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Against All Odds: Maidstone United’s Road to Round 4.

Bill Williams celebrated his 81st birthday last year. He played for QPR, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, but he has seen it all at Maidstone United.

 

He has been a player, chairman, chief executive, general manager and now director of football at the Stones.

 

He has played against Brian Clough, George Best and Jimmy Greaves, with his managerial career taking him abroad to South Africa and America. He managed the Atlanta Chiefs in the North American Soccer League – which had Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer playing in at the time.

 

A well-travelled encyclopaedia of football – Bill Williams experienced it all – but his heart always led him back to the Stones, a club which has had a turbulent ride itself.



ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Helen Cooper (@acerhelen)


Maidstone United were founded in 1987 but withdrew from the football league with financial difficulties. Reforming in 1992, the South-East outfit restarted its footballing journey and seen a lot of success, climbing the ranks to the top tier of non-league football – the National League.

 

However, following relegation last season, George Elokobi had a major task on his hands to not just get results, but to rebuild a strong team and re-inspire the fanbase.

 

With little managerial experience, the former Wolves defender had doubters and his work cut out, but over the last four and a half years, Elokobi has fallen in love with the Stones, having captained them to promotion, managing their academy, and now their first team.

 


What Elokobi, his backroom staff, the players and the club has achieved in the FA Cup this season has certainly done that. With capacities maxed and tickets selling faster than ever before, Maidstone United will have the town and county behind them when they head to Ipswich today in the fourth round of the FA Cup – a stage the Stones have never reached before.

 

“It binds us together, forever. This is history.” Elokobi smiled, having beaten League 1 Stevenage. “Days like this don’t happen too often, and this is a historic moment for our players, their families, for my backroom staff and all those who work behind the scenes to make sure today was a success.”

 

The ride up until this point has been unforgettable, emotional, and magical, and Maidstone United are the only non-league team left in the FA Cup. Here is how they navigated their way through a road never travelled before.

 


Second Round Qualifying: Steyning Town 1 – 4 Maidstone United

 

The Stones travelled to Steyning Town in the second qualifying round of the FA Cup, only to be greeted by a carnival atmosphere as this was the biggest match played at the Shooting Field (Steyning Town’s home ground).

 

Maidstone United’s magical underdog story started with them being one of the giants to be killed, but it wasn’t to be as the Stones hit Steyning for four. Sol Wanjau-Smith bagged a hat-trick whilst Levi Amantchi stabbed home an effort from point-blank range.


 

Third Round Qualifying: Winchester City 0 – 2 Maidstone United

 

It was another round, another away day for the Stones as they made the journey to Winchester. A professional performance saw a clean sheet and a brace for 6’3” frontman Levi Amantchi, who scored his second goal in style, rounding the goalkeeper.

 

There was opportunity for Sol Wanjau-Smith to score from the spot, and his penalty bounced in off the crossbar – but the VAR at Winchester City wasn’t working, and it remained just two on the road for Maidstone.

 


Fourth Round Qualifying: Torquay United 0 – 2 Maidstone United

 

Torquay hosted Maidstone United twice in two weeks as their FA Cup fixture fell directly after the two sides National League South clash. Both in the league and in the cup the Stones were victorious.

 

Torquay were unlucky not to score with a lot of chances, but it was Levi Amantchi (again) who netted both the goals to secure a ticket to the first-round proper. Both goals were poachers finishes, but his first was the easiest of his career, sniffing out danger after a mistake from the Torquay United goalkeeper at the back.

 

First Round: Chesham United 0 – 2 Maidstone United

 

A thoroughly professional performance away from home saw Maidstone book their place in the second round in front of just under 3000 fans. Liam Sole’s tricky feet allowed the Stones to have a lot of joy down the right-hand side in the opening ten minutes, and by the 12th minute his cross supplied Devonte Aransibia to break the deadlock with an exquisite finish.

