The Story of 'New' Maidstone United:|
Maidstone United Football Club is an English football team based in Maidstone, Kent.
The current club is a continuation of the old Maidstone United, which was a member of the Football League between 1989 and 1992. That club was forced out of the league through bankruptcy but the nucleus of a new club was built around the youth squad. The 'Stones' were elected to the Kent County League Fourth Division in 1993 and subsequently progressed through the non-league pyramid. They currently play in the Isthmian League Division One South having been relegated from the Isthmian Premier Division in 2011.2006–2012: The Isthmian League Years:
Maidstone were without a stadium of their own from their creation until 2012 when the Gallagher Stadium, located near Maidstone town centre was opened at the start of the 2012–2013 season. They shared grounds with Dartford, Sittingbourne and Ashford in the interim.
1992–2001: The new club and Kent County League years: Maidstone Invicta was formed within days of the Football League side folding. However, the lack of a suitable ground meant the club was effectively relegated seven divisions to the basement of the footballing pyramid and joined the Fourth Division of the Kent County League for the 1993–94 season.
The club's home games took place on the original Maidstone's reserve and training pitch, next to the original London Road Stadium. Initially Jim Thompson ran the club, but was banned from football for his part in the demise of Maidstone and Dartford and Paul Bowden-Brown took over as Chairman – a position he retained until 2010.
The newly created Kent County League side was formed with the nucleus of the original club's youth team – and comfortably won the Fourth Division of the County League under the stewardship of Jack Whitely and Bill Tucker. They also managed to win the West Kent Challenge Shield and the Tunbridge Wells Charity Cup. During the close season of 1994 the club managed to gain promotion to Division 2 of the league after restructuring.
The club went onto win Division 2, picking up the Kent Junior Cup on the way. However, the Stones, who had returned to their original guise of Maidstone United in 1997, took four years and six managers before finally winning promotion to the Kent County League Premier Division with former Stones player turned manager Jason Lillis leading the club to the Division One title. The 1999–2000 season saw Maidstone's début season in the Premier Division, with the team finishing in a respectable third place.
The next season saw the club, which was now managed by another former Maidstonian in Matt Toms, successfully apply to become a senior club and finish second in the league. These factors now left the door open to seek elevation to the Kent League (with the County League being a step-7 league and the Kent League being a step-5 league, direct promotion was not possible).
2001–2006: The Kent League years:
Maidstone win the Kent League title for the second time. The club's application was accepted and the Stones started the 2001–2002 season in the Kent League. However, the club's ground in Maidstone was nowhere near Kent League standards so the Stones agreed to share Sittingbourne's Central Park stadium while trying to overcome various legal obstacles in the way of a move to a new ground in the town at James Whatman Way.
In its first Kent League season since reformation, Maidstone won the Kent League and Cup double under the management of Jim Ward. However, the club could not gain promotion to the Southern League Eastern Division because of problems with the lease on Central Park. The lease problems were not solved and during the 2002 close season both Sittingbourne and Maidstone moved out of Central Park to a new ground, named Bourne Park, which was built on the same complex using the old training pitch.
The 2002–03 season saw Maidstone enter the FA Cup for the first time since reformation, and the club was featured on BBC Sport's 'Road to Cardiff'.
The club reached the 2nd qualifying round of the cup, with the highlight of the run coming in the form of a 3–2 win against old foes Tonbridge Angels, with Steve Butler bagging a hat-trick against the Southern League East outfit.
In the league, the Stones looked destined to win a second successive title but after a poor run-in, coupled with the withdrawal from the league of Faversham Town, the club bizarrely lost the championship by 0.14 of a point (the League Management Committee decreed that the title would be awarded to the club with the highest earned points per match average, so with Maidstone and Thamesmead Town achieving 63 points from 30 games, the unusual situation arose that the championship was won by Cray Wanderers with 62 points from 29 games).
The Stones did pick up some silverware that season, winning both the Kent Senior Trophy and the Kent Charity Cup, but this was overshadowed by continuing lease problems, which meant another attempt to gain promotion to the Southern League was knocked back.
