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Maidstone mark official Kent return

After an absence of 24 years, and continuous ground sharing with fellow Kent neighbours Sittingbourne and Dartford, Maidstone United have finally unveiled their new stadium.

To mark the opening of the new Gallagher Stadium, the Ryman Division One South side welcomed Championship outfit Brighton & Hove Albion to their new home in a pre season friendly with over 2000 fans there to witness an historic day for the Kent-based club.

Brighton, six divisions above the Stones on the football pyramid, showed their class on the new playing surface, which manager Gus Poyet described as “magnificent.”

The Seagulls dispatched Maidstone 5-0 with striker Ashley Barnes grabbing a second half hat trick, on a day which will live long in the memory for many supporters of the Ryman League club.

Maidstone boss Jay Saunders was quick to praise Poyet’s promotion chasing side but insisted that the score line would not overshadow the work done behind the scenes in ensuring the Stones’ homecoming.

Privileged to have been part of it

Saunders said: “It has been a great day for everyone involved and they should feel privileged to have been part of it.”

He continued: “I wasn’t going to judge my team on the performance because you’re playing a side with million pound players and a team that’s going to be pushing for the Premier League.”

The Stones have been without a home ground since 1988 and four years later, submerged in financial problems, they dropped out of the football league and were eventually reinstated deep within the realms of non-league football.

From a personal point of view, Saunders admits to feeling a great deal of fortune in being able to lead Maidstone back into the heart of the town.

He added: “Having been to watch Maidstone in the past, being able to lead the team out back in Maidstone after that time is a big occasion for me.”

The Stones welcome another football league side in the shape of Dagenham & Redbridge to the Gallagher Stadium on Tuesday evening.

Saunders is anticipating an equally difficult game but feels his side can give the Daggers more of a test.

He concluded: “Hopefully we will see a bit more of the ball against Dagenham, that’s no disrespect to them they’re going to be a very good side, but hopefully we can give it a bit more of a go.”

By Daniel Ludlam

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