Saturday 3rd September 2016 – Maidstone United 2 – 2 Wrexham
National League @ Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone
A rare afternoon off following our arrival earlier in August coincided with this year’s Non League Day. And with tiredness limiting the appetite for travel too far, I opted to start my foray into Kent’s non-league scene, and visit Maidstone United‘s Gallagher Stadium for their National League match against Wrexham.
Maidstone is one of the original phoenix clubs. Formed in 1992 following the demise of the original, the National League (or Conference for us traditionals) marks the highest level the ‘new’ (if you can call 24 years new….) club has been, gaining promotion in the play-offs last season against local rivals Ebbsfleet United.
I travelled to Maidstone by train from Otford; the Gallagher Stadium can be seen as you enter Maidstone East, and is c. 5-10 minutes walk from the station. The walk is rather mundane along a series of roads outside of the town centre. There are a couple of pubs en route for those who wish to stagger the trip.
It cost £15 to get in that day, which was easier said than done as for some reason the turnstiles wouldn’t work for me. Feeling like a bit of an amateur, I opted for some refreshment. To the left of the entrance, the Gallagher Stadium has an array of options for eating; pie and chips (with FREE gravy), burgers, hot dogs, and something of a first, a tuck shop selling sweets! I opted however to head right to the Spitfire Lounge. On tap was a club special lager which I chose over a Whitstable Ale – an error. Fairly sure it was re-branded Carling, or perhaps the late nights tending to a four-week old have killed my taste buds!
The Gallagher Stadium comprises of two terraces behind either goal, and to the right of the Spitfire Lounge, a main stand with seating. Opposite is standing only. The view is quite scenic with trees along the perimeter (and some flats behind the main stand).
Stands behind goals
A wander around the ground showed decent views from all angles. There is a slight industrial feel to the ground however, caused I think by the corrugated metal perimeter. Fans were segregated that day, with the 200 or so Wrexham fans who made the trip situated behind the far goal (opposite the main entrance). I opted to stand opposite the main stand that day, next to the away end.
The crowd for this match exceeded 2,000, and as mentioned it was Non League Day. I was unsure how many had come for that reason only, like myself, however there was a lot of black and amber on display, indicating I probably wasn’t giving Maidstone enough credit for their support. Indeed I wasn’t. The crowd was noisy behind both goals and got behind their team from the start.
The Wrexham fans, seemingly used to playing clubs smaller than themselves, clearly had a repertoire of songs they wanted to sing despite the ground being full and the support noisy: “Shit ground no fans”, “Your ground’s too big for you”, and “Your support is f’ing s***” all getting an airing. A word for the Wrexham fans. I’ve seen fans taunting Welsh clubs with the usual “In-ger-lund” chant many times over the years, normally responded to with appropriate hand gestures. So it was both refreshing and amusing to see the Wrexham fans that day respond in a deadpan manner with an Icelandic thunderclap. Cap doffed. I imagine it may be some time before the summer of 2016 is forgotten.
Back to the game….
As the teams came out, the guys next to me seemed very excited that Wayne Rooney’s brother was lining up for Wrexham; I was more bemused by their player by the name of Nortei Nortay. Maidstone looked decent in the opening exchanges, and took the lead through a very nice free kick shortly after 20 minutes.
“One nil, to the little club…”
The last time I saw Wrexham was against North Ferriby United in the 2015 FA Trophy Final. The perennial scalp at this level (despite being non-league since 2008), they look a little now like the bigger club money from higher gate receipts has run out. It was however fairly even after the opener, and Wrexham equalised shortly before half-time. An entertaining half and two good goals to boot.
Full from pie and chips, and of course the free gravy, I changed vantage point for the second half, opting to stand between the Spitfire Lounge and the home stand behind the goal. I started to regret not being in a stand as spots of rain started to emerge; Kent had avoided the downpours that had caused an abandonment elsewhere in England that day.
Wrexham took the lead mid-way through the second half, and in fairness had been the better side after the break, A mistake by their defence however gifted an equalizer. And the match held out for 2-2.
Thankfully it didn’t pour with rain.
Maidstone United; a very friendly club, with a support that wouldn’t look out-of-place if they ever did return to the football league. And any ground that offers free gravy with your chips is always worth a trip in my book!