Pictured above, the last time I saw Maidstone United in Football League action. 28 years later the Stones have still not returned, the top division of National League until 12 months ago is the closest they have come. The dream of league football died within three years of promotion, and a club with 95 years of history to be no longer.
After a first season success on reaching the play-offs only to lose to Cambridge Utd over two legs, the second season wasn’t quite living up to expectations for chairman Jim Thompson. The trigger finger got twitchy and manager Keith Peacock who masterminded that play-off run was sacked in favour of the brash northerner Graham Carr, father of the comedian Alan. Carr who had a successful time at Northampton was brought in you felt to replicate that for the Stones, only the north/south mix didn’t quite work.
Ironically for Carr his first game in charge was at Northampton, the team limped to a 2-0 defeat with three players sent off and a sign maybe that performances weren’t really going to improve a great deal. The break up of the side followed over the coming months, Karl Elsey and Les Berry given free transfers, Steve Butler leaving for Watford after handing in a transfer request and Mark Beeney finding his way to Brighton and no disrespect to the squad Carr had at his disposal for the opening day trip to Chesterfield for the new season it was far removed from the one that finished that play-off season.
Five defeats in five games without a goal being scored in all competitions saw the end of Carr and a season that never saw Maidstone outside the bottom six positions. A sure but slow improvement under Bill Williams followed, the Stones though were lacking quality throughout the team, plenty of endeavour but that doesn’t win you games alone.
When you look at the squad list above what sticks out firstly is the huge turnover of players inside three years, eight players remained from that first league season although three of those players were fringe members when joining the club. Tony Sorrell, Jesse Roast and Nicky Johns, all missed the entire season, Mark Gall sold along with Robbie Painter and Lawrence Osborne during the course of the season, first Williams and then Clive Walker working against the tide rather than with it. You might notice a certain Gary Breen at the top of the list, didn’t have a bad career in the end did he!
After the rejection from the council for the new proposed ground in November, the fight effectively was over for the club as a whole, to see out the season was never certain with losses piling up by the day, but there were a few bright spots in a dismal time. The form of keeper Iain Hesford was superb all through the season, including a goal against Hereford, the emergence of Breen who even at 17 you could see there was a decent career in front of him, Stuart Nethercott on loan from Spurs was another who forged a good career in the pro game after time at Watling Street and then onto Barnet before the end of the season.
When you look at that division, Burnley, Blackpool, Cardiff all went upwards and onwards, York, Hereford, Wrexham, Scarborough and many more went the other way, you do wonder if the new ground and complex had been given permission where Maidstone would have gone and be looking from now, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe too much ambition is what cost Thompson the club.
Sat May 2nd was the last time Maidstone Utd played a Football League match, a 3-0 loss at Doncaster Rovers the final line in history. Despite that line, the Stones were included in the fixture list for 1992-93 and poor Scunthorpe Utd were left without an opponent on the opening day despite programmes printed and everything at the ready. A rumoured just five players were on the old London Road training pitch which sat behind the old stadium along with boss Clive Walker, they were soon to be out of a job.
With Thompson having relinquished control of the club to Mark English, he was back in charge less than a week later after English took one look at the books and decided it was not for him. Eventually the club did leave control of the beleaguered chairman and John Waugh looked to move the club to the North East, re-named them Newcastle Browns and share St James Park. Unsurprisingly, the Football League refused and told Waugh the club had to stay in Kent,that was the last throw of the dice and with it the end.
Why and how the Stones disappeared I will look at in more depth in a future blog,