Urgent Questions for the Directors

Despite all the (justified) off-pitch concerns around Kingstonian, the most important club officer will always be the First Team Manager. We are, after all, still a football club – and more to the point, the morale of supporters can handle almost any disappointment as long as we actually look forward to watching our team play and believe in the man in charge. The manager sets the whole tone of the club. After Tommy Williams’ soporific tenure, with K’s sleepwalking into oblivion, Craig Edwards’ personality was a shot in the arm for Kingstonian FC as a whole. Away games at Merstham and Billericay reminded us all why we should and will fight so hard to save K’s: this is not an ordinary football club. His departure, and his statement to supporters posted on the K’s forum, raise some very serious questions.

The directors are not good at communicating. It has been said many times that this needs to change. In light of this statement, it MUST change NOW, otherwise any goodwill towards those running the club will evaporate – and what is this club without its supporters? After all, we have no other assets!

Questions that need answering:

1. Was the budget cut after one month of the season? If so, why?

2. What is the budget now in relation to what Craig Edwards was promised at the end of last season? If it is lower, how has “boost the budget” money been separated out from the other budget as promised?

3. When Craig Edwards refers to the directors being “willing to release” Tolfrey, Taylor and Vilcu, what does he mean?

4. What progress is being made in attracting further personal/commercial investment into the club to plug the (alleged) budget shortfall, and why is Craig so upset that Mark Anderson is no longer involved day-to-day? Has nobody picked up his duties? If so, why has there not been a request for assistance?

5. Can the directors please give the fans an urgent update on progress in finding a ground, and confirm their strategy for this?

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From The Sublime To The Ridiculous – Harlow (H) & Worthing (A)

After two games, two wins and eight K’s goals in four days, it seems like a good time to sit down and write five thoughts…

1. If there wasn’t genuine evidence that it happened – a report, the score on football web pages, photos of the goals – I’m still not sure I’d believe that Saturday’s 6-0 win over Harlow wasn’t really a dream. Before Saturday, K’s had been thrashed twice, and our wins had been either rearguard efforts (Billericay and Merstham) or scrappy and slightly fortunate. More to the point, in previous match a first-choice K’s eleven were outpassed and at times outclassed by pub league Walton Casuals in the Alan Turvey Trophy. As such this probably goes down as the most surprising thrashing dished out by Kingstonian in recent memory, and that made it all the more enjoyable. This wasn’t a fortunate result; in fact, without some smart saves by Harlow’s keeper, it could have been even more. The (small) crowd were stunned.

2. So where on earth did this sublime performance come from? Well, the lineup *looked* balanced, and didn’t obviously have any weak links, for possibly the first time this season, and that undoubtedly helped. K’s lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with all eleven players in their preferred positions – or at the very least positions they are comfortable playing – and that certainly helped too. Tom Little’s left-footed overlapping runs down the left flank created the space for Kane Haysman to drift inside and find space, overwhelming and confusing Harlow’s centre halves. Meanwhile Alex Fiddes stuck to his task with great discipline – which was to stay wide on the right throughout, stretching the game wide and creating space for box-to-box runs from Lewis Taylor. Taylor – probably K’s most talented player at this level, if we’re honest – produced his first truly dominant performance since Billericay away, simultaneously offering defensive cover to Gogonas and the back four while also getting into dangerous attacking positions throughout. But the real difference was a mercurial performance at number 10 from Tom Collins, who had shown flashes of class before this point in his K’s career without ever delivering concrete results. Collins relentlessly found himself with the ball in space between Harlow’s back four and midfield, and he used that freedom superbly. Harlow had no answer to his creative passing and skilful dribbling, and he made the key move in three of the first four goals. Collins was only marginally less influential in the second half when he was being man-marked in an effort to reduce his influence. We can’t expect him to do this every week, and we probably shouldn’t even expect him to play this well more often than not – but when Tom Collins plays like this, I don’t think we’ll lose many this season.

3. From the sublime, then, to the ridiculous: the first half refereeing display at Worthing, which contained the single worst decision I’ve ever seen at a football game – and I was at Vicarage Road for the ‘ghost goal’. It was immediately obvious that the ref was going to be a factor in the evening. He clearly enjoyed the moments when the attention of the 151 hardy souls assembled was focussed on him and him alone, taking unnecessary extra time over every decision, and making overly dramatic hand gestures, a non-league Mike Dean in almost every way. He didn’t start the evening well, actively deciding to bottle a decision when Tom Derry was tripped when clean through, followed that up by missing two clear fouls on K’s players, and then gave us a free kick for such a weak challenge that the K’s players didn’t even appeal. The pressure started to build when he blew up for a K’s free kick when we had an almost comically clear advantage – Fiddes had actually skipped away after the ‘foul’ challenge, and was about to dribble into the box in a 3 vs 2 situation – because the K’s players told the ref in no uncertain terms how ludicrous this decision was. Sam Page was booked for his forthright contribution, and the ref had already started to punctuate his display by looking nervously at the dozen or so travelling fans behind the goal, who were being no less honest in their assessment. Presumably distracted, his big moment then arrived, when he passed from merely being an averagely poor Isthmian League official to proud holder of my award for Worst Refereeing Decision Ever. K’s attacked, the ball ricocheted off, and a Worthing player cleared the ball under no real pressure about 4-5 yards from the byline. The referee’s reaction to this was to very firmly give Kingstonian a corner, and then express genuine shock as the entire Worthing team, bench and supporters went apoplectic. Those in red and white hoops openly laughed. The strangest part of this story? The ref followed up this total embarrassment by having a largely competent second half!

