Alan Dowson’s Magic – Bognor Regis (A)

Alan Dowson’s magic,
He wears a magic hat,
And when he saw the Ryman League
He said top 8 is a realistic target

The day ended with the above chant being sung to bemused Londoners and tourists in Victoria station. The day started in Victoria station with bemusement as to how, as always, two of the party of six intrepid travellers managed to have to sprint for the 10:32 train, especially given that one of the offenders had been at Victoria at 10:15. In both cases, the answer was obvious by the plastic bags they almost threw onto the departing train – they had been shopping for “supplies”, which on a Saturday train journey is – as we all know – code for alcohol. This was the away day equivalent of a football club displaying what journalists always call a “clear sign of intent” in the dying moments of the transfer window. In the same way the QPR were panicked into buying Chris Samba for £12.5m and £100k a week – “somebody at QPR seems to have missed the Maths lesson where they taught about decimal points”, quipped Tony Barrett in the Times this week – Matt was rushed into laying out £11.70 for four lukewarm cans of Magners. It’s debatable which last minute purchase represented the worst value.

After what was meant to be a quick stop-off (but turned into a mini-session) in the superb old-fashioned Bognor boozer The Alex, it was off to the seaside. And what a day it was to be beside the seaside – a clear blue sky, a freshening wind, barely another soul in sight, and a superb bag of chips and mushy peas. IMG_0050

With time running out before kick off, there was a clear choice between mini-golf and the arcades. Having decided on 9 holes of mini-golf, Ross took charge of negotiations with the ticket seller in his own unique style:
“We’ve only got time for nine holes – how’s about twenty quid between the eight of us?”
“It doesn’t work like that, mate – how do I know you won’t play all 18?”
“We don’t have time to play 18, and anyway, look at this hole here! It’s shit! If they’re all like that we won’t even play nine”
“For you, the price has gone up to a fiver, my friend.”

Off to the arcades it was, then. If I learned one thing from Saturday, it’s that even on a 2p machine, it’s possible to lose a significant amount of money in an insignificant amount of time. Still, a good time was had by all – and even if we left with lighter pockets, as a group we gained two cuddly toys, three furry dice, a miniature boot, and a £5 note (from the ‘Bank of Cheryl Cole’, unfortunately).
A taxi to the ground, the magnificent Nyewood Lane, brought a rendezvous with a pleasing number of travelling K’s, including an entire stag party on tour. It also brought a very pleasing glimpse of the K’s lineup, which boasted no glaring weakness and a strong bench. And it was the quality of the subs’ bench which was to prove the deciding factor in the match. At this point though, after the recent postponements, disappointing away crowds and debacle at Hendon, it was just nice to be at a non-league football game between two decent sides watched by a decent crowd.

Unfortunately, the first half was, well…rubbish. Organised, committed rubbish – but rubbish all the same. The only thing worse than the game was the home keeper’s metrosexual haircut, although being as folically challenged as I am, I left the inevitable abuse to others behind the goal, and they didn’t let the side down. Fortunately, you could quaff a pint on the terraces, or so we thought. Emerging from the clubhouse for the second half with what we all felt might be very necessary supplies (if anything, a pint would take away the boredom if the football carried on in the same vein), we were told it was only possible to drink in the clubhouse end of the ground. This meant that a dozen or so K’s fans spent the first ten minutes of the second half huddled in the corner rather than behind the goal we were attacking, which was far from ideal. But it also meant that everybody behind the goal for the rest of the game had just necked a pint. Any coincidence, then, that us K’s fans made a good old-fashioned racket throughout the second half? Somehow I think not…

After another frustrating 40 minutes in which both sides huffed and puffed but created very little, it was Kingstonian who struck the crucial blow. The fresh legs – and finishing ability – of Wade Small made the difference, as he calmly curled a low strike into the bottom corner, past the Bognor keeper’s despairing dive (and dire barnet). The travelling fans went mental, and went wild again when the ref blew his whistle after a tense period of injury time.

This was a tremendous victory. Bognor are as well-drilled and organised as it is possible to get at this level of non-league football, and they seldom lose at home, yet over 90 minutes, the home side weren’t allowed to create a single clear-cut chance. K’s were obdurate and reliable at the back, full of energy and attitude in the middle, and never stopped chasing lost causes up front. This was the kind of performance that means a lot to supporters: it wasn’t a game won with skill and fancy football; it was a victory gained by graft, determination and a burning desire to win three points. And (certainly until these pitches clear up), we’ll need more of the same, please lads.

So a delirious group headed back to the Bognor clubhouse for a celebratory ale, and then wandered back into town. Only one wrong turn later – which isn’t a bad achievement given how strange a route you have to walk – we were back in The Alex. A quid check of t’internet revealed we were up to 4th in the table, and the landlord remembered the precise round we’d ordered five hours earlier, and started pouring the moment we got through the door. Now that’s a class end to an away day.

Except of course, it wasn’t the end. The train journey home delivered a drinking game – borne out of two cuddly toys, three furry dice, and a miniature boot – which consisted almost entirely of singing:

Alan Dowson’s magic,
He wears a magic hat,
And when he saw the Ryman League
He said top 8 is a realistic target

And this meant that the away day really ended in Victoria station, with a bemused public being educated into how Geordie managers play down expectations in non-league football. Classy? No. A public service? Certainly.


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