Maidstone Utd legend left stunned by Bruce Grobbelaar’s antics … now his beloved Stones are leaving him open-mouthed

BILL WILLIAMS once watched open mouthed as Bruce Grobbelaar made a save before hanging by his feet from the crossbar while barking like a sea lion.

But nothing has stunned 81-year-old Maidstone’s director of football — the oldest in the country — than George Elokobi taking the non-league minnows to the FA Cup last 16.

Maidstone director of football Bill Williams has seen some things in his long career in the game but nothing as incredible as this year’s FA Cup run

Liverpool goalkeeper legend Bruce Grobbelaar was 18 when Bill Williams signed him

The Stones, who travel to Coventry tomorrow, are only the second club from the sixth tier down to have reached this stage.

And Williams — who while managing Durban City signed famously whacky Grobbelaar before he became a Liverpool goalkeeper legend — believes George Elokobi is also destined for greatness as a manager.

Williams managed the former club while it was in the old fourth division when they went bust in 1992 — and has been one of the brains behind their re-emergence through non-league to this historic season.

And few people will be prouder watching tomorrow than Mr Maidstone himself with what Elokobi has achieved with the National League South team.

The veteran played for the likes of Portsmouth, QPR, West Brom, Mansfield and Gillingham as well as managed in South Africa, the United States and back home with Maidstone, Dover and Kingstonian.

And he told SunSport: “George has been wonderful. He has achieved in his first year as a manager what I tried in my entire career as a player and a coach. I never got past the third round.

“Being honest, I didn’t think we had a chance against either Stevenage or Ipswich in the last two rounds but through sheer belief and some incredible luck we’re sitting in the last 16 of the FA Cup.

“This is his first job in management and the whole thing has been a learning experience. I believe it takes three to five years before you get a real understanding of management.

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George Elokobi and his Maidstone United team celebrate at Portman Road

“You get people who think they know it all after five minutes — but George isn’t one of those. He’s a humble man and knows he’s still learning.

“But, in learning, he’s doing a bloody good job — making history in the FA Cup and having us competing for promotion. And what makes the job he’s doing so remarkable is he’s never had a full squad available each week. We’ve always had four to six players out. That shows what a fine achievement this all is.

“The big thing he has done which has been vital to our run has been the fitness. He trains them very hard. He does a lot of gym and leg work. They know what their job is and they’re committed. 

“And then George gets players believing they can do things that they usually can’t.”

Williams has been in the senior game for more than 60 years.

And his biggest claim to fame was discovering an 18-year-old Grobbelaar while managing Durban in the 1970s.

And he said: “An Irish coach called Harry Weir, who’d spent most of his life in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), told me about this young keeper he once saw playing for Highlanders so we went to watch him.

“The game had only been underway for five minutes when he came out to meet a cross. Instead of catching the ball, he headed it away. I looked aghast at Harry, who smiled, ‘You just wait and see.’

“As the game went on, he pulled off such a string of remarkable saves I decided to sign him.

“But I was worried about getting the move over the line after finding out about his signing-on deal with Highlanders.

Bruce Grobbelaar once was signed for a cow, sheep and a goat in South Africa

“They offered him a cow, a sheep and a goat – all the club wanted to know was if he wanted them delivered dead or alive.

“Bruce apparently decided to stick the Billy goat in his back garden while the beef and mutton went into his deep freeze.”

Grobbelaar spent a season at Durban and Williams went on: “He was an unbelievable character and superb athlete. If he ran a mile, he’d win. If he did a high jump, he’d win. If he did a shot put, he’d win. Also what a lot of people don’t realise is that he was a great baseball pitcher.

“I remember how before a game, he’d jump on the table in the changing room and do a back somersault with all our hearts in mouths because one slip would see him break his legs.

“Bruce would also make a save then hang by his feet from the crossbar, while barking like a sea lion.”

Williams also did the deal that saw Manchester United defender Chris Smalling move from Maidstone to Fulham, then managed by former Stones player Roy Hodgson, in 2008.

And when he signed for United, Alex Ferguson invited Williams to Carrington.

He said: “I was nervous because it was like going to meet the Queen, I hold him in such high esteem. He wanted to know everything I could tell him about Chris.”

At Maidstone, it has been a remarkable story since 1992 when the club folded playing in the fourth tier, literally a couple of weeks after the birth of the money-spinning Premier League — with debts of £650,000.

Bill Williams and Sir Alex Ferguson at Carrington

Maidstone boss George Elokobi is preparing Maidstone for Coventry trip

The new team had to start SEVEN leagues lower in the Kent County League Fourth Division.

But they have steadily risen up the pyramid and in recent times have yo-yo’d between the fifth and sixth tiers — with their business model built that includes hiring out their 3G pitch to the local community which nets them around £150,000 a year.

The club so far this season have earned a whopping £450,000 through their FA Cup run.

And Williams says the funds will almost certainly be largely reinvested into the facilities

He said: “We’ve been at the Gallagher Stadium for 12 years and it needs refurbishment. We need a new pitch, toilet blocks, electrics, boilers and a new stand. 

“This injection of money is going to come in handy for all that and bring our ground up to scratch to have another go at trying to get back into the Football League.

“It’ll be nice to spend half a million on new players but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

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