Bognor 1

4. The match itself against Worthing – although at Bognor Regis, of course, as evidenced above! – was far less remarkable, even if it did provide K’s with another three points. In the first half K’s were the definition of lacklustre, passing the ball slowly and with little intent, and far too reactive at the back. This approach allowed Worthing to grow in confidence and while they didn’t really deserve their half-time lead, it was hard to argue with the scoreline. But just as it seemed K’s inconsistency was becoming consistent, the players produced a much-improved second half performance to turn the game around. We were on the front foot, playing the game in the Worthing half, and at least putting the home side – without a win this season, remember – under some much-needed pressure. However, chances were at a premium until Saturday’s hero Collins, who had struggled to find any space in which to operate, was replaced by on-loan Gillingham forward Noel Mbo. Mbo was immediately a direct presence alongside Tom Derry up front, and in this more traditional 4-4-2 K’s looked more dangerous – as is often the case against poor sides. Derry (or was it actually Mbo with the final touch?) poked home the equaliser, and as the loyal travelling faithful* found their voices to try to inspire K’s to a winner, Mbo scored a delicious winner on debut, cutting inside on his left foot and calmly curling the ball into the far bottom corner. It was a difficult, clinical, dare I say professional finish, the kind you seldom see in the semi-pro Isthmian League. Mbo looks like a great option, and his class was the difference between a poor side and a below-par side on Tuesday.

5. What might all of this mean for the season? Without wishing to get splinters up my arse, it is really hard to say. My gut feeling is that the overall quality of the league is weak this season, and that’s why many teams, and not just K’s, are struggling to hit reliable form. I don’t think that the league has already taken shape – it’s likely that one or two of the teams who’ve had a poor start will sign a couple of players and end up in the playoffs, and if Worthing get back home sooner rather than later, they are capable of putting together a run to escape relegation. (At least, I certainly hope so, because they’re an excellent club and we missed the away day this year!) With only one relegation place this year, and with Billericay odds on to win the title due to their ludicrous spending, this really isn’t the season for clubs to dip into their reserves to boost their budgets. Canny chairmen will be keeping their chequebooks dry this term, and spending any saved money next year, when there are the normal number of relegation slots to avoid, and the outside chance of winning the title. Basically, I don’t think these crazy rollercoaster results are going to stop any time soon – so let’s have a laugh, throw our arms in the air, and enjoy the ride!

*who really do deserve a pat on the back, given it wasn’t possible to get back to London by train afterwards…


Player Ratings:

v Harlow: Tolfrey 9; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7.5, Little 7.5; Gogonas 8, Taylor 9; Fiddes 9, Haysman 9, *Collins 9*; Derry 8

v Worthing: Tolfrey 7; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7, Goode 7; Gogonas 6, Taylor 7; Fiddes 7, Collins 6, Haysman 6; Derry 7

We’re The C*nts in Your Jungle – Billericay Town (A)

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.

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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

Saving Kingstonian – A Manifesto (of sorts)

Plenty has already been said and written about the referendum on community ownership, and it’s not my intention to add too much fuel to that particular fire. In my view, the referendum was ill-conceived, poorly timed and badly delivered; as such, both the exceptionally low turnout, and the one-sided result, were hardly surprising.

But something positive did come out of the referendum process: the opening of a (limited) dialogue between the board and fans, and the start of a debate amongst supporters with different views about the short and medium-term future of Kingstonian Football Club. This was much needed. There is clearly a variety of opinions about what needs to happen in the next few months, and the next few years, in order for the football club to survive and hopefully prosper in the future. These opinions need to be aired, and ideas shared, because at some point very soon the remaining 250 die-hard K’s fans will have to pull together and implement change. The alternative is the death of Kingstonian Football Club as we know it. Anybody who denies that the club will gradually die without changing its current trajectory is deluded. That is not a criticism of the current board per se, because they have done, and continue to do, a great deal to keep the club alive – but more needs to be done.

Of course, by far the most important issue affecting the football club at the moment is that we are being made homeless at the end of this season. If we had our own ground, so many things would be easier to improve. But everything that follows can be done – or at least partially done, or started – independent of where the men’s first team is playing football.

