goal in a 1-0 win. Dartford, meanwhile, continued their excellent form with a 3-0 victory at Maidstone.

Former Gravesend Grammar School pupil Fikayo Tomori won his second England cap. The AC Milan defender was a second-half substitute in England’s 5-0 World Cup qualifying win against Andorra.

Another Kent lad plying his trade in Italy was Luis Binks. The Gillingham-born 20-year-old former Spurs defender made his first start for Bologna against Udinese in Serie A.

There were Ashes tour call-ups for Kent batter Zak Crawley and Margate-born Sussex paceman Ollie Robinson, while Crawley’s Kent teammate, Heino Kuhn, left St Lawrence after four seasons, the county moving to sign Ben Compton.

Kent’s player-of-the-year award went to Darren Stevens for the third season in a row. Stevens, 45, was an integral part of Kent’s T20 Blast-winning side and struck more than 800 runs across all formats, including three centuries, and took 52 wickets.

In motorcycling, Folkestone’s Jack Nixon won the National Junior Superstock title on the final lap of the final race of the season at Brands Hatch. Brands was also the venue for the final round of the British Touring Car Championship, which was won by Ash Sutton. Goudhurst’s Jake Hill finished the season in fifth, with nine podiums - including two race wins - during the campaign.

Folkestone's Jack Nixon celebrates his title win at Brands Hatch. Picture: Camipix Photography
Folkestone's Jack Nixon celebrates his title win at Brands Hatch. Picture: Camipix Photography

Chatham Olympian Kat Driscoll announced her retirement from trampolining. Driscoll represented Team GB at the London and Rio Games, as well winning World Championship gold twice.

November

It was a winless month for Gillingham, but manager Steve Evans was still in demand.

Bookies made Evans, in the final year of his Gills contract, favourite for the vacant manager’s job at League 2 Stevenage after Alex Revell’s sacking.

After two days of speculation, Gills released a statement confirming chairman Paul Scally had rejected an approach. It said: “Further to recent media speculation the club can confirm that manager Steve Evans is contracted to Gillingham Football Club until June 30 2022.

“Whilst Stevenage FC did make a request on Tuesday afternoon to speak with our manager, that request was rejected.

“We look forward to Steve leading the team for the remainder of his contract, and hopefully beyond.”

On the field, hopes of an FA Cup run ended at the first hurdle when Gills were knocked out by Cheltenham.

The first round-draw gave Gills the chance to avenge August’s League Cup penalty shoot-out defeat against the Robins, but they were held 1-1 at Priestfield before losing the replay 1-0. The sides then met for the third time in less than three weeks in League 1, with Cheltenham winning 2-0.

Dartford lift the 2019/20 Kent Senior Cup - in 2021! Picture: PSP Images
Dartford lift the 2019/20 Kent Senior Cup - in 2021! Picture: PSP Images

Steve King collected his first piece of silverware as Dartford boss. His side thrashed Whitstable 6-1 in the delayed 2019/20 Kent Senior Cup final, with Jake Robinson scoring a hat-trick.

King said: “It’s the first trophy since I’ve been here and it was fully deserved. The football we played in first half was unbelievable, as good as anything.

“Obviously people will say they’re two levels below us but the football was breathtaking.”

In cricket, Kent’s Sam Billings replaced the injured Jason Roy for England’s T20 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, catching Glenn Phillips off the bowling of Liam Livingstone, but Eoin Morgan’s side lost a dramatic semi-final by five wickets.

Kiwi fast bowler Matt Henry agreed a deal to return to St Lawrence next July. Henry, who played for Kent in 2018, was expected to rejoin the club in 2020 before the deal was scrapped due to the pandemic.

Tributes were paid to former Kent and England seamer Alan Igglesden, who died aged 57. Igglesden had revealed he was getting end-of-life care in May, following two major strokes and the growth of his brain tumour.

Kent Speedway promoter Len Silver announced his retirement with the Kent Kings facing an uncertain future following the sale of their Central Park home.

Silver’s co-promoter, Roger Cearns, sold the stadium to Arena Racing Company in April, with the new owners yet to confirm that speedway can continue at the Sittingbourne venue.

Cearns sought verbal agreement during the sale but nothing was ratified in writing, leaving Kent no option but to release all their riders.

That proved the final straw for legendary promoter Silver, 89, who was instrumental in bringing speedway to Central Park in 2013.

“The first seven years of my activities at Sittingbourne were a pure delight and enjoyable mainly because of the wonderful attitude of the fans of Kent,” he said.

