Maidstone: It’s not the first time… or is it?

Fans of a certain age (an older age) will remember the name of Maidstone from the GMVC years. They were not only our league opponents twice, but also visited Sincil Bank in the FA Trophy. Here we are again, twenty seven or so years later as adversaries in the fifth tier.

However the Maidstone we face tomorrow are not technically the Maidstone we faced of old. In the days prior to ITV Digital the first Maidstone went bankrupt, and although we see ourselves as scraping the bottom in the National League, they are capping off a fine rise from the ashes.

Maidstone evokes many memories for me, but they all stem from the clubs prior incarnation, Maidstone United originally formed in the nineteenth century. They struggled for many years until eventually winning the fifth tier in 1984, but were denied promotion through election and an inadequate ground . When we fell out of the league in 1987, Maidstone was one of our destinations.

We played them away first of all, Mick Waitt and Paul Smith giving us a 2-1 victory as part of a 12 match unbeaten run. They first visited Sincil Bank competitively in February of 1988, this time Paul Smith and Trevor Matthewson scored the goals to give us a 2-1 win in front of 2452 in the FA Trophy.

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We ended that season with three home matches, and if Barnet were on form we needed to win all three. On April 27th 4892 fans watched the first of those matches, against the Stones. this time drew 1-1, a result at the time that could have cost us the one automatic promotion spot we desired so much. You know that wasn’t the case.

Maidstone gained promotion the season after we did, and in three seasons they established themselves as a decent side in the Fourth Division, even making the play-offs. We met six times, City winning three and the Old Stones winning three as well. Our last competitive meeting fell on April 11th, 1992.

That day was incredibly sad for me personally, it was the day my granddad passed away prematurely. He had fed my Lincoln City addiction from it’s inception, he even had a budgie that could say ‘Mick Harford’. Both him and my Dad created the monster that bombards you with writing every 24 hours or so. That day in 1992 I didn’t feel like celebrating the solitary Matt Carmichael goal that separated us by the final whistle.

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I didn’t get to see us beat Maidstone again either. They had overspent in getting into the Football League. Their own ground had not been suitable to host league football, so they moved to Dartford, an action that cost them over a thousand fans from their average attendances. As the debts piled up they took a gamble, and purchased land back in Maidstone for the best part of half a million quid. The problem was they didn’t have planning permission, and the council refused to grant it to them.

On the opening day of the 1992-93 season they had to cancel their match at Scunthorpe United. The ground at Dartford had closed, and they only had two players registered after a mass exodus. The end was nigh.

The side that died had featured some really good players in the four seasons our paths crossed. From striker Steve Butler in 1987/88 who went on to enjoy a good career with Cambridge and Gillingham, to midfielder Ricky Newman who later turned out for Palace. They were guilty of  bad financial management, and they went to the wall just a few months after Aldershot in scenes that have now become all-too familiar in lower league football.

Interestingly a plan to merge with Newcastle Blue Star was refused by the Football League as they deemed they had to remain in the county of Kent to retain League football. There was no such complication for MK Dons years later.

So that was the end of the old Maidstone. A new side was formed called Maidstone Invicta which took the old Stones youth players, and they began their long climb back up the non-league pyramid. In 1995 they changed their name to Maidstone United, and just a couple of years ago they finally moved back into their own town in a proper stadium, the first time they had played in Maidstone since 2001.

The current side come to us on the back of five  games without a win, three of those without a goal. Former St Neots midfielder Bobby Joe-Taylor and Liam Enver-Marum are their leading scorers with five goals each. The latter enjoying prolific spells with Eastbourne and Basingstoke in the past. They haven’t scored for three games now, and they haven’t kept a clean sheet since playing North Ferriby on September 10th.

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Without wanting to under estimate them, this is the sort of match that we need to ensure we manage sensibly and effectively. Wins away at Village Green and York have left us riding the crest of a wave, but it’s important we don’t fall off against so-called lesser opposition.

The only two teams of note that they have beaten are Macclesfield and Boreham Wood, but they currently sit in 18th and look to have a season of struggle ahead. That said, anything can happen on the day as the draw against Solihull Moors proved. The euphoric scenes of the last week are now just a memory, and everything has to be focused on three more points to keep chipping away at Village Green, and to keep putting daylight between us and that sixth placed team.

For me it will be a bitter sweet day. I’d be lying if I said I could remember whether we were due to attend the game or not in 1992, I can’t specifically say that I’ve waited 25 years since that awful April day when Geoff Hutchinson passed away, for a win over Maidstone. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I missed that win because of what happened.

I can say though that ever since that day, I imagine my granddad has been looking down and I doubt very much that he has seen a better team playing in red and white since he’s been up there. I’m sure he would have loved Matt Rhead with his obvious Percy Freeman comparison, and I suspect he’d enjoy watching a ‘proper footballer’ like Nathan Arnold ply his trade as well. I’ll think of him in the stands tomorrow, and I hope for the same result as twenty four years ago, only by more goals.

The team we faced tomorrow have battled their way back up, and that’s exactly what we are in the process of doing. I can’t see anything other than a Lincoln win, but complacency from fans or players would be a bad thing. We need to keep filling Sincil Bank, getting closer to that total of 4892 that watched our last fifth tier game against Maidstone. I hope at the end of this season, we’ve achieved the same outcome as we did in May 1988.