In that spirit, what follows is a summary of ideas and suggestions that have been proposed either on the forum, in the pub, on the terraces, or at open meetings in the past that I think are good ideas. Think of it as a step towards a manifesto (of sorts) for how we all can help to improve Kingstonian Football Club, new ground or no new ground. Like it or not, we are all going to have to get involved.

A) COMMUNICATION & FAN ENGAGEMENT

  1. The people in charge of the club should communicate with other supporters as routine, not by exception. Whoever is in charge of Kingstonian – be it one all-powerful chairman who owns 100% of the club, or a committee of fans elected by a one-member one-vote system, or our current three co-chairmen – should engage with supporters without prompting, and without feeling like it’s a chore that gets in way of the ‘important’ bits of running a football club. In order to thrive and grow, K’s needs to develop a feeling of togetherness and a “one for all” spirit: we are, after all, meant to be a Club where we all have something important in common. More communication leads to more supporter engagement, and more supporter engagement will lead to more supporter involvement. More supporter involvement in the club cannot be a bad thing: if people feel more involved, they’re more likely to make the effort to attend matches; they’re more likely to drag friends and family to games; they’re more likely to buy a 50/50 or an extra drink in the bar; they might think about sponsoring a match or contribute to a boost-the-budget scheme. It’s about time that any board of Kingstonian Football Club recognized that actively building a sense of togetherness isn’t an aspiration, or something that sounds nice – it’s necessary, it requires action from those at the top, and it will deliver real benefits.

  2. Install a membership scheme (or similar) so that there is a defined group of “Kingstonian fans” with which any board can easily engage. The only good thing that came out of the referendum is that we now have the beginnings of a register of Kingstonian supporters – because what did we have before? We had records of season ticket holders, but we don’t have many of those; we had members of the Supporters Club, but this seems to be focused on a limited number of things such as away travel, and has always been a body that isn’t for everyone. Yet we know, both in terms of attendances and anecdotally, that there are at least 250 people who are die-hard, passionate K’s. Those running the club need to be able to communicate directly with the vast majority of these people, so that they both feel involved (see above), and so that they can be asked to contribute to the survival of the club in whatever way they can. This club will need everybody who cares about it to help it, and the starting point for that is obvious: let’s find out as best we can who cares about the club. Then we need to find out how people can help, either financially, with their time, with their ideas, or just their regular attendance at games. It all helps – but we need to ask people for that help, rather than just hoping people will offer it.
  3. Create at least two sub-committees with specific tasks and roles, to feed into the main board at regular pre-agreed intervals. The specific nature of these committees would be up for discussion, but in my opinion they should cover as an absolute minimum:
  • Attendances and general marketing promotions;
  • K’s involvement in the local community;
  • Commercial income and promotions. 

    Unless something goes incredibly wrong with football, or I win the lottery, the board of Kingstonian FC will continue to be made up of unpaid volunteers, working part-time to help the club. This in itself deserves enormous respect – and in any criticism of our current co-chairmen, it ought to be borne in mind – because it is hard and largely unrewarding work. As such, why not use the experience, knowledge and passion of supporters to help to develop the football club? This approach has the dual benefits of (i) bringing more people into the fold and as such widening the number of ideas on the table, and (ii) freeing up the board’s time to focus on the new stadium and on the football side of the club.

  1. Develop and agree plans for an interim board structure which can be implemented with or without any vote on full fan ownership of club shares. This example maintains control for the 3 major investors, but includes supporter representation, and requires commitment from the manager. We are after all a football club! My preferred option:
    • 3 major shareholders, plus
    • 1 elected (or agreed) representative from club membership (see above – not Supporters Club), plus
    • First Team Manager.
  2. Allow supporters (or ‘members’ if scheme above is a success) to see the financial performance of the club. I said above that “more communication leads to more engagement, and more engagement will lead to more involvement.” This is also true in the area of finances. To flesh this out a little:
    • If income was lower than expected for the previous season, and the club has a shortfall, why not tell supporters and spell out the choice that either a) supporters cover the shortfall, b) the playing budget is reduced, c) further investment is required – e.g. a share issue?
    • If matchday income is up due to supporter involvement, why not let people know so they are heartened and re-double their efforts?
    • If it’s obvious that groundsharing is costing the club vast swathes of its playing budget, why wouldn’t fans redouble our efforts to bring extra income into the club in the short term?
    • This doesn’t mean that club finances would be completely open, because this would massively undermine both the board’s negotiating position with suppliers and the manager’s negotiating position with players. But there is no reason at all why a Profit & Loss summary could not be produced every year, and reviewed with club members. All I am talking about is something like this…(and please, accountants and business owners, don’t go mad at me…I know it’s “wrong”…I’m illustrating the sort of basic level of detail you’d need to illustrate how possible and easy this is. I also know that the numbers are totally unrealistic before somebody also comments on that):

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B) VOLUNTEERING

Without dedicated volunteers, a non-league football club cannot survive. We are very lucky to have the people who currently act as volunteers, all of whom are universally recognized as brilliant. But we need more people to volunteer, firstly because the club cannot expect those people to carry on giving so much of their time and effort for ever, and even more importantly, because with more volunteers we can begin to improve what the club does on matchdays and expand our presence in the community, rather than just aiming to maintain the status quo.

