Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe Up's and Down's of Maidstone United - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The Up's and Down's of Maidstone United - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The Up’s and Down’s of Maidstone United

In 1992, the Football League saw two teams leave it, both due to financial reasons. These were Maidstone United and Aldershot F.C.

United had spent vast amounts getting into the Football League, which they achieved in 1989, and had planned to build a new stadium which they hoped would draw in more spectators (as they had been ground sharing with local side Dartford), thus giving them more money to continue life as a league club. There was just one problem; the planning application to build the new stadium was not granted.

Because of this, The entire squad of players were put up for sale to raise cash and during the 1991-92 season, the club was put up for sale.

However, the 1992-93 season saw the creation of the Premier League from the old First Division, with the Second Division becoming Division One, the Third Division becoming Division Two, and the Fourth Division becoming Division Three. The Stones would be founder members of the new Division Three, but as the new season drew closer it looked more and more unlikely that the Kent based team would be able to play in it as their financial worries showed no sign of easing.

They were due to play their first game of the season at Scunthorpe United on 15th August 1992 but by this stage only two players were still registered to the club. They were given until the following Monday to guarantee that they would be able to fulfil their fixtures.

However, the club were unable to come up with enough players or the financial backing required and they resigned from the league on the 17th August and went into liquidation.

This seemed like the end for the club who had been running since 1897 however Maidstone Invicta was formed within days of the club folding. But, due to the lack of a suitable ground, the club was effectively relegated seven divisions to the basement of the footballing pyramid and they joined the Fourth Division of the Kent County League for the 1993-94 season. 

By 1999, Invicta had changed back to Maidstone United and the club were in the Premier Division of the County League with ex-Walsall player Jason Lillis leading the club. The club finished 3rd in their first season in the division.

The next season saw the club successfully apply to become a Senior club and finish 2nd in the league, which left the door open to try and attain status for the Kent League (with the County League being a step 7 league, and the Kent League being a step 5 league straight-forward promotion was not possible).

By 2001, the club had an application accepted and started the 01/02 season in the Kent League. However there were ground problems again.

The club’s current home ground in Maidstone was nowhere near Kent League standards so the Stones agreed to ground-share with local side Sittingbourne at their Central Park stadium while they tried to overcome various legal obstacles to move to a new ground in the town.

In their first Kent League season since reformation, Maidstone won the Kent League and Cup double. However, the club could not gain promotion to the Southern League Eastern Division due to problems with the lease on Central Park. The lease problems were not solved and during the 2002 close season both Sittingbourne and Maidstone had to move out of Central Park to a new ground, named Bourne Park, which was built on the same complex using the old training pitch.

In the next season, the club seemed destined to win a second consecutive league title, however they bizarrely lost the championship by 0.14 of a point. But with the late resignation from the league of Faversham Town, the League Management Committee announced 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.

2003 to 2005 contained to indifferent seasons for the Stones. Both seasons, the club finished 4th and made it to the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, however off the pitch the club took a huge step forward. In November 2004, there was a successful bid for planning permission to build a new stadium at James Whatman Way. Yet another problem arose though when it was announced construction of the stadium could not begin until a lease for the site was agreed with it’s owners, the Ministry of Defence.

The 2005/06 season saw the side win the Kent League title, 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 back to Maidstone was another step closer when a 99-year lease was signed for land at James Whatman Way, meaning the club were now free to start building on it.

The Stones were now co-managed by ex-Millwall player Alan Walker and Lloyd Hume and they took the bulk of the Kent League winning side with them into the 2006-07 Isthmian League South campaign. The club won the league at the first attempt however the overwhelming success on the pitch was overshadowed by little visible progress being made in the building of James Whatman Way.

The next season saw the debut of now Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, however he could only occasionally feature due to international duty with England Schoolboys. Without Smalling, the defence was porous and going forward Maidstone weren’t much better, loan star Luis Cumbers (11 goals in 13 games) was long gone and the club slid towards the foot of the table, spending much of 2008 in and around the relegation zone. Despite this, The Stones managed to avoid relegation thanks to a last day win against Folkestone Invicta.

