After 24 years of exile, Maidstone United Football Club have moved home.

The Ryman League Division One South side will put two decades of ground sharing to bed this weekend when they host Brighton and Hove Albion in a sell-out pre-season friendly at their new home, the Gallagher Stadium.

The Stones have had well-documented problems on the field over the past 20 years, with the club falling from the Football League in the early 90s to playing in front of a handful of people on park pitches.

After coming back from oblivion, their finances have improved and the Kent club have managed to build a new £2.6 million home of their own.

Club secretary Darren Lovell said: “It’s been an absolute rollercoaster. There have been a few dark times. We went from the Football League to a Sunday youth team.

“It was phenomenal going from watching them at Burnley’s Turf Moor in front of 11,000 to a game against Scott Sports reserves. With the greatest respect, who are they?

“We were a little bit of a strange thing; we had supporters following a Sunday league team. I’ve had away games that are closer to where we’ve played at home, and we’ve got generations of supporters we’ve lost that have never seen them play in Maidstone - it’s a significant thing.”

First-team boss Jay Saunders, who has supported the club since childhood, also announced his pleasure at the Stones' homecoming.

"It will be an emotional day for so many people – certainly one of my proudest – and I’ll never forget it. To think I’m going to be the manager of the club on the day they come home is a strange feeling but it’s a pleasure to be involved," Saunders said.

Posted on 13/07/2012