The first real away day of the season did not start well, with two drop-outs before we even got to Liverpool Street station. So a hardy group of four travelling fans, rather than six, boarded the 8:55 Norwich train and settled into the morning’s business. Where was Lowestoft? When we got there, mini golf or arcades? And when should we start drinking on the three-hour train journey? The last question answered itself when the table opposite – two girls on a day out to Diss, of all places – cracked open the booze at 10am. Well, if two girls can start drinking at 10am and be okay, then what use in us keeping our powder dry?
The day was looking up: the sun had come out, Lowestoft had been found on google maps, and an internet search revealed there was no mini golf option, meaning the arcades would be taking some of our cash. After changing trains at an extremely familiar-looking Norwich station – which given I’d never been there before can only have been courtesy of Alan Partridge – we were soon rattling through the Broads on the way to Suffolk’s (and the UK’s) easternmost outpost. Conversation turned to the match ahead for pretty much the only time before kick off at 3pm. Henry wanted a “reaction” after the Folkestone debacle; Ross wanted a decent game of football; I desperately wanted a K’s goal; Dan, meanwhile, simply wanted to make sure there’d be a bar inside the ground.
An over-exuberant barking dog signalled the train’s arrival at Lowestoft station, and lo and behold, the sun was out! But first, before any seaside activities, a proper pint was required – and we found it in the Harbour Inn.
The pub was a depressing sort of a place, not a dive exactly, but the kind of establishment where retired couples who’ve long ago given up on talking to one another go for a microwaved lunchtime meal. It was nicely decked out and well-situated, but entirely lacking in charm – the pub version of a new-build football stadium. However, it did a cracking pint of local ale, and so we stayed for a second before heading out to the esplanade.
And what an esplanade it was! Having never been to Lowestoft, I must admit this aspect of the town took me by surprise – at least a mile of wide golden sand, with a long row of charming Victorian houses set back from the beach to accompany it. It’s a charming seafront with far less of a whiff of decline than, say, Margate or Bognor, and a good place to spend a sunny day. Arcades are always fun, and this was no exception. A bit of air hockey, an assault on the 2p machines, a gamble on the fruit machines and a bit of time crisis delivered not only a profit, but also a bubble wand. Our lucky day, perhaps?
So with a spring in our step we headed back up the esplanade to the chippy, and this was a great chippy experience: freshly battered fish, freshly fried chips, and an outside table so close to the sea we were almost getting wet. Proper. But what was this? A sign for mini-golf, the ultimate seaside-only activity? How had we missed it – and why had The Internet lied to us? Pre-match pints were looking less and less likely as we struggled round the 12 holes, our lack of skills making the local kids laugh. Fair enough, lads, I’m not much good at mini-golf, but at least I can’t count to twelve on my digits, eh?
Such was our desire to have as much wholesome seaside fun as possible, we’d managed to completely miss our pre-match drinking window, which was dangerous for two important reasons: firstly, we were all in danger of getting a mid-afternoon hangover, and secondly, watching Ryman League football sober is seldom much fun. As such, a quick pace was set on the walk to Crown Meadow, and a pre-match ale drunk. A look at the team-sheet revealed two new names, and a chat with the best-informed man among the minuscule travelling support further revealed that Bruce Hogg (wearing 3) was a defender, and Josh Carey (wearing 6) was a central midfielder ex-Bashley. Naturally, we all completely forgot their names, and spent the afternoon calling them “the 3” and “the 6”. To be fair, given the turnover of players at K’s, I’m starting to lose track.
The game kicked off, as games tend to do. Lowestoft were all over us, marauding in particular down K’s right flank. Charles Ofusu-hene had either been told not to bother tracking back in a tactical ploy, or just couldn’t be arsed. Aaron Goode wasn’t having a good day. The new-look midfield was non-existent. It all added up to a very uncomfortable first half an hour, with K’s resorting to the odd counter attack generally launched either via a hopeful punt downfield, or via a clever ball out of defence from the 3, who was making an impressive debut. Rob Tolfrey made two excellent saves, one of which was so outstanding that it caught the home fans’ “YEAHH” in their throats, always a satisfying moment for a travelling support. What a keeper we’ve got. Then the inevitable finally happened, and Lowestoft took a thoroughly deserved lead. K’s looked shakier than a poloroid picture, frankly.
But K’s reaction to the setback was outstanding. If anything, the goal seemed to wake the K’s players out of their slumber, forcing them to be more positive and show more intent on the ball, and we came into the game. The 6 had already hit the bar with a 25-yard thunderbolt, but then a period of pressure led to Ryan Moss only managing to hit the keeper when through one-on-one, and Andre McCollin hitting the base of the post with a fierce left-footed strike from the edge of the area. McCollin and Moss were outstanding all afternoon despite not receiving the best service for long periods. Their work rate and all-round desire sets an example for the rest of the side to follow, and their combination play and physicality scares every defence they come up against. They will score a lot of goals this season, and as long as they’re both fit, K’s will surely win more games than we lose.
