Maidstone United 0 Enfield Town 3 (24th Jan 2015)
Normally when I go to games I hope for an early goal, just to allay that “I hope this won’t end 0-0” fear early. For this game I had to hope the opposite, due to not arriving until 15 minutes into the match.
I’d allowed plenty of time to get to my match of choice for the day. Sadly that match was at Folkestone. Despite dire warning of chaos due to “Operation Stack” on the M20, the detour down the A20 can’t have added more than 10 minutes to my journey. I arrived at Folkestone Invicta’s ground with an hour to spare, only to find the game had been called off shortly after I set off.
Getting to Maidstone wasn’t an issue, but trying to find the ground without a sat-nav, battling a fiendish one-way system designed to disorient more than the labyrinth at Knossos, was driving me to despair. Naturally, when I found the ground, I also found nowhere to park. I’d like to say I felt like Theseus having slayed the parking Minotaur when I did find somewhere up the hill, but my biggest joy was finding I’d not missed anything of note when I eventually got in the ground.
Maidstone have played in a variety of grounds over the years, but the common theme of them has been the word “inadequate”. Their old London Road ground was deemed inadequate when they were seeking election to the Football League in the early 80s. They engineered a “temporary” groundshare with Dartford, and while this ground was somehow deemed adequate for league football, being 25 miles from Maidstone, it didn’t entice fans along, and the club folded.
The reformed club also had to move out of Maidstone to share at Sittingbourne and Ashford, before they could finally return home properly to Maidstone, to the newly built Gallagher Stadium in 2012.
With money tight, the new ground was never going to be amazing. The 450 seat main stand, stuck on a steep embankment on one side of the ground, is certainly smart enough, with room to expand to at least double that to one side of it. Only one side though, as the large club bar occupies space to the other.
Behind both goals are typical non-league out-of-the-box terracing units, although at least they provide cover for most of both ends. The side opposite the main stand is flat and open, with not quite enough trees behind to stop the odd head being seen through the gaps, watching the game for free.
For the Isthmian League, even ignoring the detail of three sides being rather plain, it’s a perfectly fine venue. Many a side, no doubt, would be envious of the place, and if Maidstone were getting crowds of around 400, normal for the league, it would be perfectly adequate.
Unfortunately, Maidstone have the rather happy problem that the move back home has been an overwhelming success, with crowds averaging 1800. Today’s game would see a crowd of 2202, just 24 under capacity, and that makes finding a decent spot to view the game, especially if you get there late, a bit of a problem. OK, I make a bit of a rod for my own back by wanting somewhere where I can take pictures, and also do so with blocking the view of anyone else, but even without that, I’d be wishing I was 6 foot plus around most of the ground. There was the odd gap where it wasn’t three deep by the railings, but turn up there and you’d find out why, with the base of a floodlight pylon obscuring a goal, or an electricity switching box blotting out everything. Quite why such things couldn’t be moved a few metres back is beyond me.
Eventually locating a vantage point, it became clear that table-topping Maidstone weren’t exactly producing their best performance of the season. It was even said by some in the crowd that maybe they needed to go behind to make them start playing. After 23 minutes they were presented with a chance to see if that wisdom would ring true. Enfield, who didn’t seem to have exactly impressed either, took the lead when a corner was flicked on, and the loose ball knocked in, to the delight of the noisy knot of fans who’d journeyed down from North London.
If this goal did inspire an improvement from the home side, then they must have been truly dire in the quarter of an hour that I missed. They had more of the ball, but beyond a couple of free kicks and a corner headed over, they didn’t really threaten.
The second half started in a similar fashion. Lots of home possession. Only occasional home shots – one clipping the top of the bar being as close as they came. In fact as the half progressed, the highlight looked like being a multi-player scrap caused by what looked suspiciously like a deliberate stamp on a player on the floor. Amazingly, only the odd yellow was shown.
With six minutes left, with the temperature and home belief dropping in unison, Enfield killed the game. With Maidstone pushing forward on an attack, they were caught on the break. Debut-making ex-Chelsea youth team youngster Bobby Devyne was put clean through, and he guided the ball past the home keeper to seal the win, before running towards the Enfield fans behind the goal to celebrate.
Three minutes later, and there was an almost carbon copy of the 2nd goal. Another break. Another through ball to Devyne. Another cool finish, low into the bottom corner. Another pile-on by the rest of the Enfield team. Three points to Enfield. Game over.
It’s times like these when even for top of the table sides, frustration comes out in the fans. Lots of criticism about the style of play. Long ball, against a team winning almost everything in the air, smacked of desperation at times. Despite this setback, they are still top of the league. And with crowds still over 2000 regularly, they should have a good future on the pitch, even if some of their fans, unless they are tall, will struggle to actually see it.