In my opinion and experience, there are two main barriers to more people volunteering to help the club:

  • People don’t know the club needs help, don’t think that the club would appreciate the help, or simply don’t know how to go about helping;
  • People are scared that helping will be too big a commitment.

So, what needs to happen ASAP?

  1. Be open about volunteering requirements, wishlists, and “nice to haves”. Sometimes we are told if the club desperately requires more volunteers, but when were we last told if the club would benefit from, or even could do with, more volunteers? Some roles cannot be done without: turnstile operators etc. Some roles are clearly very beneficial: 50/50 salespeople etc. Some roles are important, but have hidden rather than direct benefits: programme editor. And some roles are nice to have people to do, but not essential: social media etc. Let’s get this all written down, and then fill in who does the roles currently. Let’s see where the gaps are. Then let’s advertise internally every summer and see which gaps can be closed. I’m sorry to say this, but it seems like a closed shop at the moment…a bit of a clique. We’ve got to stop that immediately.
  1. Set up a volunteering rota for as many roles as possible to involve more people and spread the demands more thinly. Some people can’t make every game, or can only make 10 games a season…so why prevent them from doing what they can to help? The ‘regulars’ might really appreciate a day off, and some people won’t want to spend every home game volunteering, but would help every other game (for instance). Equally, something important might come up on one day of the season (a wedding, a funeral, or anything!) and even the most dedicated volunteer might not be able to make it. Getting a ‘sub’ in shouldn’t be difficult in 2017. I bet any money that setting up a rota such as this would massively increase the number of people who would be prepared to volunteer. As an easy example, I was prepared to help with the club’s Twitter account provided it was an irregular thing. As somebody else was also prepared to do the majority of the work, we took it on, and took one of Robert’s many many roles from him, giving him a little less to do. As a further example, sometimes there’s one 50/50 seller, sometimes two. Presumably the club makes an extra £30-50 or so when there’s the second seller, but as it stands nobody can commit to doing it every single week. What if 2/3 people said they’d cover that role between them? It can only benefit the club.
  1. Organize volunteering through one point of contact (which does not have to be one person). One of the reasons that the above two points don’t currently happen is that things aren’t well organized (and I don’t mean ‘Matchday’, overseen brilliantly by Alan, or the media stuff overseen brilliantly by Robert…I’m talking in general here). Sorry if that offends anybody, but it’s the truth. It would be a big commitment for somebody to take this on, but again, could 2 people share the role perhaps?
  2. Be explicitly and more regularly thankful of our volunteers! These wonderful people deserve to be celebrated and venerated. Let’s do that more.
    • Introduce a “Volunteers Day” every season to thank the people who keep the club running. Every volunteer gets in for free, gets a free drink voucher, gets to go on the pitch at half time or whatever, etc
    • Print people’s names in the programme – if they want!
    • Encourage ex-volunteers to return to the club, even if they don’t want to volunteer again. People who’ve given so much of their time to the club should always feel welcome, no matter what happened in the past
    • And anything else – ideas welcome!

C) MARKETING, CROWDS & MATCHDAY EXPERIENCE

  1. Set up a committee with responsibility for this area (see above). Let all ideas be welcome and make sure the committee is a totally open shop, not a clique.
  2. If schemes are trialled, we need to be able to quantify whether they are a success, a qualified success, or a failure. This isn’t easy and it will require some expertise – but we do have a remarkable group of supporters. We then need to focus on what works, and stop doing what doesn’t work. Sounds obvious, but we’re in the dark at the moment. What is the best way to use willing volunteers’ time in promoting the club?
  3. Set genuine targets and measures on attendances to improve things. I remember a couple of years ago at an open meeting, Mark Anderson insisted that “gates aren’t going down actually – they’re at the same level they’ve been at for the last few seasons”. To anyone who came to home matches, this was clearly bollocks: you only had to look at the crowds to see we were, and still are, gradually losing home fans. But he was just looking at the overall ‘average attendance’ stats, which masked the fact that we had about half a dozen massive travelling supports that year. Come on: let’s do better than this. There’s a load of measures we could put in to track whether things are improving – and to keep the necessary and intense focus on expanding the supporter base. If we don’t do this, the club will die. The problem is that we’re going to be groundsharing, and gates will go down inevitably. From that low point, we need to bounce back.
  4. Focus on matchday experience: it is what makes the difference for new supporters, and when all’s said and done, what keeps existing supporters coming back season after season. In practical terms, at the moment, would we pay slightly more for a groundshare with cover at both ends and the ability to drink outside? I think we probably ought to consider doing that. People come for the day out, not for the game…and actually, K’s have got a lot to offer. Our fans are passionate and witty; we have great songs; we have great history to sing about; our travelling support can be really impressive and fun to be a part of. Let’s use all of that as a positive rather than either ignoring it, or even worse, seeing it as some kind of negative.

