1992. The year that lives long in the memory of Maidstone United supporters, the last time a club resigned from the Football League until Bury took the title last season. Over this lockdown period I’ve recalled my time as a Maidstone Utd fan, London Road was the first ground I saw competitive football and started the love for non-league football.
That particular love affair ended when the club went under and The Hive and Barnet FC now hold my gaze. But what happened to the club and why did it go under? With the help of various publication’s I kept as a youngster and also scrapbooks which are now around 28 years old, I’ve had a look through to remind myself of some of the details surrounding that time.
If you’ve read the other recent blog’s, you’ll know the story so I’ll keep this part brief. 1988, the Stones sell up and move to Dartford, 1989 promotion to the promised land of the Football League, 1992 Maidstone Utd resign from the league and disappear from the football fabric.
You can point to a number of reasons why the Stones ended up in this situation, the move away from Maidstone, the failed planning application, money haemorrhaged residing in Dartford, the sheer bloody mindedness of chairman Jim Thompson to get the club into the Football League, so we’ll take a look at each of these reasons and you can make your mind up.
Moving away from your hometown and ultimately your ground is a hard ask to survive. Identity starts to suffer and easy to get forgotten about as there is no presence around to show you are still there. Thompson conceded that to realise his dream of league football, the ground had to be sold, a gamble for sure and one that looked to pay off with promotion within one year of moving 20 miles up the road. Indeed, London Road was in a poor state and there was no way it would have been able to get up to the standard required for the Football League the cost was far outside the reach of the club in the days before the money men moved into the game.
The move I would say was part of that Thompson mindset of being driven to get the side out of non-league, recruiting the best manager around at the time in John Still who then earmarked the talent he needed to add to what was already at the club to win promotion.
Unsurprisingly, the money raised from the sale of the London Road ground disappeared within four years, spent on players, on bringing Dartford’s Watling Street ground up to Football League standard, buying out leases on the old ground and money spent on the planning application to return home. In those days there wasn’t TV money for lower league clubs nor were there the extensive sponsorship or hospitality opportunities we see today, not that Watling Street was equipped to host any of that. Money only goes so far and with support dwindling on the terraces as time went on the main source of income was drying up all too quick.
The rejected planning application was the final nail in the coffin without a doubt. Thompson believed he was following exactly as the council wanted, having looked at around 50 other sites including some that he and the board felt to be better options.
I firmly believe that had the plans been just for a football stadium, Maidstone Utd would not have gone out of business, the extra commercial activity wasn’t wanted but if you look at things now Thompson was possibly ahead of his time, new stadiums are built with these add-ons to provide extra revenue for the football club, you only have to take a look at Barnet’s plans for The Hive to increase the surroundings with more money making developments to increase the turnover for the whole company.
If the council had supported it who knows if the government would have called it in and then rejected it themselves. It was very much a case of all the eggs in one basket with nothing left should it fail despite an appeal being launched by Thompson, the club finances were now in complete tatters and rumours abounded after that fateful night in November that the Stones would be lucky to see the end of the season. As it was, they did, shedding players for cash throughout to keep the books just about afloat.
The summer of 1992 saw Thompson try two or three times to offload the club in order to try and keep it alive, Mark English the first to try lasting just five days but appearing to be nothing more than hot air across a desk. The last throw of the dice selling up completely to John Waugh who had plans to relocate to the North East, laughed at by the Football League and that was the final throw, in came the liquidators and just days after the beginning of the Premier League era the Stones resigned from the Football League.
Here we are in 2020 and so far no league return, they have made it back up to non-league’s top table but currently sit in the National League South. They did however re-start at the very bottom of the pyramid on village park pitches, with Thompson still pulling the strings of the new club Maidstone Invicta I feel that was a nod to him that the FA wasn’t going to tolerate the involvement, clubs like Aldershot started about around seven leagues higher just to give you an idea of the difference.
And there we go, one door closed, and one door opened although it took me until April of that season to make a trip to Underhill, the rest as they say is history……….