Maidstone United Raiders are celebrating their 15th birthday today.
From one team and a dozen players, the club are now represented by 15 Raiders teams and more than 120 players. Ranging in age from five to 65, they compete in the adult and junior Kent Disability Leagues.
John and Tyke Harvey introduced disability football at the club back in 2004 and four years later they were instrumental in bringing Lorraine Humm on board.
During Lorraine’s time in charge, the number of teams have rocketed giving more disabled and mental health players the chance to play the beautiful game.
Years of hard work and dedication have paid off as the Raiders enjoyed their most successful campaign last season, with eight league titles, two county cups and national success as FA People’s Cup Youth Disability champions.
“I am extremely proud of all the players and volunteers who are involved with the Raiders,” says Lorraine.
“For me it’s like a family – albeit a rather large one! I’ve made some friends for life and although it can be challenging at times, the Raiders have given me some great memories over the years.
“There are people like Hamid and his son Adam who’ve been with the Raiders from the start. Hamid coaches the Steel team. Adam plays for our Titanium team coached by Damon, whose son Spencer is also part of the side – it’s people like them who’ve made the Raiders what we are today.”
In the early days, Raiders trained at the old Westborough Sports Centre and on Oakwood Park playing fields but the opening of the Gallagher Stadium was a significant moment.
Lorraine said: “The players are and always have been proud to be associated with Maidstone United. The opening of the stadium was a massive moment for the club and the town, but for us it also gave us a permanent home too and that meant everything.
“The chance to train on the pitch that just a few hours later would be used by the first team means a lot and this is such a great facility for players, their parents and our volunteers.”
While there have been many local successes over the years, the Raiders enjoyed national recognition last season by winning the FA People’s Cup Youth Disability competition and the team will be defending that title later this month.
Lorraine said: “The FA People’s Cup was great for us last season. Not only did we win a national competition, it also gave us the chance for our Gold team to play Robbie Savage’s team in the Sport Relief 5 live-a-side and won. Also to be at Wembley for the FA Cup final, where we paraded our U16 white team trophy around the pitch at half-time.
“The lads have won through to the final and will be at St George’s Park in a few weeks’ time to try and retain that title. Keep your fingers crossed for them, they really deserve to do it.
“Our league season goes into May, so hopefully there will be some more silverware to retain or win in the coming weeks.”
Lorraine, who was awarded Kent Coach of the Year by Kent FA last November, is looking forward to many more seasons to come.
She said: “With the support of our volunteers and sponsors like the Hilton Maidstone, CSIS, Riveroak and iMUSC the Raiders will go on and on. When you see the joy it brings to the players, you know you’re doing something right.
“Parents network and support each other and have helped each other which is fab as many disability families feel isolated.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who’s been part of it so far.”