The 1998-99 season saw some changes in the Kent League. All grounds were now required to have floodlights, which forced four clubs to arrange groundshares, Cray Wanderers at Bromley, where they have remained ever since, Crockenhill at Erith & Belvedere’s old Park View ground, Erith Town at Greenwich Borough’s Harrow Meadow and VCD Athletic at Thamesmead’s Bayliss Avenue. Folkestone had been promoted to the Southern League, Corinthian had resigned and Swanley Furness, also without lights, had dropped to the reserves division. The top division was now renamed as the Premier Division and would run with 19 clubs.
At Hythe United Mick Dix continued as manager with Dave Linstrem as his assistant. Joey Jones was in charge of the reserves. The big changes were off the field with the club getting a new chairman, David Clapson, who had recently retired from a senior position at Eurotunnel. Long-serving secretary Ted Maycock stood down and was replaced by Martin Giles, back in the role he held in Hythe Town’s Southern League days. There was a new kit, again sponsored by HV Wooding, a variant on all-red, the shirt can best be described as white with a red ‘Ajax’ stripe front and back, and red sleeves.
On the field there were only a handful of additions to the squad, Goalkeeper Steve Chivers joined from Deal as first choice but the other new signings hardly featured. The first three league games saw narrow defeats but then came a 5-1 thumping at Tunbridge Wells on August Bank Holiday Monday. Two more league defeats followed and the club was pointless and, unsurprisingly, bottom of the table. The FA Cup proved a welcome distraction with a 2-1 win over Isthmian Division Three side Croydon Athletic.
Cup joy was followed by the first point of the season, surprising Tommy Sampson’s expensive Deal Town side with a last-minute Kevin Clifford equaliser. Another league defeat was followed by three cup games; there was FA Cup defeat away to Isthmian Two side Witham Town, a Kent Senior Trophy victory over Swanley Furness and then an FA Vase defeat at Sussex Division One side Redhill.
The next game saw a home defeat to Crockenhill and manager Mick Dix announced he was taking a ‘two-week break’ leaving Dave Linstrem in caretaker charge. Linstrem’s first game saw a remarkable 1-0 win away to unbeaten league leaders Ramsgate although this proved to be just a blip as the next three games were lost. But the board decided formally to remove Dix as manager and offer the job to Linstrem, which he accepted, with Ian Daffin as his assistant.
His first game as the fully-fledged manager was the start of a remarkable run of five successive games against Faversham Town. The first game, at Salters Lane in the Kent League Cup, was abandoned in the 84th minute due to partial floodlight failure. The second, at home in the league, saw a 2-1 win in front of Hythe’s lowest-ever league crowd of 33. The third game was the restaged League Cup game that ended in a draw, the fourth saw defeat in the Kent Senior Trophy and the fifth gained Hythe a win in the League Cup replay.
Linstrem made efforts to strengthen the squad, signing ex-Charlton and Deal player Paul Murray from Dartford, Colin Binder from Ashford and Gary Miller from Whitstable, each of whom were well known in local football. A win at home to Canterbury over Christmas saw Hythe move off the bottom of the table in front of the best home attendance of the season, 152.
But the rest of the season was a real battle, a brief decent run saw three wins and three draws in six matches but although many games were close Hythe struggled to score goals, averaging less than a goal a game in the new year until a welcome 5-2 win over VCD brought the season to an end. Hythe finished in eighteenth position with only Tunbridge Wells below them and Ramsgate as champions. The reserves ended one position better, seventeenth out of nineteen.
