The returning Darren McQueen knows Fleet fans will need little reminding of the moment his goal in the 2017 promotion final completed a remarkable comeback and earned the club promotion – and he’s got his eye on surpassing that this coming season.
“Winning the promotion final and my winning goal is still the highest point of my career,” the 27-year-old told the Fleet website after his signing was confirmed. “That was an awesome moment. So I want to help the club get back to where it should be and for me personally, make up for that lost time from my first spell I suppose as well.”
That first spell saw McQueen grab 20 goals in his debut season of 2016/17, his remarkable pace allied with a cool and calm disposition in front of the net. But just as he was looking to push on to the next level in the National League, a knee injury against Halifax put a stop on that development.
“When we got back into the National League I think I had something like three goals in seven and was pushing on and the knee injury just killed it for me,” McQueen recalled. “It took a long time to come back from that type of injury and I wasn’t where I left off and the managerial change was another factor, he hadn’t really seen me play, it was a new situation for me trying to re-establish myself against that background.”
McQueen had to watch from the sidelines as Fleet made it to the National League play-off semi-finals and by the next season, new boss Garry Hill had let him depart to Sutton United.
“I was never going to be the main man while coming back and trying to establish myself so it felt right then to move on,” says McQueen. “But even when I did leave, it wasn’t something I did easily with the memories I had and Ebbsfleet was always in my heart afterwards.”
So much so that McQueen has often floated the idea of a return, despite playing for Dartford, Dagenham and Dulwich in the intervening years.
“I feel like I’ve had conversations with EUFC after I left about returning, even when I signed for Dagenham. And now, since Dennis has taken over I’ve always liked the philosophy of the game he plays, the total football and the style of play I think it suits me. It’s back to full-time for me, it’s a club I know very well and a club I’ve had success at and have a lot of good memories so it made a lot of sense to come back and I’m really glad to have done that.”
McQueen will get the chance to link up again with former Dartford teammate Elliott Romain, the pair scoring 30 goals between them as they fired the Darts to the 2019/20 promotion final.
“Elliott’s the one I’ve been talking to the most about coming here and he’s only got good words to say about the club,” McQueen revealed. “I was attracted to the prospect of coming back anyway as I’ve said for all the reasons already mentioned, but his enthusiasm for it just made it absolutely sure for me.
“And I’ve played with Shaq at Tottenham, with Kieran Monlouis at Maldon, I know Jack Paxman and Alex Finney too, so I know a couple of the boys. But the surroundings, the stadium and fans will be the same!”
McQueen bagged three goals in the past against the Fleet, two for Dagenham in 2020 and one for Dulwich last season, but his fondness for a goal against old clubs will be channelled in the opposite direction this year!
“Given some of our boys at Dagenham had played for Ebbsfleet, when you play against your old team, you always want to do well so it’s an incentive to score against an old team – so I guess I’ll have some chances to do that again this year for Ebbsfleet this time and against the others!”
When last he wore a red shirt, McQueen was more of a direct front-runner, plying his trade in and around the box. He has developed in the intervening four years, however, and it may be a different McQueen that Fleet fans will see come 2022/23.
“Our main formation at Dulwich was attacking, three up top, so I was a striker but kind of inside, a narrow striker if you like,” he said. “At Ebbsfleet my role may be similar, coming in off the right or left. I think the gaffer thinks that’s my best position. So I might not get as many chances as last time I played a different, more direct role at Ebbsfleet – although in this team with the attacking players I just might! – but I feel like I can give more to the game coming in from wide. Dom Poleon and Rakish Bingham I know about. I haven’t played with them but they’re both very good players and they’ll be good to feed off and feed into. That’s the thing about this team, there’s a lot of ability in there so I know there’ll be a lot of competition but that’s always healthy. I’ve been keeping trim in the close season, I’m back off holiday and now I’m ready to go at Ebbsfleet once again!”