The years 2003 till 2005 contained two indifferent seasons for the Stones, on the pitch at least. Both campaigns saw the club finish 4th in the league, although this disappointment was offset somewhat by reaching the third qualifying round of the FA Cup in successive years. Off the pitch, the club took a huge step forward when in November 2004 it successfully applied for planning permission to build a new stadium at James Whatman Way.
However, construction of the stadium could not begin until a lease for the site was agreed with its owners, the Ministry of Defence.
The 2005–06 season saw Maidstone, now managed by Lloyd Hume after a spell in charge from Mal Watkins, win the Kent League title. They spent the season toe-to-toe with Beckenham Town before securing the championship on the final day of the season. The title win meant the club finally gained promotion to Step 4 of the non league pyramid, joining the Isthmian League Division One South. However perhaps more importantly, the club's bid to return to Maidstone was another step closer when a 99-year lease was signed for the land at James Whatman Way, meaning the club was now free to start building on it.
Mo Takaloo celebrates his goal which saves Maidstone from relegation at Folkestone Invicta.
Maidstone, who were now managed by Lloyd Hume and Alan Walker in a joint capacity, surprisingly managed to win the league at the first time of asking, gaining promotion to the Isthmian League Premier Division. However the overwhelming success on the pitch was overshadowed by little visible progress being made in the building of the stadium at James Whatman Way.
Before the 2007–08 season had even begun Alan Walker was involved in a freak accident at a coaching course in Belfast which left him temporarily paralysed.
Walker made a valiant recovery however, and was back walking and in management by the start of the league season. Maidstone struggled in the new surroundings of the Isthmian League Premier Division and spent the majority of the season near the foot of the table, however they avoided relegation after beating Folkestone Invicta 1–0 on the last day of the season, a result that relegated Invicta in Maidstone's place.
In other news 25% of the club was sold to businessman Oliver Ash in February 2008.
The 2008–09 was another tough season for Maidstone. The squad who came so close to relegation the year before was largely dismantled with a whole raft of new players replacing them. During the close season it had become increasingly apparent the club could not afford to field a competitive Isthmian Premier team and fund the building of a new stadium, so with what limited funds the club had seemingly tied up in paying new players it was decided to try and fund the construction at James Whatman Way by bidding for a £1.2million grant from the Football Foundation.
The bid was turned down in October 2008 and the club was subsequently put up for sale by chairman Paul Bowden-Brown. However no takeover was forthcoming and as a result of this the club had no choice but to halve their wage bill from £6000 to £3000 per week. The majority of the players took a paycut and led Maidstone to their best league finish since reforming, finishing a comfortable 15th in the Isthmian Premier table and reaching the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup.
During the 2009 close season Maidstone moved from their temporary Bourne Park home in Sittingbourne to Ashford Town's stadium, The Homelands, citing lower rent and a deal to receive a percentage of refreshment takings as the reason for the move. However the move only increased Maidstone's financial woes due to a sharp drop in attendances, and in December 2009 it was revealed two months of staff pay was to be deferred to the end of the season, a move that led to Alan Walker and Lloyd Hume resigning as managers of the club.
Reserve team boss Pete Nott stepped up to the first team managers role and led Maidstone to an 18th place finish, avoiding relegation with a game to spare.
In October 2010 the club was taken over by shareholder Oliver Ash and Terry Casey with Paul Bowden-Brown stepping down as Chairman.
In November 2010 the club's new directors sacked first team boss Peter Nott and his backroom staff with the team bottom of the table and out of the FA Cup. Former Gravesend & Northfleet manager Andy Ford was swiftly appointed manager, but he could not improve the club's fortunes and resigned in March 2011 with the club bottom of the league and 8 points adrift from safety.
Club captain Jay Saunders was appointed caretaker manager until the end of the season, and although he oversaw the team to 5 wins from nine games he could not save Maidstone from relegation. Saunders was subsequently given the permanent managers job.
In the 2011 close season the club returned to groundshare at Sittingbourne's Bourne Park after their two year spell at Ashford's Homelands Stadium, and soon after construction finally began on the club's new ground The Gallagher Stadium. The club finished the season in sixth place, just outside the play-offs.
The 2012 close season saw Maidstone finally come home, moving into the Gallagher Stadium in July 2012. The club opened the £2.6 million stadium with a showpiece friendly against Brighton & Hove Albion in front of a sell-out crowd.