Phil Hancock appeared in 41 of the 44 games, with Andy Laker and Andy Bigginton just behind him. Steve Ridley, Clive Barham, Steve Chivers, Jason Brazier, Dave Linstrem, Andy Towse, Steve Hobbs, Paul Stanton and Rhys Taylor-Ryall all played in over half the games. Hythe scored just 52 goals in their 44 games, Hancock led the way with nine, Bigginton, Ridley and Hobbs each scored six. Andy Bigginton was the Players’ Player of the Year, goalkeeper James Howard won the Reserves’ award.
|25/07/1998||Leyton Orient XI||F||Home||2-0||Paul Stanton, Andy Bigginton|
|11/08/1998||Kent Fire Brigade||F||Away|
|13/08/1998||Gravesend & Northfleet||F||Home|
|29/08/1998||Chatham Town||KLP||Home||1-2||82||Steve Hobbs|
|31/08/1991||Tunbridge Wells||KLP||Away||1-5||90||Dave Linstrem pen|
|12/09/1998||Whitstable Town||KLP||Home||2-4||92||Linstrem pen, Danny Gooding|
|19/09/1998||Croydon Athletic||FAC1Q||Home||2-1||158||Hobbs, Gooding|
|22/09/1998||Deal Town||KLP||Away||2-2||287||Gooding, Kevin Clifford|
|03/10/1998||Witham Town||FAC2Q||Away||2-5||79||Hobbs, Phil Hancock|
|06/10/1998||Swanley Furness||KST1||Home||2-1||Linstrem 2, 1 pen|
|31/10/1998||Herne Bay||KLP||Away||1-2||100||Andy Towse|
|21/11/1998||Faversham Town||KLC2||Away||2-2 ab||
Barham pen, Gooding
Abnd 84mins floodlight failure
|28/11/1998||Faversham Town||KLP||Home||2-1||33||Bigginton, Gooding|
|01/12/1998||Faversham Town||KLC2||Away||2-2 aet||53||Bigginton, Hancock|
|08/12/1998||Faversham Town||KLC2R||Home||3-1||50||Bigginton, Hancock 2|
|28/12/1998||Canterbury City||KLP||Home||2-0||152||Towse, Ridley|
|02/02/1999||Thamesmead Town||KLP||Home||1-3||48||Barham pen|
|20/02/1999||Erith Town||KLP||Home||2-0||62||Ridley, Brazier|
|17/04/1999||VCD Athletic||KLP||Away||2-4||69||Colin Binder, Hobbs|
|24/04/1999||Slade Green||KLP||Home||2-4||42||Barham pen, Hobbs|
|04/05/1999||VCD Athletic||KLP||Home||5-2||71||Hobbs, Hancock 2, Ben Bartlett, Ridley|
Hythe United returned for another season in the Kent League, now sponsored by Bass Brewers. Crockenhill had dropped out, Erith Town would play back at the Erith Sports Centre. The Herald reported that the club had given serious consideration in the summer about returning to the Kent County League, which seemed highly unlikely. £5,000 from an FA grant had been spent on improving the poor Reachfields pitch with the Secretary joking that at last there was a green surface to play on. Gary Towse became the new reserve team manager but perhaps the best new signing was Martin Whybrow as programme editor. He would go on to make over 340 (programme) appearances, not counting postponements. The club again had a new kit, all red but with red and white sleeves, sponsored by Autorite Finishers. Season tickets were on sale for £35, match-day admission was £3.
The pitch improvements were not quite complete in time for the pre-season friendlies. A home game with a Charlton Athletic XI was cancelled and a hasty rearrangement saw the Charlton side play at Folkestone that evening and a Folkestone side play at Hythe – unfit pitch or not.
The first two league fixtures were not kind to Hythe, firstly at Deal who would go on to win the League and the FA Vase this season, and then at home to Ramsgate, who would be runners-up to Deal and, often forgotten thanks to Deal’s success, would reach the Vase Quarter-finals themselves. After the shock of 6-1 and 6-0 defeats, Hythe got their first points on the board with a home win over Cray Wanderers. Next up was Sussex County League side Burgess Hill Town in the FA Cup, Hythe losing 3-0 in a replay after a goalless draw at Reachfields.
Goals would prove hard to come by for the whole season, only managing more than two on four occasions. The next three league games would be goalless, although two were draws. The drought was ended by Steve Hobbs in a 1-0 win at Ramsgate, gaining revenge for the earlier beating and winning at Southwood for the second season running.