In the second half, Maidstone United substituted on Levi Amantchi, and to nobody’s surprise, he doubled Maidstone’s lead and put the game to bed. Levi Amantchi’s tally in the FA Cup was 6 goals in 4 games, notching at least one goal in every round he had played in.


 

Second Round: Maidstone United 2 – 1 Barrow AFC

 

Maidstone United’s first home game of their FA Cup campaign was against League 2 side Barrow AFC and the odds were heavily stacked against them. Two leagues above and pushing for promotion, Barrow were looking to extend their unbeaten streak to 12 against the Stones. A mistake at the back saw the Stones trailing 1-0, and when their star striker Levi Amantchi fell to injury, in a match where the odds already seemed insurmountable, Maidstone’s dream of getting in the hat was hanging by a thread.

 

But football – and the FA Cup –  is unpredictable. Enter Sam Corne, the Stones longest-serving player, whose strike in the 35th minute gave the home side hope. Then, Bivesh Gurung, a local lad from the youth academy, etched his name in Maidstone's history with an incredible goal from the edge of the box into the top left corner.

 


The result? A seismic 2-1 victory, propelling Maidstone United to the FA Cup's third round for the first time since 1988. It’s a result that is testament to their resilience and the unbreakable bond between a team, its supporters, and a community.

 

It was an emotional day for George Elokobi, somebody who has always worn his heart on his sleeve: “It was to see the boy who lost his dad when he was ten years of age doing something great again. It’s not just for me, but for the boys back in Cameroon, to say, you can do what I’m doing if you work hard and make sacrifices, it can happen.”

 


Talking to TFD, George explained: “I was carrying the emotion for my players, when we work so hard as a group, seeing how happy everyone was, it was emotional.

 

“The fans were in tears, our kit lady ran to me crying, you see the jubilation in and around the stadium and kids running on the pitch and crying.

 

“The fans in the Genco (stand) and how happy they were. If you’re a football person you have to feel the emotion.”

 


It was also a special day for the winning goal scorer, local lad turned hero of the hour, Bivesh Gurung. Speaking exclusively to TFD, he said: “It’s right up there, probably the best moment of my career so far.

 

“To score a goal like that and for it to be the winner against league opposition, in one of the biggest games in the club’s history, it’ll stay with me for a very long time.

 

“Maidstone United is a club very close to my heart and to provide a moment like that, it’s surreal.

 

“I have to enjoy it because moments like that don’t come around very often. I was involved in the youth teams here, I went to school here, I did everything here.

 

“It was a really special moment because we achieved it as a team, it was a massive collective effort.”

 

Third Round: Maidstone United 1 – 0 Stevenage

 

The last time Maidstone had reached the third round of the FA Cup was in 1988, but history told the Stones that their FA Cup run wasn’t to end yet, as they took the Boro to a replay at the Gallagher Stadium in Round 1 of the FA Cup in 2014 – where they won 2-1 in another huge ‘cupset’.

 

The Gallagher Stadium reached maximum capacity for the first time since it opened for the tie, and with the 69-place gap between the Stones and the Boro, the task for the underdogs was even more mammoth than Barrow. The pride of Kent came out on top, 1-0 winners, thanks to a Sam Corne penalty, with the team etching themselves in the Maidstone history books.

 


Fourth Round – Ipswich Town @ Portman Road, 12:30 KO on BBC1.

 

Today, Maidstone United take on Ipswich Town at Portman Road. They’ve knocked out a League 2 side, a League 1 side, and their next opponent are high-flying in the Championship.

 

Maidstone United sold out the maximum away allocation in just 100 minutes of general sale and feature on BBC1. No matter what the outcome, Stones fans will be proud of this team’s achievements.

 

Ahead of the battle, George Elokobi said: “I’m excited for the entire community, Maidstone as a whole, our football club, our owners and our history making players.

 

“It’s history for us all, and we travel to a special club in Ipswich Town. What’s not to love and celebrate about that?

 

“Our players should go out enjoy playing against Championship professionals, and enjoy showcasing their talents, doing themselves and the Maidstone community proud.”



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