Sun, Jun

Maidstone players form a guard of honour for departing captain Gavin Hoyte. Unbeknown to the defender, his family are right behind him. Picture: Helen Cooper

Club captain Gavin Hoyte had a feeling his time at Maidstone United was coming to an end.

Hoyte, 33, received a guard of honour from team-mates before the Stones’ play-off eliminator against Aveley after it was announced he would be leaving.

It was a special moment for the former Arsenal defender after five years at the Gallagher Stadium, with his family in on the surprise as they followed him on to the pitch.

Hoyte’s final appearance came as a late substitute during Maidstone’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Coventry at the end of February.

Even back then he felt he was approaching the end of the road with the Stones.

“I got a bit emotional at the end of that game,” said Hoyte, who joined from Dagenham in the summer of 2019.

“I hadn’t been told at the time but it felt like it was all coming to an end.

“Sometimes you get that feeling as a player that the club is going to start to move on.

“I’m getting older and I need to start looking at other things, another job and things like that.

“I didn’t feel that was going to be my last game but it felt like it would be my last season.”

Hoyte’s departure was confirmed in a meeting with manager George Elokobi, assistant boss Craig Fagan, head of recruitment Zach Foster-Crouch and director of football Bill Williams.

“The gaffer said he wasn’t going to offer me a new contract for next season,” added Hoyte, who intends to play on elsewhere.

“I respected everything he said.

“He said thank you for everything you’ve done for the club but we’re going to go in a new direction.

“I knew myself it was coming so I wasn’t too upset.

“Obviously it was still emotional to hear you’re not going to stay on but I knew myself I probably couldn’t carry on at Maidstone.”

Out of respect for his captain, Elokobi informed Hoyte of his decision before the end of the season.

He wanted fans to be able to show their appreciation for a player who’s given everything.

There was a surprise guard of honour and presentation before the Aveley match, with Hoyte also unaware his wife, children and dad were there.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Hoyte.

“I walked out and saw the players lining up and then Sol (Wanjau-Smith) and Lucas (Covolan) were saying look behind you and my family were there.

“To do all that, it just shows what type of club it is. You don’t get that at non-league clubs.

“It was a very, very emotional time and to hear the fans sing my name was amazing.”

Hoyte rediscovered his love for the game at Maidstone after an unhappy spell with Dagenham.

He’d considered giving up before Hakan Hayrettin, then head coach under John Still, picked up the phone.

The right-back quickly became a crowd favourite at the Gallagher as Maidstone’s Mr Consistent.

He captained the side for much of their National League South title-winning campaign of 2022 and also led them on their history-making FA Cup run this season.

“I look back on my time at Maidstone and straight away I smile,” said Hoyte. “It’s been an unbelievable journey.

“The year before, when I was at Dagenham, I didn’t play much and I was thinking whether I still wanted to play.

“I was really down that season but then I got the call from Hak to come to Maidstone.

“That first year I felt like I did really well and I went from strength to strength.

“I always gave my all and the fans knew that.

“They always supported me.

“I went from being at a club where I didn’t feel part of it to feeling loved and being so together with everybody.”

Hoyte took the armband during the title season after Elokobi, then still a player at the Gallagher, was sidelined for months by a groin injury.

The pair lifted the league trophy together and Hoyte was made permanent captain following Elokobi’s retirement.

He leaves with great memories of a championship success and a glorious FA Cup run, including a 2-1 fourth-round win at Premier League new boys Ipswich.

“I always said I wanted to win a league and I managed to achieve that,” he said.

“Everything about that season, the togetherness of the team, I really enjoyed it, but I think getting to the fifth round of the FA Cup has topped it.

“It has to because I don’t think that’s going to be achieved in who knows how many years?

“To play at grounds like Ipswich and Coventry and those scenes against Barrow and Stevenage at home, you can’t beat that.

“When you’re leading out a non-league side at a Championship ground, it’s incredible.

“I’d played at Portman Road with Watford but that was nowhere near the same as going there with Maidstone.

“It was just where we’d worked so hard to get there, there was all the build-up and you’re seeing fans who you’ve got to know watching their team at a big ground like Ipswich.”

SOURCE: KentOnline