Club celebrate having a home after 24 years
17 July ~ It is doubtful whether any other group of fans this season will stand and cheerfully applaud after watching their team take a comprehensive 5-0 drubbing in a friendly that was played in pouring rain and preceded by the announcement that they can no longer drink alcohol beside the pitch while football is being played. But Maidstone United’s home support happily trooped away from the Gallagher Stadium’s inaugural match on Saturday feeling a great deal had been achieved in those circumstances.
The Stones have been without a proper home since they sold their ground on London Road for development into a shopping centre 24 years ago. During this period, the club – previously famous as one of the toughest and most durable high-performers in non-League football – enjoyed three seasons in the Football League, playing home games 24 miles down the road in Dartford. They rose to fight a third-tier play-off campaign in 1990, and ended their senior status in a shambolic financial mess that reduced the league to 91 teams.
Maidstone United was left a broken business but a new club was formed. It fought its way through local leagues and took beatings – on and off the pitch – along the way. It took a while to reclaim the old Maidstone United name and it wasn’t until last year that the new Stones saw the first clearing of the land that is now the Gallagher Stadium.
The 5-0 home defeat in a pre-season friendly to Brighton marks the end of a period in which Maidstone’s home games were played in Sittingbourne or Ashford. The regular Tannoy announcements on Saturday featuring the words "Gallagher Stadium, home of Maidstone United" went down very well with the capacity crowd of 2,226. Some fans inspected the seats they had sponsored (with their names placed on them), others brought their children to their first games. One fan turned up dressed as a penguin with a celebratory message scrawled on his front.
The hope is that greatly increased gates and renting out the stadium’s new 3G pitch will underpin a revival of fortunes that will allow Maidstone United to reclaim their former reputation as one of the best non-League clubs in England. Neil Nixon