On the 26th of August 2006, K’s fans travelled to Thurrock for a Ryman League Division One South (pub league) fixture between Kingstonian and Dartford. 336 people were there to witness a fairly dire 1-0 ‘home’ win by the Darts.
Fast forward six and a half years, and yes, in that period, we at Kingstonian have strengthened as a club. We have a passionate, committed, knowledgeable and downright good manager in Alan Dowson; we have secured tenancy at Kingsmeadow; we have people in charge of the club who have the best interests of Kingstonian at heart and are willing to back the manager to sign players; we have a thriving youth section and academy; and most of all, we’re playing our football at the top end of the Ryman Premier League rather than the lower half of the Ryman South. In fact, in retrospect, we can say that the MacIntyre months (in which that August 2006 Dartford game fell) were the club’s nadir. But happy as we should be with our progress since then, Dartford’s record puts ours to shame: the Darts have moved on to such an extent that they’re barely the same club any more. Three promotions, a new ground, and regular four-figure gates all mean that the Darts are very much the big boys in our Trophy fixture. As if to demonstrate what a mammoth task winning the tie will be, Dartford’s most recent away game was a win at Luton, whose average gate is 20 times that of ours.
The Kent side’s last season in our company was 2009/10, when they destroyed the hoops twice on their march to the Ryman Premier title. The 5-0 demolition job at Princes Park still gives me nightmares now, given that K’s were highly fortunate not to be on the end of a double-figure defeat; the Darts’ 6-2 win at Kingsmeadow, which secured them the title, was tame in comparison. All the scorers of those 11 (ELEVEN) goals are still starting for the Darts in the Conference, which does help to put the heavy defeats into perspective, even if it emphasises the mountain K’s will have to climb to win the tie.
And if the gulf in quality between the sides didn’t seem big enough already, there is the K’s 4-0 defeat at Thurrock last Saturday to throw into the mix. A loss like that – to the bottom side in the league, remember – can shatter confidence.
But despite all of this, there should be no despondency about K’s prospects in this fixture: we have a chance. The K’s players will raise their game – and make no mistake, we do have some good players – and any team that scores goals for fun has a great chance in a one-off cup tie. A set piece, a long-range strike, a counter attack, and all of a sudden Dartford are under pressure. Wealdstone’s run to the semi-finals last season, when they beat Conference sides Barrow and Cambridge, and dispatched Dartford along the way for good measure, shows what can be done with belief and a little luck.
So tell your friends, tell your neighbours, and tell the world – let’s get a decent crowd in, for once, and let’s get right behind the side for 90 minutes. COYKs!