D) COMMERCIAL & OTHER INCOME STREAMS

  1. Set up a committee with responsibility for this area (see above) – this doesn’t have to be all new people, because why ‘punish’ those working so hard in this sphere at the moment?
  2. We need more people selling the club to businesses (or wealthy individuals, I suppose). At the moment, there’s basically the chairmen plus one volunteer. How can we make this happen? I’m not sure I have any answers, but we’re not going to get very far if someone out there can’t come up with the answers.
  3. We need something to sell: we need to be the community football club of Kingston-upon-Thames. (That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘community owned’). This requires us to massively increase our links with the local community, so that we’re not lying when we say that a) we have great reach in the area for local businesses, and b) we have a great local brand. This is the hardest one of all, but not impossible, as other clubs at our level and below have shown. AFC Wimbledon leaving Kingston will help – but not if we don’t become Kingston’s football team once again.

E) LAST BUT NOT LEAST…FOOTBALL!

  1. Re-integrate Kingstonian Youth into the Kingstonian Football Club structure. As it stands, K’s Youth use the club’s famous name and colours – and in return, the name “Kingstonian” and the red and white hoops get great exposure in the community without any actual financial outlay. But can’t we do better than this – and shouldn’t we be aiming to do better than this? In my direct experience, people in Kingston presume – wrongly – that Kingstonian FC has overall control of Kingstonian Youth. Leafletting in Kingston, I’ve twice had the finger pointed at “the club” for increases in youth subs, or poor quality coaching. This can’t be right. There needs to be a direct link between K’s Youth and the first team. Younger teams should come to matches as guests far more frequently than they do, bringing their parents, and then given incentives to return beyond a free season ticket; they should feel part of the Club. Slightly older teams should be encouraged to see a pathway to the first team. The U18s should be producing players capable of playing some role in the future of the club: this may not be a direct transition, but one that happens later in life. It cannot harm the club if more good footballers based in London have an emotional connection with Kingstonian Football Club as a whole. And it will genuinely help the football club in terms of both ground-building and commercial sponsorship to be able to point to these links as real and tangible evidence of its importance to the local community.
  2. Develop a reputation as club that plays entertaining football. If the future of the club is on a 3G or 4G pitch via a period of groundsharing, then in my opinion this is extremely important. Particularly when we’re groundsharing, gates will plummet unless we are playing attractive, entertaining football. This does not necessarily mean tiki-taka, which often doesn’t translate at non-league level, but must mean excitement, and hopefully goals. Of course this isn’t easy, and doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible. And if we do manage to build or create a home of our own in future, then becoming known as a ground where you’ll be entertained will a) bring in sponsorship, b) increase gates, and c) improve the chances of developing links with professional clubs, both in terms of lucrative pre-season friendlies, and in terms of loaning their young players.
  1. Define and agree the role of First Team Manager and Assistant Manager, and recruit on that basis. Since Geoff Chapple, we have had managers with vastly different approaches to a role with the same job title, and Assistant Managers who range widely in their experience and qualifications. What actually is the role of the management team, apart from to set up and football team to win football matches? Should they also be told that they’ll be expected to deliver any of the following?
    • To make sure the team plays attacking and entertaining football?
    • To bring contacts and potentially increased commercial investment into the club?
    • To act as part of the club’s work in the community, promoting the club?
    • To get involved with other areas of the club (e.g. Youth, Academy or Ladies teams) in a coaching capacity?

And if they can’t do anything other than trying to win games, should the club be prepared to pay them less than a manager who can? In my view we should.

  1. Have a first-team football strategy, and implement it. The non-league season is uneven, both in terms of the spread of fixtures, and the importance of fixtures: put bluntly, some parts of the season matter more than others. There are more midweek league matches at the start of the season than the middle and the end (unless there is a bad weather winter); all-important FA Cup and FA Trophy games are in September, October and November. Obviously, there is also no transfer window, and most players aren’t on a fixed contract. As such, a sensible manager will front-load his budget to take this into account. If a cup run brings in some money, he’ll be able to maintain the slightly higher level; if not, he may have to cut cloth accordingly. And if there’s a promotion chance or a relegation battle at the end of the season, extra funds should then be provided as a calculated gamble. If we’re comfortably mid-table, it may be that the budget can be squeezed even further without letting players go who are in the manager’s plans for the following season. This should all go without saying…but it doesn’t seem to happen at the moment. Our team in August and September was a shambles, and we’ve just signed an expensive player on contract when we can’t go up or go down this year. Go figure.

