Football, eh? Bloody hell.
This wasn’t a normal first game of the season. Firstly, I was there; normally I can’t truly get back into football until the days have shortened, the urge to wear shorts has passed, and the County Championship winners have been crowned. Secondly, and more importantly, this match was a really big deal – not just for followers of K’s and Billericay, not just for followers of the Isthmian League, not even just for non-league fans, but for all real football supporters. Thousands of people up and down the country desperately wanted a Kingstonian victory, because K’s were cast in the role of David, taking on Goliath – and not just any old Goliath.
It’s perfectly normal for non-league clubs to get taken over by monied owners, who massively increase the playing budget in an effort to take their new toy up the leagues. While this is annoying for the rest of the clubs in that league, whose best players leave for a pay-day, and who know that they’re all chasing second place (barring catastrophic mis-management), it’s not remarkable. It doesn’t grab the attention of anyone outside fans of other clubs in the same league. That club become the team everyone wants to beat for a season, then they get promoted and everyone forgets all about it – until of course we meet them again on the way back down, the rich new owner having inevitably become bored and left the club with debts it can’t pay.
But Billericay are different, and that’s due to the very unusual nature of their benefactor, Glenn Tamplin, who isn’t like the other monied owners we’ve seen before at this level. One of his first major investments was to have a giant mural – or “muriel” as he prefers to call it – painted along the outside wall of the main stand. Its largest feature is a gigantic and genuinely disturbing representation of Glenn himself, in bed, having his epiphany of investing in Billericay in order to “win trophys” [sic] and “get to professional leagues”. The small detail that he first tried to buy a completely different football club – Dagenham & Redbridge – in order to realise his dreams is mysteriously overlooked. The point being that these are very much his dreams, rather than his dreams for Billericay Town Football Club. His first major decision as owner was that he would become first-team manager, making highly-respected and successful gaffer Craig Edwards’ position untenable. Billericay’s loss was fortunately Kingstonian’s gain, as Edwards moved to Kingsmeadow and masterminded a great escape from relegation at the end of last season, before plotting his revenge this year. Meanwhile, Tamplin began signing new players for ‘Ricay in numbers, and on wages, that have never been seen at this level of English football before. In addition to a host of top quality non-league talent such as Billy Bricknell, this summer saw the signings of Jermaine Pennant, Paul Konchesky and Kevin Foley, all of whom need no introduction. The Non-League Paper has estimated that ‘Ricay’s wage bill may be as high as £30k per week – something Tamplin denies, completely missing the point by saying that “nobody is on over a grand a week”. When Kingstonian’s wage bill is about £3k per week in total, having one single player on a grand a week puts Billericay’s spending into perspective. There may never have been such a colossal disparity in any league between one club’s wage spending and the others.
This spending is of course totally pointless: a good manager could easily win the league with a third of the budget, meaning that Tamplin is pissing his apparently hard-earned money up the mural, as it were. It almost feels like he’s spending such ludicrous amounts of money simply because he can – like the classless millionaire in a West London club spending £10,000 on a mediocre bottle of champagne. But what leaves a really sour taste in the mouth of owners, players and fans of other clubs in the Isthmian League is his total lack of respect for the competition, who don’t have the advantage of ex-Champions League and FA Cup finalists in their starting elevens. He has said that ‘Ricay would be top all season and anyone who (however respectfully) disagreed was a “hater”. He has said that Billericay are going to “smash this league”. He puts his pre-match team-talks up on Twitter to show what a great leader he is – of course, all they show is an angry, ranting man whose most insightful piece of advice to his clearly embarrassed players is “DON’T LET ANY CUNTS IN YOUR JUNGLE!”. Anybody who asks him to show his peers more respect is labelled a “sad keyboard warrior”. And, most critically of all, he thinks that football at this level is so tinpot that he – Glenn Tamplin, with no footballing experience – can manage a team to the title without losing a match.
Against this backdrop, I didn’t take much persuasion to go all Kevin Keegan on Saturday morning: I would *love it* if we beat this arrogant bully. The chances, of course, were slim – and discussion on the train mainly revolved around what would constitute a “moral victory” even if we couldn’t win the three points. Particular joy would be had if ex-Billericay players Tom Derry and Ricky Appleton scored; even more enjoyable would be if Pennant, Konchesky et al had little influence on the game; and maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck we could sneak a result…
Upon arrival at New Lodge it was obvious that Tamplin has spent his money on more than journeyman mercenary footballers: the ground, previously slightly decrepit and with a famously boggy and uneven pitch, has seen major improvements on all four sides and to the playing surface. An outside bottle bar has also been installed, something which should be a ground-grading necessity in my beer-loving opinion. Surprisingly, it was easy enough to get served given that Tamplin was predicting a crowd of 3000+ for the season opener; this mystery was solved when the attendance was announced as just 1141. Even that seemed generous, with large gaps on the terracing all around the ground and a quiet and subdued atmosphere among the locals. Mind you, it’s not commonplace for punters at the circus to chant, is it?
