Les Dewis and Bill Warner reflect on the sad demise of a grass-roots league that has had to fold after spanning three centuries
ON June 21 the Tonbridge & District Football League will be put to rest at the grand old age of 119 years.
It was born on Friday August 26, 1898 at the Bull Hotel on Tonbridge High Steet and was originally named Tonbridge & District Junior Football League. The first match was between Tonbridge Reserves and Leigh Institute on Leigh Green.
The league reached its zenith with seven divisions between 1980-83.
But in 2015-16 the league went down to two divisions and at the start of the current campaign only ten clubs entered.
In February it was decided to dissolve the league. The remaining teams have all applied to join Sevenoaks & District League, and all funds will go to assist them.
By coincidence Leigh were one of the two last teams to play, contesting the Tunbridge Wells Intermediate Cup Final.
Sadly the time has come to put to bed this grand old football league which has spanned three centuries and provided organised grassroots football for tens of thousands of local lads down the years.
The final honours board reads: League winners Dowgate, runners-up Leigh; President’s Cup winners Dowgate, runners-up Five Oak Green; Chairman’s Cup winners Penshurst Park, runners-up Hawkenbury Reserves; Spring Cup winners Dowgate, runners-up Five Oak Green.
In addition, Dowgate were runners-up in the Sevenoaks Charity Cup Junior Section and Leigh runners-up in the Tunbridge Wells Charity Cup Intermediate Section.
Dowgate were dominant all season long. They lost their second game to Rusthall Thirds but only suffered one more defeat, to Five Oak Green. From the end of January they were always ahead of the pack.
Leigh were challenging them all the way and the title went down to a decider between the two sides on April 1, which Leigh had to win to have any chance of the title. But Dowgate prevailed 2-0, gaining the first of their three trophies.
Rusthall Thirds constantly changed their squad – using 50 players – so consistency was near impossible despite the early promise of that victory at Dowgate.
Tonbridge Invicta Reserves were to prove hit and miss too, despite recording a good win at Leigh early in the season.
Five Oak Green’s hopes of a top-two -finish were dashed by a run of four league defeats in November and December, and they were also thwarted in two cup finals.
Credit goes to Hawkenbury Reserves and Roselands, who respected the league and completed the programme when it might have been easier to throw in the towel.