Words are easy. But achieving any of the above won’t be easy – and the changes and developments in this piece are only a very small part of those required. It’s going to take a lot of action and commitment, possibly over a long period of time, to make Kingstonian FC a success once again. But this great club has one big advantage: a large group of passionate and dedicated people who are desperate for the good times to return. If we all work together, we can make it happen – but it has to start right now. Let’s get started.

We Don’t Know What We’re Voting For: Why You Shouldn’t Cast Your Ballot in This Farce of a Referendum

The voting papers for the referendum on whether Kingstonian remain a directors’ owned club, or move to a “community” model, are already out. I received mine in the post on Saturday. That means that I could have already voted, and indeed posts on social media suggest that a few people already have cast their ballot.

I urge you all: please stop voting! Any arguments over the detailed pro’s and cons of being fan-owned don’t matter at this point, because we, the electorate, don’t even know what we’re voting for.

The ballot paper itself (which is odd, but never mind) defines the “become a Community owned club” option as including any option where the majority of the shares are owned by individuals on a one share, one owner basis. Therefore this could be anything from a “50+1” model, where outside investment is encouraged, through to an ACFW-style one member, one vote model. These two things are fundamentally different…and I would vote for the former (reluctantly), but vote against the other. I suspect many people are in this position. More importantly – there are no details in the leaflet provided to assist voters on the process for determining what “fan-owned club” actually means in the event of a majority vote to move away from being a directors’ owned club.

How can anybody, in good conscience, vote in these circumstances?  It would be the same as voting for a party in the General Election which said:

“Well, we might move towards a totally Communist economy, where nobody can even own property – or we might just raise income tax to 50% from 45% and leave it at that. I mean, both positions are broadly socialist…so if you think socialism sort of sounds like a good idea, vote for us, and we’ll figure out all the pesky details later, yeah? I mean, we won’t tell you who will work those details out, or when, or what say you’ll have in them…but you know, just trust us?”

It is ridiculous, and shameful quite frankly, that we have been placed in this situation.

So again, I urge you: please do not vote until you know what you are voting for. Personally, I think that means we need a clear, unambiguous and binding commitment to a second referendum – for exactly the same electorate, importantly – in the case of a vote to become a “community owned” club in this first total shambles of a referendum. Let’s hope that is forthcoming on Wednesday.

And then – and only then – let the debate begin.

“4-1 To Director’s Loans” – Hendon (A)

1. I’ve been away on holiday for two weeks (three weekends, in footballing terms) and have thus happily managed to miss K’s season falling apart via three consecutive home defeats. So bleak were these losses that, having asked the assembled K’s in the Midland Hotel bar before the game about them, most people struggled to remember which game was which, although the consensus was that “the third one…was that Worthing?…was definitely the worst”. Tommy Williams had grabbed onto Sunday’s eventual Trophy victory against Lewes as a possible turning point, but as I read Lewes chairman Stuart Fuller’s excellent blog on the (delayed – thanks again Thameslink, you Tory-privatised, profit-driven, incompetent shower of shit) train to Hendon, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the K’s manager. Apparently Lewes – in the league below, don’t forget – were suffering major injury problems, including missing their entire first choice midfield, and yet we still laboured to a fortunate victory, and even then we only scored both our goals due to the tenacity and sheer goalscoring desire of Ryan Moss. Given all that, confidence in Kingstonian recording a victory was low.

2. But that’s not to say that morale in the Midland Hotel bar was low. At least a dozen behind-the-goal K’s had already assembled in the pub by 6pm, most having taken full advantage of the dire Thameslink service by filling the delay with a tin or two on the train, and so alcohol-induced exuberance had set in by the time we all set off for Hendon’s new ground.

img_0933

A severly delayed train is an away day opportunity, not a curse

Arriving from the north, it must be the strangest approach to a Ryman League ground: you walk downhill from a gigantic, floodlit Hindu temple through a completely dark park towards the floodlights of what you assume is the ground, then have to walk all the way around the perimeter hedge to get to the turnstiles, which are in the furthest corner from civilisation. Once inside, it’s clear that Hendon have done a superb job given their limited resources. There is an old covered stand down one side, which also houses the cosy bar, the relic of the previous set-up on the site; two small covered terraces on the opposite side for those who prefer a view from the touchline; and covered stands at both ends, one seated and one a tiny, shiny terrace. The view from the seated end, back up the hill to the temple, is particularly impressive. The only negative is the 3G pitch, which is both sloped and clearly suffers from the occasional irregular bounce, meaning that defenders quickly learn to resort to the old-fashioned Row Z approach rather than playing it out from the back. Given the progressive way Hendon teams tend to play, even sticking to their possession-based principles on the replica of the Somme that was Harrow’s pitch last season, this may be affecting them at home more than their opponents.

