In an era where change is the only constant, there are rare entities that stand as pillars of resilience and unwavering commitment to the game. This year, grassroots club Staplehurst Monarchs celebrates 130 years so we delved into their history to find out more.
Staplehurst Monarchs formed in 1893 under the name 'Iden Rovers', where they became founding members of the Maidstone and District Saturday League. The club competed with varying degrees of success for 108 years, the most successful spell being in 1993, their centenary year, when both the First and Reserve teams completed their respective league and cup doubles, a feat unprecedented in the league's history. At 130 years old, this makes Staplehurst Monarchs older than most Premier League clubs.
As the club grew in size and ambition, Staplehurst Monarchs joined the Kent County League in 2001 but had to play home games on King George Field in Loose to meet ground criteria. A reorganisation took them into Division Two East, which they won in 2006, forcing the club to move again to the Old County Ground, West Malling, to compete in Division One.
After seven seasons on the road, the club finally returned to Staplehurst in 2009 with the completion of the Jubilee Field Pavilion, now named the Nigel Best Pavilion (funded by the Football Foundation), which conforms to Step 4 criteria. The following year, they were promoted to the Premier Division.
In the 2018/19 season, Staplehurst Monarchs won the Kent County League Premier Division title, but despite an appeal, failed in their bid for Step 6 status to SCEFL. The following season, they were 9 points clear in the defence of the title when the season was declared null and void due to COVID-19. As the FA deemed there would be no promotion or relegation, they were stuck yet again. Finally, the FA allowed restructuring down the pyramid, and Staplehurst Monarchs were accepted into Step 6 SCEFL with a Football Foundation grant awarded for necessary ground improvements.
As a result, the club now has Senior status and consequently can compete in the FA Vase, Kent Senior Cup & and FA Cup (upon acceptance).
SCEFL announced that they would be forming a Development League for Season 22/23, and it was decided that this would be more beneficial to the club than the current reserves team. Therefore, the Reserves withdrew from the Kent County League, and the U23s began with a remit to develop players from the Staplehurst Monarchs Youth Section.
In 2022, the club also decided to start a women's team. Starting with fitness sessions, the team grew and began training together over the winter months. After winning their first-ever friendly game, it was decided to enter the South East Counties Women's Football League. The team now has well over 20 players registered, including several from the U18 girls' team and home matchdays are well attended.
They are also proud that several qualified female referees have acted as assistant referees at the Women's games.
The Junior section was founded in 1970 when a group of parents set up a boys' football club for local children. The first competitive season was in 1971/2 when a U14 team represented Staplehurst in Division 2 of the Maidstone & District Boys Primary League. The Monarchs were officially formed in 1973, playing at Staplehurst's Diagrit Sports & Social Club. Fifty-three years on, the junior section now has 21 teams, including seven girls teams, as well as being an FA Wildcats & Squad Girls centre and providing football for over 300 young people.
The senior section celebrated their 130th year with the Westimonial – a testimonial match for Pete West, who had played for the club for 32 years, starting at eight years old in the Junior Section and finally hanging up his boots playing for the First Team in SCEFL Division 1. Pete's team comprised of club legends and was managed by joint Presidents Richard Monks and Gordon Reader – both of whom have played and managed at the club. Richard also provided financial sponsorship for the senior section through his company, Greenbox UK Recycling.
The senior section has strong community links working with local groups and charities. It provides affordable local football, which is well attended, with average matchday crowds of over 100 for the first team. The U23 Development team provides a male pathway from junior to senior football, and the new women's team does the same for female football. Local companies generously sponsor kit and ground banners to help support the club financially.
Looking to the future, the club is in discussions with Staplehurst Parish Council to build a clubhouse at the Jubilee, which will help the club to become financially self-sustainable. The First team continues to compete well in the league and FA Vase, and the hope is to achieve the playoffs this season. The U23 and Women's team goals are to develop players, play good, competitive football, and cement the pathway between youth and senior football.
As we conclude our journey through the 130-year history of Staplehurst Monarchs, it becomes abundantly clear that this is more than just club football. It is a living testament to the power of community, passion, and unwavering dedication. As they move forward into the next chapter, we can only imagine the exciting new stories, triumphs, and generations of football enthusiasts that the club will inspire. Here is to another 130 years of goals, camaraderie, and passion for the grassroots game.