In In the second week of December another football club in the non-leagues unfortunately bit the dust. Kings Lynn FC, formerly of the Northern Premier League simply could not cope in the modern world after their relegation last season from the Blue Square North and their one hundred year plus history was as irrelevant as a Graham Norton joke. Not that Kings Lynn were the first nor would they be the last in the modern era of football to suffer this fate. Ironically, one of the highest profile clubs to have disappeared off the football map was Maidstone United, then of the Football League Fourth Division in 1992. The whole saga has been reported on numerous occasions in other publications but below is a simple summary.
Maidstone United were founder members of the Alliance Conference, the league below the Football League when it commenced in 1979. They subsequently won this league in 1984 but at the time promotion to the league was controlled via a vote of the chairman, which was of course a closed shop. In 1989 they won the Alliance Conference again but this time promotion was automatic and they replaced Darlington in the football league. Unfortunately they would not be playing in the administrative capital of Kent. They had sold their ground in 1988 to fund their investment in the squad to developers and had agreed a ground share with Dartford FC at their Watling Road ground. The first season was a relative success as they finished in the play-offs and were denied a game at Wembley by Cambridge United in the semi-finals. The club always planned to move back to Maidstone and that summer bought some land in the town for £400,000 but were then denied planning permission. At the same time the Football Licensing authority demanded urgent repairs of Watling Street in order to comply with Football League rules, which would not have been needed if Dartford were the only residents – so the burdon fell on the Stones. They had only one option, putting the squad up for sale.
The following season was a disaster on the pitch, and with the Stones falling into financial trouble it was putting pressure on their landlords, Dartford. It was too much for the club and at the end of the 1991/1992 season they went into liquidation despite efforts to merge with other teams (such as Newcastle Blue Star).
I followed this with interest. At the time I was in my early twenties. I had been invited on a number of occasions to train with the club as they looked locally for talent, and being a local lad I fitted the bill. My dreams of a career along side such stars as Gary Breen evaporated one summer’s day when I turned up for training only to find no one there. I still have my original shirt given to me at my first session, which I hit from the administrator in case they wanted it back.
A few months later a new club, formed by the current Chairman Paul Bowden-Brown under the name Maidstone Invicta and played in the lower reaches of the Kent leagues. They kept making progress on and off the pitch as they attempted to win every competition, irrespective of its size they entered. In 2001 they moved to Central Park in Sittingbourne, and more latterly in Bourne Park Sittingbourne. They finally moved out of the Kent leagues in 2006 when they won the title and joined the Isthmian League South, some four levels below the Football League. They surprised many by winning this league at the first attempt, taking their place in 2007 in the Isthmian Premier League. The club also applied for permission to build a new stadium in Maidstone town centre although funding was initially turned down so they decided to move out of Sittingbourne and share instead with Ashford in their Homelands stadium.
The season was a struggle, not helped by a serious injury to manager Alan Walker in pre-season training. They went into the last game of the season against Folkstone Invicta needing a win to stay up, which they duly did and relegated the visitors in the process in front of over 1,300! Last season was a bit more stable as the club finished in 15th place and enjoyed renewed acquaintances with rivals Dartford.
So what of this season? Well in the Rymans Premier League they sit in 9th place and are again more than holding their own. Crowds have been disappointing at just over the 300 mark proving the struggle the club has to bring back the magic and more importantly the fans to support the team. With so few teams in this area of England football does not seem to stir the passion in the loins of Kentish people! However, the real story was brewing in the FA Trophy. After promotion in 2007 they left behind the mysteries of the FA Vase and moved into the big boys cup. A 1-0 win in the first round replay against Waltham Forest saw them into the second round where they put league form behind them and beat Bognor Regis Town away 2-0. In the third qualifying round they ripped up the form book by beating Bromley 1-0 away and thus reaching the 1st round for the first time. And then came the draw….number 22 Maidstone United, will play number 13 Histon…The Stutes located a few miles north of Cambridge has essentially been propelled into the public eye just over a year ago when they beat Leeds United at their tiny Glassworld Stadium in the FA Cup. The club, managed by long ball specialist John Beck had ended last season one goal away from a place at Wembley in the Blue Square Play Off Final. But twelve months is a long time in football and they came into this game in mid-table with Beck long gone, new manager Steve Fallon suspended after he was critical of the new chairman’s cost cutting measures, and strong rumours that the club were on the verge of entering administration.
In the build up to the game I made contact with the club asking for some information. Paul Bowden-Brown responded to my email within seconds with an offer of a press pass and an interview at the game. How could I say no to such hospitality? I couldn’t, so after dropping CMF off at one of Britain’s biggest Outlet centres some 2 miles away from The Homelands Stadium, me and the girls pitched up at the rural setting for the biggest game in the Stone’s modern history…..except the pesky Kent rain had put pay to any play, with the Histon coach already arrived. I had no option but to return to the shops and endure an afternoon of listening to 5live…And then the saga of bad weather started. The tie was postponed no less than six times due to first rain, then snow and finally ice caused serious financial pressure on the Stones and Ashford Town, as obviously home games are the main revenue generator. The FA told the club that the 19th was the last chance they had before the forfeited home advantage.
In the period between the first game in early December, and the 19th January 2010 it had been a case of all change at Histon. Fallon was welcomed back as manager on the 9th January after his suspension for divulging confidential information about playing budgets to the team. Fallon, who had been in place for a decade. But three days later, Fallon was sacked – “”After resuming the role only yesterday it soon became very evident that underlying irreconcilable differences between Steve and myself and the board would preclude the partnership ever working for the benefit of Histon FC.” was the official line from Chairman Tony Roach. So with a tie away to Salisbury City up for grabs, the game commenced. What you don’t want in these games is to concede an early goal, and that is exactly what happened as Bolland put Histon ahead in the 8th minute. The Stones held their own for most of the remainder of the game but two late goals put an unfair reflection on the final score. Again, the disappointment for Maidstone was the very small crowd of just 238.