img_09373. K’s looked good from the off, finding space down both flanks in what looked like a deliberate tactic to stretch the pitch by keeping both wide men as far forward as possible. As such, K’s shape was more of a wide 4-3-3 than the 4-2-3-1 that it seemed from the line-up. Driven forward by a clearly pumped-up Lee O’Leary, playing against his former club, K’s began to fashion chances. Twice Joe Turner somehow failed to score at the back post from superb Youssef Bamba crosses from the right, bundling the ball wide and then hitting the bar with a header from two yards out. But it was third time lucky for the indefatigable Turner, who headed home yet another terrific cross from Bamba to put K’s ahead. At this point, Hendon fell to pieces, and K’s swarmed forward in search of further goals against a side even more bereft of confidence than those in red-and-white hoops. But the second goal didn’t arrive from a team move; instead, it came from a moment of individual class that would (honestly) have graced the Champions League games being played simultaneously. Norman ‘Aaron’ Lamont picked the ball up about 35 yards out, took a good touch, looked up, saw the keeper a little too far off his line, and then having taken the audacious decision to shoot from such a distance, had the skill to execute a perfect lob with the pace and dip of an Andy Murray drop shot to leave the Hendon keeper flailing and the K’s fans delirious. This goal deserves to be right up there in the pantheon of great recent K’s goals, somewhere close to Bobby Trainer at Sutton or Andre McCollin at home to Grays. Take a bow, Mr Lamont. Even after this, K’s didn’t let up, and added a deserved third via an O’Leary header from a pinpoint Joe Turner set play. 3-0 at half time, and game over. K’s did a good job of shutting the game down in the second half, added a fourth courtesy of the outstanding Bamba, and thoroughly deserved the 4-1 victory.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 7, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 7; *Bamba 9*, O’Leary 8, SBJ 7, Turner 8; Lamont 8; Moss 7

4. But my overwhelming feelings leaving the game weren’t really focussed on the match itself. Instead, fuelled by several beers on an empty stomach, I was contemplating on the way home just how much fun it remains to watch Kingstonian, even in these uncertain times. I laughed and laughed in the pre-match pub session (mainly at Ali’s insistence that he has been to Leiston). At the game, our fans went through the *entire* songbook, and it took almost the whole 90 minutes to do: this year’s first rendition of the Twelve K’s of Christmas took up a full five minutes, for starters. How many clubs have songs that go on for five minutes, referencing players from two decades ago, that are known in full by every supporter? A small group of Canadian tourists were so impressed on Sunday that they had trekked all the way to Hendon to stand behind the goal and support K’s again – and they might even come to Tonbridge on Saturday! Sometimes we forget that watching Kingstonian can be, and in fact should be, great fun. Last night brought that fun back. Long may it continue.

5. That’s why it’s particularly sad that we can no longer ignore the “off the pitch stuff” – as it’s always obliquely referred to – when we’re at matches, because the time has finally arrived when that ‘stuff’ is really happening: voting in the referendum officially opened yesterday. In amongst the supportive chanting last night, there were also renditions of “4-0 to director’s loans”, “we’re overspending, we don’t give a fuck” and, directed at supporter-run Hendon, “fan owned, and you’re 4-0 down”. These songs – as much a product of the pints being drunk as genuine opinions on the issue of fan ownership, to be fair – make the point, albeit not in an eloquent way, that there isn’t overwhelming enthusiasm among the fans for taking control of the club at this time. What a shame that, even on a raucous, boozy, loud night which ended with a 4-1 away win, we have to think about ownership structures and director’s loans.

We Love You Kingston, We Do – AFC Sudbury (H)

1. Rejoice! At last, a properly convincing performance from Kingstonian in the 2016/17 season! But what a shame – and a waste – that it’s taken until a full quarter of the way through the season, including a disastrous and ugly FA Cup defeat, to get to this point. It’s an even bigger shame that the issues we’ve had in putting a coherent team together have been so obvious, and therefore so avoidable. Sometimes it’s a mystery to paying punters why an eleven put on the field just doesn’t fit together as a unit, and ends up performing as less than the sum of its individual parts. There have been several K’s elevens during this spell in Ryman League mid-table purgatory that, on paper, seemed like they should be really good football teams, but have never convinced on the pitch. So I’m not saying this management lark is easy. But what is easy is looking at a squad in pre-season that contains only Joe Turner as a proven midfielder at this level, having lost Odamatey, O’Leary, Smith and Bennett, and thinking: “I reckon we’re going to have a problem in midfield”. What is also easy is realising within about 45 minutes that the most convincing thing about Dan Gallagher’s ability as a footballer is his haircut. What is even easier to understand is that if Ola Sogbamnu is a Ryman Premier league holding midfielder, then Rajesh Khosla is a trustworthy and valuable member of society. Yet somehow it’s taken until October to put together a first eleven that looks like a proper football team – and I’m afraid to say that’s incompetent management. Tommy Williams may very well turn it around with the squad we’ve now assembled and K’s may very well go on to have a good season. Obviously, I really hope so. But you don’t wildly praise a salesman for good Q2, Q3 and Q4 performance if he missed his targets so badly in Q1, through factors entirely within his control rather than bad luck, that he misses them for the whole year. Therefore, I think what our management team need to do is be a bit more humble: recognise that criticism they’ve received so far this season isn’t personal; it’s entirely objectively justified. Perhaps it might be time to think about what went wrong over pre-season and in August and September, and try to learn from those mistakes, rather than hitting out at people pointing those mistakes out?

