I joined an all time record and capacity crowd of 4,175 at the Gallagher Stadium, for Maidstone United’s final game of a season which has seen them crowned as National League South Champions.
The sun came out briefly, an hour before kick off on what had, upto then, been a grey and drizzly day. It felt like nothing could get in the way of Maidstone United’s celebrations as they took their final step into the National League.
Manager, Hakan Hayrettin, has performed wonders at the Gallagher this season. after an indifferent October and November, his side raced up the league first displacing local rivals Dartford and Ebbsfleet, before crushing the title hopes of, the seemingly invincible, Dorking Wanderers.
Lique with 20 goals and Barham with 18 goals, have played a key role in the success at the Gallagher stadium this season. Neither of the players was for for today’s game. Today’s match also marked the retirement, of ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers defender and long term servant to Maidstone United, George Elokobi, club Captain and veteran of 19 seasons in the game.
Opponents for Maidstone today, were Hampton & Richmond Borough, who this season have secured a respectable and secure mid table position. Manager Gary McCann, who has been in post since 2018, would have wanted to push his side towards the play offs but they have fallen short this season,
The game kicked off with both teams looking to go in the attack. In the 12th minute, in a Roy of the Rovers moment, George Elokobi, playing his final match, curled a shot in from the right hand side, past the keeper to put Maidstone 1-0 up and send the record crowd wild.
The opening goal triggered a period of end to end football with both sides having opportunities to score. It was therefore, not too surprising when on 37 minutes Hampton & Richmond’s David Fisher cut in from the left to fire the ball in past the keeper’s near post to equalise.
At halftime the scores remained tied, as the teams left for a well deserved break.
The second half was evenly fought, without further addition to the score. George Elokobi left the pitch on 74 minutes, at which point all players from both teams, as well as the referee and officials, made a tunnel to applaud him off, as he ended his career after 19 seasons.
Jerome Binnon-Williams finally got the goal, to send Maidstone United back into the lead, making the score 2-1, with a fine headed goal, from a free kick.
Maidstone created further chances in the final ten minutes, however, when the whistle blew to end the game and the season, it was the home team who narrowly secured the three points and ensured that Maidstone led the final table, by six points.
The crowd, who upto that point had sung to and about Hampton & Richmond Keeper, Alan Julien, then began joking with the stewards as they waited for the Maidstone players to emerge to receive the league trophy. Within minutes they had the stewards doing their own Mexican wave!
The trophy was presented in front of nearly all of the huge crowd, who stayed behind at the end of the match. the players took a lap of honour, on what was a truly great day, in the history of Maidstone United.