George Fowler has thanked his “Maidstone mum and dad” for their part in his form at the Gallagher.
Fowler turned a loan from National League Aldershot into an 18-month deal last November and played a key role in the Stones’ title glory alongside Joe Ellul in central defence.
Manager Hakan Hayrettin has often referred back to his arrival as a turning point and the move was made easier by the hospitality of backroom staff Iain Southgate and his partner Rose Kelsey.
They invited Fowler, who lives 100 miles away in Berkshire, to stay with them, saving him an extra journey at the end of the week.
“Iain and Rose have been brilliant for me - they’re my Maidstone mum and dad,” said Fowler.
“I’ve been staying down with them on a Thursday evening, they’ve been a massive help to me and really accommodating to save me travelling and hurting my grandpa back.
“That sums the club up, you’ve got people all round it who are willing to help, free of charge, all the volunteers, who help and do a massive job.
“It’s a real family club and something I bought into as soon as I came in.”
The final game of Fowler’s loan came at Ebbsfleet, where a 3-2 victory away to the division’s form team proved the catalyst for Maidstone’s surge up the table and title success.
Fowler was outstanding that night and knew he had to stay on.
The deal was done a couple of days later.
“I was meant to be going back to Aldershot after that game,” said Fowler.
“I was in the car on the way home and I spoke to my agent and it didn’t feel right.
“It was such a good month here, I’d settled in, the only factor I had was the travelling in because I was living in Newbury.
“Once we sorted out a few expenses to do with travelling and stuff, I was more than happy to stay and get the permanent move here.
“I knew a lot of the boys anyway and I knew the standard of the team we had so in my eyes it wasn’t a drop down in level.
“I knew before I even came here that this team was capable of playing in the National League, let alone National South.
“When I first came in and played a few games, I knew it was a good decision and once my loan was up I wanted to make the permanent deal to come here.
“I’m so glad that went ahead and that’s where we are now.
“I haven’t had a full season since I first went to Aldershot.
“I’ve had a couple of knee injuries where I’ve missed two seasons in particular, and then Covid kicked in, so this was my full season where I’ve had a run of games and it happens to be a promotion team. It will take some beating.”
The partnership with Ellul has been rock-solid, with Maidstone boasting the meanest defence in the division, conceding just 38 goals in 40 games.
They’re both contracted for next season, giving the Stones a platform to take into the National League.
Fowler said: “I’ve known Joe for a while, just from playing against him when he was at Maidenhead. We developed a really good relationship at centre-half when he came back from injury.
“When I’m struggling on the pitch he pushes me on and vice-versa.
“It was just a really good bond straight away and it’s served us well.
“We’re here next season so you’ve got that core straight away that we’ve worked on.”
The form of Fowler and Ellul kept club captain George Elokobi out of the side after his return from injury.
Elokobi made a farewell appearance against Hampton at the weekend before bringing down the curtain on a 19-year career.
Fowler had the pleasure of partnering him for his swansong.
“Even though he hasn’t been playing, everyone knows Skip’s personality,” said Fowler.
“He’s a massive influence off the pitch, as well as on the pitch.
“He’s got bundles of experience and he’s always speaking to me and Joe in particular as centre-halves but the back four in general, always giving us tips.
“He’s played a massive part and he’s been a brilliant help for me since I’ve been here.”
Pick up your copy of this week's KM for an eight-page souvenir supplement celebrating Maidstone's promotion