2. But as much as they deserve to be under pressure for throwing away FA Cup revenue and giving the rest of the league a dozen game head start, Tommy Williams and his team do deserve credit for finally getting it right – because they’ve managed to do so in an unorthodox way. Firstly, placing faith in Sean Bonnett-Johnson as a central midfielder has been a masterstroke – and one that shows Williams must be a fundamentally good coach. I can’t think of a single supporter who’d have picked SBJ as a really good central midfield box-to-box dynamo based on his previous performances in red-and-white hoops, yet that’s exactly what he’s proving to be. Secondly, Aaron ‘Norman’ Lamont looks for all the world like a winger: he’s short, a bit stocky, and quick with the ball at his feet. But again, the management team have seen hidden potential in a player that isn’t immediately obvious, and Lamont’s best performances in a K’s shirt have come at number 8 or number 10 rather than on the right wing. Thirdly, the signing of Michael Onovwigun looks inspired. To this observer, he seems a cut above anything on the pitch whenever he is playing – which will hopefully be more often from now on.

3. On that note, it was the introduction of Onovwigun off the bench that changed Saturday’s game, because until he came onto the pitch, the result was in the balance. This wasn’t always looking like a straightforward and comprehensive 3-0 win. In the first half, despite K’s having far more of the ball, Sudbury were the team who created the chances, and Rob Tolfrey had to make one particularly fine stop to keep it goalless at the interval. Following half-time, K’s were as improved as my mood after having a fantastic pint of ale in the bar, something that is generally about as likely as meeting a Duwlich Hamlet ‘fan’ in South London who isn’t the kind of smug wanker that makes even socialists like me think twice about voting Labour. We scored a good goal when Pico impressively curled in a shot after a positive Lamont run through the middle, and we looked for a few minutes like adding a second and going on and dominating the game. But that isn’t what happened, because K’s back four and midfield got deeper and deeper, whether through lack of confidence or (what would be more worrying) tactical instruction, and left both of our excellent centre forwards increasingly isolated and unable to influence the game. As such, Sudbury pressed on and the next goal seemed likely to be an equaliser – albeit that the back four looked as solid as it has done all season and limited the Suffolk lads to half chances and a couple of scrambles from set pieces. Cue the eventual introduction of Onovwigun, a couple of crunching tackles won in midfield, a remarkably good early cross from Youssef Bamba and a towering header from Alan Inns, who had to beat not only the Sudbury defender but also Ryan Moss in the air to score.

4. That meant it was game over. For the rest of the match, K’s were really impressive: in total control, passing the ball well, and looking dangerous whenever we had the ball. One of the main reasons we looked so dangerous was the ten minute masterclass in tormenting a full back given by Bamba between the second goal and his substituation. Bamba looks like a real asset: he is a decent dribbler, and quick, but there’s plenty of Ryman League wingers who can offer that. The reason Bamba has the potential to be such a good player is that he has the rarest of non-league abilities: he can put in an early cross with enough dip and swerve for it to be attacked. In his brief time with K’s, he has already delivered two of these exceptional crosses, both attacking the KRE, and both resulting in K’s goals. As such, full backs think, “I’ve got to get tight to this bloke and stop the cross”…and then he can knock it past them and run down the line. The lad is an exciting prospect.

5. And actually, this K’s squad that’s now been put together is an exciting prospect, because there aren’t any weaknesses. The back five is obviously excellent, and Bruce Hogg is a very good deputy – although the players need to start proving this label by continuing what they started on Saturday and conceding fewer avoidable goals. Onovwigun and SBJ could be a terrific midfield partnership. Turner, Bamba and Lamont are strong, positive, attacking wide players – and Lamont has proven he can play in central midfield, giving Tommy another tactical option. Up front we are strong. Pico and Moss were superb on Saturday, and are developing a good understanding, and Tom Derry will be an asset once he’s got fit.

So, onwards and upwards…at last.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 8; Goode 6, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 6; Bamba 8, SBJ 7, Lamont 7, Turner 8; *Pico 8*, Moss 8