After the FA Trophy drama it was back to normal with a home game against Boreham Wood, the first home league game for the Stones since they managed to squeeze in the Margate game on Boxing Day. The middle of the Rymans Premier looked a bit like the M20 under operation Stack with just 10 points separating 14 teams – from the final play off spot to the final relegation place. The cold snap had meant postponements all over the shop and so some teams such as Billericay Town in 20th place could actually go above Hastings Town in 2nd place with their games in hand.
As luck would have it, Big Nige (my elder brother) had paid for CMF and myself to go away for the night sans children as part of my 40th Birthday present. He chose Eastwell Manor and Spa, some 3 miles from the Homelands Stadium, and as I was still under the 40 days/40 Nights rule of doing what I want, I chose to go to the football, CMF back to the shops! Who said romance was dead!
Maidstone United 0 Boreham Wood 1 – The Homelands Stadium – Saturday 23rd January 2010
After CMF taxi’s had dropped me outside the bar I could hardly refuse a pint before kick off. The function room at the Homelands is, well, functional, with a large projector screen showing the end of the Chelsea game and a very interesting programme and memorabilia sale in aid of the Bobby Moore Cancer Trust.
The standard Non-League £10 got me in, and in chilly conditions it was easy to see how this game was in doubt up until a mid morning pitch inspection. Puddles littered the playing surface and it wasn’t going to be an afternoon of passing football that is for sure. I positioned myself in my favoured position between the dugouts to listen to the banter, and didn’t have to wait for long as both benches were united in their abuse for the officials. Boreham Wood were the better team in early exchanges, and if their lanky centre forward Effiong could have used his obvious muscle on a couple of occasions they would have taken the lead before the 20th minute/ A break into the box caused panic and the Maidstone keeper, Jamie Turner pulled down Lee Allinson. I broke my golden rule of the golden goal. I opened it before the first score. Twenty one minutes……My watch said 19 minutes and 10 seconds, so we needed some delaying action but alas it was not to come. Forty five seconds later the ball was in the net as Mario Noto’s penalty bulged….I had missed out for the second week in a row by a matter of seconds.
The rest of the first half saw the ball hardly touch the ground as both teams tried to avoid the swamp in the middle. An injury to a Boreham Wood defender led to some abuse being hurled from the bench – “Get up you tart!”…but it was coming from his own bench! Then another poor decision had Maidstone’s boss Lloyd Hume “Humeing”….his tirade of seven, yep seven expletives in a row were met with mirth by all those around the dugouts, all apart from a scary looking female steward who forthrightly told him to “Sit down and shut up”. And the most amazing part was that he did!
It didn’t stop him berating the officials at length on the walk back to the dressing rooms at half time although quite what he hoped to achieve I do not know. The second half was more of the same from both teams. Maidstone’s keeper was the busier of the two and made some excellent saves, none more so than from Effiong. The home side’s best chance came when Peter Hawkins who blasted over a golden opportunity from a few yards out.
So, with six minutes added at the end of the game Maidstone threw everything forward but the impressive Boreham Wood back line held firm. CMF had arrived and I persuaded her to come for a swift half back in the bar, but was amazed that we were the first people in there. Then came Razor Ruddock and his mates (yep, Neil Ruddock in his best Vinnie Jones goes shooting clubber). Ten minutes later the number had trebled but surely more fans could have made the effort? The 233 who did attend are certainly behind the club, most of whom supported club colours, but as it has been publically stated on a number of times, the club needs more fans through the turnstiles.
Twenty minutes later we were back in our manner house, champagne in hand. If only all of our awaydays could be this luxurious!
Coming soon – An interview with Jamie Barber, founder of the Virtual Stadium.
About The Homelands
The Homelands is home to both Maidstone United and Ashford Town. Fifteen years ago the stadium hosted Ashford’s FA Cup game against Fulham (then in the third tier of English football) in front of 3,300. It is the centre point of a new Sports Village that has been proposed for the area.
It has one main stand that runs 2/3rds of the way down the length of the pitch and offers some good views of the action. Opposite there is just a fenced separating the pitch from the path, and behind each goal are small covers over three rows of terracing. There is a large bar at the far end of the main stand, but is accessible from the outside only.
How to get to the Homelands
By Car – Leave the M20 at Junction 10, follow the signs for Ashford International Station and Brenzett. This will be Bad Munsterieful Road. Follow this road straight over at the first roundabout (McDonalds drive thru and Travel Inn on your right). At the next roundabout take the first exit for Kingsnorth. At the next roundabout go straight over (Tesco on your left). Follow this road for about twomiles, going through Kingsnorth, passing the cricket club on the left. The Homelands is 300 yards on your left.
By Train – The nearest station is Ashford International, which is four miles from the stadium. Trains from Maidstone to Ashford are plentiful with a journey time of 22 minutes (fast) or 30 minutes (stopping). From there a taxi will cost around £5 to the stadium.
How to get a ticket for the Homelands
It’s pay on the door for everyone with entry at £10 for Adults, £7 for Concessions and children under 11 free with every paying adult. Well, sort of pay on the door as you have to buy your raffle ticket style entry ticket from a window beside the turnstile before you enter. Transfer to the single stand is free of charge.