“But 2021, starting with the pandemic and the huge problems that it gave, followed by no less than seven rain-offs and rider retirements, made the stress levels go through the roof.”

Former Maidstone schoolgirl Alessia Russo scored a hat-trick for England’s Women as they thrashed Latvia 20-0 in World Cup qualifying.

The Manchester United forward came off the bench and hit three in 11 minutes - her first goals for her country - as the Lionesses recorded their biggest-ever competitive win.

December

Maidstone boxer Sam Noakes won the WBC International Silver Lightweight title with a ninth-round stoppage of Shaun Cooper.

The victory maintained his 100% stoppage record and saw him land a title in just his eighth pro bout.

Maidstone boxer Sam Noakes celebrates his WBC International Silver lightweight title win
Maidstone boxer Sam Noakes celebrates his WBC International Silver lightweight title win

There was good news for speedway fans after Kent Speedway announced they will compete in the 2022 National Development League at Iwade, the club’s training track.

Their eight-year existence at Central Park appeared over after the stadium was sold to new owners, but the club will continue at Iwade as one of eight sides in the NDL.

Gillingham joined the list of clubs to suffer a Covid outbreak when a number of positive cases were confirmed at Priestfield, forcing the postponement of the home game with Crewe and the Boxing Day clash against Ipswich. The final game of 2021, at Charlton, was postponed by the Addicks.

After a relatively trouble-free second half of the year, a steep rise in cases, thought to be driven by the new Omicron variant, not only hit the fixture list but triggered a fresh debate over vaccine take-up among players, which, according to the EFL's November statistics, was only 75%.

Gills boss Steve Evans wasn't of the opinion that vaccination should be mandatory, but couldn't see how further disruption to games could be avoided without a higher take-up.

He said: “My view has been shared with the players and it is quite open. Everyone in the world deserves their own opinion and I am not a manager who is going to rule and say you will get the vaccine.

“Some people have not got around to it, which I don’t understand to be honest because we all have time to have that done, but if certain lads don’t want it done because they have a belief that is X, Y or Z, that is their belief. They won’t be getting forced.

“The interesting stat for me, what the chairman picked up on, we couldn’t believe that 25% of the players (in the EFL) didn’t believe in it and didn’t want to get it.

“As long as that continues there are going to be games off with Covid because at certain times it will enter the dressing room and those not vaccinated are going to catch it aren’t they?”

Gills did play twice before Christmas - losing 5-1 to Rotherham and 2-1 to Fleetwood.

In National League South Ebbsfleet went into Christmas joint-top of the table with Dartford and Oxford City, while Maidstone got revenge on Dartford for October's FA Cup loss with a 4-0 win - their best result of the season so far - with a hat-trick from Darts old boy Jack Barham.

Striker Ricky Miller left Dover after failing to hit the heights of his first spell at Crabble. Miller scored 68 goals in 101 appearances first time round but failed to net in 10 games before switching to Northern League Premier Division Grantham.

The FA Trophy draw was bittersweet for Folkestone Invicta. Neil Cugley's side reached the fourth round for the first time in their history with a 2-0 win over Uxbridge, but after an away tie at Hollywood-backed National League Wrexham was pulled out of the hat the Welsh government announced spectators would be banned from all sporting events from Boxing Day, in a bid to control the Omicron variant of Covid.

The game is scheduled for January 15 and as yet it is unclear if restrictions will still be in place by then. If they are, Invicta will have to play without their fans.

Tonbridge boss Steve McKimm embraces matchwinner Ibrahim Olutade after the 2-1 FA Trophy win over Torquay. Picture: Dave Couldridge
Tonbridge boss Steve McKimm embraces matchwinner Ibrahim Olutade after the 2-1 FA Trophy win over Torquay. Picture: Dave Couldridge

Tonbridge Angels knocked higher-league Torquay out of the Trophy 2-1 after a late Ibrahim Olutade winner. The result was even sweeter for Angels after Torquay boss Gary Johnson had said he looked forward to the tie “if we can find out where it is”.

In tennis, Bromley's Emma Raducanu rounded off 2021 by winning Sports Personality of the Year. The US Open champion beat Tokyo 2020 gold medallists Tom Daley and Adam Peaty to the award.

Kent announced the return of leg spinner Qais Ahmad for next season's T20 Blast campaign, while Ryan ten Doeschate joined the backroom team as batting coach.

Ditton's Barry Hawkins' hopes of a first Triple Crown final in five years were dashed at the UK Championship. Hawkins lost 6-1 to China's Zhao Xintong in the semi-finals at the Barbican in York.

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