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Friday, 24 October 2008

Maidstone and AFC Wimbledon Fans Deserve An FA Cup Place

This weekend sees the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup when the non-League sides are just one victory away from the First Round proper of the competition. One of the standout ties is Maidstone United hosting AFC Wimbledon.

The reason is that these are two sets of supporters who deserve a chance for nationwide publicity, as both clubs have made stunning returns from decidely unpromising positions. In each case they offer inspiring examples of how a football club can endure and survive in their community, despite hammer blows from fortune.

AFC Wimbledon's story is the more well known. The club were formed by refusenik fans after their club was removed to Milton Keynes against their wishes. Starting life way down the non-League pyramid, they have clawed their way to the Blue Square South in only 6 years (just two steps from League football) and kept alive the club name.

Maidstone fans also know what it's like to have their club ripped apart. In 1989 the  Stones were actually the premier non-League side in England, which won them promotion to the Football League. For a time all went well but the club had begun with problems about the acceptability of their ground for League football.

Sharing with Dartford was the solution but in just 3 years Maidstone had hit such a downward financial spiral that the club folded. Like Wimbledon, committed fans revived the name and Maidstone reappeared way down the Pyramid in the Kent County League. Even now they have to play in Sittingbourne.

Despite this handicap- it's has taken a bit longer than AFC 's rise -the Stones are now back at Ryman Premier level and pitching with the elite of non-League again.

In the Maidstone ranks is a player who connects both clubs. Ian Selley, who once won a European Cup-Winners Cup medal with Arsenal, had a brief spell with the old Wimbledon in the Premirship; at the time the midfielder was trying to rebuld a career blighted by injury. Now it's AFC who stand between him and another crack at the FA Cup.

Both clubs are a demonstration of the passion and commitment to be found in non-League football. It's a shame that only one of them can survive to the First Round proper  but each team has made massive strdes in a very short time.

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