The 2008-09 was another tough season for Maidstone. The squad who came so close to relegation the year before was largely dismantled with Jay Saunders and ex-Burnley player Ian Cox being two of many new faces coming in.

Chris Smalling left the club signing for Premier League side Fulham on a two year deal. Smalling was not on a contract at the Stones (as it would have prohibited him from playing for England Schoolboys, for whom he made five appearances), and as such Fulham were not entitled to give Maidstone a fee for the player. Despite this Fulham agreed to pay Maidstone £10,000 up front, with £10,000 also being received for every ten games played.

During the close season it had become increasingly apparent the club could not afford to field a competitive Isthmian Premier team and fund 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 new ground at James Whatman Way by bidding for a £1.2million grant from the Football Foundation. The bid was turned down on October 2008. 

This came as a huge blow and soon after the club was put up for sale by chairman Paul Bowden-Brown. Despite some interest from Lashings (the famous cricket team) owner David Folb no firm negotiations materialised and Bowden-Brown remained at the helm – as a result of this the club had no choice but to halve their wage bill from £6000 to £3000 per week.

Some players left the club but the vast majority took a pay cut and saw the season out with Maidstone. Despite the disappointment of a season losing money and looking a long way from returning home, Maidstone technically had their best campaign since reforming, finishing a comfortable 15th in the league 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 Homelands Stadium. Despite Ashford being even further from Maidstone than Sittingbourne, the move was seen as being more financially viable with lower rent being coupled with receiving a percentage of food and bar profits. However the move to Ashford bought a significant dip in attendances, with the club’s 2009-10 average crowd of 255 nearly a third lower than the season before, and an attendance of 128 against Hendon was Maidstone’s lowest ‘home’ league crowd since the Kent League days.

The 09/10 season was equally as bad for the club with managers Walker and Hume both leaving citing the club’s off-field troubles and insisting they had got as far as they could with the club. Fulham also turned down the plea for a percentage of the £10 million fee they received from Manchester United for Chris Smalling. After much disruption to the club, Maidstone finished 18th, avoiding relegation with a game to spare.

The end of the season saw the club’s money problems continue and there seemed to be little movement at James Whatman Way. Dwindling crowds coupled with disputes with Ashford officials left the club considering a return to Bourne Park. However after weeks of uncertainty and conflicting stories in the press, it was announced on the eve of the current campaign that Maidstone were to remain at Ashford where they became sole tenants due to the demise of Ashford Town.

As the season began Maidstone’s financial predicament continued to worsen. Rumours circled that the club’s days could be numbered and chairman Bowden-Brown once again expressed his desire to sell the club. For the second time in three years David Folb showed interest in taking over, however after much publicised and extensive negotiations an agreement could not be met. Soon after in October 2010, the club’s future was secured when it was taken over by existing shareholder Oliver Ash and supporter Terry Casey, with Bowden-Brown stepping down as Chairman.

The new owners first move was to write off some of the club’s debts and to pay back a loan from Maidstone Borough Council, and soon after they announced their plans to finance the club’s move to Whatman Way, which they anticipated would see the Stones home by 2012.

Despite things looking up at boardroom level, the situation was not quite as rosy on the pitch, with the team lying bottom of the table and an early exit from the FA Cup leading to manager Peter Nott and his back-room staff being sacked in November 2010.

Ex Gravesend & Northfleet (now Ebbsfleet United) manager Andy Ford was swiftly appointed with former Gillingham player Steve Butler his assistant. The new management brought in huge changes in playing personnel and in February 2010 Pierrick Briand won the dubious honour of being Maidstone’s 50th different player to play in the 2010-11 season.

As it stands, Maidstone are 21st in the Isthmian Premier League having won only four of their 28 games this season and it looks like the club’s topsy-turvy fortunes will continue.

Josh Peck

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