In the first half, K’s were absolutely brilliant, nullifying the anticipated Billericay dominance with ease: Paul Konchesky, at left back, was having a torrid time, looking more like a fan who’d won his place in a raffle than an ex-Premier League footballer; Jermaine Pennant had decided that he could take free-kicks, much to the relief of Rob Tolfrey but not the ‘Ricay fans behind the goal forced to dodge his wild attempts; home keeper Julian began to look less and less sure of his handling amid a barrage of questions on his pay-packet from behind the goal. The travelling supporters’ initial nervousness was replaced with something approaching confidence as the half wore on, and with the score a comfortable 0-0 after 30 minutes, Tamplin was forced into making his first substitution, to the great amusement of those in red and white hoops, and no doubt the enormous satisfaction of Craig Edwards. The mockery began in earnest.
“They’re coming for you, they’re coming for youuuu,
HMRC, they’re coming for you”
“Don’t’cha wish your gaffer was Craig Edwards”
Half time involved a kids’ penalty shoot out, trying to avoid a long queue for the sweet shop which had replaced the tea bar, and R Kelly being played over the stereo. Tamplin was out early for the second half soaking up the love from assorted well-wishers and hangers-on. It was a strange vibe, in all honesty, and about as far away from non-league football as it’s possible to get.
The second half, however, was about as typical as non-league football gets. ‘Ricay brought on a giant target man, who proceeded to cause absolute havoc in the K’s box, and for a ten minute period it seemed as if K’s couldn’t get out of our box, let along our half. ‘Ricay hit the post, but mainly their endless attacks were thwarted by a heroic rearguard action from the back four, heading the ball away time after time or blocking shots by throwing their bodies into the line of fire. K’s were being outplayed, but Billericay were being out-tried by a group of lads who were absolutely determined to show Billericay Town’s mercenaries, and show Glenn Tamplin in particular, that you can’t buy points in the Isthmian League, and that talented individuals rarely beat a well-organised and drilled football team.
As the half continued with the score remaining goalless, the home side become more and more frustrated. Gradually, spaces were opening up on the counter-attack, and us travelling fans found our voices once again, dreaming of a winning goal. Suddenly, Ricky Sappleton (immense coming on as sub) poked a through ball behind the ‘Ricay defence, and Tom Derry was clean through. Those of us behind the goal held our breath – was this the moment? – only for Derry to be hauled down just outside the box before he could shoot. It was a clear red card, and the referee didn’t fail to do his job. At this point Billericay allowed their frustrations to boil over, and turned into a rabble, probably not helped by the decision-making of their inexperienced manager, whose ego wouldn’t allow him to settle for a point. K’s swarmed forward, but it looked like a famous victory had slipped away when Jack Parter headed against the post from 6 yards – with the goal open – in the last minute of the game. And then, in injury time, it happened: Lewis Taylor ran through in acres of space, steadied himself, and slammed a right-foot shot inside Julian’s near post to send the K’s fans, bench, and director’s box, absolutely wild. The chanting began, and continued long after the final whistle:
“We’re the c*nts in your jungle,
We’re the c*nts in your jungle”
Some of the locals, the kinds of losers drawn to watch Billericay this season only by the certainty of victory, didn’t react particularly well to their bubble being burst by a proper non-league football club and a proper non-league football manager. A young Gary Monk look-alike and his mates even took the brave step of trying to start a fight as they were walking out, and then seemed surprised that people might take them up on their offer. After this, some of us couldn’t resist taking commemorative photo in front of Glenn’s mural/muriel that you see above. “Are you taking the piss out of our muriel, you cunts?” asked a delightful local lady pensioner. “Yes,” came the reply. We most certainly were.
This was a great day not just for Kingstonian and Craig Edwards, but also for non-league football as a whole. The moral of the story is this: if you don’t want the c*nts to get into your jungle, don’t treat your peers like c*nts.
K’s Player Ratings: Tolfrey 9; Goode 9, *Page 10*, Rogers 9, Little 9; Fiddes 8.5, Gogonas 9, L Taylor 10, Parter 8.5; Taylor 8.5, Derry 9