0-1 at half-time, and a trip to the bar. But not before a bizarre incident on the way round the ground, when a wheelchair-bound home fan gave the referee an obscene amount of spittle-flecked abuse, culminating in “come over here if you’re brave enough, you c**t”. Now, I’m all for positivity towards disabled people, and equal rights and treatment, but unless the bloke wasn’t disabled at all, I’m not quite sure how the referee could have taken him up on his offer of a fight. Did he have a spare chair to put the ref in to even things up? And perhaps more to the point, why on earth did this bloke feel that the ref was favouring K’s? He’d given pretty much every 50/50 to the home side under intense pressure from a home crowd who howled and moaned at any minor decision which didn’t go their way like a spoiled kids’ U-11 side. This was to be the major feature of the second half, unfortunately.
Half-time was very disappointing. The bar was – bizarrely – showing egg-chasing rather than football scores, meaning it was empty. And they’d run out of ale. And a local was eyeing us up (well, I think he was, but his eyes were so close together it was hard to tell) and generally looking a bit too aggressive for comfort. The final downer was that the behind-the-goal destination for the second half didn’t even have a roof. Harrumph.
But K’s were pretty good for most of the second half, building on their gradual improvement during the first period. Kavanagh and the 6 started to get some control in the middle of the park, and as such the ball was finding its way to the trickery of Charlie Knight and the direct running of Charles Ofusu-hene more often, and in more dangerous positions. Lowestoft were still having a lot of the play, but K’s were creating better chances. In particular, Andre McCollin ought to have buried a one-on-one, but lifted the ball tamely into the arms of the home keeper (the non-league veteran Ashlee Jones, as loud and reliable as ever) instead of the back of the net.
Then came Incident Number One. The ball found Charlie Knight on the edge of the area, and like a non-league David Silva, he twisted and turned into a more dangerous position right in the middle of the pitch, 20 yards out. All the time, Knight was being persistently fouled, but the referee was happy to play on when Knight had no shooting opportunity. Suddenly, it all opened up on his right foot, and Knight shaped to shoot with a big backlift. At the exact second the ball hit hit foot, the referee decided this was the exact time when the advantage had ceased to exist, and blew his whistle for a foul. This would have been frustrating – and stupid – enough, but the shot found its way (via a small deflection) right into the top corner of the ‘Stoft net. So a K’s goal was disallowed because – and this really is the punchline – the referee saw no advantage in letting play continue. The resulting free kick, of course, sailed into the gardens behind the goal.
K’s continued to knock on the door, but to be fair ‘Stoft were also looking likely to add a second given the numbers the hoops were pushing forwards in search of an equaliser. Then the game was finished by Incident Number Two. McCollin’s back leg was tripped right on the edge of the area as he shaped to shoot. The ref waved play on as incredulous K’s players voiced their frustrations. Lowestoft broke quickly, and a ‘Stoft player was fouled by a K’s defender. This time, the ref gave a massively exaggerated “play on” signal, and ‘Stoft capitalised to score. When combined with his tendency to award the home side most of the 50/50s, it was hard not to become a little suspicious about the referee’s performance. How do you guarantee Lowestoft games a ref who won’t sway under the pressure put on officials by the one-eyed home supporters when any ref not from Suffolk would have to travel for over an hour to get there? It really is something for the Ryman League to ponder, because it’s not just K’s who’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of thing at Crown Meadow. Ask just about any other club and every single one has a story to tell…as does Lowestoft’s poor away record.
It was abundantly clear that the game was over now, and so the hardy travellers behind the goal amused ourselves by contradicting every Ashlee Jones shout as loudly as possible (Jones: “TIME!” vs K’s fans “MAN ON!” being my favourite), and by attempting to use the bubble wand won at the arcade to distract him. Sadly, the bubbles blew straight back in our faces despite the prevailing wind blowing the other way, and then to add insult to injury it started pissing down. It clearly wasn’t our day after all.
Having been wished a safe journey home by a significant number of friendly locals, we sloped off to the Triangle Tavern in town, where I had one of those conversations you don’t forget in a hurry with a local at the bar.
Yokel: [seeing our scarves] What was the score?
Me: 2-0 Lowestoft. Decent game.
Yokel: Where are you lot from then?
Me: Kingston, in South London
Yokel: Oh, up from that Lunn’un. My family were from that Lunn’n ’til they moved up here. The Carson family. C-A-R-S-O-N. You know ’em?
Me: Do I know them?
Yokel: Yeah, you know ’em? The Carsons. Carsons.
Me: Err, no, can’t say that I do. It’s a big place.
Yokel: Oh, right. Much farming round your way?
Me: Err, no, not exactly. Not much farming in London, no.
Yokel: That’s a shame. Great profession, is farming. Anyway, safe journey.
Fan-fucking-tastic. Even if it was a windup (which I genuinely don’t think it was).
A couple of pints later, and the standard away day dash for the train commenced in earnest, this time successful. It had been a grand day out in a decent little town. Just a shame that K’s couldn’t bring home at least a point.