A Thursday instalment of My Match and it has to be that famous Thursday evening in November 2014. Harri Glazier on an unforgettable FA Cup replay at the Gallagher Stadium…
When the final whistle blew at the Lamex Stadium on 9th November 2014 many of us thought that was as good as it would get.
The trip to the league club had been a first for most Stones fans, myself included, who through my teenage years had watched us rise up the leagues and return home in 2012. Bringing Stevenage back to Maidstone was more than we could have hoped for.
We came to the Gallagher the night of the replay therefore in hope rather than expectation.
It had been many years since Maidstone United had played a Football League team in a competitive fixture, many more since we had actually won. ‘Let’s just not get thrashed’ I thought, Stevenage had clearly underestimated us in the first game, surely they would come prepared this time.
Walking into the ground I was struck by the presence of the TV cameras, another first for most Maidstone fans. I felt my chest swell a little with pride that our club that had been through so much was getting its day (well night) in the spotlight (floodlights). ‘I hope Flisher doesn’t play TOO well on TV or the league clubs might come calling!’ I mused.
Pints of Stones Lager quaffed quickly, my brother, Dad and I took up or normal spot in front of the main stand. Squeezing in as early as possible to make sure we had a prime vantage point, in case some history was to be made…
The noise was deafening as the teams emerged, still to this day I can’t recall the Gallagher being louder, united in a spine tingling ‘Come On You Stones’. We kicked off and expected the siege to begin…except it didn’t.
Two minutes in and the ball came back to Worgan who hit a hopeful punt down field under pressure from the Stevenage striker.
Flisher won the flick on and suddenly Jay May was away, bearing down on goal. The shot was scuffed, a groan formed in my throat, but the keeper inexplicably spilled it and suddenly the ball was trickling towards Collin at the back post.
Time stood still as the goalkeeper narrowed the angle but Collin calmly slotted the ball back across goal and the crowd erupted. 1-0 Maidstone.
It was pure elation for 30 seconds, I jumped over my Dad and brother screaming in joy. Yellow smoke erupted from the Town End, I hadn’t seen anything like this in my 15 years as a Stones fan, there certainly wasn’t pyrotechnics at Bourne Park!
As the ‘scenes’ died down I looked to my brother and our eyes said the same thing. Too early, we thought. How are we going to hang on for 88 minutes?!
We did more than hang on though and as the first half progressed the defence held strong, Stevenage restricted to pot shots from range. Worgan saving smartly at his near post from a snap shot volley was as close they came.
Going into the break you just couldn’t see how they were going to score. At half time we allowed ourselves a thought on who we wanted in the next round, even who we wanted in the third round! I wish we hadn’t.
Two minutes after the restart and Stevenage were level. A pinpoint volley from around the penalty spot. ‘I shouldn’t have even mentioned Gillingham away!’ I thought, furious with myself. The Stevenage players put the ball back on the centre spot, barely celebrating, their focus seemed to have returned and the signs were ominous for the Stones. 1-1.
From that point on it felt like we were waiting for the inevitable, the visitors dominated possession, looking threatening every time they came forward and forced an expert stop from the feet of Worgan. I began to resign myself to the fact that this is where the run would end, fun while it lasted.
As the clocked ticked over 80 minutes though, the belief slowly seeped back. ‘Just one chance is all we need, just one chance and they won’t have time to come back…maybe, just maybe we can do this’.
I simultaneously began to worry though about the potential heartache extra time or even the dreaded penalties could bring.
With time slipping away that seemed like where we were heading. But then it happened.
May won yet another aerial duel and suddenly Greenhalgh was galloping away down the left. ‘Was this the chance?’.
The ball floated across the box from his boot and I felt my neck muscles tense as Collin rose to head the ball, heading it with him, down and with power. The perfect header. The net bulged.
I thought the first goal had been bonkers but this time complete delirium broke out. Strangers embracing each other, screaming at the top of their lungs, the whole Maidstone bench seemed to be on the pitch. Stevenage players sunk to their knees, with only a few minutes to play surely that was the game. 2-1.
A few nervy moments followed as Stevenage pumped the ball aimlessly into the Stones area but their time was almost up. Finally, after what seemed like 10 minutes of added time, the whistle blew, the Gallagher exploded in jubilation.
What happened next was a bit of a blur, I hauled myself onto the pitch. Falling over the barrier and causing bruises I didn’t even notice until the adrenaline had died down the next morning. My brother and I sprinted towards the melee, players and coaches alike were held aloft on shoulders.
These were our heroes.
We had seen scenes like this on TV for other clubs, now, finally, it was our turn to be the ‘giant killers’.
When the commotion had finally died down we headed back to the Spitfire Lounge for a celebratory drink. Cramming ourselves into the packed bar a huge cheer went up, we looked at the big screen which was showing the replay of Collin’s winning goal. He was clearly offside.
Looking back on it now maybe VAR would have robbed us of that moment in a TV game had that happened in recent years. Some things are just meant to be.
Games against Football League clubs in the five years since this day have seemed rather regular. With us having spent time at the summit of the non-league game in the National League, playing a club from League 2 has certainly lost some of its glamour.
This game therefore will always have a special place in my heart, it was the moment we announced to English football that Maidstone United were back, really back. Next stop, someday, the third round…
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