There was a mini run in the FA Vase, beginning with a 3-1 win at Sussex side Ringmer. However, it required an injury time equaliser from the head of Andy Bigginton to force extra time, with even goalkeeper Jason Hughes up for the corner. In the next round Hythe held out for a 1-0 win over Walton Casuals, then of the Combined Counties League. Hythe made their exit to another Combined Counties side in the following round, losing 2-1 away at the plane-spotters dream, Bedfont. In between these games, Hythe made first round exits to second-bottom Cray Wanderers in both the Kent Senior Trophy and the Kent League Cup.
In October Hythe played in the last-ever game at Canterbury’s Kingsmead Stadium, where the developers moved in the following week. By December the club had dropped to sixteenth in the table so the win at Slade Green, only the third in the league, was very welcome. In fact it started Hythe’s best spell of the season, winning six games out of seven to rise to ninth in the table. After a couple of defeats a run of four wins in a row, including scoring four goals for the only time that season, against Herne Bay, saw Hythe move to eighth in the table. Despite a final day defeat at VCD Athletic where the club could only field ten players, they finished in eighth place. A very young reserve side finished tenth out of eleven clubs in Division One South.
Elsewhere it was quite a season for local clubs. Folkestone Invicta won promotion in the Southern League, Deal Town won the FA Vase at the old Wembley (Hythe had a run a coach to the game), Gillingham won the League Play-off final to reach the (now) Championship, and even Calais reached the French Cup final.
In 41 games, Andy Bigginton led with 36 appearances, now converted to a defender. Regulars were Steve Chivers in goal, defenders Gary Miller, Ben Bartlett and Andy Towse, midfielders Jason Brazier, David Gear, Daran Wilkins and Paul Stanton and strikers Dave Linstrem, Steve Ridley and Steve Hobbs. Dave Linstrem was top-scorer with eleven goals, Hobbs scored eight and Ridley six. Bigginton won both Manager’s and Players’ Player of the Year, the reserves awards went to James Howard and Martin Reene respectively. Steve Chivers won the Herald Trophy (for most man of the match awards).
|20/07/1999||Charlton Athletic XI||F||Home||P-P|
|27/07/1999||Folkestone Invicta||F||Away||1-3||Andy Bigginton|
|14/08/1999||Cray Wanderers||KLP||Home||3-1||62||Partner 2, Bigginton|
|21/08/1999||Burgess Hill Town||FACP||Home||0-0||141|
|24/08/1999||Burgess Hill Town||FACPR||Away||0-3||171|
|25/09/1999||Ringmer||FAV2Q||Away||3-1aet||66||Bigginton, Partner pen, Phil Hancock|
|02/10/1999||Slade Green||KLP||Home||1-2||86||David Gear|
|09/10/1999||Cray Wanderers||KST1||Away||2-3||51||Hobbs, Steve Ridley|
|23/10/1999||Walton Casuals||FAV1||Home||1-0||106||Jason Brazier|
|27/11/1999||Sheppey United||KLP||Home||2-4||48||Andy Towse, Brazier|
|04/12/1999||Erith Town||KLP||Home||1-3||35||Linstrem pen|
|18/12/1999||Slade Green||KLP||Away||2-0||65||Linstrem, Hobbs|
|28/12/1999||Tunbridge Wells||KLP||Home||2-0||142||Linstrem 2|
|05/02/2000||Herne Bay||KLP||Away||2-1||158||Linstrem, Ridley|
|19/02/2000||Cray Wanderers||KLP||Away||2-3||90||Bigginton, Brazier|
|11/03/2000||Beckenham Town||KLP||Home||2-1||53||Ridley 2|
|18/03/2000||Sheppey United||KLP||Away||3-1||62||Hobbs, Andy Towse, Brazier|
|01/04/2000||Herne Bay||KLP||Home||4-1||60||OG, Andy Towse, Linstrem 2|
|11/04/2000||Deal Town||KLP||Home||1-3||129||Ben Bartlett|
|22/04/2000||Whitstable Town||KLP||Home||2-1||72||Brazier, Ridley|
|24/04/2000||Whitstable Town||KLP||Away||1-0||125||Linstrem pen|